Creativity, Inspiration

Here’s To A Great First Day of School!

Here’s to taking the time to see the potential and to developing the courage in all our students.

Here’s to being more than “most people” on the first day back and every day thereafter.

Here’s to seeing the art and beauty in the everyday.

Most people

Most people don’t care enough to make a difference.

Most people aren’t going to buy that new thing you’re selling.

Most people are afraid to take action.

Most people are too self-involved to do the generous work you’re hoping for.

Most people think they can’t afford it.

Most people won’t talk about it.

Most people aren’t going to read what you wrote.

Fortunately, you’re not most people. Neither are your best customers.

~Seth Godin



The pleasure of from Vitùc on Vimeo.

21st Century, Creativity, Inspiration

The Power of Starting With A Fresh Slate

A Fresh Start: People

One of the things I love about being a teacher is that chance to start afresh each year.  I explained this idea to my incoming class via the introductory letter I sent out on Friday:

I have been teaching for 16 years and every year, I begin the school year as a different person. I decide on that first day and then every day thereafter, who I am as a teacher. What is important to me. What I want to accomplish. What I want my students to see when they come to school. I choose that. I don’t let other people tell me who I will be and I don’t just be who I think other people want me to be. I read, I think, I write and then I decide.

Who Will You Be? (This is a big question – take your time to think about this!) Will you be the kid who has brilliant ideas? The kid who loves math? The kid who looks to help other people? The kid who……? Fresh start. Clean slate. We all get one (that includes you!) and we all get to begin fifth grade as the person we want to be.

To some people that may sound cheesy, but to me, I think it is worth emphasising – for my own benefit and to make it explicit to my incoming students.  I teach in a small school.  My classroom door and the fourth grade classroom door are at most three yards apart.  If I were in the fourth grade, I would be assuming that the teacher in fifth knew all about me and if I wanted to change but didn’t know what that meant or how to do it, I might need someone to explain it to me.

Last year, there were two classes at my grade level and while I knew the kids in the other class, I didn’t know them super well.  One kid coming in appeared to have had a bit of rough year previously so I began the year in a similar way for his benefit, my own and the benefit of the class:

“I am excited you are in our class.  I don’t really know you all that well and I don’t really know the specific details about events that happened last year, but I do know there seemed to be a lot of drama and distraction and negative energy – three things I have little tolerance for.  When I say that you can have a clean slate, fresh start, I mean it.  Because of your behavior last year, your friends will take longer than me (perhaps) to fully warm up to you.  I encourage you to keep making good choices, come to me if you feel things are happening in a way that upsets you so that I can help you move forward, and to always focus on who YOU are, who YOU want to be and the work YOU are doing.  I think this year is going to be awesome and I hope you want to be a part of that.”

I won’t put it down entirely to that ‘speech’ but that combined with fantastic parents, loving classmates and individual determination meant that this kid had a killer year.  He nailed it.  Was he sometimes a pain?  Sure, but aren’t we all?  The point is, he embraced the opportunity to depart from his usual ways, try something new and see where it took him.

A Fresh Start: The Way to Get Unstuck

What if we were to apply the Fresh Start Philosophy to our planning.  When I Imagine a School, here is one of the things I see:
Is that the type of school you imagine? If the answer is no, why not?  Because you worked really hard on that activity to go with your Solar System unit?  Because you have half a file cabinet of worksheets already printed and stored in month-by-month hanging files? What would happen if you did decide to start fresh(ish) each year? Even if they were the best activities or worksheets EVER, are they what your new students need?
Seth Godin uses the ‘how to fasten your seatbelt’ monologue that all travelers are familiar with to describe a situation that is stuck.  He then goes on to suggest how one might become unstuck:

One approach to getting unstuck is the clean sheet of paper. Dictate that the speech before flight is going to change, that the menu will be redone, that the qualifications are going to start over, from zero. ~ Seth Godin


And the person doing this?  YOU!  Seth believes that, “Change gets made by people who care, who have some sort of authority and are willing to take responsibility.”  I would argue (I can’t believe I am arguing with my hero – he is clearly a great teacher in the art of ‘ruckus making*) that possessing any one of these qualities qualifies you to make the change.  If you see something happening that you don’t like, ask yourself:

Do I care?

Am I in a position to do something?

Will I take responsibility for this? 

If the answer to any of these questions is “YES”, then bring on the change! 

I work in an IB PYP School – an inquiry-based, open-ended learning, student-focused environment. One of the key selling-points of our curriculum is that each year, things should look different.  In fact, the work inside two different classes at the same grade level should look different.  After writing a Central Idea (Big Understanding) for the unit of work, deciding on your lines of inquiry which are concept based and figuring out what you would want a student to do to demonstrate their understanding of the idea and the lines of inquiry (therefore, planning the assessment criteria) everything else, I would argue, should be up for grabs – some of which you as the teacher should grab and the rest, left for the students.

I am not suggesting that every six weeks (about the average duration of a unit of inquiry) that you drop a Central Idea and leave.  What I am suggesting is that you consider the power of the blank planner. If you were to front-load with your students, giving them plenty of time to play, experiment, read, watch, listen, make, do, create, question, talk, visit and listen, I believe that they would be better equipped to ask deeper, more meaningful questions that would lead into deeper more meaningful inquiries and a much deeper and much more meaningful understanding of the Central Idea. Plus it makes school interesting, unexpected, and focused on the areas of interest brewing within each child.

And isn’t that worth it?

*I define “Making a Ruckus” or “Ruckus Making” as the sound your brain makes when it is challenged to be creative, thoughtful, inquisitive and world-changing and it is a beautiful sound.
21st Century, Innovation, Inspiration, Leadership

We All Need A Little Resistance

You know you work with a pretty switched on group of parents when not only do you get flowers and a thank you speech penned by your students at the conclusion of an eight week marathon journey of work, but you also get two books: Seth Godin’s “Linchpin” and Simon Sinek’s “Start With Why”.   Way cool.  I had previously read Linchpin, the one book Seth Godin says of:

If I could have every administrator, teacher and parent read just one of my books…it would be this one.

I was excited to read it over again (skim it and this time start highlighting as it is my own copy!) and I was reminded of how important his idea of the need for resistance was.


What?  Need resistance?  Yes!  If you are throwing out new ideas, suggesting different tactics, implementing innovative programs and basically making a ruckus – CONGRATULATIONS! Unlike so many others who listen to that tiny voice, that ‘lizard brain’ in the back of their head telling them to sit down, maintain order, follow along, make it through ’till Friday and dutifully maintain the status quo, you have heard the voice, the lizard brain, and have acted in spite of it. Truth be told, that voice might even have spurred you on to making a bigger ruckus, a bolder move, a more passionate statement!


If you felt the resistance and went for it anyway (whatever “it” might be) then most likely, you are leader.  It is not a comfortable, safe, cushioned place to be.  In fact, it should feel more like you are on the front line, blazing a path, running the gauntlet and dodging enemy fire. If  your new ideas are not insisting on change, making people a little uncomfortable because for a while they may look incompetent and arousing thought and debate, are they really “new”?

Think of all the ideas that have made people get up and do something – protest, occupy, picket – these are the result of ideas worth getting excited about!  Does your leader inspire you in this way?  Do you inspire others in this way?


When encouraging you to make a ruckus, I must point out the difference between doing so fearlessly and recklessly.

To be fearless…

is to act with the best intentions at the time in order to make a change that you believe is needed, of benefit and will ultimately result in a forward momentum.  To be fearless is to be informed of the consequences of your actions and to act anyway.  To be fearless is to embrace the probability that you may fail or be wrong and to press ahead anyway.  To be fearless is to act in good faith, with good intentions.

To be reckless…

is to take action without information.  To make rash decisions with little forethought.  To be reckless is to endanger, to risk without care for the impact and to pretend that you can not or will not fail.  To be reckless is to make decisions based on your own personal needs and wants rather than considering what is best for the group or the company.  To be reckless is to think of the immediate results and have little care for the long-term consequences.


  • resist your lizard brain

  • make a ruckus

  • be fearless

Think about your role as a leader or the people who lead in your school or organization.

Do they make a ruckus?

Do they do so fearlessly, inspiring others to follow them?  Do they do so recklessly, leaving behind them a wake of distrust and chaos? Does the work they do mean enough that people would miss them if they were gone? This was something Seth said at the event in NYC.  I think I recall correctly that it was a response to a question about “should I blog?” to which he replied, “Yes, but then ask yourself if people would miss your posts if they were gone”. My thinking is that he was giving us reminder to make sure that while we all will probably hear the lizard brain that tells us that it is too much, too new, too big, too bold, too ‘out there’ of an idea to work, we shouldn’t let that voice overpower our own, stronger voice that says, “I hear you and fearlessly, I proceed.”

Who are the ‘ruckus makers’ in your school?

How do they perfect their artistry?

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! 


Pick Yourself!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Timely.  Relevant.  Thanks, Simon!

Then the next day, another email, another quote:

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

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

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

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

21st Century, Inspiration, Internet

Light Your Beacon!

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

Who are your beacons?


Who are you a beacon to?

Brain Research, Inspiration

Care More. Even through Change. Care MORE.

Care More. 

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

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

Creativity, Inspiration

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

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

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

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

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

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

Like her, you too, can move mountains.

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


The Power of Putting it Out There

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

“I’ll finish it on the weekend…”

“I need to illustrate it….”

“I want to think it over….”

And then I was a little more honest:

“What if people think it’s crazy?”

“What if no one likes it?”

“What if people criticize?”

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

So I did.

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

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


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

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

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

Now, for book two…….