Create Your Context: Connect with “Why.”

Have you ever experienced collaborative learning that is so powerful that you will never be the same? I’ve experienced many amazing professional learning opportunities over the years, and while I’ve learned something from each of them, only a few of them have both left an imprint on my heart and reshaped my paradigm- the way I see the world and my profession. Last week, I had the honor and privilege of experiencing this type of learning at Education Reimagined’s Pioneer Lab Training. The purpose of the training was to “ignite and unite learner-centered pioneers,” empowering each other to grow the learner-centered movement. During the training, I had the opportunity to create my context for participating. I had the time and space to reflect on, and invent my purpose. There were dozens of powerful activities that I could write about. Experiences from the training that are still on my mind. I believe this was one of the most powerful for me because had the opportunity to reconnect with my mission.

Adobe Spark (1)

I’ve had many iterations of my mission statement. I first created my mission statement during my experience with Covey’s 7 Habits Signature Training. This was a bold step for me and all of my colleagues- to declare and share our individual purpose. My mission statement is hanging in the hallway outside of my school area. If you were to walk down the hallway at our school, you would see every staff member’s mission statement in some form. I truly believe that every individual at school thought deeply about their mission statement and we continue to reflect on them when we choose to or are given the opportunity to.

When I got home from Pioneer Lab Training, I chose to continue to explore the idea of context, purpose, and my mission, the “why.” I’ve had Simon Sinek, David Mead, and Peter Docker’s “Find Your Why: A Practical Guide for Discovering Purpose for You and Your Team” in my Audible wish list for a while. This seemed like, as one of my closest friends and colleagues often says, my “just in time, at the right time” to begin listening. In the forward, Simon Sinek says this: “Fulfillment is a right and not a privilege. Every single one of us is entitled to feel fulfilled by the work we do. To wake up feeling inspired to go to work, to feel safe when we’re there, and to go home with a sense that we contributed to something larger than ourselves.”

I’ve been reflecting on how intentional the designers of Pioneer Lab Training were. Not only were we given time, space, and resources to reflect on and create our context, we also spent a great deal of time deepening our understanding of context, paradigms, and purpose. In order to do meaningful, collaborative work, we first needed to understand and connect with our “why” and each other as human beings. While we can choose to do this independently, I wonder what it would look like if organizations spent more time on this. I wonder how learner agency, relevancy, and relationships might be positively impacted if this was deeply embedded into the school environment. Take Sinek’s statements on fulfillment and change the word “work” to “school.” This is how it would read: “Every single one of us is entitled to feel fulfilled by the work we do. To wake up feeling inspired to go to school, to feel safe when we’re there, and to go home with a sense that we contributed to something larger than ourselves.”

Of course, our learners experience purpose, and what I’m dreaming about goes deeper than a purpose statement for each course. I’m dreaming about giving learners the opportunity to create their context for participation. What an amazing opportunity we all have- to create our context! Each day, we can choose our purpose for participating. I’d love to hear what thoughts you might have about creating these opportunities for learners (adults and kids) in our school settings!

Education Reimagined:    @EdReimagined

Sinek, S., Mead, D., & Docker, P. (2017). Find your why: a practical guide to discovering purpose for you or your team. NY, NY: Portfolio/Penguin, an imprint of Penguin Random House, LLC.   Find Your Why  @simonsinek  @djmead  @peterdocker



The Gift of Time


As a teenager and young adult, I used to look forward to Daylight Saving Time every year. It meant that I would get an extra hour to sleep in. It still feels good to wake up before my alarm and not feel so rushed. This morning, I took advantage of extra snuggles with my kids, a slow cup of coffee, and some reading before heading to church.  This extra hour changed my thinking about time today. Instead of time feeling like a constraint, it felt more like a gift. Then I started thinking about what I would do if I had an extra hour every day.

Of course, I could think of so many things that I would do with an extra hour. At home, I would probably spend more time with my kids, or be more on top of laundry and the daily cleaning chores. If I had an extra hour with students, I would dig deeper into exploring their questions and passions. An extra hour with colleagues would mean more intentional planning and co-creating integrated learning experiences. I’ve been thinking about conversations I’ve had with educators and friends regarding time. I’ve listened to people share fabulous ideas of things they would like to start or try- and when we talk about what is stopping them, the absence of time is almost always part of the picture. As I think about my own goals and “to do” list, I am reminded that time is fixed. I will never have the ability to add time to the day, but what I can control is how I spend my time.


This is our reality. How we respond is our choice. We can choose to continue to wish for more time, additional monetary resources, or we can choose to make a plan and start. We have the ability to make changes despite these constraints. When push comes to shove, we make time for the things that we care about the most. Setting goals and planning ahead helps us make the most of our time. Unfortunately, in the absence of clear focus and intention, an extra hour every day would probably turn into spending time the same way that we are used to spending it. And eventually that extra hour would probably no longer feel like a gift. It’s on all of us to be effective stewards of our time and talents. We have the freedom to chose how we spend each day- and that, is most certainly, a gift!

Celebrating our Collective Journey #IMMOOC

It’s hard to believe this is the final week of #IMMOOC. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate our journey than to highlight some of the amazing posts I’ve read along the way. I thought carefully about the title of the blog because the experience was about both sharing our own stories of learning AND learning from and connecting with others. This wasn’t just my journey or your journey- it was OUR journey. Of course we all grew individually, and our collective commitments are what made #IMMOOC the experience that it was.

Here are 3 posts that I choose to celebrate today!

  1. Reboot Number Three from Classroom Confessional by Brady Venables @BradyVenables

Venables ClarkI think it is amazing that Brady has been through this process three times. This time around, she chose to speak about connections between The Innovator’s Mindset and Brene Brown’s Braving the Wilderness. In this post, Brady wrote about the adversity that she faces in her position as a technology integration specialist. I was inspired by her vision of leveraging her position to move far beyond the integration of technology to a true shift in education. She spoke about change in a deep way. In order to really shift education, we need to shift belief systems. Brady speaks bravely about having courage to speak up honestly against complacency in order to provide a student centered approach to learning for our kids. It reminded me that I need to continually reflect on my impact and my courage to speak truth and ask questions to move the needle forward.

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2.  Just One Thing from Outside of My Classroom by Lori Faas @teacherlor 


In the post, Just One Thing, Lori shares about a practice that she used to implement that she decided to discontinue. She wrote about requiring reading logs in past practice. It completely resonated with me because I am living this right now with my daughter. Just like Lori, I’m sure that this teacher does it because others do too, and she believes that it will improve reading in some way. Instead, the required reading log has taught me to set my alarm for Sunday night so I don’t forget and to get a few different colored pens (or a pen and pencil) to make it look like we randomly fill it out every night. All of the parents that don’t fill out the log will get a reminder email to turn in reading minutes or there will be some very disappointed kids (they won’t get to move their character forward in the reading marathon posted on the wall.) It actually takes some of the joy out of reading. I appreciate Lori’s vulnerability in sharing that practice and her journey through reflection and realization that there are other ways to get kids excited about reading!

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3. Health First  by Annick Rauch @AnnickRauch

mental healthThis post!! I appreciate the raw emotion in Annick’s post. She was so brave in sharing connections she made to health and mental health in #IMMOOC Week 6. I am still very new at blogging and struggled at first when trying to decide how much of my personal side would come through in my “professional education” blog. We are human. Annick reminds us so beautifully of that. I also connect personally with this post, also suffering the loss of a child. I went directly from my 35 week growth check appointment where I was given devastating news, to my school. Why? Because I would be gone for the next several weeks and there were lesson plans to be done and people to take care of. Like Annick said, “we get attached to these kids, so naturally, we worry!” Thank you, Annick, for reminding me that sharing our personal journey helps us connect as educators AND as humans! I will always remember that! We owe it to ourselves and everyone around us to put our health first and take care of each other.

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Sharpen the Saw #IMMOOC

Earlier this week, I wrote a post about strengths and passions. This was in response to an opportunity I had to reflect the sentence stem: “I am at my best when…” As I have reflected more through participation in #IMMOOC this week, I have realized that in order to be in a place where my strengths and passions collide, I first need to make sure that I take care of myself.

sharpensmallThis past summer, I had the opportunity to facilitate Dr. Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits Signature Training. Through this journey, I had many moments of reflection and discussions with colleagues about Habit 7, the final habit taught in the process, called “Sharpen the Saw.” In short, this habit means that we need to make time to invest in our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being.

This part of the training gets the least amount of time and almost seems like an afterthought. This is not saying anything negative about the training; however, it does seem par for the course. How often to we spend each day truly investing in ourselves? When we do invest in ourselves, do we feel guilt or shame? A few days ago, a friend said to me, “I’m a horrible mom. I just picked up my kids and now I’m dropping them off again so that I can workout.” I told her that in order for me to be the best for my kids, I need to take care of myself. Whether that is through a workout, or reading, or working, I need to have a daily dose of reminding myself that I am human and I have needs too. I plan for this time and am finally in a place where I can enjoy this time without guilt or shame. I encourage us all to support each other in this. Investing in ourselves allows us to bring our best for others!



The Real End in Mind #IMMOOC

Highly effective educational systems utilize goal setting. Some of our goals are short term and some of them long range, taking years to see through. We start with our end in mind and create action steps to ensure that we get there. Along the way, we reflect on our progress toward the goal, assess our impact, and make necessary adjustments. Sometimes I wonder if we, myself included, get so caught up in an action step or initiative that we forget about our real end in mind.

real end in mind

For example, many districts are launching 1:1 device initiatives. This is great- so long as it is not the final end in mind. I believe the real end in mind is personalization of learning for students and staff. Technology, especially in a 1:1 setting, can be a very powerful tool to help us move from standardization to the personalization of learning. The same can be said for 21st century, flexible learning spaces. New spaces or furniture is not the ultimate end in mind. They are an action step to help us achieve something much bigger. They are a stepping stone to help us empower kids to learn about how they learn best, and make choices about where they learn. When technology or new furniture/learning spaces accompany the appropriate mindset and greater purpose, learning will be transformed. The transformation to personalization of learning and empowerment for all, I believe, is the real end in mind.

When Strengths and Passions Collide #IMMOOC

During a recent professional learning experience, I had the opportunity to reflect on my personal mission statement. One of the prompts was, “I am at my best when….” As I was writing down tasks, roles, and responsibilities related to feeling my best, I had a moment of rediscovery. I realized that I am at my best when my passions and strengths collide. When I have the opportunity to co-create with adults or students, my strengths and passions collide. When I am learning, networking, and sharing, my strengths and passions collide. When I have the opportunity to amplify student voice, my strengths and passions most certainly, collide.


As I reflected on this, I thought of a strength/passion matrix, much like a skill/will matrix. I created this to remind myself that just because adults or kids are good at something, does not necessarily mean that they are passionate about it. For example, I am good at troubleshooting technology issues- I am not passionate about it. I’d rather spend my time in other ways, where I feel like I am learning and maximizing my passion and talent. I believe there is danger in spending too much time in strength only areas, leading to disconnection or the feeling of status quo. Strength-finders are great tools to help individuals and teams discover and leverage strengths, so long as we do not sacrifice passion or box people into being that one person that does that one thing well. The key is “and.” Strength AND passion!

My CliftonStrengths Results:

Strengths Finder

Change starts with me. #IMMOOC

There are two extremes on the continuum of the paradigm of change. On one extreme is the belief that first someone else needs to change, or a system needs to change before I can move forward. I need to see something change before I believe is possible- before I act myself. On the other side is the belief that change starts with me. I don’t have to wait for others to change or for the system to change. Holding the belief that change is possible- believing it before seeing it, and acting on that belief. Of course there is everything in between these two extremes and depending on the situation, our paradigm of change may shift around a little- or a lot.

The more we believe in the power of “me” (the power of our own ability to initiate change) the stronger will be our power of “we” (our collective ability to move the needle forward).

I often think about the many things that students are asked to do for the first time on a daily basis. They are asked on a daily basis to take risk, to try a new strategy, to be vulnerable in order to learn. When we really think about what it is that we ask of students, I hope we’d all be able to say that we are willing to do the same. That we are willing to model what we wish to see in others. The same can be applied to teachers and leaders in education. Leaders get more of what they model. A powerful way to support and shape behavior is to model it. It would be a complete culture killer and learning roadblock to expect others to do what we are not willing to do ourselves. To model our learning takes risk, vulnerability, and believing in something bigger than ourselves. Modeling is not about showing off a skill or a tool, but about sharing our struggles and successes for the sake of our learning community.

Modeling our learning is about intentionally closing the knowing and doing gap. It is easy to sit idle and talk about instructional practices and it is another to be willing to execute them, reflect on them and share. Since I have been out of a traditional classroom roll for almost two years know, I find it even more important to model my own learning. I do this through blogging, connecting, presenting, designing or co-creating classroom experiences, and perhaps one of the most important is through day to day interactions with students and colleagues.

It’s not just about being credible, or showing people that “you’ve still got it”- it’s good for your soul!

To be a part of the learning process with kids and adults connects us back to our “why.” We got into this profession to make an impact! What good is our learning if we keep it to ourselves? I believe the most impactful innovations happen when we are willing to put ourselves out there for the sake of all of us.


The Struggle is Real! #IMMOOC

Today when I was visiting a classroom, I witnessed an awesome exchange between a teacher and student. The class was engaged in a discussion about focusing on things they can control and choosing their reaction. The word “initiative” came up and a student raised their hand to ask what the word meant. The teacher’s initial response was this:

“You just took control of your own learning. When you weren’t sure, you asked a question. You took ‘initiative.’ Way to go! Way to take charge of your learning.”

I was so happy to have witnessed this moment. A moment where a student was being celebrated for not knowing an answer. I’ve tried to be very intentional this year in talking about struggle. When I have the opportunity to work with students, we talk about struggle before an experience, during the experience, and after the experience. At first, it felt strange to talk about struggle after a learning experience turned out to be successful. But the experience wouldn’t have been successful without persevering through the struggle. As educators and leaders, we have the opportunity to normalize struggle by talking about it as part of the learning process. Can you imagine an environment where there was no fear of not being perfect the first time? A learning environment where adults AND students didn’t feel hesitation or self-doubt? I believe that we can chip away at some of the negative feelings we have when we are outside of our comfort zone by normalizing struggle.

I’ll be honest- when I was in the classroom just a couple of years ago, I didn’t make this a priority. I typically went right into asking students to reflect on what worked or what went well. The same is true with my role as an instructional leader. It is easy to skip over the struggle in our fast paced environment. We want to honor the greatness in one another and forget that we can do that by celebrating the struggle. How many questions do we ask at school that include reflecting on struggle, or when the work is hard? To ask about struggle is to value the effort and contributions that people are putting into their learning every day.

I know that there have been many times, even this year, that I have wanted to step in and be the hero instead of allowing productive struggle. It is during times like this that I remember the importance of balancing giving students time and space to grow with process feedback and questions. The same can be said for educators. I believe that if we are going to truly build collective efficacy and capacity, we need to honor productive struggle by balancing support with time and space. What does this mean for us? It means that we should be free to struggle without judgement- without someone stepping in immediately to tell us how to do it the “right” way. We should have the opportunity to reflect and adapt individually and with others. If we don’t ever have the chance to do this individually, we may wire ourselves to think that we can’t learn or make decisions on our own. The struggle is real! It’s normal! It is part of the process. To have learned is to have struggled!



Gradeless #IMMOOC

Thinking about starting a school from scratch is a scary and exciting idea. I’ve had many conversations with friends and colleagues that involve dreaming about our ideal school. Reading the book and screening the documentary, Most Likely to Succeed (Tony Wagner and Ted Dintersmith) had a profound impact on how I think about school. It’s amazing that while the needs of our world have changed, the structure of school has not changed much over the last 100 years. Separating subjects to be taught in silos, having students in a class for x amount of time for x amount of days, and organizing grade levels by age are all primarily organizational structures, rather than learning structures. Of course, I believe that schools need organizational structures. I also believe that we could improve in creating structures that allow students access to what they need, when they need it while giving them the opportunity to create, develop collaborative skills, and pursue passions.

There are two ways that the term “grade” is used in school. One way is to identify a cohort based on a learner’s birthday. A child that is 8 years old spends their day with other 8 year old students. The expectation is that all of these students are to be proficient on the same set of standards by the end of the year based on their birthday. Another use of the term “grade” is to give rank or value to student work as well a overall performance in a subject. What would school look like if it was gradeless? Since we are dreaming of a school from scratch, this is what I think of first. A “gradeless” learning environment.

In this environment, learners would move through content and skills as they demonstrate proficiency, like a competency based model, where time is a variable. Of course, I would want learners to be able to spend time with age alike peers- AND it would be great for them to collaborate with older and younger learners depending on the learning experience. It wouldn’t be an either/or, but an AND. Gradeless in terms of age could be more of a concept or mindset than anything else. A system could still organize students by age, but personalize the experience. For example, not all 3rd grade learners would be interacting with the same content at the same time for the same amount of time as their age alike peers in any given academic year.  Many schools and districts are working on ways to personalized learning like this through blended structures.

What does a grade (rank or value) mean? What does it tell students about their level of understanding and what they are able to do with their learning? I looked through one of my third grade report cards and was actually surprised to see that a report card today doesn’t look a whole lot different. I received several different grade marks for standards within different subjects and “citizenship” grades. The report cards (past and present) don’t say much about what learning looks like. That is probably why most of time spent in conferences is focused on talking about individual learner habits, goals, celebrations, and areas of growth. I believe that students should know what they are learning, why they are learning, and be able to describe their level of understanding based on a rubric (standards referenced/standards based). As learners move to high school grading becomes more high stakes because of college implications. Many systems that utilize standards based grading still use an equation to get to a letter grade because of this. So ultimately grades, are still used as a way to sort and filter students that may or may not be successful in post-secondary school. I earned a D+ in my last very last undergraduate course. I knew that I already had everything that I needed to graduate and the majority of the class grade was attendance and participation. I knew that in the “real world” my future employer would probably not ask me to bring my college transcript to an interview. In other words, that D+ would have no impact on my future success.

If I were to start a school from scratch, the mindset would be “gradeless.” Students would co-create with teachers their personalized path, moving at the appropriate pace, determining together what success looks like and how it will be demonstrated. Students and teachers would design and create together. Passions would come alive at this school. School would be the primary place to not just consume, but create. Learning would be treated like the continuum that it is- and all along the way, students would be archiving their learning through a blog or website. By the time they graduate, they would have an entire body of evidence to share with universities and employers, showing the impact of their learning with much more meaning than a report card.

There are probably 101 reasons why this wouldn’t work, yet it’s worthwhile to consider- to imagine what parts of our dream school experience we could actually bring to life!

Invitation for Innovation #IMMOOC

I recently began blogging. In fact, this will be my third post. I am looking forward to reading all of the blogs related to The Innovator’s Mindset Open Online Course. #IMMOOC  I also appreciate having this opportunity to help me create a cadence of accountability in my blogging journey. One of this week’s blog prompts is “Why is innovation in education so crucial today?” Right away, I think about my two school-age children. My daughter is in 3rd grade and my son in 1st. My daughter loves everything about school- even the worksheets. She comes home from school and plays school and she is really good “doing” school. When my son became school age, I had a huge wake-up call. All of a sudden all of the things that I appreciated about him so much were almost working against him in the game of school. He wasn’t good at sitting still, he loathed worksheets (especially filling in a 100’s chart daily in math), and never felt like he had enough “center” time. His curiosity, eagerness to move, and desire to create and play- all seemed like attributes that made it harder for him during his Kindergarten year. Thankfully, he had a wonderful, compassionate teacher that was open to dialogue about making some changes to help him be and feel successful.

In his Introduction, George Couros referenced the video “An Open Letter to Educators” featuring university dropout Dan Brown. Brown said, “You simply need to understand that the world is changing, and, if you don’t change with it, the world will decide that it doesn’t need you anymore.”

It got me thinking, are kids deciding they don’t need school anymore? And if they are deciding this, are they in some cases correct in their thinking? We are blessed with having the world at our fingertips. All it takes is a cell phone and a google search, and I can teach myself to do almost anything that I couldn’t do before. My six year old son knows how to use Siri to search and loves watching kid created video tutorials. In the video below he is describing what he purchased while we were on a vacation. He forgot one of the names of his cars, and instead of getting frustrated, he simply states that he will use his phone to look it up.


Do I believe that school should just be replaced by a search engine and we can all stay home? Absolutely not. I do, however, believe that as the world around us changes, we need to adapt to create a more meaningful school experience. School used to be one of the primary proprietors of knowledge. I wonder what school would look like if it were the primary place to collaborate, create, and pursue passions for adults and students? There are many teachers and leaders in many schools pursuing this. Little by little, we are re-imagining and re-focusing our efforts to reflect what our students and our world needs. As the world changes, we are being given a continuous invitation to innovate.