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!
Creativity, Design, Inspiration, Internet

Become an Enabler….of Creativity!

I have read a couple of articles recently which advocate for the development of creativity in children.

Tinkerers Unite! How Parents Enable Kids’ Creativity

This WSJ article is in favor of kids making and creating without the use of directions.  Trial and error are favored over “getting it right” and parents who support their child developing their tinkering skills, are doing them a huge favor.  One parent interviewed describes mistakes as “part of the learning process”.  Awesome. Tinkering is encouraged as it develops spatial and mental rotation abilities which are integral to geometry and engineering.  One particularly interesting piece of information:

Jim Danielson, of Arlington Heights, Ill., fell into tinkering after his mother said he couldn’t have a TV set in his bedroom. “If I build my own TV, can I have it in my room?” he asked. “They probably didn’t think I could do it, so they said yes,” he recalls.

He built a projector system for his room during his high school sophomore year, and he and his friends used it to play Nintendo 64 games. His mother didn’t let him take the creation to college, though, concerned it might be dangerous in a small dorm room.

No matter. Mr. Danielson, now 21, dropped out of college last year to accept a Thiel Fellowship—an unusual program started by Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal—which pays young innovators $100,000 to stay out of college and spend two years tinkering instead.

Our first unit next year is about Solar Energy.  Based on this information, I want to make sure I have lots of tools and materials that will lend themselves to tinkering with less emphasis on ‘package’ solar energy kits and more on guided discoveries through tinkering. This made me think back to developmental time in New Zealand schools where children are given the option to tinker to their hearts content.  In light of the recent visit of Sal Khan to Boise, I would like to see our school move toward science/math oriented guided tinkering sessions that cross grade levels.  This could also be extended into Family Math and Science nights where teachers, parents, kids all gather together to tinker.  Sound fun to me!

Encouraging passionate learners … even when it’s not your thing

This post was written by Amanda Morgan of Not Just Cute.  The premise of the article is that passion and creativity should be encouraged and supported even when the same passion is not matched by the parent or teacher.  Kids who love worms, toads, dirt….whatever, should be encouraged in the following ways in order to promote self-directed, engaged learning – the opposite of which may be educational apathy:

  • give attention: listen to your child or find someone (aunty, grandpa, friend) who will
  • give supplies: buckets, magnifying glasses, collection containers, art supplies…anything that supports their passion
  • give space: an area for writing, collections, wiggly ‘friends’ or art works

When I think back to our recent Exhibition unit, and I think about how engaged our students were when they were paired with mentors or found community members that shared their passion, I know this to be true.  Seeing first-hand how kids respond when they have someone who really is genuinely interested in what they are passionate about is integral to the learning process.

I then found this website that would support the sharing of the creative process:

DIY – A Website to Share Your Creative Tinkering! 

DIY is an online community for kids. We give kids tools to collect everything they make as they grow up and a place to share it.

We’ve all seen how kids can be like little MacGyvers. They’re able to take anything apart, recycle what you’ve thrown away — or if they’re Caine, build their own cardboard arcade. This is play, but it’s also creativity and it’s a valuable skill.

Our idea is to encourage it by giving kids a place online to show it off, so family, friends and grandparents can see it and easily respond. Recognition makes a kid feel great, and motivates them to keep going. We want them to keep making, and by doing so learn new skills, use technology constructively, begin a lifelong adventure of curiosity, and hopefully spend time offline, too.

– DIY Blog

This looks like a very cool place for kids to share ideas with kids and be inspired by each other. Again, despite the somewhat ‘childish’ looking forum, I would really like to use this as a forum for my little solar tinkerers to share their work, get feedback and be inspired to create more.  What do you think? Take a look at the user interface and the feedback the site has already received:

Innovation, Inspiration, Internet, Leadership

Follow Your Passion – If Tony can, so can you!

My motto, even though I never really said it, is “Follow Your Passion”.

-Tony Hawk

Even though our “Passions” unit has just come to an end, I am still eagerly gathering examples for next fall of what it means to follow your passion.  In this short video clip, Tony Hawk describes what it means to him to follow his passion.  He encourages us to embrace every part of our passion – even the parts we might not have thought were our passion when we began.  He cites the example of learning about the cut and sew clothing industry which is integral to his branding and merchandising, and nothing he ever thought he would be found spending his time on but it is something that has really helped him gain a fuller understanding of what he does, how best to do it and how it all works together.

I sent a survey out to our fifth grade parents to get their feedback on our Exhibition unit.  The final question asked:

Would you be interested in being part of a parent exhibition group that will start in the Fall? We will be meeting as a group to share our passions, check in and support each other, set goals, keep each other accountable and share in the journey together?

So far, of the six replies, four people are interested in more information about this group.  I love that!  My goal is to use this group of parents as a mentor group to the fifth graders when they begin their Exhibition in the Spring next year.  We will be using Seth Godin’s “Ship It” as our guide OR Zig Ziglar’s Pick Four.  I want the parents to try out one or both of these tools to see which one works best for them and so I can offer my students the same degree of choice next year.  I also hope that the parents will gain an appreciation for the inquiry process and a better understanding of what their child goes through on a daily basis as a student of an inquiry based curriculum.

I am excited to see parents interested in taking this leap.  I am excited to take the leap along with them.  Most of all, I am excited that together, we just might make school different.

  • What do you do in your school to build parent/teacher/student relationships?
  • How do you involve your parents as partners?
  • How often do you allow kids to see parents as teachers?
  • How often do you as a teacher, learn alongside your kids?

For more information and a download of Ship It in PDF format:

The ShipIt Journal, now in free PDF format

Free to print, free to share. Don’t sell or modify.Here’s the thing: If all you do is read this on the screen, IT WON’T WORK.I use all caps with care here. IT WILL NOT WORK.You need to print it and write in it.  Good luck. Go ship. Make something happen.

Download TheShipItJournal

If you do not live in Boise, but would be interested in being part of our Passion Group via long distance learning,we would love to have you join us!  Please contact me for more information or leave a comment below! 


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…….

21st Century, Innovation, Inspiration

Stop Stealing (MORE) Dreams

A while back, I posted about Seth Godin’s manifesto “Stop Stealing Dreams“.  A few people read the post, a couple more clicked the links to the copy of his work and I’d hazard a guess that many saw the length of it and skim read some of it.  I urge you to go back and read again.  The kids in your life deserve it. You deserve it.  It will be one of the best, most inspiring readings on education and the world of possibilites in front of us that you will have read in a while.  If you really don’t have the time, let me share with you a few of my favorite gems – a little amuse bouche if you will to whet your appetite for more.  The numbers refer to the section of the manifesto from which the text has been pulled.  All work below is straight from Seth’s pen (or keyboard):



122.Some courses I’d like to see taught in school

  • How old is the Earth?
  • What’s the right price to pay for this car?
  • Improv
  • How to do something no one has ever done before
  • Design and build a small house
  • Advanced software interface design

114.Let’s do something interesting
Every once in a while, between third grade and the end of high school, a teacher offers the class a chance to do something interesting, new, off topic, exciting, risky, and even thrilling. I’d venture it’s about 2 percent of the hours the student is actually in school. The rest of the time is reserved for absorbing the curriculum, for learning what’s on the test.Just wondering: what would happen to our culture if students spent 40 percent of their time pursuing interesting discoveries and exciting growth opportunities, and only 60 percent of the day absorbing facts that used to be important to know?

130.Whose dream?
When we let our kids dream, encourage them to contribute, and push them to do work that matters, we open doors for them that will lead to places that are difficult for us to imagine. When we turn school into more than just a finishing school for a factory job, we enable a new generation to achieve things that we were ill-prepared for.


My class is in the middle of the fifth grade Exhibition.  They are choosing their own path for this unit.  They each have been asked to identify their passion and pursue it with abandon.  Reality – there is a lot of nervousness in the room!  But there is also the beginnings of the understanding that this really is about them.  Their dreams, their passion, their chance to “do something interesting, new, off topic, exciting, risky, and even thrilling.”  Tomorrow, one of my kids is sitting down with a published author to find out what it takes to ‘make it’ in the world of books and writing.  Another is going to take a flight in a twin engine plane to learn more about aviation and airplanes.  Two more have put together an after school activity where fashion meets soccer.  Do I know exactly what each kid is doing?  No.  Are they engaged, focused, organized and committed?  YES!  Amazingly so.  And I trust them.  I trust that they are making good decisions.  I trust they are using their time wisely.  I trust that they are seizing the opportunity to pursue their passion.  And I trust that they are loving it.

For those who are not quite there yet, here are some sage words from Seth: