Inspired to Inspire


Who inspires you?

What inspires you?

When I think of all the people, places, books, articles, blog posts, websites that inspire me, I wonder: where would my ideas come from if not from the sparks of inspiration provided to me by my ‘tribe’ of fellow thinkers, like-minded souls, inspirers?

One of these sources of inspiration for me, is GapingVoid.  Hugh’s cartoons are brilliant in their simplicity to convey a message and to inspire.  One of his latest cartoons reminds me of one his older cartoons that is a favorite of mine.  It is simple, clean, clear, and for me, very true:

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This simple cartoon speaks volumes to me. The more you collaborate, the more you will be inspired to create, which will lead you to further collaborative conversations, and so the cycle continues.

Whilst browsing Wonderopolis this morning, I came across this video and pulled some of the key points that stood out to me from it:

If you take away inspiration, you naturally fall back to that voice that says, “you’re not going to make it.”

I want to raise my bar because I have been inspired….to increase my skills and abilities.

If I can inspire somebody to do something bigger and better than what they have done on their own, then ultimately I have done my job.

Again, who inspires you?  What inspires you? I watched the following video and I am inspired by this man’s courage and determination to succeed against the odds:


As I begin a new year in a new school, I am inspired by my colleagues.  I am inspired by the friends and colleagues I have recently left behind to continue to look for new ways of doing while keeping some of the ‘old tricks’ I learned with them. I am inspired by the kids who I am yet to meet and their parents and am looking forward to an exciting, challenging year ahead.


You Matter!

you matter

My new team leader shared the following video with us.  Part of a course she is doing talks about the impact on student learning when you make your students feel valued and this is a great reminder to all teachers when beginning the school year:

As I was reading through Angela Maiers post connected to this video, I was drawn to her idea of telling people they matter.  In Angela’s mind, these are two of the most powerful words someone can hear: You Matter.  She suggests that we should say them more often to the people who matter to us most.

I want to do this publicly to three people who really do matter, alot, to me and to who I am as a teacher:

Marina Gijzen….You matter to me! You have been an inspiration since we worked together in Bonn.  From you I have learned to be more patient, to realize the power of a child’s mind, to take a step back and look at things from a different perspective, and to seek balance in all that I do. Your thoughtfulness, reflectiveness, and passion are inspiring.

Patty Northrop….You matter to me! You are a gift to those around you and an inspiration for me to be a better teacher, a better parent, and a better person.  You look for the good in things, you strive to help when and where you can, and you are the very definition of a life-long learner.  Your willingness to share, to talk, to discuss, to learn and to grow are inspiring.  I am thankful that the technology exists to keep our ideas flowing.

Heather Goodman…You matter to me!  You would hate me publicly saying how much you matter to me but I am going to do it anyway because, even though I think you knew it, I never got the chance to actually tell you what an amazing educator you were and how the things I learned from you about inquiry, leadership, collaboration, autonomy, and possibility, are things that will stay with me forever.  I am so thankful to have worked with you in two different schools, to have worked with you as my colleague, and to call you my friend.

There are many more people that matter, are indispensable, are genius. Who are these people for you? They don’t need flowers, champagne, a parade.  They do need to feel significant, to know that they matter.  Who are these people for you and when will you tell them that they matter to you?

The Power Of Noticing is something Angela talks about.  How the very act of simply noticing kindness, innovation, expertise, experience, thoughtfulness, and then shining a light on these acts, has the power to create change within students and in your classroom.

What will you choose to notice?

What matters to you?

What matters enough for you to spend your time and energy noticing?

Brain Research, Math

How To Learn Math

Thanks to my new colleague, I learned of a free class offered online by Stanford titled How To Learn Math. 

I started the class and am on to the third lesson.  Each lesson comprises of short video clips with questions in between.  Your submissions are peer reviewed and you play your part in reviewing others responses to the same questions.  Some of the submissions are self-reviewed – more of a reflection on what you have just watched in the video.

The following ‘definition’ of a mathematician was given in one of the readings that does not use the word ‘numbers’ but paints a different picture of the way in which a mathematician ‘works’

A mathematician, like a painter or poet, is a maker of patterns. If his patterns are more permanent than theirs, it is because they are made with ideas. ~Paul Lockhart, A Mathematician’s Lament

The above quote made me think of one of my favorite mathematicians (after Sal Khan, she is my favorite!) – Vi Hart.  I think to begin a year with some of her videos is to expose your class instantly to whole new mindset on math.

The first lesson also talked about the power of direct feedback and with prefacing your feedback (critical commentary on learning) with the statement: “I am giving you this feedback because I believe in you”. Research showed a greater acceptance of the feedback and improvement by the student when they felt that the teacher believed in them.  The suggestion is not to preface every comment with this statement but rather to recognize the power of relationship, honesty, and trust between student and teacher.

The second lesson spoke of math and mindset and taps into the work of Carol Dweck on the subject of mindset.  Again, research shows that three weeks is the time period it can take your brain to develop new pathways when learning something new.  This was interesting to me as I am sure that before the three week period is up, I will often convince myself that I am not an X person, or I can’t possibly do Y.  Armed with this information, I hope to look into hanging in there a bit longer when I next tackle something new.

I have until the end of September to complete the eight session course.  I am motivated by what I have learned thus far and by the fact that I know some of my colleagues are also doing the same course.  The format is easy to follow, the information interesting, and the chance to get feedback on ideas from like minded students, teachers, and parents who are also doing the course is fascinating.

If you are interested in this free open learning opportunity, click here for more information.   As I thought about extending my own learning and in light of the day looming near in which students are about to return to school, I found this poster which sums up my feelings on learning and what I want to foster in my class this year – which is why learning is something I am choosing to do now.



Three Fantastic Videos

What is Water?

I had previously heard the analogy of the fish and the water but I had not connected it to this speech.  This animated version of the graduation address is a piece of art in itself, in addition to the message it conveys.

There is real freedom in education, in deciding how you will think, in choosing to look at things from a different perspective from that which you are used to.


Obvious To You.  Amazing To Others.

I think this is something that our kids think of a lot.  Are you holding back something that seems too obvious to share? This animated short may be that thing that someone needs to watch to give them that push to go further, dig deeper, or share more often.


Opal School Children on Play and Learning

This is an AWESOME video from the mouths of students of the Opal School in Portland, Oregon.  They are asked to speak on ‘the wonder of learning’ and what comes through is the profound connection between play and learning and how, when we get it right, it should be hard to tell the two apart.

Inspiration, Reflection

What Do You Want In A School?

I have taught in New Zealand, Laos, the United States, Germany, Thailand, Japan, back to the US, and now back to Germany.  Each year I spend time wondering what sort of year I am going to have and each year I keep refining what is important to me in a school.

My list of criteria is long and verbose. I have ideas about leadership, personalization, community, inquiry, passion, and action – to name a few. As I was thinking of how to include these ideas in one succinct statement, I heard from a friend who shared her daughter’s summation of her summer camp experience.

Imagine arriving at a school with the following sign – and then knowing that every person in the school believed this with all their heart:

Vv Wisdom

How will you make sure this rings true in your school this year? My suggestion: start small:

  • Be kinder than necessary.
  • Smile.
  • Read more books.
  • Be a person you would want to hang out with all day.
  • Ask for help.
  • Offer to help.
  • Start every day with good intentions.
  • Get enough sleep.

The following quotes were shared during one of our orientation meetings yesterday.  Do you know how much of an impact you have in your school?

“I’ve come to a frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my personal approach that creates the climate. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or dehumanized.”
If we treat people as they are, we make them worse. If we treat people as they ought to be, we help them become what they are capable of becoming.”

Haim G. Ginott, Teacher and Child: A Book for Parents and Teachers


Let Your Environment Speak Volumes

Today I went to my new school for the first day. As I passed through the cafeteria, this caught my eye: a large portion of the wall dedicated to Banksy:


What messages are in your environment?



Make Learning Visible Too


I was reading this article about a group of industrious young women who wanted to transform their neighborhood.  They didn’t know how they were going to use the abandoned vacant lot in their community, just that they were going to design something to bring back hope to their area. Instead of sitting inside a building somewhere to plan their design, they just set up their planning space beside the lot and started there. What they found is that in doing that, they got buy-in from the community as well as ideas, feedback, support and help from people in the neighborhood who were keen to be a part of the project.

Move your design studio, or your classroom, or your city hall meeting, to the sidewalk. When you’re designing and building incredible things in public that no one thinks are possible—not just doing an art project or a mosaic, but actually solving a problem—people are inspired to come up to you and ask questions, and share advice or offer resources. There’s a seamless feedback loop with the community.

In my last school, we had a large atrium space that I would often utilize for group work.  In doing so, I would get the kids out the classroom and into a space where people could stop by and ask them what they were working on.  Other teachers used this space too and it is fast becoming less of an atrium and more of an “ideas pit” in which students can share their work and solicit new ideas and feedback on their projects.  

How can we make this bigger?  

Often we look for connections to our units for field trips.  In an international setting where language can sometimes be a barrier, such trips may not be possible for all units.  But what about taking a trip to the town center when planning your own city?  Or going to a local park for ideas on shared space usage? What if the field trip was less about going to a particular museum or gallery and more about being out in the community and seeing what evolves from thinking visibly in a shared space?

How will you make learning more visible this year?


Never Been Seen


If you have not done so already, you may like to check out Visible Thinking for ideas on making thinking visible.  It is a brilliant resource that is sure to give you ideas on how to frame discussions, lead groups, start conversations, and grow ideas.  I know this is a ‘tried and true’ resource for me – what else is out there for encouraging the development of visible thinking?  What do you use?

When I first read this quote, however, it did remind me of how lucky kids in International Schools are to have such a wealth of experience in the faculty at their school.  I hope as the new year begins (too) soon, those of us fortunate to teach in these schools will be able to do just this: to consider those things that make us who we are and to share those experiences with our students.

What gem are you ‘making visible’ this school year? And how will you help your kids to make visible their talents in your class community?



Design Thinking

Design, at its simplest, is about being intentional about the things we do and creating impact in the world.

You may have heard about Design Thinking but are still wondering what it really is. One post I read describes it simply as “a repeatable process for innovative problem solving”. This is another really good article that explains a little more about it. It breaks down the ‘steps’ of design thinking which could be present in any of our classrooms:

  1. Make a conscious effort to study an everyday activity: what do you do and why do you do it?
  2. Use these sharpened observation skills to come up with insights about your behavior.
  3. Armed with information, start designing solutions.

It really is that easy!

Here is a sample from the book “Graphic Design Thinking: Beyond Brainstorming”. This is a book I want to read more of in order to become better at facilitating creative, collaborative thinking and a deeper look into problem solving through design thinking.

Once you are ready, here are some Design Thinking ‘mindsets’ as prepared by the D.School at Stanford to get your head in the DT game:



Starting small…

This morning I was up early(ish) and saw this cartoon from GapingVoid:


I haven’t posted here in quite a while.  In my defense, I have been a little busy having a baby, moving countries, and preparing to start a new job.  All a little time consuming to say the least. 

When I read Hugh’s cartoon, I was reminded that we all have to start somewhere and often, instead of trying to re-write the book, we just need to find one little thing to start with – one thing that can make a big impact.  For me, that means just getting started and brushing the cobwebs off this blog.  But it is also a philosophy I want to employ in the coming school year. 

What can we do as teachers to make the biggest impact?  Where is our time best spent in the classroom?  What tools can I use that will save me time but also help me know my kids better and meet their needs in a more timely fashion?

In terms of math: Khan Academy

In terms of reading: The Book Whisperer

In terms of everything else, it is a matter of two things: finding the way to connect a student to their passion and finding a way to always choose to be kinder than necessary.  In the interest of “starting with the end in mind”, read the following graduation speech (thanks Marty!) to inspire you as you begin a new school year in which you will make a difference.