3 Ways to Make a Difference This Week

This time of year often brings out this question: “Am I making a difference?”

I often share lightheartedly that now is the time where we’ve shifted from a “We have so much of semester left” mindset to a “We have so much left to do in the semester” reality. As the days go by, to do lists fill up, testing rolls around, and if we’re not careful, we’ll find ourselves spending most of our time doing things that have noting to do with why we set out to become educators.

I know this happens because I’ve noticed this in myself. Earlier in the semester, I set out to start the day focused on the things that matter most to me. Before heading out to morning duty, I wrote out projects for the day that helped me focus on accomplishing two overall goals: “Create an environment where all staff and students feel safe and welcomed. Equip teachers to innovate in the classroom.”

That became the litmus test for the projects I could take on and the direction the flexible time in my schedule took. Often, that wasn’t an overwhelming amount of time, but when it did come along, I was focused on getting meaningful work done. And then, I got busy. I missed a day. Then I missed a couple of days. And before I knew it, I hadn’t written out that why statement in a couple of weeks.

It was not my favorite realization from this year.

Pursuit of what matters in education is an everyday exercise. Our momentum will carry us far less than we’d like, but the disciplined pursuit of excellence in this area can create lifelong change for ourselves and those we serve.

Before reading further, take a minute to write down why you believe in being an educator. Maybe it’s why you started out in this field. Maybe it’s something that’s changed over time. But think about this: Why are you still excited about doing this tough work? Tweet that out. Post it on Facebook. Put it somewhere where you and others will see it. We need that positive reinforcement and reminder about not just all the “what” we have to do. We need to see why we’re doing this. But don’t post it and forget it. In what you can control, relentlessly pursue the work that matters most to you. Don’t miss the opportunity to do something amazing before the school year ends.

I’ve yet to find the person who exclusively does what they are most passionate about in education. We all have responsibilities that feel more like work than others. Still, we need a plan (or at least I need a plan) to help stay on track during the busiest times of the year.

We cannot let our circumstances define our reality. Our purpose is bigger than our to do list.

So, I want to counteract that overwhelming feeling that can sometimes creep in on us. I know each of us have some nonnegotiables that simply have to be done. However, in the midst of what can feel like some pretty busy spring days, here are a few ideas to help keep us focused on our why.

1. Keep Getting to Know Your Students

Relationships are our focus in August, but we prioritize getting to know kids during the spring semester in a different way. By now, relationships have formed and we’re getting to enjoy the interactions with our students that only come after substantial time and energy has been invested. But as some relationships go deeper, who are we missing? Who are the students in the gaps? The ones that multiple teachers are thinking, “Someone else must have connected with him, right?” Who are the invisible students who have to be sought out? Write down a couple of students you can make a point of getting to know this week. Put reminders in your phone or somewhere you will see to make sure it happens.

2. Create a Collegial Connection

What do people expect from their interactions wth you at school? Where do you notice that you tend to stay surface level? With whom do you dive a little deeper relationally? Think through your routine and identify a couple of coworkers you can get to know better this week. I’m not asking you to do something terribly deep and vulnerable here. Maybe it’s striking up a conversation between you and a coworker who is not in your hallway/grade level/department (where isolation tends to settle in on many campuses). Maybe it’s checking in with a friend on another campus. In any case, intentionally connecting at any level reminds is that we are not alone in this work.

3. Make Someone’s Day

Think about someone who deserves something awesome in their day. Maybe it’s a student. A teacher who’s always serving others selflessly. Maybe it’s a staff member whose in a service role–a custodian or cafeteria worker. Think about what would make their day and find a way to make that happen. Maybe even rally a few people around to help celebrate this person. It doesn’t have to be complicated; even finding a student and asking them about a connection you have can make their day. Whether your random act of kindness is something ordinary or over the top, time and energy spent in the service of others is always well spent–even during the busiest times of the year.

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Let’s Keep Learning

I’ve never been (and I hope never to be) one of those countdown teachers. You know the type. They came back from Christmas and started the countdown: 98 Days to Summer. However, as the calendar rolls over to April, I’m more aware every day that I only have a few short weeks left to invest in the 6th graders who will soon end their time on my campus and move to the nearby middle school.

The last few weeks of the semester can often feel like a sprint to the finish, but I think it’s important for us to remember that if we expect our students to continue their learning, it only makes sense that we should lead in that way as well.

That’s easier said than done (for both students and for educators), but it’s a worthwhile goal nonetheless.

I’m inspired by a group of teachers on my campus who have started a book study on Dave Burgess’ Teach Like a PIRATE last week. Hearing their passion for engaging students and the excitement around pushing themselves to grow through these last two months of school is nothing short of inspiring.

It’s the opposite of what I’m used to hearing as we move into April. When that last marking period rolls around, most people aren’t thinking, How can I stretch myself? How can I grow? How can I get better?

But the reality is that if we are asking students to push through to the end of the year (through state testing no less), we need to be pushing ourselves to learn and grow through this time as well.

Goals like this don’t just happen, though. If we want to look back on the next two months and be able to say we thrived during this time rather than that we simply survived the time between our breaks, we need a plan.

Reading is something that has really helped me slow down when the pace of life feels too fast (I’m not the only one who feels like that during the end of the school year, right?). Finding that time away, that white space or margin in life, is the difference in taking on this time of the year intentionally or letting it be something that happens to us.

We’ll let busy schedules push to the margins until we forget we ever thought it. Below is a list of eight titles that might help you find that book that will push you to continue your learning between now and the end of the school year.


The Hyperdoc Handbook by Lisa Highfill, Kelly Hilton, and Sarah Landis is a great resources for educators who are looking to do something new and different. For those looking to use technology in the classroom in authentic, innovative ways, this book is for you. It’s filled with practical ways to push your class further into the blended learning environment that you may have waded into already. Hyperdocs increase collaboration between educators on your campus and in their interactions with those at home.

Kids Deserve It is the single book you need to read to motivate you to make the most of every moment you have with your students the rest of the year. Authors Todd Nesloney and Adam Welcome share stories of taking on worthwhile challenges to do right by the kids they serve. You cannot read this book and fail to be motivated to meet the needs of the students on your campus. Read this book when you’re struggling for motivation, read this book when you’re already firing on all cylinders. Whatever you do, read this book.

Design Your Day is the book I wish I had found a few years ago. Claire Dias-Ortiz offers so much insight into the simple ways we can actively structure our time to actually meet goals we care deeply about. In this slim volume, she wastes no words delivering her simple, impactful message. If you every feel cluttered, unfocused, unproductive, or uninspired (or even if you just want to improve in these areas), check out Design Your Day.

The Growth Mindset Coach by Annie Brock and Heather Hundley takes all the conversation that’s out there happening on the subject and puts it into manageable, regimented questions, topics, and conversations that will help you bring the growth mindset message into your school or classroom in greater depth. It’s structured in a way that promotes great conversation. Time invested into exploring how to create a growth mindset in our students and in educators is always well spent. This book is a great resource for those who are familiar with the subject and those who are just beginning their exploration of growth mindset alike.

Renegade Leadership by Brad Gustafson is a must read for school leaders (titled and otherwise). Gustafson does a great job challenging leaders to push innovation in both technology and pedagogy. Beyond what the book has to offer, the Renegade Leadership website is packed with valuable resources that are sure to keep you challenged and supported. Every school leader knows the value of these conversations. Don’t miss the opportunity to engage with Renegade Leadership.

Together is Better is the book for the reader who doesn’t have a lot of time to carve out. Simon Sinek’s latest book is a quick read that left a lasting impact on me. I love the title’s message, the artwork, and even the scent that’s unique to the book. If you’re familiar with Sinek’s other books or his TED talk, you’ll see some familiar ideas here, but the reminders are worth hearing again.

Lead Like a PIRATE will challenge you to be the leader who inspires others to create the schools that students are beating down the doors to get into. Shelley Burgess and Beth Houf share stories that will push your thinking and build your confidence as a leader in any role on your campus. Full of practical ideas that actually help create change, Lead Like a PIRATE is for every school leader who wants to get excited about making school amazing for students and teachers.

Create Simple Personalized Professional Development #IMMOOC

In college, I had a professor who would read PowerPoint slide shows to us about the benefits of engaging instruction for students. The irony was not lost on me. It’s rare that a class is a perfect match for you as a learner, but I learned a great deal of what not to do throughout that course.

For all the innovation out there in education today, there’s still a lot more whole group lecturing about how we should differentiate and individualize our instruction for the students we serve than I’m comfortable with. Professional development that ignores best instructional practices is insulting to teachers and detrimental to leader credibility.

I understand part of the hesitation on the part of leaders. Differentiation in a classroom is an incredibly complicated, albeit rewarding, undertaking. There aren’t a lot of options out there for differentiated professional development, and creating something from the ground up seems like a monumental undertaking. So, we often opt for a standard delivery of a new idea. When we do that, we rob those in the room of the opportunity to experience something innovative. Sure, everyone hears the same content. But as Dave Burgess often reminds educators, “What good is covering content if people aren’t listening?” Professional development can’t just wash over you; you have to internalize it, wrestle with it, consider how to make it your own. It’s high time we stop measuring professional development in terms of seat time. That’s a measure of compliance, not learning. As George Couros reminds us, “Compliance does not foster innovation. In fact, demanding conformity does quite the opposite.”

Exploring Another Way

I’m in my first year on the campus I serve, and for our last two campus professional development days, we set out to do something different. We knew we wanted our PD to challenge and support teachers on their self selected goals for the year, and we also knew that we wanted staff to have time to implement some of the new things they learned about. More than that, my principal and I (both new to the campus this year) didn’t want to come in and talk at people for an extended period of time for professional development.

We decided to run the majority of our time as an EdCamp (with a bit of scaffolding). In a traditional EdCamp, participants design the day when they arrive to meet their needs with conversations among those who take part in the EdCamp. It’s highly organic (which I really like), but it is a bit of an adjustment for many not familiar with the style of learning.

For our purposes, we added scaffolding to not overwhelm anyone on the first iteration. We took the teachers’ goals from the beginning of the year and teased out four common threads: Student engagement, Social emotional learning, Growth mindset, and EdTech. With these in mind, we created a schedule for the day that allowed teachers to grow in their self defined goals, but also pushed teachers to learn not simply with presentations, but primarily through conversations with each other about the topics at hand. Check out the schedules below:

October 10th schedule

February 20th schedule

We sent teachers out to these conversations with these instructions:

When you get to your session, here are a few reminders:

  • If there’s a video, be the one to get it playing.
  • Find someone to add notes in the Google Doc.
  • Help get the conversation started. (Yes, you! You’ll be great!)
  • Find out where everyone stands on the topic.
    • Ask what experience people have with the topic.
    • Ask what people want to learn about the topic.
  • Make sure everyone who wants to contribute gets a chance to participate.
  • Encourage the conversation. Be patient.
  • Don’t let a little wait time fool you into thinking the conversation is over.

Our teachers loved these two days. The best thing about that for me is that it wasn’t about us as leaders at all. We got out of the way and let the teachers connect with and learn from one another. In those conversations, they challenged one another and worked through tough conversations about the hard work that teaching really is.

Selfishly, it was an incredible way to get to know our teachers on a deeper level. That wasn’t the purpose, but what an important benefit it was for us. We received overwhelmingly positive feedback on the day, and even heard some frustration in October that we wouldn’t be able to revisit this style of learning until our time together in February.

Compliance never got me that reaction.

Offering Empowering Encouragement

Before launching the October PD day, I had a chance to put one other support in place. It was probably my favorite part of the entire experience.

The unstructured conversations needed a secret leader, a plant in the room. Someone who would keep the conversation moving and focused on the topic at hand. So for each of the sessions, I thought through our staff, selected a staff member or two who had a lot to offer in that conversation, and went and had a conversation. I got to share that I was excited about our new, somewhat risky (but hopefully really rewarding) PD that was coming up. But more than that, I got to share that I saw greatness in them. That they had something that needed to be passed along to others. They they were an integral part of the success of the upcoming day.

Those conversations are some of my favorite interactions I’ve had with our staff.

In the end, each EdCamp was a great day. But more than that, I hope it showed teachers that we were willing to practice what we preach, to do something that might not run perfectly (but would be better than the way we’ve always done it). That’s what the Innovator’s Mindset asks of all educators.

Regardless of your role on campus, where do you need to make sure your methods match your message? Do you notice anything that’s contradicting itself? How can you fix those inconsistencies?

And as much as you have control over it, how can you drive PD toward something that honors, rather than sells short, teachers who are giving so much to serve their students?


I’ll be writing more about my own journey with innovation over the next few weeks as part of this MOOC (massive open online course) centered around George Couros’ book The Innovator’s Mindset. Check out the #IMMOOC hashtag to see some conversation about innovation in education.

The Myth of Innovation Killers #IMMOOC

I’ve been in several conversations lately that go something like this: “[THAT WHICH IS OUT OF MY CONTROL] is an innovation killer.”

Don’t get me wrong. I understand that there are real constraints and awful situations that educators find themselves in. I know that those happen more often than we’d like. But if we wait until our constraints disappear to begin innovating, we will forever miss the opportunity to create change.

I have a hard time not seeing the “X is an innovation killer” message as a nicer way of saying innovation is too hard for me right now. As George Couros says, “Often, the biggest barrier to innovation is our own way of thinking.”

Nobody knows your situation like you do, so if it’s not the time to add something extra in life, I understand. But when it is time, remember that everyone who is poised to innovate has constraints and a choice. Don’t wait until the time is the constraints have disappeared. It won’t happen. You’ll always have constraints. You’ll always have the choice: Today, will I innovate, or will I let the excuses win?

As Seth Godin says, “Change almost never fails because it’s too early. It almost always fails because it’s too late.”

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I’ll be writing more about my own journey with innovation over the next few weeks as part of this MOOC (massive open online course) centered around George Couros’ book The Innovator’s Mindset. This week, we were challenged to write posts in under 200 words. Check out the #IMMOOC hashtag to see some conversation about innovation in education, and look for the #IMMOOCB1, #IMMOOCB2, and & #IMMOOCB3 for more of these short posts. 

Risks Worth Taking #IMMOOC

I love this video. Jason Mraz is playing a show, and when he realizes there’s a guy playing a shaker in the audience, he takes a risk and invites him onto the stage. I think there’s a lot we can learn from it. But first, watch the video:

I love the way Mraz is surprised by the brilliance that Stan brings to the performance–even to the point where people thought he was planned to be art of the show.

When I see this video, I can’t help but think that this is what quality risk taking looks like in education. It’s not an uncalculated shot in the dark (which would be an irresponsible sort of risk to take). This risk taking is the kind that could pay off in a huge way for a student. It’s the moment when you could choose to send him out if class but instead you find a way to leverage the energy in the room for greatness. That doesn’t happen without risk. And the reality is this: We won’t reach some of our students if we fail to take some risks.

How will you anticipate these moments?

Who do you need to invite on stage?


I’ll be writing more about my own journey with innovation over the next few weeks as part of this MOOC (massive open online course) centered around George Couros’ book The Innovator’s Mindset. This week, we were challenged to write posts in under 200 words. Check out the #IMMOOC hashtag to see some conversation about innovation in education, and look for the #IMMOOCB1, #IMMOOCB2, and & #IMMOOCB3 for more of these short posts. 

Starting Innovative Change #IMMOOC

I love the conversation around innovation in education. George Couros’ definition of innovation (something that is both new and better) allows for a wide interpretation of innovation in a time when many associate the term exclusively with tech-laden change.

When we get it right, being innovative often helps makes our work focus more on learning than on just getting school done well.

I don’t think anyone disagrees that being great at learning is much better than simply being great at school, but sometimes it’s tough to know just how to begin this kind of change. Here are three easy ways you can start this week:

1. Write down a few people you plan to learn from at school this week. Put it on your calendar. Make sure someone follows up with you.

2. Pick out something that is part of your routine and ask yourself why you do things that way.

3. Model the learning you want your students to develop. Force yourself to share not only what you are learning but also a little about what that process looks like for you.

Whatever you do, use the influence you have to make school a place of incredible learning.


I’ll be writing more about my own journey with innovation over the next few weeks as part of this MOOC (massive open online course) centered around George Couros’ book The Innovator’s Mindset. This week, we were challenged to write posts in under 200 words. Check out the #IMMOOC hashtag to see some conversation about innovation in education, and look for the #IMMOOCB1, #IMMOOCB2, and & #IMMOOCB3 for more of these short posts. 

Capture the Moment: Using Twitter Moments in Education

When they originally appeared on Twitter, Twitter Moments were only for things of national or global importance. Stuff like celebrities making bad decisions, famous people tweeting foolishness (yes those first two are mostly the same, and yes they were still most of what moments were about), and also things like actual news (but only rarely).

Recent changes made by Twitter allow you to create them. If you’re sharing your learning on Twitter (which you should be) and you’re not using moments (many people aren’t), you’re missing out. This post will tackle what are Twitter Moments can be used for, why should you care, and how do you make them.

So, what’s a moment and why should I care?

A moment is a collection of tweets that you can gather together in an easy to share format.

Why is that useful? When so many educators are sharing their learning on Twitter, there is an ocean of greatness out there. It’s nice to put a few of the tweets that stand out to you in a single place for future reference and clean sharing at the moment.

Here are a couple of examples:

I had the privilege of attending EdCamp Navasota this weekend. It was fantastic. In a half day, I had so many conversations that challenged and supported me. It was amazing.

I had the opportunity to facilitate a conversation on blogging during the second session. We shared resources, stories, and struggles throughout our time together, and at the end, I created a moment to pull a few of the tweets together before they got swept away in the sea of other tweets that included the #EdCampNavasota hashtag.

Here’s the small moment I collected and shared:

It was great to have everything in one location for a quick share after the session, and I’m able to go back to those resources and pull from the intelligence of the entire room the next time someone asks me about blogging.

I also used a moment to capture the tweets that were sent to my campus hashtag (#CGcats) last week. A couple of weeks ago I heard the simple but genius idea that’s made a big difference in our staff tweets: Instead of telling them why it’s so great to share, reflect, and connect and hope they’ll be intrinsically motivated, just let them wear jeans on Thursday if they tweet three times about what they’re learning of what’s happening in their classroom (Thanks to Matt Arend, Amber Teamann, and Sanee Bell’s collective genius for this!).

We had a great response, but we have people at all levels of familiarity, excitement, and trepidation surrounding Twitter currently. This Twitter Moment is something that allowed me to share the tweets to everyone on campus as well as my PLN.

It’s great to have all this awesome from around our campus pulled together in one space, and I love that I can access this summary so easily in the future.

I also used moments to document big chunks of my experience at TCEA last week. Who hasn’t had that conference overload/exhaustion feeling before, right? It’s nice to be able to go back to those moments to reference all I learned in Austin over those three days. Here are links to those if you’re interested: TCEA Day 1, TCEA Day 2, & my blogging session.

How do I make a Twitter Moment?

I make my moments on my phone. Here’s how I walk through it:

First, click the wheel on your profile page. Then, click moments on the list that pops up. In the top right corner, click the plus to open a new moment. Add your tweets before clicking save and publish.

Unlike a tweet, there’s no need to get everything perfect the first time. Moments are editable and can even be unpublished if you need. You can also add tweets by clicking the carrot, clicking add to moment, and selecting the moment to add it to.

Capture Your Moment!

Think through this next week. What are those opportunities to capture a moment on Twitter? Will it be a Twitter chat? An event at school? An area of your learning where you know you’re growing? Something you’ve learned that you can pass along to a colleague?

Whatever it might be, don’t miss out on the opportunity to capture and celebrate things worth sharing!

What will you share?

8 Big Ideas From #TCEA17

I made it back home from TCEA. As is often the case after a great conference full of amazing sessions and incredible educators, I’m just drowning in good ideas. Last year, I posted 10 Big Ideas From #TCEA16 after returning home, and I’m bringing back that style of post here.

I could probably go into a separate blog post on each of these ideas (and I very well may at some point), but for now, this is all about capturing and documenting my learning from the past three days (and sharing it out in case it’s beneficial for you). I hope the ideas challenge you and support you in your growth as you make your way through the spring semester.

While TCEA is a huge tech conference, these ideas aren’t dripping with EdTech implications. More than anything, they challenge me to make manageable changes and convict me where I haven’t done enough work to rethink “the way we’ve always done it” in our schools.

Without further ado, here are 8 sticky ideas from this year’s TCEA conference.


You cannot keep up with it all. But if you are connected, you have a much better chance of keeping up with much more. – Amber Teamann

Learning and fun are not antonyms. – Adam Bellow

When we do things, we do what’s best for kids. If you can tell me why it’s not best for kids, we won’t do it. Otherwise, we do it. – Todd Nesloney

‪If parents only know what’s going on in class because of our homework, we need to do better. – Alice Keeler

Being a workaholic is not a virtue. – Alice Keeler

If you want to teach students responsibility, give them a responsibility in class. Homework doesn’t teach that. – Alice Keeler

‪If you weren’t allowed to assign homework, how would you redesign your class? – Matt Miller

Giving people a chance to contribute is powerful. – Dean Shareski


It’s likely that you probably agree with some of these ideas and want to push back on some of the others. That’s great. The more we think critically about what it is we should be doing as educators, the better off we will be. I’m thankful for the opportunity to have come across so many educators who are doing so much to serve the students in their care as best they know how.

Making the Most of TCEA #TCEA17

I’m headed to Austin, TX this week to be part of a huge EdTech conference called TCEA (that’s the Texas Computer Educators Association). Like most excellent education conferences these days, there is no shortage of valuable information to be learned at TCEA. In fact, quite the opposite is the problem. It’s very much the “drinking from a fire hose” experience. So much is great at so many turns that even in the short time I was there last year, I had to stop and put everything on hold one afternoon or risk not retaining everything as I floated in the sea of knowledge that engulfed the Austin Convention Center.

So, I’ve been thinking about my TCEA16 experience as I’m about to begin this year’s event, and there are a few reminders I had for myself. Maybe they’ll help you out, too.

In any case, if you are headed to the event (I hope you are; it’s amazing), I hope your week is packed full of interesting conversations, challenging new ideas, and the perfect mix of tips that will help you impact learning for the better the following week and leave you thinking and rethinking through the way you do your work for months to come.

Without further ado, here’s how I plan to tackle the week (or at least my three days there):

Tip #1 – Reconnect with someone

The best thing about #TCEA16 wasn’t the amazing speakers (who were absolutely awesome), the incredible opportunities to learn from others, or the guilt free time to invest in my own learning away from the day to day stresses that come with being an assistant principal. No, by far, the absolute best thing about being at TCEA last year was being with people there.

There are just so many phenomenal educators innovating across Texas (and the rest of the country and world for that matter) that missing out on this opportunity to find and reconnect with some of those folks is just something we can’t miss.

But not everyone goes into a conference like this expecting to see some familiar faces. That’s ok, and tip #2 will be perfect for you if you find yourself in that situation.

Tip #2 – Connect with someone new

Not only did I have the chance to reconnect with a few folks I’d met previously, but I also had the chance to meet an incredible group of people from my PLN face to face. I can remember it like it was yesterday. I walked into my first session, Angela Maiers was speaking, but three friends were sitting across the room. We saw each other, and although we had never been in the same room, we instantly knew each other. It was nothing short of amazing to be standing there with these people who I knew from our connections online (whether it be Twitter chats, Voxer groups, or their blogs).

In a few years in our connected, I think this will become more and more the norm. But for now, it’s still surprising and sort of incredible to little old introverted me. Needless to say, the kickoff of TCEA16 did not disappoint. I’m really pumped about this year’s event.

Beyond that, those faces that I didn’t know in the crowd soon turned into familiar faces as we worked through some of the same sessions together. Conversations sparked throughout the short time I attended last year, and I’m looking forward to this process continuing this year.

Get to know the people sitting next to you. In our connected world, they’re going to be your allies as you all move back to campus and begin the change process all across our country.

Tip #3 – Hang out in the Playgrounds

I don’t know that I can overstate how overwhelmingly huge TCEA is. When I went last year, it was the first really massive conference I had ever attended. Sure, I had annually attended College Board training (which was invaluable to my survival and success as a high school English teacher), but those events never brought the same size and scale as TCEA (900+ sessions are advertised at this point… That’s a lot of options…).

All those options bring me to tip #3. At some point (really, at many points) you will end up with too many options or shut out of your first few choices. My suggestion is to head to the YOUnited and YOUniverse Playgrounds.

It’s an area on the first floor that can always fit one more standing person, and there are often chairs you can putt up from nearby to join the conversations happening there. If the environment wasn’t enough, the folks who are sharing here are top notch. Kasey Bell, Alice Keeler, Shannon Miller, Todd Nesloney, Eric Sheninger, Adam Bellow, Dean Shareski, and many, many more incredible educators will be setting up shop in these informal environments. Take advantage of the unique opportunities that seemed to come up regularly here last year. If all else fails, head to the playground. You won’t be disappointed.

Tip #4 – Tweet your learning to the #TCEA17 hashtag

When you get into those sessions, start tweeting out your learning. It’s imperative that we get the word out about what will make a difference for students, and there’s no easier way to do that than by Tweeting it out. If you include the #TCEA17 hashtag, you’ll add to the collective knowledge that’s being shared out by the entire conference (or at least by those who are doing it right).

When you do that, not only are you sharing your learning with others, but you are also taking notes for yourself. I love that I can head over to Twitter and search for my username and last year’s hashtag and come up with all this information documented for me to revisit any time I like. It’s not something I need to reference all the time, but every now and then I’ll be looking for a quotation from the conference or a link to an article or a Google Drive folder and there it all is.

Bonus tip: If you come across great nuggets that you want to get noticed a little more, create a few images to Tweet out. Here’s a post that chronicles a few of the sticky ideas I came across last year.

Tip #5 -Recap your learning often 

Going through the process of taking notes is good. Sharing those highlight ideas as Tweets is even better. But leaving all that raw material on the page or on social media will only take you so far.

At the end of each day (or sometimes even at a mid day break), you have to take time to brain dump all that learning down into some useable nuggets. Think of it this way: What’s going to fall on your to do list for next week, before spring break, this spring semester, or by next fall? Plan things out. Categorize them. Put reminders in your calendar so your phone will remind you of those great end of year ideas or that brilliant concept for something at the beginning of next year.

I failed to do this last year at TCEA, and I’m sure I missed out on opportunities to equip teachers in the process. I fixed that at a summer conference, and I’ve committed to doing this faithfully at each conference I’ve attended since then. It’s made a profound difference.

Tip #6 – Blog your learning

Don’t skip past this. The next one’s not any easier.

Once you’ve got that set of notes or Tweets and you’ve arranged your thoughts into a manageable timeline of implementation, take time to blog your ideas out.

Yes, I know that all the excuses are there:

  • I don’t have anything to say
  • I’m not a good writer
  • Other people will be sharing about this already
  • Will anyone read what I have to say?
  • What if someone doesn’t like what I have to say?
  • But I’ve never blogged before

Honestly, we could go on for a while with others, but the reality is that although blogging is scary, this sort of reflection is vital to your growth as an educator. John Dewey says that, “We do not learn from experience… We learn from reflecting on experience.” If we believe that (and I do), then it’s no enough to simply take notes and make a plan. If we want to learn (and why would we be at a conference like this if we didn’t?), we need to get busy doing this and doing it well. Here’s a link to the only blog reflection I really did from TCEA last year.

It doesn’t have to be great at first. Just write down where you’re at, what you’re learning, and what you’re trying. That’s it. You don’t have to do anything other than to share what you are learning. If you can do that (and, yes, you can do that), you are a blogger.

When you become a blogger, your risks go more public, but so does your learning. With the accountability that’s included of having yourself our there, you are more likely to get more done, and, in the process, others are going to learn from seeing your reflections. I highly recommend it.

If you’re still not confident you can make this happen, join me on Thursday morning in Room 13AB from 8:00-9:00am. My session, “How Blogging Improved My Practice,” is really not about me much at all. Instead, it’s about setting you and others like you up to confidently share your learning online for your benefit and that of others. Whether you join me for that hour or not, take time to blog your learning. You will not regret it!

Tip #7 – Become an expert at something useful

Finally, leave with an expertise you didn’t arrive at TCEA with. None of this experience is cheap in terms of time, energy, or cost incurred. Have something to show for it when you return home (and not just great personal learning for yourself). Go into TCEA knowing what those you serve need and with a plan to find it and package it well for them when you return. You get the chance to be the hero to them. Make it happen!


I hope you have a blast at the conference, and as odd as it seems, I hope to maybe run into someone who’s read this. It’ll help us both accomplish a goal and get better as educators in the process. Isn’t that what we’re all psyched up about doing this week anyway?

Ninja Warrior

My boys love watching American Ninja Warrior. They’re fascinated by the athletes and the seemingly impossible obstacles and adversity that are overcome each and every show. I am, too. They know the names of their favorite ninjas, and they spend an inordinate amount of time jumping off of stuff around our home after watching each episode.

In case you’re not familiar with American Ninja Warrior, here’s a quick example of what the show is like:

In no uncertain terms, what they do is amazing. Absolutely incredible.

As much as I don’t love some of the side effects (mostly how everything in my house has the tendency to end up pushed a few inches from where it previously rested as my boys jump from “obstacle” to “obstacle” imitating their favorite ninjas), there is a lot that I really like about my boys watching American Ninja Warrior.

Here’s a bit of what I like most:

Unpredictable challenges
On American Ninja Warrior, the courses always offer unique challenges. No two courses are exactly alike. One course might rely heavily on upper body challenges, while another forces athletes to overcome obstacles that require intense upper body strength. The obstacles are unique and provide a reasonable (even if they initially seem insurmountable) challenge to stretch the ninja warriors to do more than they thought they could before.

Learning from each other
Nearly every successful ninja who shares his or her story includes the team that is vital to their success. The hours of preparation, the practice to develop the strength and skills that these athletes need to do the seemingly impossible is rooted in a community of folks who are dedicated to doing the little things to develop those qualities that will allow each ninja to perform under pressure.

Shared success
Watching the event is unlike any other sporting event I’ve come across. In most instances, there is a clear cut winner and loser. That’s not the case here. Certainly it’s clear who accomplishes the most in the competition, but the camaraderie between the ninjas and the genuine excitement they share for each other with each passing obstacle is something unique to this show. The greatest excitement is in seeing who can conquer the most obstacles, who can do what’s never been done before.

Everybody falls
This is probably my favorite part about American Ninja Warrior. The show not a contest where you can outlast your opponent. You can’t strategize and run out the clock. It’s just you, the obstacles, and all the people who want to want to see you succeed. Still, everyone ends up in the water. If you conquer all the challenges on one night, more await you. They’re welcomed. Even sought after. Because that’s the point. The show exists to help athletes push themselves to do what they thought impossible.

As we watched the show together, though, I began to realize that not only do I want these qualities developed in my kids, I also want a deeper understanding and a greater display of these qualities in myself.

It’s kind of a requirement for us to be successful in our roles in schools, right?

Think about it: When have you not had a week that came without unforeseen obstacles? When have you not spent time watching other educators in their element and not come away better for it? How often have you heard a story of success in another classroom and been energized to go and do likewise in yours?

Maybe there’s a tiny bit of room for debate on the other qualities, I am sure about this. Every single last one of us has known failure. And the nature of our work means that those are not experiences that are had in private. They’re as public as watching an athlete falling into the water after an attempt at doing something amazing.

So, hardworking educator who feels like the obstacles keep coming:

You are not alone.

Learn from those around you.

Watch for those educators who will inspire you.

Share the stories of your successes.

Be honest about the reality of setbacks faced, but use them as the springboard toward your next success story.

And don’t forget: When we’re pushing ourselves to do amazing things, everybody falls. Keep tackling those obstacles, no matter what they may look like.