21st Century, Innovation, Inspiration

Embrace Your Inner Trouble Maker

I am working on a project at the moment.  It is a website that details everything we did for our Passion Project – the PYP Exhibition at Riverstone International School.  It is a lot of work, but I hope will be a useful springboard not only for our school as we move forward in our understanding of the Exhibition and of embracing passion to power learning in all grades, all the time, but also for other schools who wish to do the same, only tweaked for their own community of learners.

I am pulling information from different places and coming to grips with a new blogging interface (www.wix.comSIDE NOTE: Such an awesome website creator – love it! 

It is a lot of work.  I was beginning to wonder if it was worth my time. After all, I am on vacation and we all know teachers are supposed to sit around and sit margaritas all summer, right? I heard a little ‘ping’ which signalled a welcome chance to stop work on my website and see who had posted what and what a treat was in store for me! Watch this video. If that doesn’t motivate you to keep trying, try something new, push the envelope of possibilities, nothing will. Sharing it here, now and adding it to my Passion Project website, with thanks to Samaritan Blog for her as ever, timely and uplifting post!


The Power of Play – Why We Should Just Do It!

My friend, Kristen, recently posted about developing a sense of play with her fifth grade students. This is what she wanted to leave her students with as they departed for Middle School. The post is really interesting and made me think about how much we play at school, how much we actually allow these 10 and 11 year old people to be kids and to play.

I am currently in Portland and my friend is at a Reggio course here. The purpose of the course is to teach teachers about things like play and how important it is in developing imagination and creativity amongst children. I went on a tour of the Opal School which is part of the Portland Childrens Museum. One of the large classroom spaces was shared by two classes. Not unusual in itself, until I tell you it was the fifth grade and the first grade. What you saw was an amazing example not only of how to develop community amongst a group of students, but also the role of play in the learning of all the students, be they just starting or preparing to leave the elementary school.

Here is a video from the Opal School with an explanation from their 8-11 year olds about the connection between play and learning:

Click for Video Link

This all got me thinking. I spent most of the next morning in the education section of Powell’s bookstore, and while I found a lot of good stuff (especially about the ‘third teacher’ which I will post on shortly) I didn’t find what I was looking for about play. So I went to the business section. Obvious choice, right? Well, turns out it was. I found a book there that was perfect – and not just because the first page I turned to was all about Seth Godin (but that helped!)

Upon reading the first section of the book, The Red Rubber Ball at Work that focused on INNOVATION I became convinced that play, and more specifically purposeful play, was going to be needed in my classroom next year if I am going to help bring about the innovation and imagination and creativity that I really believe we should be striving for in schools.

Take a look at the ‘takeaway’ ideas I got from each contributor to this section on innovation:

Figure out a backup for what might go wrong. ~Seth Godin, Author / Speaker / Entrepreneur

Share your ideas in a grown-up version of ‘Show and Tell’. Collaborate and exchange information freely rather than hoarding it all for your own advancement. ~ Tom Kelley, General Manager, IDEO

Develop the art of improvisation and always, always use your imagination. ~Emily Crumpacker, Chef / Consultant

Community is play. Help your community (whomever that might be) find its voice. ~Majora Carter, Executive Director, Sustainable South Bronx

Engineering is Art – just with different specifications and a higher level of math required. Practice engineering through art and play – and get some Legos! ~James McClurkin, Robotics Engineer

Without imagination you cannot anticipate the future. It you cannot anticipate the future, you cannot impact the future. ~ Andrew Zolli, Futurist / Founder, Z + Partners

Look to other people’s art to inspire your own innovation. Push each other to refine your skills and come up with new ideas but keep at the core of your community a mutual respect for each other and the personal belief that your voice matters. ~ Carlos “Mare139” Rodriguez, Sculptor / Graffiti Artist

I really like this quote and I believe it too. In his book, Kevin Carrol explains the difference between playful play and productive play and why he believes productive play can actually be woven into what we call “work”. This type of play:

“…has consequences, specific outcomes, and goals other than pure pleasure. It has a specific purpose, such as producing a tangible thing, like a new and better widget, or playing tennis to win a tournament rather than just for fun.”

I love that I have something new to read that backs up my own thinking on the importance of play. Now to figure out what that is going to look like in “real life” in my classroom. Key will be using the “third teacher” to facilitate this. Stay tuned for more!


Here is a great post on how Play is the Work of Children with links to some excellent quotes on why play is so important.  My favorite:

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


Why Buy the (Purple) Cow When You Can Get the Milk for Free?

Seth Godin launched a Kickstarter yesterday. His goal was to prove to his publishing company that the way we “do” publishing is (and has to keep) changing. His plan? To get a book published by seeking funding from his ‘tribe’, asking them to buy in to the idea of his books with only a blurb to go on and promising a plethora of rewards for your support, ranging from a digital download, to multiple copies of the book, signed copies and even the complete folio of Shakespeare, signed*!

Godin launched his Kickstarter with a goal of getting $40,000 in backing. He reached that goal in three hours. Three hours. Many of the tiers of support that backers can opt in to have sold out, and as of right now, his project has 2,759 backers and has raised $194,877. Honestly, I am not at all surprised.

When Seth wrote “Stop Stealing Dreams” it had been tweeted about 4000 times, downloaded 100,000 times and had 22,000 search matches – within the first week of it’s publication. Since then, it has been translated into multiple languages, summarized as a bumper sticker, transformed into a poem and has sparked thousands of online groups and discussions. The one thing that hasn’t changed is the insistance from Seth that the book always be free – free to download, free to share.

Seth is a pretty smart guy. He must have had a clue that what he was writing in his education manifesto was important, potentially a pivotal force in changing the future of education, globally. He could have charged a fee to download, but he didn’t.

Seth is a believer in giving your art away, being generous with your art. Had people needed to pay to read Seth’s manifesto, they may not have bothered and then would never have been exposed, first hand, to his ideas.

So, why have almost 3000 people paid almost $200,000 for books that haven’t even been published yet?

Because Seth has faithfully put his art “out there”. He has shared his message, challenged himself, developed a following of people who share his beliefs and want to engage with his ideas. He has built a tribe of people who believe in what he does. This isn’t an overnight success story but it is a story that we can all learn from:

Be generous with your art, whatever that may be

Stay true to what you believe in, knowing that you can’t be all things to all people

Keep making art and make sure it is good

Today, Seth’s Blog offered even more advice that we could also all do to remember and live by. Check it out. I also just came across this great page full of Seth Goodies – check that out too! If you haven’t read Linchpin, it is now only $1.99 on Amazon.

And if you want to get in on the Kickstarter action, there are still rewards open to backers at different levels of participation, starting at $4. There comes a point when showing your support of those who inspire you means you invest in them. For me, this was that time. Thanks, Seth, for inspiring me to make a ruckus.

*Complete works signed by Seth

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Creativity, Inspiration

Celebrating Creativity Around the World – Make Your Mark and See Where it Takes You!

Do you believe in courage?  In having a go?  In making a mark?

Do you believe in the power of persistence? That one dot can launch a journey?

Then, you believe in “The Dot” by Peter H. Reynolds.

Here is the reason I love this book so much and have used it in my classroom and in my art room: it all comes down to the word process:

While the book is about art, it really is about process —about ideas,
creative thinking, bravery, expression, original ideas, and sharing.

~Peter H. Reynolds

On September 15th, people around the world will be celebrating International Dot Day. Peter has some ideas for you on how you might join in the celebrations. He has also written a Teachers Guide to The Dot.  There is also a Dot DVD and an interactive, big-screen version of The Dot.

This year, there is also a Celebri-Dots blog on which dots from celebrities are shared.  My favorite is Amy Krouse Rosenthal. If you like her dot, check out her gorgeously glittery book, Plant a Kiss and do yourself a massive favor by reading An Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life – hil-arious! But back to the dots…

As a former art teacher and lover of all things arty, I decided to gather together some ideas for those of you who are now thinking that this ‘Dot Day’ is the thing for you! Don’t you think celebrating creativity around the world is something worth sharing in?  Of course you do = so on to the ideas!

Wassily Kandinsky

Farbstudie Quadrate, c.1913 is one of Kandinsky’s most easily recognizable works – and the first thing that came to mind when I thought of Dots. There are literally thousands of ways you could have children respond to this work of art.  My suggestion: set up a Kandinsky Studio (coincidentally, the name of my art studio when I was teaching in Bangkok) and provide a ton of materials for inspiration and see where your kids go! Challenge yourself and your kids to go beyond reproducing Kandinsky’s work.  Instead, think more about the process than the product. This was a study in color and how different colors looked when placed next to other colors. What can you do with color to make a dot?  What can you do with positioning dots of different sizes? Do they have to be concentric? What if they were not inside squares but left as circles – or arranged in a circle?  Paint Chips (from hardware store paint sections) are great for providing kids with a huge selection of gorgeous paint colors (don’t tell them I sent you but do ask before you clean them out – you never know, they may have a whole bunch of ‘last season’s’ colors they are dying to get rid of!).

George Seurat

A master in pointillism, Seurat painted in dots, so naturally, he was the second person I thought of.  His work has often been recreated in art classes around the world with the use of cotton q-tips.  By placing dots of color next to other dots of color, new colors are “formed” – or at least, your eyes trick your brain into believing this is so.  Instead of paintbrushes, put out some q-tips and see what treasures evolve!

Jasper Johns

Last year, my fourth graders made a beautiful piece of work inspired by Jasper Johns’ Target.  Again, like Kandinsky, there is no need to completely duplicate his work, just be inspired from it!

Andy Goldsworthy

At our Fall trip up to McCall, Idaho, the past two years, our evening program has included a night of Andy Goldsworthy inspired art.  Goldsworthy is famous for creating art from nature and whilst not all of his work is cyclical or ‘dot-esque’ a lot of it is.  How could you make a dot in your environment? How can you make a dot that leaves a ‘temporary’ mark?  How can you make a dot without opening your paintbox, your pencil case, the crayon box…?

Leave the Paper on the Shelf!

Why use paper when there are so many other options for your dot canvases?  Try using…

  • coffee filters (sprayed with water and dabbed with paint, these can look awesome)
  • paper plates of different sizes – a cheap way to get pre-cut circles.
  • old vinyl records or old CD’s – these could be hung to make a dot-mobile
  • tree cookies (I love the idea of this one! – wearable dot-art from nature)
  • clock faces – how cool to give a dot-tastic makeover to all the clocks in your school!
  • stool seats – convince anyone who has stools (art teacher?) to let you makeover the seats!

Other Cool Ideas…

Fair Ground Paint Spinning

Did you ever go to the fair or show grounds and do one of those paintings where they set the paper spinning and you drip paint from squeeze bottles?  I am SURE someone (code for: my husband) could set something like this up with an electric drill or some such thing. (I have no clue really but that sounds like it might work/might make a mess/would definitely be something kids would remember – therefore totally should be done!

String Art

Again, this may require a bit of help but what about having the kids hammer nails into a circle and then do a gorgeous weaving with colored threads?  Hammering – what’s not to love?

Coffee Inspired Art

Invite your local gourmet barrista to school (I am thinking of Junko in Yokohama at Cafe Eliot)  or better yet, go on a field trip and watch them work their magic on the ‘dot’ that is the foamy cup of coffee.  I bet you would have no trouble getting parents to come and chaperone this field trip!

Dot Photo Contest/Tour

Have kids go on a camera tour around the school or open it up in advance for them to look for ‘dots’ or circles in their environment.  Sometimes they will find them even when they are not looking – and what better way to encourage them to be more observant of their surroundings and develop photo taking, editing and sharing skills at the same time?

Idaho State Capitol

Blowing Bubbles

I can’t remember when I first did this but it is super fun!  Get some cups or circular containers.  Fill them with some water, some water-soluble dyes and some dish-washing liquid.  You will have to experiment with quantities as you go along – to begin with, try a fairly high pigment wash that fills your container about one-third of the way up.  Put in a squirt of dish-washing liquid.  Then, get a straw and blow!  You will have to blow and stir to mix the dye with the bubbles.  Keep blowing until the bubbles rise above the rim of the container.  Then, take a piece of paper and lay it on the top of the container and voila! You have a dot!


I have a couple of books on these at school for inspiration when I was teaching art.  The math involved in making one is pretty impressive though.  I love the opportunity to combine math and art so this would be something I would be especially interested in doing.  I have seen amazing projects done by kids using the mandala as their inspiration – very cool!.  Tibetan monks make these out of sand on the ground – another cool way to move art away from traditional paper.  You could also color rice and use this as your medium for design.

I am sure there are loads of other ideas.  The point is, make it a priority to join in the celebration of creativity around the world.

International Dot Day

September 15

Mark Your Calendars…NOW!


Discovery 1 – Make School Different So That “We Will Fly”

Last week, my sister emailed me asking if I knew about a school in Christchurch, New Zealand (where we are from) that she was in the process of checking out for her son.  She said that the school “sounded just like me” and my ‘dream school’ from Imagine a School.

Intrigued, I began to investigate and I think I have fallen in love!  Talk about make school different!

The physical space that the school is located in has been badly damaged by the recent earthquakes so the school has relocated to a different part of the city for the time being. Prior to the relocation, the site was designed by Imagine – an architectural firm focusing on  inspirational school design. From there, it just gets better!

The name of the school is Discovery 1.  It is a state-funded , public school that operates under the auspices of having a ‘special character’ and as such, the way in which they approach learning (the what, how and why of what they do) looks different to more traditional schools.   The ‘special character’ is defined by the following points:

  • that students direct and manage their own learning based on their passions, interests and needs

  • that we ask students first what they need in order to learn

  • that we create and uphold a community where families are an integral part of the learning process, sharing responsibility for learning with students and staff

  • that we are involved in learning wherever it naturally occurs in the community without the restrictions of curriculum, place, time, style or subject

  • that students come together in a learning community without barriers, learning at their own level

  • that we create and uphold a community where everyone is a learner and everyone is a teacher

Discovery 1 goes on to define the role of the stakeholders:

Students are expected to:

….take advantage of the opportunities available to them and commit to the learning intentions they have co-created. Learners at Discovery will be successful if they strive to be self motivated, self directed and self managing.

Parents/Caregivers are expected to:

…commit to the special character of the school and work in partnership with staff and students to set appropriate learning intentions for their child and support them through the challenges of achieving these intentions. Work alongside staff and students both within school hours and outside hours.

Learning Advisors are committed to:

…make Discovery 1 a place of learning that students enjoy, where their learning and personal development will flourish, provide challenge and new and varied learning opportunities.

The core values of Discovery 1 are:








Amongst their documentation, is a ‘glossary of terms’ that explains some of the terminology you will hear being used at Discovery 1:

There is so much here that I just really connected with!

  • students grouped across grade levels
  • the use of the local community
  • the role of the ‘teacher’ as learner and advisor
  • the commitment required of the parents to particpate in the education of the child
  • the inquiry based stance
  • the idea that the learning does not have to occur in the classroom
  • the option for students to learn from home
  • the option for group or individual inquires

And this is free (a donation to the school of less than NZ$150 is asked for by the school as a school fee – a practice in place by most New Zealand public schools).

Ultimately, this begs the question “If this is my ‘dream school’, what can I do now, where I am at, to make school different?”

I think this goes a long way in answering that question:

A lot of this reminds me of how our class operated during our recent PYP Exhibition.  You can read more about that here. We worked really hard on developing an environment based on passion and inquiry, incorporating collaborative and group work, requiring the showcasing of well-established skills and the development of new skills, interactions with the community, and the idea of connecting to the community and taking action.

At the end of the process, we surveyed our parents and then collated, reflected upon and shared their combined feedback, indicating how we would use their insights to shape the program next year. That document is available here: PYP Exhibition Feedback.  When I look this over, with the Discovery1 lens permeating everything I see, I am both pleased with how we did and able to see loads of places for improvement.  I am also pondering the question:

“Why only the last unit, the last 8 weeks of the year, in the last grade before Middle School?”.

As much as I love the graphic above and am so inspired by the work of its creator, I think I would tweak this poster to more accurately represent the ethos of my classroom next year, all year, as inspired by Discovery1:


Rolling Around on the Grass: Harnessing the Power of WHY Creativity is Essential

Yesterday I spent the better part of my Sunday afternoon with actors and supporters of the Idaho Shakespeare Festival in a book club discussing Jonah Lehrer’s Imagine.  It was not only inspiring to be in a theatre with a group of people who are passionate about the arts, but it helped me to hear people from outside of the teaching profession share their thoughts on creativity and imagination.

We began with a quote from Ray Bradbury’s obituary in the NY Times in which Bradbury was describing his childhood in which he had a “hungry imagination”:

“It was one frenzy after one elation after one enthusiasm after one hysteria after another,” he wrote, noting, “You rarely have such fevers later in life that fill your entire day with emotion.”

Immediately, I thought of the children I teach and the frenzied, elated, enthusiastic, hysterical way they live their lives.  And then I wondered, “How am I tapping into that natural energy, that emotion and using it for good?”  So much of what is ‘expected’ – sitting at desks, following instructions, meeting teacher-set expectations – is counterproductive to everything that is inherently natural in children. Why are we so focused on compliance instead of creativity?

People began to share their thoughts and the one thing that kept resonating with me was that in order to get more ‘buy in’ we need to be clear in our articulation of why we are doing what we are doing. With the emphasis being on explaining the why. In this morning’s daily email, Simon Sinek (timely as ever) summarizes this by saying:

In Lehrer’s book, he describes the behaviors of creative types and businesses such as 3M that are grounded in innovation.  He outlines some of the ways in which individuals and company employees have come around to breakthrough ideas and creative epiphanies.  These include:

  • sitting on a park bench in a busy location and people watching
  • taking a walk or going for a jog outside
  • changing up your physical environment
  • travelling
  • meeting people outside of your field of expertise
  • purposeful, planned daydreaming
  • failing and trying and failing and trying…

We talked about education and how the rigidity of the system would respond to the idea of incorporating some of these activities into a child’s school day. Some of the actors in the group described college classes they took in which they regularly practiced rolling on the floor or blindfolding each other and going outside to feel the grass.  We laughed over phoning home as excited college students to parents who were bearing the financial burden of a college education to share that “I did more rolling on the floor today, mom, and I’m getting really good at it!”  While this sounds laughable (and we did laugh) it was the point of the conversation in which I realized just how important sharing the WHY was going to be in order to get more buy-in from parents – or people in general – when sharing stories about teaching the art of being creative.

I have spoken a lot about the importance in my mind of process over product and we agreed that if we believe that there is value in sitting on a bench, rolling on the floor or feeling up the grass, then we need to unapologetically share the reasons behind why we are doing the things we are doing.  Think of the child that constantly asks “Why?” to every thing you say.  When did we kill that urge to question things and when did we decide that explaining why was no longer important?

Imagine offers two, somewhat conflicting but equally valid, ways of being creative.  In a very simplified nutshell, they are:

  1. Actively pursue creative ideas

  2. Sit and let creative ideas come to you

The first method is about convergent thinking: analysis and attention to specific ideas.  This is the kind of thinking when the idea is right there but just needs that last minute burn of the midnight oil to come to fruition. Lehrer describes this kind of thinking as “chiseling away at our own errors” calling the process “a struggle, a labor of attention” but adding that “this is the point – it takes time to find the perfect line.”

The second method is about divergent thinking: trusting all those spontaneous epiphanies.  This is the kind of thinking when you are trying to invent something new, make opposing ideas connect or radically restructure the way things are done.  Lehrer believes this type of unexpected thinking is needed when you have “hit the wall” and “logic won’t help”.

Should We TEACH Creativity in Schools?

I have seen this question a lot.  I used to think “Impossible! – TEACH creativity? Creativity is something you are born with, or not.”  How wrong could I be? If you were to look at the two points raised by Lehrer – actively pursue creative ideas and  let creative ideas come to you, I think we have the answer to that question. As a teacher, I need to consciously plan for creativity in my classroom.  I need to make sure I am setting up an environment that embraces creative thought.  If you are wondering, “Great, but how do I start?” I would encourage you to read Dancing About Architecture by Phil Beadle.  Not only does it shine a light on James Webb Young’s 1939 Technique for Producing Ideas, it also gives practical examples of what this can look like along with this buoyant encouragement for those brave enough to embark on the journey:

 If we are prepared to experiment, to focus on process and let ‘outcome’ float around on the breeze waiting to be discovered, something different happens.  We either fall flat on our behinds, or we discover new lands; and you cannot discover new lands by keeping one foot in the old country.  So jump, happily, knowing that the process of learning to be brilliant involves risk.

Risk.  This is something IB Schools require of their students – to be risktakers. Did you read that last line: The process of learning to be brilliant involves risk. This may seem daunting to some, so Beadle encourages us some more:

As a teacher, it is always worth taking  a risk.  Your audience will forgive you if it doesn’t work. They will also feel the thrill of the high wire along with you when you walk it.

As one of the members of the group reminded us, Louis Pasteur once said that “Chance favors the prepared“.  You are more likely to get creative ideas if you plan for and prepare for creative ideas. What is reassuring is that no where did I read or did anyone say that YOU have to have all of the creative ideas.  You may not understand the logic puzzles or the connections between obscure, unrelated objects – it doesn’t matter.  What matters is that as teachers, we are:

  • actively seeking ways to bring creativity into our classrooms
  • explaining the ‘why’ behind our practice in order to educate others
  • taking risks in what we bring to the classroom
  • trying it out alongside our children (you know they are going to remember the day their teacher rolled on the grass blindfolded!)

What will you do to prepare for creativity in your classroom?

Inspiration, Reading

A Quote, An Infographic and Four Awesome Websites for Reading

I am seeing A LOT on my Twitter feed about reading.  With schools out for summer or finishing up their last few days or weeks, teachers are tweeting like crazy about ways to avoid the Summer Slide (not the one at the pool).

Here are some resources I have come across to do with reading that look pretty awesome. What are your favorites?

One of the best things I think you could do to stay connected over the summer is to set yourself (or your child) up with a Twitter account and ‘follow’ some of the curators of these blogs below, but also, follow your favorite authors.  My recent experience says that many authors will take the time to respond to budding readers and aspiring writers.  I would caution you to read carefully before tweeting or emailing or commenting so that you are not asking a question that they have already answered elsewhere on their blog or in the dustjacket of their book! Ask a question that will deepen your connection to the author or help you move forward in your own reading or writing journey.

Below are the sites I am following this summer (to begin with!).  Click on the header for each blog/site for more information.  But first, check out this fun infographic to help you decide what to read this summer.  I love this – totally adding it to the “cool things I want to share with my kids” list for next year!  Blogs to follow after the (long) infographic:
Summer Reading Flowchart

Via Teach.com and USC Rossier Online

This blog is by Mr. Schu a ” K-5 teacher-librarian who works diligently to put the right book in every child’s hand.”  I follow @MrSchuReads on Twitter and love the timely updates, the wealth of knowledge and the love of reading that oozes from every tweet.  If you love books, follow Mr. Schu! You might also want to scroll down and browse through the blogroll of blogs Mr. Schu follows.  I have clicked through a few and they are all pretty great – I can see my ‘read later’ feed on Instapaper is going to implode this summer!

I think it makes a big different when you know a blogger personally, versus going on what is ‘popular’ on the internet.  The author of One Page To The Next has been a parent of one of my students for two, coming up three, years.  She is a passionate reader.  She reads and reads and reads and stays on top of all things amazing with reading.  She has introduced me to authors I never knew, connected me to amazing ideas in education and children’s literature and reignited my passion for reading.  When she walks into my room, she thinks she is just a regular mom, but this is what I see:

In their own words, the curators of the Nerdy Book Club site welcome you:

If you love books, especially those written for children and young adults, then you are an honorary member of The Nerdy Book Club. Like us, you probably always have a book along to read, a title to recommend, and time to talk about works held dear.

This looks like another great place to get loads of information about what is current and cool in all things books and a chance to hear from other people about their thoughts on books via reviews and recommendations. One of the curators is Donalyn Miller, author of The Book Whisperer.  That alone should be enough information to get you to sign up!  The Nerdy Bookclub is also the place to go for information on the Summer #BookaDay challenge.  It looks great!

Touted as the site where “kids flex their reading muscles”, Biblionasium is a new site for kids, teachers, and parents to connect over a love of books. According to the site, here is what they offer these three groups of readers (click each image for more information):

UPDATE:  There is another great site:  Mrs P’s Tips To Keep Kids Engaged in Reading has some really cool ideas!  Check it out!

Inspiration, Leadership

Who Let the Dog….In? 7 Lessons Learned From Bringing My Dog to School.

This is Abby one morning before school. Excited, much?
When students needed help, Abby was excellent at offering Apple advice.

We have a “No Dogs Allowed” policy at my school, which is understandable given the complexity of mixing animals with little people and the unpredictable nature of both.  I have a dog whom I adore. One of our fifth graders was doing a project on the impact of animals on humans.  Can you see where my brain immediately went? After seeking all the appropriate permissions, Abby (the best dog in the world) was allowed to start school! I couldn’t have been more proud – of both Abby (the wonder dog) and my school for having the courage to re-evaluate their decision and make an exception in the best interests of the students.

Abby was great at monitoring student behavior when working independently.

The student and I had done a lot of reading about other schools in which dogs were allowed, and in fact welcomed, at school. The premise of Abby joining us in the classroom was to see the impact – positive or negative – first hand. While I was pretty confident it would be awesome (our dog being the best dog in the world and all) I was not prepared for…..well, the things I had not anticipated, the learning beyond my expectations.

Abby was just as capable overseeing group work outside.

Abby was an avid reader and especially enjoyed silent reading in the library.

I had imagined…

  • kids would be excited
  • class would develop sense of responsibility
  • we would bond over having something special/different to other classes
  • Abby would be ‘used’ as a reward, point of relaxation or de-stress and all out fun
Abby knew when a student just needed a little one-on-one time.

In reality…

Most of what I anticipated, actually happened.  What I hadn’t imagined was that bringing Abby to school would actually open up relationships with kids that previously had been a little distant to me.

I am one of two fifth grade teachers and our combined ‘class’ of 28 kids (13 in one, 15 in another) do almost everything together. Kids from ‘the other class’ that to me had appeared a little disinterested and didn’t really go out of their way to engage in conversation, were now asking me questions about their work, talking to me about Abby, telling me about their own pets, looking for ways to help out with Abby and telling me how much they loved having her at school.  These were not ‘disruptive’ or ‘unengaged’ students prior to her arrival, but there was definitely a void in the connection between us.  When they met Abby and saw how much I loved her, an inroad was established and conversations flourished.  We connected. As a teacher, I felt like I had a better understanding of these kids, I saw them in a different light – as they did me – and I ended up learning a lot about, with and from them in the last few weeks of the year.

There was high demand for her pillow service.

On the last day of school, I was reminded that Abby would not be allowed back next year.  I was not surprised – this was a one off project – but I was disappointed.  Disappointed for me that I would have to leave my gorgeous dog at home each day, disappointed for my kids next year that they won’t get the same experience this year’s class had, disappointed for me (again!) that I wouldn’t be able to share this side of me, this passion, with my incoming class, and disappointed for my school that they were missing the opportunity to make school different. 

Our school used to allow dogs at school but over time (before I came here) it seemed to get out of hand with dogs coming that were less than friendly and ultimately resulting in the ban on dogs. I knew Abby at school was an exception to the rule and I was super grateful for that, but given that Abby will probably not (never say never!) be allowed back, the thought that is running through my head is:

How can I make sure to connect with all students in my class on SOME level next year?

I think the answer is to let them bring “their Abby” to school.  Their passion.  The love of their life.  The ‘thing’ that makes the school day go by in a blur and learning seem like a walk in the park. I want them to ‘bring on the weird’ – that love for MineCraft, the ability to knit, the singing voice that is usually reserved for the shower or the bedroom, the doodles, the tech tools, the art skills, the athletic prowess, the philanthropy, the passion for photography, reading, books, art, music, drawing, politics, cooking, baking, sewing, running, jumping, throwing, cars, plane, boats, hot air balloons, hairstyles or even fingernails! Whatever it is, I want them to bring it to school.  We encourage this in the younger grades (who doesn’t remember ‘Show and Tell’) so why not in fifth grade?  

Abby was a great hall monitor!

My 7 ‘takeaways’ from The Abby Project:

Regardless of Abby being at school or not, I want the spirit of The Abby Project to live on.  Here is how I am going to make that happen:

  • Start every day with enthusiasm
  • Wag your tail, always
  • Show you care
  • Be supportive
  • Pay attention
  • Bark less, listen more
  • End each day with the wind in your ears!
End every day with the wind in your ears!
21st Century, Creativity, Inspiration

Intoxicated by Possibility!



I just saw this on Pinterest and it totally sums up how I feel right now in relation to education, where it’s at, and where it’s going. That might make me naive, it might mean I am delusional, or it just might be the start of something awesome.

I pick door number three. You?

Time and again, the phrase:

Make. School. Different.

comes to mind.

If we would all unite in doing that, in pushing ourselves to the edge, in being willing to risk failure in order to create something awesome, I know we could do just that.

In speaking about helping and serving others, the pastor at our church says, “Do for one that which you wish you could do for all.”  He says that often people will be overwhelmed by the tremendous need in our community, our world and will stop before they start because it just seems helpless. If you are a teacher, a parent, a student or just someone who cares about education,  do for one that which you wish you could do for all.  You don’t have to change the entire education system overnight, but we have to start somewhere.

Right now, think about one thing you could do to MAKE SCHOOL DIFFERENT.  Now, do it. Make your mark.  Make a dent. Just do it! What will it be? Share your one thing below to inspire others.