The Success Series

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SoulPancake is awesome. If you don’t know it, check it out.  As their tag line says, their objective is to open your mind, challenge your friends, and feel damn good.

Currently on their YouTube channel, is a Success Series of four videos.  All of them are worth watching.  Two of them are remarkable.

The first, One More Thing, One More Time is from Josh Sundquist.  Josh talks about just that: being successful by doing one more thing than you were planning on doing , and doing it one more time than you thought you could do. Josh is a son, brother, cancer survivor, author, Paralympic ski racer, motivational speaker, YouTuber, mediocre rapper, and a member of the US Amputee World Cup Soccer team. His motto is “1MT1MT” and he is a believer in hope, possibility, having a sense of humor, and overcoming adversity.



The second is titled, The Steps to Success.  It starts by asking people to think about someone who has helped them on their journey to being successful. Once they have a person in mind, they are asked to write that person a letter to tell them how thankful they are for their influence and their support in their life.  They are then put on the spot and asked to phone the person and read them the letter.

Who has helped you become successful?

What would you say to them?

I spent a long time thinking about this.  The more I thought about it, the more grateful I became for all of the people who could be a recipient of my letter.  It also made me question the idea of success: a successful friend? wife? mother? teacher? person? There are multiple people to thank for the many facets that make up the success of the whole person.

Again, who is on your list? What will you say to them?


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.


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?



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…….


A Reading Treat in time for Earth Day

In celebration of the second posthumous publication of Shel Silverstein’s poems, a 1973 animation of ‘The Giving Tree’ has been released.

The new anthology “Everything On It” contains never-before seen poems and drawings.  There is a fabulous article on NPR that goes ‘behind the scenes’ into how the collection was put together and gives a sneak peak of some of the poems from the book.

On choosing poems for the book, the editor worked closely with the poet’s family and tried to stay true to the aesthetic of his other books:

The right-hand side of every page had to entice young readers to turn to the next page. The poetry needed to be arranged carefully to create a mix of funny, poignant and naughty.

This comment made me think of my role as a teacher – what am I doing in my classroom each day to entice my students to ‘turn the page’.  Do I provide opportunities for funny, poignant and naughty in my classroom.  How will I make sure that what happens at school is poetry – because is that not what our kids deserve – more poetry in their lives?

Celebrate Poetry Month this April, Shel Silverstein style.


Dear World, Write Our Future

This is amazing.  Seriously.  I know I use that word a lot but I love this.  Started soon after the hurricanes in New Orleans, Dear World has just exploded onto the planet – and as the people in the know say, if you haven’t heard about yet, you soon will.  I think this would be a beautiful graduation gift from my class as they depart for the unknown that is Middle School.  Awaiting permission from the artist to steal his concept and then to challenge my kids to leave their legacy, share their wisdom, make their mark and state their piece. Beautiful. What would you say?

Innovation, Organization, Uncategorized

Reasons You Haven’t “Made It”, How To Keep Going, and Why You Are Enough

I am quickly falling in love with thisisindexed.com

Simple.  To the point. Witty.

What’s not to love?

I plan on sharing these with my kids tomorrow.  I am intrigued to see what they will think of the use of graphic images to tell such a story.  I think some will LOVE it.  I have fresh index cards and new fine point black sharpies ready too 🙂

We have them thinking about how they are going to eventually share their learning at the end of the process and before they head towards my worst nightmare (reading me a powerpoint) I thought it wise to throw this one up for good measure:

In addition, I would like to share with them 12 Truths to Tell Yourself After A Failure or A Mistake as we conclude the first week of our PYP Exhibition.  I have listed the 12 but for more detail read the full post and remember:

Failure is a prerequisite for great success. If you want to succeed faster, double your rate of failure.

Here are the 12:

  • It’s okay.  You will be okay.
  • There is no success without failure.
  • Positive thinking creates positive results.
  • Success is always closer than it seems.
  • You are not your mistakes.
  • Life’s best lessons are learned at unexpected times.
  • Mistakes are rarely as bad as they seem.
  • Not getting what you want can be a blessing.
  • You have the capacity to create your own happiness.
  • Mistakes are simply a form of practice.
  • You are making progress.
  • Life goes on.

If you have ever been part of the PYP Exhibition, you will know what a huge and sometimes daunting task it can be – especially when you are 10 or 11 years old!  In light of this – and in addition to everything we have done thus far to prepare and support our kids – I was just thinking that tomorrow I will also read them a book from one of my favorite author/illustrators, Peter H. Reynolds.  The book is called “So Few Of Me” and if you are a Reynolds fan (and even if you are not!) you will not be disappointed.  Here is what Peter had to say about his book:

If The Dot is about getting started, and Ish is about keeping going once you get rolling, So Few of Me is about making sure you save enough time in the rush- rush world we live in to actually BE creative. Dedicated to my twin brother, Paul Reynolds, So Few of Me is a tale of an over-scheduled, multi- list-making, over-worked boy on a journey to get it all done. Of course, that’s not just a tall order, it’s a tall tale. Life’s list never really ends, but we have the power to be ruled by the list… Or to put it down — and dream. You might know a few people in your life that might need a gentle reminder to slow it down a notch. I know I will have to re-read my book once a week to keep myself journeying at a safe speed!


Nature Deficit Disorder

Have you ever watched what happens when a dog is let ‘off leash’ whilst out on a walk?  They don’t typically wait patiently by for their person to give them directions on where to go, ideas for what they can do, suggestions for how to maximise their outdoor experience.  No, they just take off and explore, try things out, repeat favorite moves.  Most dogs will keep an eye on their people to make sure they are ok without them and then back to the exploring.

I just read an article on BBC.co.uk in which the author, Richard Black, shares the findings of a National Trust report that states:

UK children are losing contact with nature at a “dramatic” rate, and their health and education are suffering.

I was directed to this report by a friend of my husband.  Chris is a husband, father, pilot and all-round great guy and I would imagine his comments below would resonate with many amongst us:

The article is definitely worth a read. It also made me think again to John Medina’s 12 Brain Rules. Specifically rules 1 and 12.  How can we make sure we maximise opportunity for the brain to flourish in these areas?  I’d say, for starters, take a leaf out of Chris’s book – if you can’t say ‘yes’ to more than half of the things on that list, perhaps you (or your child) need some more nature time?  I mean, who doesn’t love a great mud pie?  One of my favorite memories of last summer was when my friends came to stay with their two girls.  We were sitting outside in the hot afternoon and in order to encourage a little ‘running through the sprinkler’ I ended up doing exactly that, fully clothed, until soaking wet.  Uncomfortable?  Yes.  Had I just showered and changed and was now wet again?  Yes.  Great memories and a whole lot of fun?  Of course!

Here are the summaries of rules one and twelve.  For summaries of all the Brain Rules, click here.

P.S. Is that not the cutest picture of our gorgeous Abby at the top of the post?


Did You Ask A Good Question Today?

As a teacher of an inquiry-based program, questions are – or should be – at the heart of our classroom. We recently had a parent come in to give a workshop on presentations and the thing he shared with the kids as his number one tip: “Ask questions!”.  When you ask a question, you engage your audience and you immediately set brains to work.  Think of some of your best lessons – did they start with a factual monologue from you or were they sparked by a question? Asking great questions and learning how to be in charge of your questions to further your learning is one of those 21st Century classroom skills that I think can sometimes be overlooked.  You don’t need an iPad or a laptop, you just need to be consciously engaged, curious and willing to ask questions that you don’t have answers for – yet!

From the website 12Most came the following list of the 12 Most Genius Questions:

1.   How can we make it /each other better?

2.   How do we know this to be so?

3.   Is this what is needed most?

4.   What is it we hope to accomplish and what’s stopping us?

5.   What are we most proud of?

6.   What is possible?

7.   When can we start?

8.   How will we prevent failure?

9.   Who/how can we make this happen?

10. What do we regret most?

11.  How can we make the best use of…?

12. What if we…(Dream big!)

In the video that accompanies this post, the lead teacher encourages the children to be “in charge” of questions. What does being in charge of questions look like:

  • you ask lots of questions
  • you never stop asking questions
  • you ask different questions
  • you become unafraid to ask more questions

She then goes on to have the students practice the difference between statements and questions.  Instead of “I see a pink balloon” = “How do they get balloons in a heart shape?”.  She uses Where Do Balloons Go? by Jamie Lee Curtis  to further her investigation into becoming in charge of questions.  The teacher asks the children to focus on the learner in the book and to hold up a finger for every question that she asks.  At the end of the reading, she tells the students that while she loved the book, she thought the learner in the story was fantastic – a superstar learner. As a group, they agreed she was a superstar learner because:

  • she knew how to find things out by asking questions
  • she studied and investigated the same topic
  • she kept “digging deeper and deeper” – using her questions like a shovel to go deeper
  • she never stopped asking questions
  • she asked so many different questions

In her article, “Asking Questions: Cultivating a Habit of Inquiry”, author Evelyn Wortsman Deluty shares the following story:

When asked why he became a scientist, the story goes, the physicist and Nobel laureate, Isidor Isaac Rabi, speaks about his childhood on the streets of New York City at the beginning of the last century. He grew up in a devoutly Jewish home, the son of impoverished immigrant parents. Steeped in a religious tradition that values learning, his mother, who had little formal education, would inquire about his school day. Yet contrary to many parents who might try to discern what a child did or learned that day in school, Rabi’s mother would inquire: “Did you ask a good question today?” Rabi’s mother indirectly initiated him into the habit of inquiry that nurtured his scientific journey because she understood that the roots of learning are cultivated by a mindset that emphasizes the active process of questioning rather than the passive recitation of facts.

She goes on to add that “the ability to ask reflective question is at the root of all change and progress”.  It is an almost three page article and very much worth your time to read it.

So how do we go about encouraging more, better and different questions in our classrooms – and what do we do with these questions once they have been asked?  One option would be to check out the Right Question Institute.  They have a lot of resources (look under the Educator tab – free to sign up).  You will need to do a little reading on the subject but the resources below should give you a fairly quick idea as to wether or not this is something you are going to pursue.  The first is a basic outline of the steps you would go through.  This is a brief summary of a longer explanation of the six stages of the Question Formulation Technique

The second is a list of ‘rules’ to be distributed to kids whilst they work on their questions.  Ultimately, the aim to get more questions, generated by your kids, buzzing around in your classroom.