The new year starts with so much new. New goals. New hope. New drive. New perspective.

I love it. That new car smell that the new year brings with it is one of my favorites. (Isn’t it great that we get that twice a year as educators?) For all the conversation on goals at the start of the year, I hear comparatively little conversation about what it might actually feel like to achieve those goals. I think we’re missing this part of the conversation, and I worry that this gap begins to convince us to believe in this sort of formula:

Choose the right goals + Achieve your goals = Leave work with all the teacher feels, all the time

Maybe I’m alone in this, but it’s easy for me to get a little down on myself and my progress at work if I rely on how things feel (i.e. a “That felt like a great day” at the end of the day) to determine how things are really going. Sometimes even when we’re doing the things we need to do for our jobs, it doesn’t feel like we’d like it to feel.

I want to challenge you to think about these two questions:

What does it look like when you are doing your job well?

What does it feel like?

I can’t answer those questions for you, but I feel comfortable saying you should spend some time considering them.

There will be plenty of days that are not your prototypical Instagram worthy day that are absolutely successful days. The work you do as an educator is too important to let the feeling of the day (likely the end of the day) dictate your sense of success.

Have a successful new year!

Giving more than you are able to give

One of the tough questions I am asking myself lately is this:

What (or who) suffers the most when you give your all (or overextend yourself) at work?

There is nothing easy about answering this question for me.

My family and my health take the biggest hit when I overextend myself at work.

My kids notice that I get home later.

I can tell when I am distracted and not really with them when I’m there.

I feel tired.

I get sick.

I miss opportunities that I simply should not miss.

And, unfortunately, I do not think I am alone in this.

This isn’t a problem for everyone

The teacher who excels at meeting minimum expectations does not have these problems.

The teacher who makes no attempt to create relational connections with students does not have these problems.

The teacher who cares–especially the teacher who cares deeply–is the most susceptible to this. As odd as it seems, the educators who are going above and beyond to grow themselves are the most likely to end up on the wrong side of this.

The ones who are connecting.

The ones who are blogging.

The ones who seek out conversation for professional growth.

You’re the ones who are at risk for this. The teachers in movies and tv shows are not.

As long as we are invested in getting the most out of our students and asking the most of ourselves, there are no magical cure alls for this, but there are some questions we can ask to help keep us on the right track.

So what can we do?

I want to challenge you to think about this intentionally this week. Carve out some time to really consider these questions:

  • Have you settled into a pace that you can maintain throughout the year?
  • What’s working well for you at your current pace?
  • What are you giving up to run at your current pace?
  • What do you have control over that contributes to your current pace?
  • Are you comfortable with that give and take in this season?
  • How does your pace impact your commitments outside of school?
  • How does your pace impact your ability to invest in yourself?
  • What does an ideal pace look like?
  • How does your ideal pace change during different seasons of the year?
  • Where is one small place you can start?

You (and potentially those closest to you who you trust to give you honest feedback on this) are really the only one who can evaluate and ultimately decide what the best pace is for you. I certainly can’t project some sort of magical perfect ratio of work to life energy. It is just not that simple. [If you’ve figured that out, please leave that knowledge in the comments. We’d all like to know.]

But with some careful thought invested in this process, I hope to begin to see where I can make the changes that fit best for me and my family. Is everything up to a simple choice for me? No. Much is outside my control. I imagine the same is true for you. Still, I don’t want to miss a chance to tinker with the portions I have control over to make sure I’m finding the best fit for me and my family each season throughout the school year. I don’t want you to miss that chance either.

Too important not to consider

The work we do is important. Though there will be seasons where we will give more of ourselves, we cannot operate out of exhaustion for extended periods of time without consequences. The work we do to invest in ourselves absolutely benefits the students and teachers we serve. We need to routinely evaluate how what we are giving compares to what we are able to give. With the time we can impact, do everything you can to find the right fit for the right season.

It’s ok to fe tired. It’s ok to be exhausted. But neither of those have to leave you defeated.

A pace can be changed. Maybe not as fast as you’d like. Maybe not in all the ways you’d like. But paces can change. Don’t make the mistake of letting the year go by without thinking through the pace you are setting for yourself.

End Your School Year with What Matters Most

Beginnings and endings are important. They’re memorable. They stick out to us.

Star Wars: A New Hope opens with an attack on Princess Leia’s starship, and it ends with the Death Star exploding.

Ocean’s 11 starts out with Danny Ocean getting out of jail, and it concludes with him heading to jail (and then getting out again).

The Great Gatsby begins with his arrival on West Egg and ends with Gatsby’s death.

Beginnings set the tone, but endings don’t just come together on accident. There’s something special about a narrative that ends really well.

That’s why concerts end with an encore.

That’s why we remember sports seasons that end with championships (Go Astros!).

What does that mean for us in education? We invest a lot of time thinking through how to begin the school year, but we invest comparatively little in discussing how to end the year well. I wrote about starting the year well in August and asked us to think about what students will remember about us and our time together. I challenged educators to start the year by really getting to know their students as people, not just as students who needed to learn some knowledge and develop some skills. Today, I want to revisit this challenge and apply it to the end of the year.

During the last month of school, learn something new about each and every one of your students that has absolutely nothing to do with their academic abilities.

I know, I know. It seems like there’s not time for this. You’re absolutely right that time is not going to magically appear to make this happen. But I think it’s there. It’s in hallway conversations and quick chats while the day begins. It’s in the conversations we have with students who’ve finished their work, and it’s in the moments where we’re walking out of the building and stop for a quick chat with a student.

It’s there. We just have to find it.

Adding a new habit into your routine on May 1st isn’t natural. It’s going to take effort. Here are a few recommendations:

1) Put a reminder in your phone for the day you go back to school that says, “Kids remember the relationships you develop with them. Who are you getting to know more today?” (Put another one on your calendar in two weeks that says, “What have you learned about your students this month? Who will you get to know today?”)

2) Identify two people on your campus who you can bring into this little project. It’s not always easy to find ways to connect. Don’t plan to go the journey alone.

3) If you’d like others to jump in on this, click this link to tweet out this challenge. The end of the year can get pretty busy, and we all benefit from the reminder to be about the right things as the school year ends.

Doing this just might make a kid’s day, and we’ll likely never know what impact that could have. I hope you’ll take the challenge!

If you like what you’re reading here, you might like my book, Shattering the Perfect Teacher Myth. The book highlights six truths that will help you THRIVE as an educator, including one–everyday every day–that talks about how big an impact our everyday actions really make. Get the book on Amazon or read more about the book here.

Regret Prevention

Think about the end of the year. You will have accomplished a great deal, and your students will have done the same. An entire school year provides so many opportunities for amazing things to happen.

But I’ve never had a school year go perfectly. Certainly there is plenty that can happen that is clearly out of our control. But there are always things that happens throughout a year that I have full control over and wish I could go back and change when the end of the year rolls around.

So I want to lay down a little challenge—both for you and for myself. What do you want to make sure you have no regrets about?

Is it connecting with one particular student?

Is it speaking up about something that’s been gnawing at you?

It is trying something new in your classroom?

Is it taking a different approach to discipline as an administrator?

Is it wrapped up in random acts of kindness?

Is it taking time to take care of yourself?

Is it finding someone you trust to share what you are really working through as a teacher?

Is it connecting with that colleague who never seems to be included?

What is it that you want to be sure you do not regret at the end of the year?

I want to end the year without any regrets. I want you to do the same. But that won’t happen by accident.

I love this quote that’s often attributed to Mark Twain:

What will you do during the remainder of the school year to make sure you finish the semester without any regrets about a missed opportunity this year?

If you like what you’re reading here, you might like my book, Shattering the Perfect Teacher Myth: 6 Truths That Will Help You THRIVE as an Educator. The book highlights six truths that will help you THRIVE as an educator. Get the book on Amazon or read more about the book here.

6 Ways To Earn Credibility With Students

In schools all over the world, there are students who are willing to work hard for some teachers but not others. Why is that?

I think it comes down to the relational capital that some educators develop with their students. Teachers who have it can get some students to play when others can’t.

Sometimes this seems like some teachers just have an “it” factor that others don’t, but I believe that there are some purposeful steps we can build into our time at school to truly create the connections with students that convince them we have something valuable to say. This operates under the premise that we can’t assume all students respect teachers on principle. That’s just an observation. This post isn’t about whether that’s right or wrong, nor is it about how widespread this feeling may or may not be. What it is about is the reality that we will miss some opportunities to reach students if we don’t take the initiative to reach out.

NOTE: Anytime we address developing meaningful student-teacher relationships, it’s worth adding this clarification: I’m not at all advocating that students and teachers should be friends. That’s not the relationship I’m suggesting here at all. But there is a real need for educators to find ways to develop credibility with their students. Furthermore, I won’t claim that these are magic bullet options that are sure to work for every student (or in the same ways with different students), and I absolutely realize that academic issues surely play a central role in our work. Relationships alone will not do much to equip our students for success today or in the future. Still, I don’t believe it’s an exaggeration to see these connections as lynchpins in our overall success.

What I do believe is that there are educator behaviors that put some on the fast track toward developing a trusting relationship with students. For them, everyday interactions become moments where credibility and trust are created and fostered. Not only that, I don’t believe there is much middle ground here (i.e. “the teacher who sort of cares about me”). Either we’re engaging with students, or we’re not. In a time where “kids these days” attitudes are all too commonly held, I think it’s our job to be the educators who develop meaningful relationships in a way that benefits our students long term.

Here are a few of the educator behaviors that fast track the relationships that help teachers truly make a difference for students.

Six Ways Educators Can Earn Credibility With Students


We all know that we make plenty of mistakes as educators, but there is some inexplicable hesitation among too many educators to own up to mistakes–especially those with students. A sincere apology is one of the quickest ways to create a connection with a student. As I’ve heard Jimmy Casas share, “Want to double your credibility with a student? Offer a sincere apology when the time calls for it.” When you make a mistake, take time to model how to come back from that the right way for your students. Name the mistake, take responsibility for your actions, commit to learning from that mistake, and do all you can to prevent it from happening again. It’ll create a lasting impression on your students.

Explain why

I often expected my students to make the connection from what we were doing in class and why it was important for them that day and long after the year was over. Explaining why something needs to be done in class gives students the perspective its importance for the long haul, and it’s a great way to recognize that need that many students have to understand the meaning behind their work.

Model what you are asking your students to do

If you are going to ask your students to do something in class, be willing to do that yourself. If they have to work problems they’ve just seen, be willing to do that yourself. English teachers–think about your practices around reading and writing. Are you asking your students to follow the same rules you follow? Pernille Ripp has written this wonderful post about this that is absolutely worth your time. Getting this right is sure to establish you as an educator who is worth listening to.

Extend an unexpected invitation

I came across this video recently for the first time. In it, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson shares about how a simple interaction changed the course of his life forever. At the center of the interaction is an apology (this time from student to teacher) and an invitation to an unknown kid to come play football. Johnson claims the invitation changed his life. The invitation is powerful in any context, but the more unexpected the invitation, the more powerful the impact may be.

Ask for feedback from students. Actually use it.

Ask your students for their input on what you are doing in class. Certainly there is much about what you are teaching that must be included, but how you go about teaching offers a great deal of opportunity for personalization and creativity. I’m sure you’re doing great things in class, but do you have a sense of what is really getting the results and reactions you are hoping for in all those extra hours of planning? Ask your students for some feedback and find a way to include some of their feedback in your future plans. There’s no way they’ll miss the effort you’re putting in.

Show up at their events

If your students are old enough to have school sponsored extracurriculars, take a little time to go see them doing what they love. It does take a little time, but that time is always well spent. Students spend time talking about what we love in our classes, and I never regretted the choice to go and spend time at a play, concert, or game.

Again, we know that there are no magic formulas with relationships, but that shouldn’t mean that we throw our hands up and act like some students simply connect and others don’t. I’m hopeful that these will help you continue to create connections, but I’m sure there is more to add to this list. What else do you do that really builds credibility with students?

If you like what you’re reading here, you might like my book, Shattering the Perfect Teacher Myth: 6 Truths That Will Help You THRIVE as an Educator. The book highlights six truths that will help you THRIVE as an educator, including one–everyday every day–that talks about how big an impact our everyday actions really make. Get the book on Amazon or read more about the book here.

5 Restful Distractions (that might even make us more productive) #TeacherMyth

When looking at the time we have and everything that needs to be done, it can be easy to convince ourselves that the best course of action is always to double down on productivity. That mentality makes us do irrational things like skipping lunch to get more done and staying up far too late to try to pack in more productivity. I know we all have plenty to do, but I wonder if some of our extra exertion really helps us get more done or if sometimes it is actually counterproductive in the long run.

Schools have well defined schedules, and it can seem like the most productive course of action is to always maintain a nose to the grindstone approach. The trouble is that we all have limits, and if we continue to push ourselves to our limits with no opportunity to rest or rejuvenate, we will not be at our best to serve teachers and students.

Rest is hard for me. I want to solve the problems before me by working harder and longer than I thought I could, but I know that I need some rest in the middle of the whirlwind of work to really be my best.

So I want to invite you into the challenge I have for myself: find a way to slip one or two of these activities into your routine this week. It won’t make the to do list go away. It’s not a time turner. It’s not the sort of rest that we need and get outside of the school day, but I wonder if this might give us a change of pace and boost of positivity that will provide us the rest we need to be even more productive as we move forward overcoming challenges and serving others each day. I think it’s worth a try. Here are five ways to rest that might even make us more productive in the long run.

5 restful distractions (that might even make us more productive)

1. Expressing gratitude

Every day in a school is filled with a whirlwind of activity, but in the midst of all those organized events are a multitude of opportunities to thank people. Verbalizing that gratitude makes an impact, but writing it out is somehow different. Take the few minutes to thank someone on your campus. Delivering that message will provide a boost for you and for the recipient.

2. Reflecting

As the pace of work picks up, calendar out (even a tiny amount of time) for reflection. This will stretch some, but I’m going to encourage you to write about what’s going on. Think through what’s been memorable for the past week or month. What are students going to remember from the work you are putting in? While it’s not a requirement, I think it’s great to share some of your reflections with someone, and that brings us to…

3. Intentional social interaction

(I’m an introvert, so I need a little prompting here…) Take a little time and chat with someone purposefully. That doesn’t mean the topic has to be something heavy, but plan it into your day.Stepping away from the work for a brain break is important. I’d say even try to avoid work talk during this time. It’ll help you get to know folks and continue to connect to your peers at work. Armed with that new knowledge of those you work with opens up the door for…

4. Random acts of kindness

Become a force for positivity. As educators, there are plenty of hard days with tough situations. Given the myriad of challenges we face, intentionally adding some fun and kindness into your day will always be worth your effort. Post some of those “Take one” tear offs or some inspirational quotes in staff areas around your campus to make people smile or give them that extra reminder of the importance of our work. Maybe even ask a friend to bring soft drinks by for your team. It doesn’t take much effort to make people smile a bit and set someone’s day on a different trajectory.

5. Go outside

I can’t speak for you, but I spend a lot of time inside. I want to get outside a little more when time allows. If you can manage it and the weather allows, take a walk and get some sunshine.


See if you can roll a couple of these together (i.e. Go with a friend to put encouraging quote cards under people’s windshield wipers in the staff parking lot).

We all have plenty to do, but I really do believe that purposeful actions like these are a wise investment of our time. Our work is important, and while there will certainly be days that are truly just packed to the brim, if we can find ways to develop some of these other activities into habits in our routine, we might end up even better off in the long run.

If you give this a try, drop me a note in the comments about how it goes for you. I’d love to hear about your experience!

If you like what you’re reading here, you might like my book, Shattering the Perfect Teacher Myth: 6 Truths That Will Help You THRIVE as an Educator. The book highlights six truths that will help you THRIVE as an educator, including one–everyday every day–that talks about how big an impact our everyday actions really make. Get the book on Amazon or read more about the book here.

Your Impact #TeacherMyth

I love this video about the impact reintroducing a pack of wolves into Yellowstone National Park had on the entire ecosystem of the park.

Every time I watch this video I seem to come across a new connection to our work as educators (I know, I’m the coolest, right?). Here are a few of the parallels I’ve seen. What else would you add?

1. A single wolf could not have made the same impact, but a pack (well, three packs according to this info) had an unmistakable impact on the park. You cannot do your work alone, but it doesn’t have to be a huge pack to make an impact that will last far longer than we can imagine.

2. These wolves had no idea about the scale of their impact. They simply did what they knew to do to thrive in their new environment and the rest happened naturally. The work before us as educators doesn’t come effortlessly; for many it is quite natural, but that doesn’t lessen any of the impact. Like the wolves, we cannot see the impact of our work while we are in it.

3. The wolves can’t not have an impact on the park. Don’t be fooled into thinking that some of your work makes an impact and other aspects don’t. Every action you take has a ripple. Every choice you make has consequences. Your work makes a difference. Make sure it’s the impact you want to make.

So you may wonder to yourself, Why is he sharing these connections between education and wolves in Yellowstone?

Because I think we all need this reminder: Great change happens when a group of influencers enter an existing system.

My hunch is that we know that, but that at times, we can forget it.

Maybe we forget this truth when we get too focused in on the day to day and don’t see the big picture. Maybe forgetfulness sets in while we are right in the middle of trying to deliberately create change on a large scale. In any case, this is true: The school you work in and the students you serve will bear the evidence of your positive influence for years to come. Your work with kids will be remembered for a lifetime. Your actions have a lasting impact. Don’t forget that.

If you like what you’re reading here, you might like my book, Shattering the Perfect Teacher Myth: 6 Truths That Will Help You THRIVE as an Educator. The book highlights six truths that will help you THRIVE as an educator, including one–reject isolation–that will challenge you to find a tribe of educators to support you in your work. Get the book on Amazon or read more about the book here.

Taking My Own Advice #TeacherMyth

You cannot do it all.

You have to give yourself some grace as you do your work.

You cannot pour into others if your tank is empty.

Over and over again, I’ve found myself sharing these ideas with others this year. Maybe it’s not those exact words. But the message is the same. You can’t do everything. You cannot excel at every task you take on. You cannot expect perfection from yourself. To do your best work, you must step away from the work at some point.

The problem is that while I do a decent job of reminding others of these realities, I find that I’m much better at sharing that with other people than I am at actually following my own advice.

I want to do it all. I want it to be perfect. I want to accomplish it all without having to rest. And if I’m honest, I want it to look effortless.

But I can’t because it’s not.

So I’m trying to take my own advice tonight. I wanted to share it. We all need to hear this (I’m not the only one who needs this reminder, right?). Maybe not today, but file it away for a time where the stress is building, a deadline is approaching, where you can feel that you’re energy is dwindling. When that happens, remember…

You cannot do it all.

You have to give yourself some grace as you do your work.

You cannot pour into others if your tank is empty.

3 Traps That Stall Innovation (and How You Can Avoid Them) #IMMOOC

“Change isn’t something that comes with a checklist.” – Dave Burgess, in the publisher’s foreword to The Innovator’s Mindset

I’d really like it if innovation were a cleaner process. One with less uncertainty. One will less failure. One with a clearer roadmap.

But that’s not what we sign up for when we set out to innovate.

Innovation is most certainly an adventure without a checklist. But even when you set out on an adventure that could go a thousand different ways, there are always a few pitfalls that you know you’ll want to avoid.

If you want to lead innovative change in your sphere of influence, then you have to avoid the pitfalls that sideline many attempts to create something new and different in education.

There are certainly others that could be included, but after thinking through three attempts to innovate over the past few years, I know that these three pitfalls can bring innovation to a halt in a hurry.

Trap #1: Innovation Replication
Innovation is tricky to replicate. A successful innovation provides a new and better solution to an existing problem. Certainly we can benefit from considering the solutions that others have identified, but just because we could implement their solution doesn’t mean we have to or need to. If we don’t have the same question they do, we don’t need try to implement the answer they’ve discovered.

What we can really benefit from is looking at the questions that others asked as they began to innovate. What drove the initial process and got their conversations off the ground? What rules did they choose to ignore? What constraints did they have to overcome?

A careful look at the path others traveled en route to innovation is more likely to benefit us than simply adopting their practice.

But we like continue to prefer solutions because we fear the unknown…

Trap #2: Fear of the Unknown
When we’re trying something new, it’s not uncommon to find ourselves in a bit of uncharted (or at least less charted) territory. While I would never advocate haphazardly jumping into the change process without a plan, I will say that most innovative change that I’ve experienced needs a different sort of planning norm. If you are making a new path, you will not walk on a nicely paved road. You will not be able to anticipate everything. You don’t even know all the obstacles in your path yet. Finding a balance between a comprehensive plan and one that you can actually bring working on is key.

While outcomes can be unpredictable, designing the process can allow you the freedom to focus on the real problem you are tackling. On the outset, identify the problem you are wanting to improve upon and honestly assess where you are at in your current reality. Then set a big goal for where you’d like to be and begin to backwards plan until you get to the actions you’d like to tackle this week. Set checkpoints for yourself, and find someone to help you out with the plan.

But don’t allow yourself to stay in planning mode forever. There’s some comfort in the planning process that you’ll need to step away from or you’ll never get started…

Trap #3: Not getting started
The problem—that area you know needs a touch of innovation—is not going to sort itself out. Your inertia will literally keep you where you are at forever unless an outside force disrupts the status quo (seriously… it’s a basic rule scientific rule). The problem you’ve identified needs an outside force to send it off its current trajectory and in a new direction. You can be that force, but you will be most effective if you don’t go it alone. After you’ve looked at the questions that inspired others to innovate and designed a process to enact a particular change, GET AFTER IT (but not on your own).

You Have a Choice to Make
Each of these traps can be avoided.

Instead of replicating answers, learn from their driving questions.

Instead of fearing the unknown journey ahead, set a goal and backwards plan toward it.

Instead of letting inertia maintain the status quo, draft a plan that you will actually start.

Looking at someone else’s innovation can sometimes leave you feeling like others have the magic touch. They don’t. They just get started on the work.

I love this reminder from J.K. Rowling: “We do not need magic to change the world. We carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: We have the power to imagine better.”

You have a choice to make: Innovate and improve the school experience for your students or let the status quo keep its hold.

Make the right choice.

If you like what you’re reading here, you should check out my book, Shattering the Perfect Teacher Myth. The book highlights six truths that will help you THRIVE as an educator, including one–Imagine it Better–that will challenge you to imagine better than the status quo for your students. Find the book on Amazon or read more about the book here.

Everyday Impact

Teachers who engage students in those everyday moments are remembered for a lifetime.

Sometimes we don’t believe that.

We allow ourselves to believe that memories are made exclusively by a grand gesture. We think we have to be out of the box. Often, we think we have to do something other than be ourselves.

But I really believe that each of those statements are lies.

You will make a difference for the students you serve. Make sure it’s because they see you interact with them in a genuine, authentic way (especially in the everyday interactions). Those exchanges–the ones in the day to day times that seem small and don’t take long–might leave the most profound impact on our students. How we treat people each and every day can create just as memorable an experience as a big event.

Here are 4 simple ways to make everyday interactions places that create a lasting impact on students:

  • Give students fist bumps and high fives. Maybe it’s to celebrate something awesome going on. I tend to like it most when it’s for no reason at all.
  • Take a selfie with a student. Make sure you follow all the proper protocol and procedures for your campus/district so that taking and sharing these moments is nothing but positive. Students love selfies (and it’s especially novel when they get to take them with old people… like us…).
  • Find common ground with students in conversation. Who likes your favorite sports teams? Do you enjoy the same tv shows as any of your students? Do you play the same video games as your students? Even if you don’t (maybe especially if you don’t) immediately have common ground here, making the effort to learn what students enjoy goes a long, long way. Bring up an interest you have in common during your next conversation and watch the student light up!
  • Ask about life outside of school. Show an interest in their upcoming weekend plans (or how the weekend just went). Find out what kids are involved in outside of school. Who’s in the local theater company? Who’s competing on the weekends? Who’s at the library over the weekend? Who’s bored (and ready to come back to school) most of the weekend? All of this is great to learn about your students.

Everyday interactions happen each and every day. Each one is an opportunity to make a positive impact on students. Don’t miss your chance to make an impact!

Click to tweet this image & blog!

If you like what you’re reading here, consider checking out my book, Shattering the Perfect Teacher Myth. The book highlights six truths that will help you THRIVE as an educator, including one–Everyday Every Day–that discusses how our daily interactions with students often create the longest lasting impact. Read more about the book here or find the book on Amazon