Pick Yourself!

My class is nearing the conclusion of their Exhibition unit.  For those of you familiar with the IBO PYP Exhibition, you will know that this is a pretty big deal and the culmination of about eight weeks of hard work and six years of elementary school.  It might surprise you to know that in the last week before we present on May 21st, I decided it was a great idea to take a day and half off school and fly to New York City for a day – excuse me, for 17 hours – to see (my man) Seth Godin.  Crazy?  Yes!  Totally worth it?  Absolutely!

The name of the event was “Pick Yourself” and the whole premise of this is that we need to move from a permission seeking frame of mind to a make a ruckus movement! When my husband asked me what I was hoping to get out of the event, I told him that I was after ideas, inspiration and a shove toward a more ruckus oriented state of being.  Even as he helped me find a flight there and back, I could feel the “just what you need!” comment desperately trying to surface!  What I got out of the event was exactly what I was hoping – and then some.  I met some great people, heard some great music, ate delicious food and took copious notes that don’t even begin to accurately represent the awesomeness of the event.

I was there with a friend who also happens to be the parent of a child who I have taught for the past two years and is also on our Board of Trustees.  When asking Seth a question, he mentioned that he was here with his daughter’s teacher and that evoked spontaneous applause – pretty cool to be applauded for being a teacher!  Actually, I think they were rightly applauding him for having the generosity, foresight and commitment to innovative thinking to bring along a teacher as his guest.  And I couldn’t have agreed more.

To have had this experience was something that had a huge impact on me and I know will (and already has!) changed the way I think about my role as a teacher.  I am a huge fan of Seth’s education manifesto which as of last Wednesday, had been read approximately 2 million times, and  I was eager to hear Seth talk about Education and how school is ‘stuck’.  He suggested a number of things to help move education forward:

  • Start by getting people to ask the question “What is school for?”
  • Have kids fail – but catch them.
  • Have kids succeed – and applaud them.
  • Do brave and scary things with your kids.

As you may know, I wrote a book based on the manifesto: “Imagine a School”.  It is my response to Seth’s work and it is the school I want to work in.  The day after the NYC event, the following quote from Simon Sinek was delivered to my inbox:

Timely.  Relevant.  Thanks, Simon!

Then the next day, another email, another quote:

Perfect.  In my head, I flipped the order they were delivered: I had already imagined my school.  Now to take action!  On the plane journey home, using my own book for inspiration and the Seth’s idea that I don’t have to wait for someone to ask me to do ‘my art’ as a teacher, I began a list (I am up to 31 items thus far) of what I want to do/be/see/experience/share/create/explore as a teacher.  More specifically, I thought about the imaginary school that I wrote about and then thought about what I would see or hear or experience if I were to open the door and walk inside.  Once I had this list, I begun documenting the actual physical things teachers could read about today and do tomorrow in their classrooms.  Most of these have been things I have done or things I have seen amazing people that I have worked with do.  Hardly any of them cost money – just time, effort, forethought and a little courage.  All of them will move you one little step forward toward making a ruckus that will make school different!

Over the next few weeks, I will be posting about each point as I gather more ideas. And I would love for you to add your thoughts as well!  To begin, here are the things that will turn my imaginary school into one with a pulse:

  1. Talk less
  2. Listen more
  3. Survey your audience
  4. Get messy
  5. Collaborate
  6. Don’t collaborate
  7. Dance About Architecture
  8. Pick yourself
  9. Pursue Passion
  10. Read more books
  11. Get connected
  12. Establish digital footprints
  13. Don’t underestimate the young!
  14. Serve others
  15. Say YES more often
  16. Get outside
  17. Involve the parents
  18. Create space to grow
  19. Did I mention you should get messy?
  20. Communicate your ‘why’
  21. Whatcha gonna do with ‘it’?
  22. Steal and Mash
  23. Be open to not getting what you asked for
  24. Play
  25. Mix it up
  26. Raise the bar
  27. Catch them when they fail
  28. Applaud them when they succeed
  29. Chop a tree
  30. Be generous with your art
  31. Learn about brains

I realize some of these are pretty cryptic but they mean something to me and I will be expanding on them – but not necessarily in that order!  Seeing Seth live, in person, was an amazing experience.  It has sparked something in me that I am confident will continue to shine as I continue to strive for the remarkable.

21st Century, Inspiration, Internet

Light Your Beacon!

I arrived home from what has arguably been one of the worst weeks at school (nothing to do with my gorgeous kids or my fabulous parents) to find a package on my doorstep.  I took the package and my dog and together we sat in the Boise sunshine and read our new book:  Freedom Is Blogging In Your Underwear by Hugh MacLeod.  It is brilliant.

First of all, superficially some might say, it is physically enticing (I am now imagining Hugh saying “Much like the author” – funny) but it is – an almost square hardcover, great dust jacket, not too many words on a page and a smattering of cartoons throughout.  It also is endorsed by Seth Godin.  What else could you want in a book?

Beyond aesthetics, the book is still brilliant.  It isn’t going to take you hours to read it (or even an hour, actually)  but it will be a book you come back to as you explore the idea of blogging and what it means to you.

I am new to Hugh’s work having followed his cartoons at Gaping Void for only a few months.  A quick search around the web has this book getting lukewarm reviews from some of his ‘biggest fans’ due to the brevity of his message and the punch that it doesn’t pack.

I however, love that some of the best points I picked up are in his cartoons.  He began as someone who doodled on the back of business cards and to have some of these business card-esque doodles interspersed throughout the book, really worked for me.  It also helped that they just seemed timely and almost like Hugh had planned for me to find them on that sunny Friday:


Here are the main things I got out of this book:

  • we all have the means to put ourselves “out there” without waiting for permission to do so
  • in doing just that, we should focus on what it is we want to say – knowing our BS can now be spotted with a few quick keystrokes
  • our ‘stuff’ should be good – whatever it is, make sure it is worth your own time making it
  • trying to separate your online and offline life is foolish – it is all “life” and the same rules apply: be productive, useful, kind and give back when you take what others share generously with you


The book concludes with a call to be a Beacon – a light to others, a navigational signal that guides you when you are lost.  One of MacLeod’s beacons is Austin Kleon (love!) and by the tone of voice and message and overall war-cry to action that resonates throughout the book, I would imagine Seth Godin is a beacon too (the endorsement from Seth on the back cover and the reference to him inside the book also helped with this conclusion).

It made me think about who my beacons were in my workplace or in my ‘circle’ of people – those people that make you want to be a better teacher, writer, story-teller, innovator and educator.  I also thought about my kids at school and the type of beacon I am to them.

As we head into our final full week of work before the Exhibition next Monday, I am reflecting on the last 7-8 weeks and the more I do, the more I realize how important it was to place beacons along the path for our kids in the form of people who helped us along the way.  Part of being a good teacher is knowing when to outsource and how to facilitate the involvement of other people. Without the enriching experiencing of having beacons along our journey, I know it would not have been as rewarding and meaningful of an experience as it was.  I know a lot of other people focus on the ‘freedom’ aspect of this book, but for me, the beacons really stood out (no pun intended) as being something worth taking note of.

Who are your beacons?


Who are you a beacon to?

21st Century, Leadership

Authenticity – Do You Practice What You Preach?

Kids are really perceptive.

If you are a teacher or a parent or are around kids on a regular basis, you will know this to be true.  They watch, they listen, they ask “Why do you say that when that is not what you do?”.  If you were to have asked me a few years ago about what I perceived my role as an educator to be, I would have thrown out phrases about covering or uncovering curriculum, skills development, higher level thinking and the like.  If you were to ask me today what my role is as an educator, my answers would be quite different.

I want to be a teacher who truly leads by example.  I want to encourage my kids to reflect by thoughtfully reflecting myself.  I want them to look at me, listen to me, watch me and see in me all the things I ask of them as learners.  The more I think about my current teaching situation and the 4 C’s of 21st century education, the more I know this is happening in my classroom, daily.  And I love that.  What is even more affirming is when our parents come in and remind us, tell us, thank us for our authenticity with their children.  For ‘teaching’ them all those things that can be so hard to teach and are rarely found on a checklist or rubric: perseverance, critical reflection, supportiveness, empathy, compassion, unity and the understanding of what it means to belong to a group.

The quote above precedes the song “What if I Stumble” on the album “Jesus Freak” by dcTalk.  The song and this quote, whilst clearly Christian in origin, could be applied to different scenarios.  ‘What if I stumble?’ – what if I find myself in a situation that is not what I was expecting?  What if I am challenged to say or do something that goes against what I would typically say or do?  What if I find myself questioning my actions, having to make tough decisions, caught between a rock and a hard place?  Do you believe in  what you say you believe in – or do you believe until it gets tough and then pick something else to believe in until the rough spot passes?

Do you practice what you preach?


Passion – How Finding Your Element Really IS What it’s All About!

Our fifth grade students are two weeks out from their culminating project as PYP students: the Exhibition.

We chose to focus on our passions with the understanding that pursuing your passion emboldens you as a learner and enables you to connect with others. When we began our journey, we were guided by a number of excellent resources.

Sir Ken Robinson

As a teacher, I was inspired by (and somewhat enamoured with) Sir Ken Robinson. Having first heard of him whilst teaching in Thailand, the ‘buzz’ generated by his TED talk was a loud roar. He was amazing, insightful and inspiring. This live talk was followed up with an animated version, utilizing the now more common-place skill of visual notetaking. To have the opportunity to hear him speak, live, in Boise thanks to the ED Sessions – priceless. I would add ‘witty’, ‘dry’, and ‘freaking hilarious’ to my previous descriptors of Sir Ken. His talk was the first in a series of three titled ‘Reading, Writing, Revolution’ and he certainly started one! His talk was a month or two before we would begin planning for the Exhibition and that was enough time for further reading of “The Element” and “Out of Our Minds” and for the ideas he shared to percolate.

Leo Babauta

Fast forward to the point at which we are trying to define and explain “passion” and how to find it to our kids. Do a google search for “finding your passion” and the first hit will be Leo’s amazingly rich blog, ZenHabits and the post, The Short But Powerful Guide to Finding Your Passion He outlines the following steps to finding your passion:

1. What are you good at?
2. What excites you?
3. What do you read about?
4. What have you secretly dreamed of?
5. Learn, ask, take notes.
6. Experiment, try.
7. Narrow things down.
8. Banish your fears.
9. Find the time.

Great advice, fully explained in his post and very worthwhile.


Simon Sinek

Simon is our “why” guy. He advocates that we should ‘start with why‘ and in doing so, will discover our purpose. Find out what you like to do, how you do it and then consider why you do what you do, how you do it. We were fortunate at this point to have two things: firstly, an amazing Passion Tour of Boise where we got to meet 9 amazing people who can truly say they are living out their passion: a conductor, a vet, an academy award winning director, a dog trainer, CEO of the YMCA, a businessman, an engineer, and two gals with a passion for fashion. Secondly, we had a parent who works with people and organizations to help them define their purpose and connect them with their best ideas. With these elements combined, we had a wealth of examples and the know-how to help our kids define their ‘why’ on their journey to identifying their passion.

Seth Godin

You know no post is complete without a mention of Seth! Having read “Linchpin” I was excited to see the follow-up workbook “Ship It“. Once our passions were defined, Ship It was a great addition to our toolkit thanks to Seth’s generosity in letting us copy this out-of-print resource. Ship It cuts to the nuts and bolts. It makes you write your shipping date, articulate your fears, add and subtract from your project to increase awesomeness and really set yourself up for a successful journey. Having filled in our Ship It books, we wrote ourselves a letter to read the day before the Exhibition. As Seth said, we could save the space for writing what actually happened or we could speak truth into the future. We chose the latter and are excited to open our letters on March 21st.

With all that in mind, what will you see when you walk in our rooms? You will see passion. Actually, you will see PASSION. It is amazing. There have been moments when we have thought it was all going to be a giant mess. There have been talks with the kids and talks amongst the two of us who teach fifth grade. And then there are our kids. What are they doing?

  • Phoning local business owners to volunteer their group who share a passion for physical activity as escorts on a 1 mile fun-run for children
  • Corresponding with authors, artists, musicians and sportspeople via email and phone to gather first-hand information
  • Conducting interviews with publishers, coaches, authors, photographers, and scientists
  • Observing the effect that bringing a dog to school has on children as part of a study on the impact of animals on humans
  • Blogging, posting and tweeting about their passions via social media and their extensive (and growing) tech skills
  • Some you won’t see at all! They are off flying in small areoplanes, making little libraries to install in our community, running sports camps, participating in personal training sessions, off in their own world writing or creating works of art, learning an instrument, composing music or investigating the physics of dragons!

And did I mention these kids are ten and eleven years old?

As for their teachers? We are on cloud nine and are unanimous in our belief that this is the best teaching of our lives. Seeing our kids so engaged and hearing them articulate their journey has been amazing. True, it has been scary and there have been times when we were so unsure where it was all heading, but it is apt that it is Spring in Boise as our kids really are (cheesy, but true!) blooming. They are in their element and their work is not work anymore. When we say “Exhibition time” there are fist pumps and the rapid dispersal of 28 small bodies within our two classes, in the hallways or in the sunshine outside. Kids are helping each other, volunteering to take surveys, edit each others work, teach a new tech skill – anything to help move another forward in their passion.

Personally, I have found great strength and encouragement from the relationship I have with my fellow fifth grade teacher. I taught fourth grade last year so many of the parents knew me and liked working with me. However, I look back on ‘that person’ that I was as a fourth grade teacher and there are many things I don’t recognize in the fifth grade teacher that I am now. I know that a lot of this is due to having read more, become more connected and just a factor of chronological growth over time. The bulk of the change, however, lies in working with someone who shares your values, has the best interests of the children at heart, is open to change, will readily share everything and who always has your back.

Collaboration – one of the 4 C’s of 21st Century learning – is not easy. It is made to look like child’s play when respect, professionalism, dedication, and (let’s be honest) a constant stream of hot coffee are on had at all times!

I learned on Friday that my friend and colleague with whom I have shared this amazing journey, will not be returning to our school next year and as corny as it may sound, I spent the bulk of my weekend mourning the loss of someone whom I have learned so much with this year. I can be one to ‘make a ruckus’ as Seth would encourage us all to do. When the enriching, thought-provoking, stimulating, inquiry-based and passion-driven learning environment that you have worked so hard to create is threatened, is there anything more important for one to make a ruckus about? Perhaps ‘making a ruckus’ is my new Passion?


Brain Research, Inspiration

Care More. Even through Change. Care MORE.

Care More. 

If you do nothing else, click on the link above and read Seth’s post.  What could be more simple? In a world where “the economy” has become a scapegoat for callous disregard for humanity, it is a good reminder to us all that people matter more than money.  When change occurs, this can be hard to remember.  People matter. Sure, money matters too, but people should always, always matter more. Think of your classroom and your kids – if you could add something to your day: more grading, more math, more technology or more caring, what would you pick? How would you choose to help “your people” bloom?  If you were to ask “the brain guy”, John Medina, what the single most important thing the brain requires to learn, he would tell you a feeling of safety. How to do this?  By building  a safe, stable and caring environment to nurture growth and development.

Change, however, is inevitable.  What then?  Disillusionment or this?  As we approach the end of the school year, this message would be one worth putting out there as a way of honoring all the great and amazing things that have happened as we move on toward the next chapter. Change is never going to be easy. Make sure that during times of change more than ever, you care more.

Creativity, Inspiration

I Could Have Done That….YEAH, But You Didn’t

I love beautiful things and to me, some of the most beautiful are the most simple.  It is sometimes the simplicity that leaves us saying “I could do that!”  Trouble is, we rarely do it.

“Doing” your art – whatever that may be – requires the act of imagining coupled with the act of creating.  It requires courage and tenacity to push through even when others (and sometimes even the artist) don’t know where it is all heading.  It requires guts, passion, perseverance and most importantly, believing that you have something to say and your voice matters.  One of Steve Jobs’ better lines was this exhortation to Apple employees:Make a dent in the universe.” Seth Godin followed that question up with a hint for those left wondering what such a dent might look like:

Hint: lots of random pokes in many different spots are unlikely to leave much of an impact. And hiding out is surely not going to work at all.

Is this easy?  Of course not!  But in the same way creativity is like pornography, bravery is an antidote – and eventually a cure – for fear.  The more you do it, the more you will want to do it.  The feedback you get from those you share your art with will help you shape your thinking, evoke new ideas, spur your on and fuel your passion.  And then, doesn’t everyone win?  It might not always be pretty.  It might not be “well received”.  And it might not win you fans.  But if you keep it up, if you keep poking in the same spot, you will make a dent.

One of my students wants to volunteer with a city sports camp for young children that is running once a week for four weeks.  She sent an email to the head of Boise City Parks and Rec asking to be considered for this non-existant position of “assistant”.  Today she came running into class because someone replied to her email, thanking her for her interest and promising to forward it on to the camp leader.  “I was so scared after I sent that email that they wouldn’t write back – I even said a prayer last night I was that worried!”.  Worried or not, she shipped it, she put her email out there and she got a response.  I don’t know if she will get to be the assistant or not (although she would be awesome so I really hope they give her a shot!) but I am pretty certain she won’t hesitate for as long to put herself out there again.  And again.  And again.

Like her, you too, can move mountains.

Dedicated to Heather Davis, who has something to say that has not already been said. 


The Power of Putting it Out There

I “finished” my first book about five days ago.  Then I let it sit. And sit.  And sit some more.  And I told myself:

“I’ll finish it on the weekend…”

“I need to illustrate it….”

“I want to think it over….”

And then I was a little more honest:

“What if people think it’s crazy?”

“What if no one likes it?”

“What if people criticize?”

So, after writing the foreword, afterword and bibliography I emailed it off to my inspiration, Seth Godin.  Then I went to bed. When I woke up, he had replied.  It wasn’t good or bad, it was….nice. Never before have I realized the blah-ness of the word “nice”. I didn’t want nice!  I wanted passion!  I wanted adoration or rebuke.  I wanted anything but lukewarm.  And then it hit me.  The only way to get what I wanted was to suck it up and put it out there!

So I did.

I still would like to make it into a physical book (who doesn’t love a square book?) and I still want to illustrate it (or have someone brilliant like Peter H. Reynolds illustrate it! (swoon!)  But I also know that this is not a book that needs to rest within my iPad any longer. So I put it out there.  I shipped it.

At the moment, you have the option of downloading the PDF of my book FOR FREE! Yes, the whole thing, online, downloadable and free!  Why free?  Because I read some wise words from, no surprise, Seth Godin (note:  I do read things that other people write as well, I just happen to be drawn to Seth – try him yourself, it’s addictive!).  Will it always be free?  Yes. Will it be available for purchase – I hope so!


In addition to being art, being a gift, this book is also a reflection of art and a reflection of a gift. The encouragement and support along the way, along with the critical, reflective feedback from trusted friends, helped to shape this book into what it is.  If you don’t have someone in your life who will give you 100% honest, thoughtful, reflective feedback – even when you are not going to want to hear it – you need to find that person.  And once you find that person for yourself, make sure to BE that person for someone else.  Not necessarily a reciprocal relationship but make sure you are putting yourself out there as a support for others too.

For me, “that person” is a friend and former colleague, Marina Gijzen.  Marina is a great teacher and an amazing person and I feel so fortunate to have worked with her in my career.  She is definitely one of those people who have moved me forward in my thinking, even when I didn’t want to move!

To all those who have left great comments, thank you!  I really, really appreciate it!  Today has been anything but lukewarm, and I thank you all for that!

Now, for book two…….