Let’s Learn From Panera…

I have always found it interesting that name tags at Panera include the employee’s passion. Often times I find myself striking up a conversation with the cashier about it and why that’s their passion. Sometimes, they are caught off guard and don’t understand why I’m asking them the question. They eventually realize it’s about their name tag. One thing that always happens though is their level of engagement and excitement in the conversation is much higher than when they were first taking my order. Sunday morning, I struck up a conversation with Melissa about her passion. Her name tag said family and music. She beamed when I led with the question…What are you more passionate about…family or music? She went into a story about growing up with six siblings and all of them played different instruments and loved to sing. She completely forgot about the line behind me, and it seemed as if she was taken back to twenty years ago when she was playing the piano and her brother was on the drums. For those few minutes, she was passionate about what she did for a living. Yes, she was taking my order and not playing the piano, but there was a difference to who Melissa was. I may be wrong, but I bet that was the best iced caramel latte she’s ever made!

What if this model was taken from Panera and put into schools? What if teachers had their passions posted somewhere present for everyone to see? What if students had their passions on display? Would learning be taken to whole new level? Would teachers find ways to connect their passions to what and how they taught? Would students find ways to connect their passions to what they were learning? If students and teachers were able to have conversations on a daily basis about their passion, would deeper learning take place?

I know I harp on this a lot, but it’s because this is what I am passionate about. Passions need to be present in what we do throughout the day if we want to do things well. The same is true for learning. A few years ago, I heard Will Richardson (@willrich) say that if it was up to him, college students wouldn’t declare a major, they would declare a passion. How powerful would that be? I lacked passion throughout my college years. Because of it, I barely skated by. Once I found what I was passionate about, it showed in my graduate work and in my daily life when it came to my career. If we can get students to start developing their passions when they first walk down our halls, imagine the possibilities.

To Melissa at Panera…I hope that you are still finding ways to live out your passion. I hope that you and your family are still making music. Don’t stop! And thank you for the drink!


New Year’s Resolutions…

Growing up in a single parent home where I was the youngest by five years, my dad and I spent a lot of time together. We had a lot of the same interests, and he was just cooler than most dads. One thing we did together was work out at the gym in the evenings after my practices end and he would get home from work. I’ll never forget how he would always say to the worker at the front desk on our way out in late December, “See you in February.” He hated going to the gym when it was packed. Who wants to wait for a treadmill or a different machine to open up? No one. He knew that by the time February would roll around, our gym would be back to the usuals. All of the people who wanted to “get in better shape” had all given up on that resolution and were back to their normal selves. I remember thinking…I’ll never make a resolution I can’t keep.

For educators, I think this can be a huge trap as well. We have all of these elaborate plans and ideas that we want to do for each new school year. We plan unbelievable projects, units, and ways we are going to be more innovative with our students and their learning all summer long. By September 1, a lot of teachers stop going to the gym. Then January rolls around and we remember those things we wanted to do to benefit our students. In education, we sort of get a second chance when it comes to resolutions. Having goals and plans to improve what you do for your students is amazing, but my fear is that most teachers don’t stick with them. Why? Too big? Not enough time? What causes these resolutions/goals to go away like our trips to the gym?

I think sometimes, we think too big. I’m a dreamer, so it feels awkward for me to type this paragraph. But I think it’s true. If we think too big, then nothing will get accomplished. Is it better to have the greatest, most elaborate ideas ever and do nothing with it, or take it small and do everything you set out to do to increase opportunities for your students? It’s not a very thought provoking question. Of course we want to put something into action. I want to challenge educators to make a new kind of New Year’s Resolution this year. My challenge is for you to scale it down. Every week, try one small thing that is either different for you, or something that has been difficult for you. Don’t throw out all that you’ve done all year and start from scratch. Take one thing and find a way to work it in throughout the week. It can be as big as helping them develop learner agency by personalizing more of their learning, or it could be as small as offering students more choice in the way they are assessed. The point is that you are working towards being better at your craft. You are giving your students what they need…a teacher who is showing them what it means to have a growth mindset and to take risks.

Don’t pay for the gym membership for 12 months and only go in January! Take small steps and set goals that you know you can stick with.

I’d love to hear how you are going to grow this semester!

Be Vulnerable

Six months ago to the day I hit publish on my first post. Four blogs in six months…that’s about right. I keep seeing others around me posting weekly, and it makes me wonder what I’m doing wrong.  After six months of soul searching, I finally figured it out. For the first time in my career, I’m afraid of what others might think. I was always the first in line to tell other educators that they should learn from/with others around them, they need to share what they’re doing, and that they should crave for others to be in their rooms to offer feedback. Those things came naturally to me. They were easy. To some, that makes them want to throw up and find a different profession. I’ve never quite understood that…until now.

Blogging is my “having others in my classroom to offer feedback.” Blogging has taken me to the line that my insides have created that separates tranquility from feeling like a war zone. Based on the fact that this is my fourth blog in six months, you can easily figure out which side of the line I’ve been on. I don’t want that. It’s actually the last thing I want. If I’m pushing my teachers to not focus on their fears of others judging them, why am I not modeling that for them? I have the opportunity to use this as a platform to showcase the great work they are doing with their students and hopefully to help them grow their craft. I don’t see any negatives there. It’s me not living out what I’m pushing them to do themselves.

Robert Kaplinsky wrote a blogpost a few weeks back that has caught the educational world by storm to start this school year. It’s more than a blogpost. It’s a challenge to be vulnerable. Since this post, teachers across the country have been posting a sign on the outside of their classroom asking for visitors to come in, watch them teach, and then offer feedback based on specific areas they want to improve. #ObserveMe is a sign of vulnerability. It’s not a statement to others saying I’m comfortable with anyone being in my room. What is actually says is that I’m willing to put student learning ahead of my own personal feelings, because I want to be better at what I do for my kids. In the past few days, #ObserveMe signs have been placed on four different classroom doors in one of my buildings. I love the desire to get better. I love the willingness to put nerves and personal feelings aside for the sake of improving. I love that being vulnerable, which is naturally difficult, will allow these teachers to reach more students.

I’m expecting four to turn into eight, and then into sixteen. I think when others see that it’s okay to not feel comfortable, it’s going to continue to spread. Seeing these four teachers post #ObserveMe signs made me really think about my issues with others reading my writing. It doesn’t have to be perfect. I know that. I’d like for it to be perfect though. Regardless, I’m not going to let that fear stop me from sharing stories and hopefully helping other educators connect and grow.

Let’s be vulnerable!

Find your passion and follow it…

I tell my students every year that my job is to help them discover what they’re passionate about, develop that passion, and apply it to their learning moving forward. I have felt like the biggest hypocrite these past years. It was a “do as I say, not as I do…” sort of situation. I discovered a while ago that I am passionate about helping educators give their students endless opportunities to learn in the way they learn best. I have had small glimpses of doing this, but they were independent of each other and then I’d go back to my 5th grade team and students. As of last week, I am now following my passion. I accepted the position to be the Innovation & Learning Coach at Kellybrook Elementary and Shoal Creek Elementary. I can now practice what I’ve been preaching!

My mind hasn’t stopped racing of things I’d like to do to help student learning. That is the end goal…don’t forget. Student learning! One of my goals for the year is to make sure that whatever I do with teachers, students, or even when I’m outside of the building visiting other classes or in meetings, I need to make sure that it is for student learning. I can have an endless amount of great ideas, but if it turns into “my ideas” then I’m not doing my job well.

A friend spoke with me this morning about how humbling becoming a coach was. She said she was used to getting praise for all of the great things she was doing with her students in her classroom, but then it wasn’t there as a coach. At first she struggled with that, but then realized that coaching wasn’t about her…it was about students and their learning. It sounds simple, but just like everyone else, I am human. Recognition is nice. However, humility is an incredibly important trait of being a coach, and that is my desire. Thank you for the words of encouragement and the reminder!

Leaving Lewis & Clark is nearly impossible. The staff, the students, the families, the culture…it’s the total package. It is a dream job for any teacher. People keep asking me why I’d give that up…a job that so many teachers desire.

I’m showing my students how important it is to find a passion and follow it!

Here’s to changes and jumping into the deep end feet first!

I don’t ever want to go back…

Will Richardson calls it traditional learning. I call it a nightmare.

We have been on our journey of personalizing student learning for a little over a month now. My goal was to blog throughout this process about the learning that was taking place, both teacher and student. It doesn’t take long to realize that I have failed at my attempt to keep everyone updated (still don’t know how certain people just pump out post after post – it’s a talent I don’t have). I’m happy to share that what hasn’t failed is how we have personalized learning for our students!

It is amazing to think how far we have come as a team in just a month. Not only thinking in regards to the tweaks we’ve made, but how we actually think. We all entered this journey with a collective above average innovative mindset. In just a short month, it has propelled us to think about all things we do for kids in a completely different way. We started with Math, and then quickly realized that we were shortchanging our students in other areas. We’ve taken the same approach and have applied it to our most current PBL. We have quickly realized that because they have taken ownership over their own learning, more learning is taking place.

I keep reading that last sentence over and over. It seems like such a simple sentence to type, and some may even pass over it while reading…but look at how powerful those words are! Why would any teacher not want to give more ownership to their students if it will help them be more successful as a learner?

I am so proud of my team and all that we have done this past month. It has been easy in regards to the realization that this is what kids need. It hasn’t been easy in regards to the amount of work. We’ve had to front-load a lot and prepare in advance for anything we think a student might need to be successful. We have had countless texting conversations that go into the wee hours of the night (and thanks to Bitmoji, they’ve taken on a whole new level of conversation). All of this isn’t to say look at us. I’m saying this to let others know that it’s worth it! Seeing the success our students are having makes every minute spent on this completely worth it.

Would I ever go back to a more traditional learning environment? I’ll answer that with a different question. How much learning was really taking place?

Wait…I’m Not Personalizing?

A little less than a month ago, I sat in a PD session with my teammates and Jamie (@mrsackart), our Innovation & Learning Coach. The screen said “Personalized Learning.” I immediately thought about all of the things I was already doing in my class to personalize learning for my students. Jamie clicked to the next slide and I stared at the following chart by Barbara Bray (@bbray27) and Kathleen McClaskey (@khmmc) – for more information, visit www.personalizelearning.com.


Personalization v Differentiation v Individualization (v3) from Barbara Bray and Kathleen McClaskey


I’ll never forget the feeling I had when I realized I didn’t personalize anything for my students. I created an environment where I individualized everything, then turned around and said that I personalized learning for my students. My team and I looked at each other at the same time, and we shared a look that signaled the beginning of a journey that led us to where we are today. I did what every educator does when they need direction…I sent George Couros (@gcouros) a tweet! Within minutes I had a notification feed full of contacts and educators willing to help.

Screen Shot 2016-03-01 at 12.17.22 AM

From that tweet, I came into contact with Travis Lape (@travislape). He was willing to take time out of his day to do a GHO with us and fill us in on what he and his district in South Dakota are doing to personalize learning for their students. It was after this conversation that our team said this is exactly what our students need…and we were officially in! We’ve been developing our plan to personalize math for the rest of the year ever since. Today was the day we presented everything to our students. Angela (@benner4) created a great slideshow explaining what PL is and what it is going to look like in 5th grade at Lewis & Clark Elementary. We are excited to get the ball rolling. Even more than that, our kids are excited to be able to take ownership over their learning. It is their learning after all. They realize that. What took us so long?

Later this afternoon we will begin day 1 of our students taking more ownership of their learning. Many outsiders think that means the job is easier for the teachers now. Ha! No, our job is not easier; our job is different.


I’ve held off blogging for many years, just like I held off joining Twitter when it first came out. That was a mistake, and I think I finally realized that this was a mistake too. I’m excited to share my thoughts and document our journey. It would be an honor if you joined in with us!