The Power of Story

I loved reading my students’ writing, but one assignment in particular always brought out the most interesting reflections from my students.

The writing assignment asked students to wrestle first with this claim—“The thing about humans is that they are constantly comparing themselves to one another”—before moving on to the idea that with few exceptions, we are “people who [are] wired up so that something outside [ourselves] tells [us] who [we are]” (both quotations from Donald Miller’s, Searching for God Knows What).

That’s a lot to consider, but in class, when we kept the conversation focused on how this might apply to the literature we covered throughout the year, we not only found this idea to be true, but we also found this truth to be much more tolerable when applied to anyone other than ourselves. It seemed much easier to see that Huck Finn believed in half-truths and bald faced lies throughout his story than it was to ask whether we have treated others as less than human for the same reasons. Likewise, it seemed much easier to condemn the community that shuns Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter than to look at the reasons we accept or reject people today.

After talking about how stories shaped some of the characters we met throughout the year, we shifted the focus onto ourselves and asked: “What is your story? Who are you listening to? How is that going?”

Despite the relative discomfort caused by bringing this all up in class, my students overwhelmed me with their responses as they wrote about taking care of their families, setting goals to make people smile daily, and how exhausting it is to try to keep everyone thinking that everything is going great in their lives. Many wrote about clinging to the values that had been instilled in them. More than a few wrote about the relief of not having to be known as “the funny guy” or “the quiet one” after high school.

What shapes your story?

If we are truly wired up so that something outside of us tells us who we are, we need to ask ourselves the same questions I posed to my students. We need to identify the story we are living out. We need to identify the voices who we are letting in, the voices that influence on our journey. And we owe it to ourselves to honestly ask how that is going.

To say the least, that’s not easy.

There are certainly no shortage of voices that we could let in as educators. And with all those voices out there, if you don’t know which ones to listen to, you’re going to try to please them all. (Here’s a secret: That doesn’t work out well.)

Educators and students are labeled in all sorts of ways. Whether or not those labels are fair, whether or not those labels are accurate, the reality is that labels are there; they have a real power to influence us. It’s up to us to choose what gets fed into our story and what’s left on the cutting room floor.

The story can get distorted pretty quickly. Maybe you’ve believed you don’t have the experience to contribute to the team. Maybe you want to make a change, but you’re not sure what your team will think. Maybe you just feel like you are not enough for all your students need. Maybe that’s not you, but something else is there lingering in the back of your mind.

Take a minute and ask yourself those questions: What is your story? Who are you listening to? How is that going?

Write down your responses. Write down the voices you want to listen to and a couple of ways you can give those your attention. Write down a few voices you know will try to speak into your story that you plan on not giving your attention to.

Whose story will you shape?

But don’t stop with simply recognizing the ways that stories influence you. There’s an even bigger realization that we cannot miss: If we are wired up to let outside influences impact our stories, then we have the chance to serve others as a positive voice in their story.

What we have to say to others—friends and foes, new and old—matters more than we might have previously believed. It can profoundly shape someone’s story.

Don’t believe me?

Odds are that it’s no work at all to bring back a hurtful comment or a time someone went out of the way to pay you a genuine compliment. Both inform your story. Be the person who speaks truth and encouragement to others. You have no idea how powerful an impact it may have on someone’s story!

As you move throughout your week, I hope you seek out opportunities to speak life and truth into the lives of those around you—both those closest to you and those you’ve not even met. It’s your responsibility and your privilege to invest in others in this way.

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. Click here to learn more about the book on my blog or find the book on Amazon.

Top 10 Tips For Student Blogging (guest post by @mrodz308)

Near the end of the school year, I had the chance to see something amazing happening in one of the elementary schools in my school district. Marina Rodriguez (@mrodz308), a 4th grade dual language teacher at South Knoll Elementary, reached out to see if I would come by and participate in the “Hour of Blog”–a time she and her students use after school to explore all things blogging.

The experience was amazing.

She and her students, none of whom began the school year with any blogging experience, created hundreds of blog posts throughout their after school “Hour of Blog” they began together during the spring semester. Our time together went so quickly. The students asked wonderful questions and shared insights beyond their years.

A lot of people would look at the end product and want to replicate it, but not know where to get started. I asked if she would share about her experience. Marina was happy to share about the project and offer some tips for anyone who is interested in getting your students blogging. I also love the student and parent reflections she shares, too.

Enjoy this post from Marina Rodriguez, and get your students blogging!

Back in January of 2017, I decided to bring blogging into my 4th grade dual language classroom.  With state testing right around the corner, I wanted to offer my students something engaging they could experiment with, lead, and make their own.  I caught the name of a blogging website called Kidblog off a post on Twitter, and the only thing I knew for sure was that this blogsite was safe for kids.

My initial concerns were many… How would I introduce something I have never done before? When would we find the time to practice this unique genre?  Are my students mature enough to handle working independently online?  Will the novelty of trying something new fizzle out before we get anything valuable accomplished?  How would I make sure students practice good writing habits?  How would I manage it all for so many students, when they will have online access anywhere, anytime?  Is it crazy to try to do this on my own with 4th graders?

Even with the many concerns, blogging online seemed to carry possibilities that would excite our learning and launch us into something new and wonderful.  After talking with a small group of my students for some feedback, we decided to make it an experiment.  I decided to trust that my students would at the very least have fun trying something new.  I took a breath and we jumped into the digital world.

What happened in my classroom those next few months of school was nothing short of amazing.  My classroom shifted.  We went from a classroom to a community, from students to guides, from rule-followers to leaders… independent problem solvers, collaborators, creators, innovators, and explorers.  Learning became contagious.  Students kept a “Blogger’s Notebook” and worked hard to find reasons to write, and they wrote often.

During this process, I became a part of this magnificent shift in our learning environment.  I became a guide and an actively engaged learner.  I learned to trust myself as I pushed to learn more, just as I encourage my students to do the same. This adventure helped me to become a blogger.  I also discovered that my students, my bloggers… are some amazing human beings.  They ended the school year feeling like a part of the world around them, thinking beyond the walls of the classroom, and ready to make an impact.

Here are my Top 10 Tips for Student Blogging for teachers thinking about getting started…

Top 10 Tips for Student Blogging

  1. Why blog?

Let your students in on this secret… the more you write, the better you get at it.  Here are a few other reasons… to value student voice, to give students meaningful and purposeful reasons to write, to allow students to learn for themselves and learn from each other, to allow students to make an impact on the world, to connect with others and build relationships, to experience having an authentic audience, to struggle and reflect, to explore, to grow, to research, to collaborate, to problem solve, to create, to innovate, to practice critical thinking, to prepare for the future.  There are many other reasons why blogging can be powerful for students.  Blogging helps students learn, reflect, and grow.

Encouraging students to write what they want as much as possible is a powerful way to grow writers and critical thinkers.  When students have the freedom to lead their own learning, amazing things will happen.

  1. Make Expectations Crystal Clear

Making expectations crystal clear is key for just about anything.  Picture your ideal learning environment, then let students in on your vision.  Together, you can build towards that goal.  Teach mini-lesson, after mini-lesson, offer reminders, reviews, notes, etc., as much as you see is needed.  In an ideal learning environment, everyone is a learner, and everyone should develop the skill of guiding others to learn new things.

The goal is to have a room full of independent, critical thinkers, and creative problem solvers.  With the right guidance, a classroom can quickly become a place where both students and teacher carry the title of Guide, where everyone is able to offer what they know with respect and willing to help others in the process, not because it is a mandate, but because it’s the right thing to do.

  1. Begin with a Small Group

It is easier to manage things when you start small.  Begin with a group of 6-8 students who you think would not have issue with independently making decisions, setting goals, expectations, etc.  These students can be your mentors for the rest of the class.

Guide your small group in the right direction, but allow them the freedom to lead and make decisions.  Hold special blogging meetings during lunch or before school, to help launch and establish their special leadership positions.  Encourage a plan for everything, so they understand that things work best when planned.  This will give students ownership, and naturally allow them to develop the need to care and protect their work with great passion.  Students will often set the bar much higher than you expect, and will lead other students to do the same.

  1. Encourage Inquiry Projects

Inquiry learning is phenomenal.  Encourage students to use blogging to share what they learn.  When children begin school at the age of 4-5, they come in excited and ready to explore the world, often with spectacular curiosity.  They are typically ready to jump into learning and exploring with little fear or hesitation.  As the years in a classroom begin to lay its heavy hand on their curious minds, students become less of explorers and more rule followers.

Allow for natural curiosity and exploration to develop through student inquiry projects.  Blogging about an inquiry project is a fantastic way to bring back a student’s inner explorer.  Students practice developing a higher-level ability to think through what they want to learn and make good choices, not because “the teacher” told them so, but because true explorers and learners must make good decisions as they push to learn more.

Encouraging the explorer part of a student’s brain is essential to having a student-centered learning environment.  Allow students to investigate, research, and write about the things they enjoy or find intriguing and/or interesting.  It can lead to some powerful learning.

  1. Share with Parents, Admin, and Others

Sharing student work with an authentic audience can make a powerful impact.  I still remember the look on my students faces, when we talked about having their parents and other teachers read their work.  They were both nervous, but incredibly excited.  These experiences help students truly own their work, and it helps them to understand the true purpose of this communication skill we call writing.  It’s more than developing a writer or blogger, it is showing students that their words have value and can cause impact.

Publishing for a target audience helps students understand that the value of their own voice.  Not only is it important for students to publish and publish often, but by focusing on specific audiences, students practice real-world communication skills.  Writing to specific audiences is a skill that students will use for the rest of their lives.

  1. Digital Citizenship vs. Being a Good Human

The best advice to give students is that they are responsible for being good humans, both inside the digital world and out in the real world.  The difference between having digital citizenship and being a good human is absolutely nothing. The sooner students understand that who they are online is who they are in real life, the better.

Technology is a part of our everyday lives, and students need us more than ever to help guide them into making good choices.  Trusting that students do the right thing may sound like a lot to ask, but it is well worth the investment when student-centered learning is the goal.  Most students would rather participate in the digital environment to learn, than to be denied that option for poor choices.

  1. Walk Them Through the First Blog

Guiding students through their first piece is important, because it sets the expectation.  Our 21st Century Students know a lot; however, they need our experience and our guidance now more than ever to help keep them on the right learning path.

Don’t expect perfection, expect their best work.  You may want to approve the first few blogs before they post to an audience, however, only a teacher knows when best to move a student on to what comes next.  Make sure to give them the freedom to write without your approval at some point, better sooner than later.  Try to read all of their work, as much as possible.  When students begin to write more than you can keep up with, you have succeeded in creating a group of students who are living as writers.

  1. Focus on the 4 C’s

According to the National Education Association (NEA), in order to prepare our 21st Century Students for a global society, we must help them develop four key components:

  1. Critical Thinking & Problem Solving
  2. Communication
  3. Collaboration
  4. Creativity & Innovation

All four components can easily be embedded into blogging.  Making sure students understand why these components are important will help keep them focused on the big picture… their future.

  1. Teachers Can Be Bloggers Too

The best way to lead students into blogging is leading by example.  Diving into something new with your students is a priceless experience for both you and your students.  It turns everyone into a learner instantly, and allows both the teacher and students the opportunity to live as true explorers.  What an amazing experience to offer students!  Sharing experiences, good and bad, reduces the fear of making mistakes and builds an environment where students feel safe to learn, grow, take risks, and push forward to become life-long learners.

  1. Give It Time

Give yourself and your students time to develop.  Again, only the teacher knows when her class is ready for what comes next.  The use of a program that allows students to write electronically anywhere they have access to the internet is exciting.  They will develop quickly the need to write, and write often.  They will make mistakes, and you will need to help teach them how to pick up the pieces, how to make their writing stronger, fresh and fearless, or more impactful.  It will take time, but it will happen sooner than you think.

Technology is in integral part of the lives of our students.  Blogging is one way to help students maneuver in an environment that will continue to be an important part of their lives.  Preparing our 21st Century Students to become leaders in a world already at their fingertips is not only important, but necessary.


Comments from my 4th grade class of 2016-17 students and parents…

“I blog because it is fun and I love inspiring people. It helps them get through a problem.”  -Malichi, 4th Grade 

“I love blogging because it’s a way for me to express my writing in the form of technology, and I just love how blogging brought all of us together as a tiny community.”  -Mariana, 4th Grade

“I like blogging because it is challenging for me.”  -Juan, 4th Grade

“I like to blog about just about anything I can.  I like blogging because I like seeing other people’s perspectives on blogging and what they think about the different categories that you can blog about. I personally think it’s COOL to see what other people think about it.”  -Isaiah, 4th Grade

“I like to blog about things that would help you later in life. I also like to post quotes and poems.”        

-Luke, 4th Grade 

“I like blogging about poems. I like blogging because it helps me interact with my friends.”  -Luis, 4th Grade

“I like to Blog about how to build character. Most of my Blogs are in the category of Building Character. I like to Blog because it is a great way to express your feelings for a certain topic. Blogging is a great experience!  I can’t wait to continue with it.”  -Sam, 4th Grade

“I like to blog about Star Wars, and science fiction.  I like to blog because I do not like to share my work a lot, but Kidblog makes it less scary.”  -Hudson, 4th Grade 

“I love to blog because other people can learn from my blogs and create more like mine, and just carry on the idea! I blog to change the world, and to follow my dreams! ( ; I like writing encouraging poems and also writing fictional stories.”  -Halle, 4th Grade

“I like to blog because it helps me with my learning and my writing skills.”  -Efrain, 4th Grade

“I like to blog about things like family. I also like it because you can learn from it, and you get to chat about the things that you are to do. You can learn from your mistakes, and that helps you get better, and you will love it even more. That is why I love blogging.” -Madison, 4th Grade

“It is fun and educational.”  -Nathanael, 4th Grade

“I like blogging what is in my mind. I think that blogging what is in my mind makes others think how I think about things around me.”  -Ashley, 4th Grade

“I like to blog, because you can interact with your friends, you can share your writing, and give your opinion about the writing.”  -Paloma, 4th Grade

“I like blogging, because the options to write about are endless…”  -Lily, 4th Grade 

“Blogging helped my daughter in so many ways with her attitude toward writing and her overall writing skills!  She would write short stories here and there at home prior to blogging. Once introduced to blogging, her short stories began to expand to include elaborate titles and chapters! She began writing stories!  She looked forward to being a part of the blogging group after school. She learned to express more of her thoughts on paper/computer.  Being shy, this provided an outlet for her. She found that writing can be fun! She would think of topics, plan ahead and write creatively.  We are grateful that she was introduced to blogging at SK by you!” -Parent

“So many positive changes in my son since he began the blogging class with you.  He has always been a voracious reader, this opened him up to the process of writing & not dreading writing assignments.  I even noticed improvement in his vocabulary & spelling habits.  For him being such an introvert, the most positive change I noticed was social.  He seemed to forge stronger friendships with his classmates as this was a fun bonding assignment outside of the normal classroom setting.  He corresponded via email with a classmate about topics & ideas for their blog, and spend lots of time brainstorming & collaborating with a friend.  Having a “special” time & fun activity outside of the traditional classroom structure was so beneficial for my son, as it gave him the opportunity to be creative & have complete control over his work product.  We are so thankful & appreciative for this opportunity, and… he thoroughly enjoyed staying after class each week to participate!” -Parent

“My son has grown immensely this year in his writing and I believe it is largely due in part to his blog experience.  I have seen him use his free time to write and blog, which is a big change from years past.  He enjoys brainstorming and coming up with new ideas for his writing… I wanted you to know how much you had an impact on him.” -Parent

“The blogging experience conducted by Mrs. Marina Rodriguez helped my daughter increase her interest and motivation in writing generally, and more specifically in writing poetry and even some ‘philosophical’ meditations about life and other essential topics. She became more aware of her spelling weaknesses and made the best of the opportunity to correct them. She also visualized (and still does) herself as a ‘blogger’ and, in many occasions, she has introduced herself to other people by using the expression: ‘I am a blogger.’ It clearly means that she has become more familiar with several contemporary media platforms that are now part of our daily technological experience. My daughter also had the opportunity to interact with some of her classmates’ blogging activities, exchanging therefore with them thoughts and getting in the know of their areas of interest or concern. That made her more aware of her circle of friends and contributed toward friendship and communication, and not the opposite. Also, she has kept her interest up projected to the future and plan to continuing her blogging activity despite the class is over.” -Parent

“We feel it is a wonderful example of using current technological resources to reach children academically… without them seeing it as work at all!  Well done!” – Parent

“Blogging created an excitement for writing for my son.  He was often eager to share what he had written with our family.  He also enjoyed reading others entries.  I felt like blogging was very helpful for his social and emotional well-being and helped him feel very connected with his classmates and wonderful teacher!  Thank you Sra. Rodriguez!” -Parent

“I feel that it helped my daughter become more expressive with her writing. This is obviously very subjective, but it seems that she started to see writing as more of a tool to initiate communication than simply something used to respond to others.” -Parent

Be sure to check out Marina’s blog ( and connect with her on Twitter (@mrodz308).

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.

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.

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.

4 Videos That Inspire Perseverance

4-videosGrit. Perseverance. Tenacity. Growth Mindset.

We all know we need these qualities. We all know that students need them, too.

Admittedly, each term has its own nuances to it, but when I look at them, they seem to be in the same family of characteristics that I want students (and myself) to have.

But for as much as we talk about these in our schools, it sure can seem like it’s hard to find them at times.

In some educational conversations, I grow tired of the same, well worn paths being covered over and over, but not with these. Even the repetition of these ideas doesn’t bother me. In fact, it’s probably what I need most.

What I need to do is remember the things that are too easy to forget.

Things like Angela Duckworth’s reminder that, “Grit is living life like a marathon, not like a sprint.” Things like the value of a growth mindset. Stuff that’s really simple, but when lived out causes a profound impact.

More than just being told about these things we’ve all heard a bit about, stories help drive home the importance of these qualities when I begin to forget. Here are a few of my favorite videos from ESPN that remind me of the rewards for getting this right.

ew_e_brown_b1_800x450Spirit to Soar is about Charlotte Brown, a Texas high school pole vaulter whose vision has deteriorated to the point that she is legally blind. Yep. You read that right. She’s a blind pole vaulter. Undaunted in the face of what many would consider insurmountable challenge, Brown’s story is pretty incredible. It’s a great one to share with students as they approach the end of a semester, and part of the story really lends itself to conversation about what we listen to and what we allow to distract us. I think those are always conversations worth having.

472725060_1280x720Longshot tells the story of Stephen Curry before he became STEPH CURRY, NBA champion, league MVP, able to make half court shots look routine, king of the basketball world (at least for a time, for some). He’s great now, but what I love about the video is the way that it focuses on Steph’s struggles as a young athlete. I have two favorite sections: one about breaking down his shot as a young shooter and one about what his coach at Davidson saw in him. I love the idea that the thing Curry is most famous for now was once his weakness. That’s a powerful message for students (and for adults) to hear. I also love the way Curry’s coach talks about what he saw in Curry’s game; it’s a powerful reminder of the power we posses as educators to build others up, even when some don’t see potential in students.

dm_141120_misc_e60_catchingkaylaCatching Kayla is another track and field story, but this one focuses more on the power of relationships and the ways we can support students as educators. Kayla excels as an athlete, but she does that in the face of medical conditions that allow her to continue to compete, but prevent her from even having the strength to stand after finishing her races. It’s a great reminder of the power of giving it our all and the importance of knowing our limits. I think it’s a great reminder of the value of having someone who is there to help when we have given all we have. A great lesson for students and educators alike.

maxresdefaultDrive tells the story of Richie Parker. He’s not an athlete, but he does work for Hendrick Motorsports. What makes Richie unique is his drive to let nothing stop him from doing what others can do. Also, he was born with no arms. This video is great to put me in my place when I start to think that life is hard. Certainly there is a time for that, but it’s not a place where I want to dwell. Parker’s story, attitude, and grit push me to be better for myself and others.

It’s worth mentioning that we can really pigeonhole the whole conversation by exclusively likening it to these sorts of “athlete who overcomes” stories, but I think there’s some real value to having these stories out there. They resonate deeply, and they’re a great entry point into the conversation or into a deeper version of it.

So I hope these are useful for you or your colleagues or your students. Really I hope they are useful for all of those groups. We’ve all given a lot up until this point, but our students deserve the best as we finish out the semester.

How can you use these videos in your classroom or on your campus? What are the other videos that are worth including alongside these? What will you do to help students and teachers finish the semester strong over the next few weeks?

12 Can’t Miss Blog Posts


It’s no overstatement to say that blogging has had an incredible impact on my life over the past two years. I’ve written about the impact getting connected has had on me recently (here’s the link if you’re interested), and a great deal of the growth has come through reading and writing blogs.

I’ve come across so much that’s great this year that I wanted to share a few great posts from 2016.

As we return to school, we have but a short few weeks to make an impact on those we serve. The ideas I came across in these posts challenged me and stuck with me, and I want to pass them along your way in case you’re up for the challenge, too.

I’ll go ahead and say this because it applies to each of these posts: I love the post, the blog is a must follow, and the educators who are putting this down are beyond remarkable. They’re inspirational. They’re not perfect, but they’re doing what’s right by kids. That’s all that we can ask of anyone, right?

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the posts. Share some of the memorable posts you’ve come across in the comments. I’d love to see the posts that were memorable to you this year!

Blogging is Your Job by George Couros was just the right mix of challenge and affirmation that I needed. I keep reposting it because I often forget the importance of it. Couros writes about the vital role that reflection plays in our own growth and makes it pretty plain that we cannot afford to treat things like blogging as anything other than crucial to our success.

Graduating with Empathy by Ryan Jackson challenged me to not only value empathy but also think about how we are instilling this virtue in our students each and every day. I thought about it in the spring for the high school students I served, and I think about it frequently for the 5th and 6th graders I serve this year. As a leader, getting empathy right is of great importance to me, and I’m thankful for Jackson’s words on the subject here.

Growing as Professionals by Jeff Mann is a great reminder of the need to be constantly pushing ourselves forward. Mann calls us to be thinking about what needs rethinking and to make sure we’re taking time to reflect on that individually and collectively.

Why Duct Tape and Cardboard Might Be Better a Better Option Than a 3D Printer by John Spencer pushes us past the glitz and glamour of all the new toys that dominate much of the innovation and makerspace conversation into the reality that we all need to exist in: It doesn’t have to be flashy to be innovative and what’s best for students. His fresh perspective encouraged me to keep asking how we can accomplish great things without depending on having every great tool.

Shifting the Grading Mindset Starts With Our Words by Starr Sackstein is the blog post that has started pushed me into countless conversations on grades, assessment, homework, and learning. While many are quick to start the conversation about what they dislike, Starr’s post here (as is her habit) focuses not on what we need to ditch but on appropriate replacements for our standard vocabulary surrounding grades. Whether you’re new to the conversation or quite comfortable, the post will push you in the right direction.

Know Your Place and Be Intentional by Jeremy Stewart is a post by a good friend of mine about a mutual friend of ours who passed away in the spring. I could go on about it, but I like his words better.

Coffee Talk by Chad Lehrmann is all about Chad’s first steps into redesigning his classroom and all the thoughts that accompany a change of that magnitude. Chad is doing incredible things in his classroom, and I could have pulled any number of posts to highlight here.

#Booksnaps – Snapping for Learning by Tara Martin still freaks me out. I’m not on Snap Chat (well, I’m on there to claim my name, but that’s it), but Tara Martin is doing amazing things using the app for good. I often think I look at things in an innovative way, but jumping into a new medium to start learning like this seems scary. Check out what all she is doing with #BookSnaps at the initial link or HERE where she updated the post and shared it on Dave Burgess’ blog.

20 Books By Teachers, For Teachers to Inspire Your Teaching by Matt Miller is a great list of books that’s just what it sounds like. Look through the list, find a new book, dig into it over the break, and get pumped up about a great spring semester.

When They Don’t Drink The Cool Aid by Brent Clarkson challenges us to help others get connected. So many write about the benefits of being connected, but Brent’s challenge is just what we need to help welcome others into this whole connected experience.

The Awkward Beauty of Inverted Leadership by Mark McCord is about the ways we need to rethink our traditional understanding of what exactly we expect a leader to look like and act like. His post asks nothing short of a paradigm shift from us, so beware that there are no quick fixes offered here.

Dinner with a Gentlemen by Todd Nesloney wraps up the list with a bit of inspiration. I won’t spoil it here, but when you’re having an off day, a day when you might wonder “Why am I doing this?” or “Does this work even matter?” to yourself, take time to read the post.

Before you go, don’t forget to take a moment to share a post that’s worth rereading in the comments. Thanks in advance for the great stuff you’ll pass along!

Why Educators Must Innovate #IMMOOC


Take a look at this image.


Do you know what you’re looking at?

That’s what they were stealing in the first Fast and the Furious movie in 2001.

That’s crazy to me. They could have filled that thing with anything they wanted, any technology imaginable, and they filled it with a bunch of VCRs, TV/VCRs, and camcorders. I remember watching the movie and being totally enthralled. It was entirely believable and absolutely appropriate for them to be chasing down a Semi-Truck full of this stuff, but when you look at it now, it’s laughable.

I mean, really… a 13″ TV/VCR is front and center.

If that’s not enough, check out the storage for the plans they used:


Obviously a lot can change in 15 years.

We all know this, but these images put that reality into perspective for me. It makes me wonder about things. It make me ask myself, “If that’s what was on the movie of the summer, what was in our classrooms? How much has changed with technology? What about in our classrooms?”

Why innovate?

Here’s my worry: Schools that don’t innovate are going to look like this, and it likely won’t take 15 years to happen. In all likelihood, it’s probably happening more places than we’d like to admit right now.

If we don’t change, we’re going to end up looking like that picture appears to us now–irrelevant, a relic of the past. For some (maybe even many) what we were doing now will be nearly unrecognizable in the not so distant future. In hindsight, some of what we understood as best practice not too long ago seems that way.

We can’t control the fact that our schools will continue to grow, but if we don’t start getting some movement now and gaining momentum today, we’re going to end up so big and so settled in that our own inertia will keep us from moving forward. With each day that passes without innovation, we only make it harder to make change happen in the future.

So what can we do?

I love the simple definition that George Couros shares often of innovation.

It’s not about the tools. Not about the technology. Not about an app or about a device or even necessarily about anything that might be considered forward thinking otherwise.

His definition? It’s innovative if it’s new and better.

I like that. It opens things up for me in a way that’s really helpful and encourages me to consider some ideas I’m trying as a little more innovative than I would have at first glance.

It makes all sorts of things (not just what’s technologically cutting edge) an innovative effort, and the desire to innovate under this definition prompts me to be always looking forward.

I need that push to make sure I’m not getting comfortable. I think we all do.

Because so much is changing so often, educators have a choice to make: change or be changed. I, for one, prefer to take an active role (as much as is possible) in that process.

What are you doing this year to be innovative?

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. I’ll also share throughout the year as I try to innovate and help others do the same. Check out the #IMMOOC hashtag to see some conversation about innovation in education.

An Educator’s Social Media Guide

An Educator's Social Media Guide

There’s a lot of talk these days about how worthwhile it is to be a connected educator. I’m one of those people doing that talking. I’m trying me best to be out there doing what I can to help people get connected. Odds are, you are, too. I might even be a nuisance to some people about it, but there’s good reason for that. Here’s why—There’s nothing that I’ve done that has had a bigger impact on me as a professional than getting connected online.

It’s not hard to find these crusaders for the professional growth online. The “Why get on Twitter?” message is pretty powerful, but the “How to get on Twitter” conversation is often oversimplified (or nearly neglected). Jump on Twitter, find a few educators, and let the magic happen, right?

Well, sometimes it’s not that simple.

The truth is that I jumped on Twitter in 2009 and proceeded to do nothing with it for 5 years.


5 wasted years.

Don’t get me wrong; I learned a ton where I was planted. My story is not one of those where I am the lone educator wanting to reimagine our current reality, struggling against all odds, and so on. As a matter of fact, it’s quite the opposite. I’m surrounded by an incredible group of educators in my school district who want to do what’s right for students whether that looks familiar or new. They’re amazing educators and even better people, and they push me to get better all the time.

I know that’s the exception to the rule, and I’m thankful for that each and every day.

In a certain sense, though, part of those 5 years was wasted.

Every educator has his or her own reasons for being on Twitter. For me, the really short version of why I engage in professional conversation on social media is that Twitter is a space where educators reject isolation, celebrate together, and continue professional growth.

When I first jumped into the Twitterverse, I wanted those things (I probably couldn’t have articulated it that way, but I think that was all in there somewhere). But when I got into in, I didn’t know what to do. I looked at tweets from famous people, tweeted 30 something times, and then gave up. For 5 years.

This post is what I wish I would have known then. If someone had stepped in and provided a little direction in any one of these areas (or their 2009 equivalents), I think it’s pretty likely I would have stayed.

I Knew I Should Be On Twitter, But I Didn’t Know What To Do When I Got There

My first issue was that I had no idea what to do once I got to the app. I’d share a bit about something foolish I’d seen or about the Astros or about Texas A&M football, and none of it ever seemed to matter much to me or to anyone else out there—especially educators. Nobody had ever told me there was a better way. What I wish I had known—there were educators gathering together for chats (in growing numbers) to discuss ideas that would push my thinking and challenge me to consider new perspectives as I grew professionally.

Initially this change came from who I followed. My process wasn’t exactly scientific. If I saw people saying something I liked (meaning it was encouraging or challenging), I followed them. I think it really is this simple. Pretty quickly you begin to trust a few voices out there, and when you do, look at who they follow. They might not all be a good fit, but there’s likely to be an educator or an organization that will push you, too.

The other thing to check out is people’s lists.

Screen Shot 2016-08-18 at 1.09.32 AM

I have one that includes a bunch of people who push my own thinking (here’s the link), but there are tons of them out there. You can also find tons of great educators on Fridays by looking at the #FF posts of those you follow and trust.

I also love the advice from Ryan McLane and Eric Lowe at a conference this summer. Whether you’re sharing for your school of for yourself, with each post, do your best to engage, inform, and inspire others. It’s about as succinct a summary as I can find for what we as educators should be about online. If we accomplish that, we’re heading in the right direction.

Once I was following some folks who challenged, encouraged, inspired, and grew me, it didn’t take long to notice that Twitter chats were going to be pivotal in my online learning experience.

A Twitter chat is a conversation that happens around a particular hashtag at an agreed upon time. They often happen weekly, and they’re usually an hour long (though more 30 minute chats are starting up). More than anything, they’re my favorite place to connect with new educators and try on new ideas.

Here’s Cybraryman’s list of more chats than you can hope to every participate in. Check it out. There’s something for everyone. While you’re there, check out Jerry Blumengarten’s other great resources like this page on how to actually engage in a Twitter chat. I also put together a short (really rough) video on how to use TweetDeck when chatting (it’s a must). Check out that video here.

Now that I’ve dumped a good bit of information on you, here’s a bit about my journey into the Twitter chat world.

My first interactions with Twitter chats weren’t really interactions at all. I was there, but I didn’t say anything. An avid twitter chat lurker, I was there looking at the questions, seeing the responses, and—on the rare occasion I was feeling especially bold—marking a few as favorites (now rebranded as “likes”).

I watched what must have been months of #TXeduchat before jumping in. It was great (and a little scary), but mostly great! If you’ve not been in a chat before, this is a great place to shift your online learning into the next gear.

Two pieces of advice here: You have more to say than you likely give yourself credit for, and your work is worth sharing. Nothing sums this up better than this video from Derek Sivers:

I love what Dave Burgess says about this: “If what you know or have can help educators, you have a moral imperative to get good at sharing it.”

When educators share like we’re talking about here, we all get better. The snowball picks up the best sort of momentum as it rolls, and each time we’re online we find new educators to push us as we grow.

Until it starts to feel like too much.

The Blessings and Curses of So Much Good Content

At first, you can read most of what is in your timeline, but soon enough, the great ideas are going to become overwhelming in number.

Twitter isn’t designed to be a “read everything that’s posted” experience. If you try to treat it as such, you’re going to drive yourself a little crazy. Still, there’s all this great content that’s out there that could be just the sort of tweet you need. Maybe it’s the article you’ve been looking for or the blog post that everyone’s reading. You wouldn’t want to miss it, but you can’t read everything. What do you do?

nuzzelEnter Nuzzel.

Nuzzel is an app that aggregates all the blogs and articles shared by the people you are following. It’s like a best of list that’s automatically updated daily with what’s new and notable for you. And it’s awesome.

I use it every signle day. Zero exaggeration. It’s the first place I go when I have a few minutes to engage, especially when I come across a surprise gap in my day (like when you finish up something and have 8 minutes before afternoon duty).

The app is slick, the posts are customized to me, and it’s easy to share what I like right from the app. You can even check out the feeds of other Nuzzel users. I like that opportunity to see what my friends are seeing as well as those who are far away from me.

I promise I’m not getting anything from them; it’s just a great tool to keep in the know when time is at a premium (which is nearly every weekday of the school year, right?).

So Many Tweets, So Little Time

It happened again last week. I got asked if I ever sleep because of my Tweets.

It doesn’t bother me at all. Really it’s a conversation starter.

As I look through my feed, I often came across people who would binge post—you know, post all 25 ideas they had in about a 10 minute time period. While that certainly shares your thoughts, it does so in a way that concentrates all of your contributions to a single time period (and, at times, can annoy some of the people who follow you). You can definitely overdo it on the worrying about what others think of your Twitter posts end (really quickly in fact), but this is where I come back to a previous idea—you have so much good stuff to share that I hate it when little things get in the way of sharing great ideas.

So, take it or leave it, here’s an idea for sharing content at different times of the day. What I, and many others, do is schedule out much of the content (i.e. blog posts, articles, info about upcoming chats) beforehand when I have time. It helps me find time away from my phone and social media while still sharing ideas that stretch and refine me. bufferI use an app called Buffer to do this for me. It integrates seamlessly with Nuzzel, and it allows you to push posts into a queue to be shared at scheduled times in the future. It’s another app I use daily, and it helps me manage being a connected educator while giving me time to be a fully engaged husband, dad, and friend.

My “Internet Friends”

My wife thinks it’s hilarious that I have what she calls “internet friends.” You see, at some point, my connections online reached a point where it was far more appropriate to call these folks my friends than someone I followed on Twitter. Even as I type it, I know it sounds a little ridiculous. The internet isn’t supposed to be a place where you strike up friendships, but I can truly say I have found a group of friends there. I’ve asked their advice, heard their struggles, shared in victories and in hardships, and I’ve even had them and their families over for dinner. It’s great, but none of it would have happened if I only used Twitter.

voxerOne last app suggestion for you—Voxer.

Voxer is a push to talk, walkie talkie app that many educators are using to find deeper connections than communication in 140 characters allows. Even if you could send longer text, there’s something different about hearing the passion in someone’s voice or their heartbreak as they share their heart about how they want to make a difference in the lives of students and teachers. For me, Voxer provides me a space for that. It’s how I start and end each and every day at work. As a result, I’m connected to people across the country and across my district in ways that otherwise wouldn’t be possible.

The real value of pursuing professional growth on social media is the people you will meet.

They’re amazing.

They will challenge you, know you, push you, support you, encourage you, and inspire you.

There are educators who will be better after interacting with you, and you will be better after interacting with them.

More than anything, I hope that educators find what they’re looking for and more as they jump online. My challenge to you is to find someone in your building as the year starts to join us as we all get better together! There’s a decent chance they’ve heard they should get online, but they just don’t know how yet. Learn from my mistakes; start sharing today!



My first day in the classroom was terrible.

It wasn’t bad in the “I’m supposed to say I was bad because I can tell I’ve grown since then and I don’t want to boast” sense either. It was bad.

I had first period off (which is great any other day of the year for most people, but especially for this non morning person). On this first day, though, it just left time for the knots in my stomach to tighten themselves into even more knots.

As I was walking back into the main building to get some water, the power went out. I was going to get a day reprieve! We couldn’t have school with the power out, right?


My department head comes walking around the corner, and instead of telling me she would see me the next day, she said in a really positive, supportive manner that they were working on getting everything fixed up as quickly as possible and that I would do a great job and that she was excited to hear about how my first day went.


So I go back to my portable and begin to put on this ridiculous costume that I decided to use during my first minutes of teaching ever. On top of my uncomfortable shirt and tie teacher clothes I put on a rain jacket. On top of that, I’m wearing my graduation robe. The plan was for me to start with the end (graduation) in mind, then point to how I was going to be their guide on the path toward that goal, and then end with the realization that I was the teacher who could get them there. At this point, they would realize how much they were going to love me and this class, but things didn’t exactly go according to plan.

What actually happened was more like this.

I put everything on and began to sweat. Blame it on the first day of school or on it being MY first day of school or on not having any power on August 25th in central Texas or whatever else you want. Regardless of where fault lies, I’m really sweating by the time students arrive. Like beads of sweat I can feel. Not fun and not exactly how I wanted to start the day or my career.

I’ll spare you the details about the rest of the day and offer this summary: I pushed through the entire morning of classes packed with 30 high school juniors in a portable with no power for the video clips and slideshow I prepared or for the music I had carefully chosen to let them know I was someone they could relate to. Also there was no power for the air conditioning.

I remember sitting in the lunchroom thinking about what else I could do with my life. The morning left me embarrassed, frustrated, and pretty intimidated about actually coming back for day 2.

But I came back, and things got better.

My Worst Decision

I made a lot of bad decisions that first day, but the worst decision from my first day didn’t have anything to do with what all was happening or not happening in the classroom.

My worst decision was to sit silently by my peers at lunch while I felt so stressed.

Right there sitting next to me were the people who could help me most, the people who became my friends, the people who taught me how to teach.

And I just sat there and beat myself up. The story ends well, but on that day I felt like I needed to pull this all together myself, like that was what the best of the best did. I had convinced myself that this was how to make it.

The single best thing that happened that day was that a nearby teacher came by, brought me a Coke, and said, “How’s it going?” and talked to with me about how things were, in fact, going. Don’t get me wrong, ditching the outer two layers was clearly an important choice, but engaging instead of retreating was the best thing that happened that day.

Thankful & Restless

I’m incredibly thankful for that teacher and her willingness to sit with me on her first day back which we all know to be exhausting. Even if it’s the best, most welcome sort of exhausting, it is absolutely draining.

That solved my day one problem, but it didn’t address the motivation that drove me so far out of my comfort zone.

You see, I think I believed that I could make the magic happen all in those first 50 minutes. I had thought and over thought what I wanted for my students that I had convinced myself I needed to be someone else to make that happen.

I had convinced myself that somehow I wasn’t the guy for that job.

What a lie.

I felt woefully unprepared for all sorts of things that first day, but I was the one they picked to do the job. Not the best teacher I could remember, not me with more experience, not me with more answers or more confidence or more whatever. Me.

Before the day began, my biggest mistake was to believe not only that I could develop a lasting legacy with my students on the first day, but also that I needed to. That to miss that mark was to fail.

The more I think about it, the more I believe that our legacy as educators is built in community over time. That’s easy to say, but tough to do. Still, that’s our job. If you want to be the teacher who leaves an impact, develop a space where students can learn with you and their peers together. So how do we do that as teachers? How do we take 30 people and an adult and create a place where both students and teachers thrive? How do we get past the barriers that we put up, the things that make us feel safe? How to we press into vulnerability and let others see us for who we really are, not who we want to be seen as?

We do that together.

We have to be real together.

We have to be willing to learn together.

We have to be ready to act now (& probably fail some) together (both of them).

Think about who you can engage when school starts up–maybe even who you need to engage before it starts. Those little interactions–just bringing someone a Coke and filling the space with some peer to peer conversation–they can make all the difference.

And what’s on the line? If we get this right, all of those with whom we interact–our old friends, our new colleagues, and our students who will walk our halls and learn in our classrooms–they can all walk toward success knowing that we are walking through each trial that comes our way together.