What young learning can look like.

This summer brought a roller coaster of emotions as I counted down the days until my 4 year old twin boys, Jax and Gunnar, would leave their amazing daycare setting and enter the world of public preschool. Their daycare provider, Sarah, is the most passionate, ambitious, generous and caring provider we could ever ask for. We hit the jackpot when we found her. She is a learner, she believes that young kids can, she believes in play as learning, and she puts those passions and beliefs into the learning that kids experience every day. I cried, I begged, and I pleaded my educational philosophy to her to see if she would change her mind about sending her clients onto preschool before Kindergarten. While I couldn’t change her mind, I reflected on why I believe so strongly that there is nothing that could surpass the experiences that my kids have had with her. I thought of these 6 things that I elaborate on below: open-walled, hands-on learning, multi-age collaboration, autonomy, gradeless, and connection.

Open Walled:
The community and community programming is a vital part of the “curriculum” in Sarah’s daycare program. My children had the opportunity to go on multiple learning experience trips each week outside of the daycare setting. Some of these trips include: story time at the library and other various locations, yoga, parks, nature centers and trails, muold mcdonalds framseums, indoor play structures, and much more. The learning experience itself is fantastic and while they are out and about, the kids learn about the city in which they live! Multiple times a week as we are driving from place to place, my children point out various places that they have been with Sarah. Through these learning experiences, they also learn to adapt to different situations, different people, and seem to be less afraid of new settings. They leave the house in the hot summer, in the cold winter, in the rain, and in the snow because the community helps kids access educational experiences beyond what we alone can provide.


Hands-on Learning:
stingray (2)I’ll never forget when the boys came home talking about petting a stingray. They felt very brave and very excited. There are so many hands-on experiences that Jax and Gunnar have had with real objects in a real context appropriate for their age band. Most of the stories they read during the week are related to a theme that is integrated throughout their day and their day typically includes: community circle time, centers, stories, meals, rest, and lots and lots of play. One of things I admire the most about Sarah is her passion for play as serious learning. This is the number one way that they acquire new knowledge and skills– through play.

Multi-age Collaboration:
Full transparency- I cried when I saw this picture for the first time. Maybe it was because I was full of emotions after reading water tower beautiful (2)What School Could Be by Ted Dintersmith, maybe it was because I knew that the boys’ time at Sarah’s was going to end shortly, or maybe it was because I just found something so beautiful in that moment. I shared this picture with an educator and dear friend of mine. We reflected on the multi-age, multi-ability collaboration that we saw. When I spoke with the boys about the experience on our way home, they talked about the cup tower falling down and building it again with a different plan. Every day my kids have the opportunity to collaborate with peers their own age, younger peers, and older peers. I value this very much. I have seen them grow in empathy as they talk about helping with the “cute baby,” or helping younger peers get their helmets, shoes, and coats on and off. They have also grown in their independence. They learned from those helping and modeling for them how to do many day to day tasks that make them more independent. Sarah could also just jump in and do these things for them, but she doesn’t. She has patience and honors their struggle through hard things in order to learn.

I often wonder what a day of school would look like if I had complete autonomy. Sarah has to follow certain guidelines as a registered daycare, and for the most part has autonomy. The day she gets to design and a day that public preschool teachers get to design look very different. This is not saying that public preschool is bad- my boys will be headed to public preschool in a few days, it’s just that this autonomy has allowed Sarah to design a day that infuses her passion, her expertise, and her deep understanding of each individual child and what is best for them. She extends that autonomy to the kids. Some of the learning experiences are designed for all, and other experiences are chosen by the child. They choose what they would like to do and for the amount of time that they would like to do it. My boys are very good advocates for themselves. They are great at making decisions, and know what they do and don’t prefer. This has helped them both academically and socially.

When I first found out I was having twins, one my greatest fears was not “How am I going to feed them?” or “How will I pay for daycare?” My greatest fear was and still is that they will be compared to one another and the damage that it can cause. I know a heck of a lot about their day and about their growth and development despite not having a report card or standards that they should be aspiring to live up to. No rubrics or proficiency charts, just face to face conversations almost daily. Jax and Gunnar are very different. Jax loves to write and draw- he can color in the lines and can even write his name very legibly. Gunnar- not so much. Am I worried about Gunnar’s fine motor skills. Nope. Is Sarah concerned? Nope. They are two boys, the same age, the same family, the same school experience, and all throughout their life, they will acquire different skills at different times at different levels of mastery.

Sarah’s families don’t come to her for a few years then say goodbye forever. We will remain a part of the amazing community of families that she has created. Sarah helps us stay connected through the private Facebook page. This page has allowed our families to connect and interact with each other and with our own children. I love being able to reference a photo and ask the boys specific questions about their day and experiences. This platform gives my extended family (the boys’ grandparents) the opportunity to feel more connected. This means so much to them as they don’t live in the same city, yet they know about what the kids experienced during their day. Though the days of going to Sarah’s every day has come to an end, I know that the connection will live on. It is important to Sarah and the families that she serves.

Sarah and boys

All of these things: open-walled, hands-on learning, multi-age collaboration, autonomy, gradeless, and connection are things that I am passionate about not just for young learners, but for all learners. Learning can look like this every day. As I reflect on my previous year and create my context for the year ahead, I am putting these at the forefront of my mind. I would love to know your ideas and experiences in providing these for all learners! I encourage you to share in the comments.

Why We Grow

Last month, I had the opportunity to present at a conference with a dear friend and colleague. We have talked about sharing our learning for a long, long time, as we have been and continue to be inspired by the many people that do so. In our presentation, we shared our synthesis of learning around vulnerability, change, innovation, and how they relate to leadership and our educational context. Near the end of our presentation, we provided time for participants to reflect on the idea of change, something meaningful that they’ve always wanted to do in their educational setting, and why they haven’t done so yet. During this time, I found myself deep in reflection. I was wrestling with why it took so long for us to have the courage to submit the proposal for something we feel so passionately about. What if some of the people that have inspired and impacted us the most would have waited longer, or never took the leap at all? How many other people are out there with ideas and questions that can help others learn and grow?

One of the things that stopped me were the “what if” questions. They consumed me for a while. What if I fail and the proposals are rejected? What if people don’t find value in what I’m sharing? What if no one shows up for the presentation? At some point in my learning journey, the “what if” questions and ideas shifted from a negative connotation to a more encouraging, positive frame. What if these ideas help others? What if people are inspired to try something new? What if I learn and grow from this experience?

We do not grow to pat ourselves on the back. We grow so that we can help grow the capacity of all of us.

Why do we learn at all if not to share? Who benefits from our ideas, questions, knowledge, and passions if we are the sole proprietors of them? We have the ability in our wonderfully connected world, now more than ever, to grow personally and collectively. Sharing our learning connects us. We do not grow to pat ourselves on the back. We grow so that we can help grow the capacity of all of us. We come together so that we can go back to our setting, share the learning, and make an impact. about someone that has brought a message of hope and inspiration into your life by sharing their learning. Learning and growing is a risk we must be willing to take, not knowing exactly how it will turn out. We can be the hope and inspiration for each other when we stop worrying about the negative “what if” questions. What will you share so that others can grow?





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: https://education-reimagined.org/    @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.

Image from: http://www.venablesandclark.com/single-post/2017/09/26/IMMOOC-Reboot-number-three

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!

Image from: https://outsideofmyclassroom.blogspot.com/2017/10/just-one-thing-immooc.html

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.

Image from: http://www.annickrauch.ca/learningenvironment/health-first/



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!