Monday, January 27, 2014

Motivation Monday #4 - How Far Out of Your Comfort Zone {January 27, 2014}

How far out of your comfort zone are you willing to go for someone else?

In 2008, Roger set out on a quest to lose weight, get healthy and eventually run in the Boston Marathon. But not just for himself, for his niece who was born with Cystic Fibrosis. His goal was to raise awareness for Cystic Fibrosis, along with raising money for research into the treatment and cure of this heartbreaking disease. This video highlights his incredible journey at age 47, from obesity to accomplished marathon runner. 

You can visit Roger's website here:

Students need teachers every day who are willing to go outside their comfort zones. How far out of YOUR comfort zone are you willing to go for someone else?

Friday, January 24, 2014

Recap: TEDxThursday 3 (January 23, 2014)

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that we are hosting TEDxThursdays during the month of January as part of our Professional Development opportunities. Each Thursday, I gather with teachers during their planning periods to unwind, learn, reflect, and discuss (and have chocolate!)
The conversations are different in every group, and I let the discussion flow as we all learn from the insights of the participants. 

It's been very exciting to see teachers opening up to new ideas and having "a-ha" moments. Usually, these TEDxThursdays  stick with them, and after a few days someone will stop me in the hallway or shoot me an email to continue sharing their reflections on the video. 

Week 3

Video 1

1. How can we foster curiosity in our students?

2. Three rules that Ramsey uses in his lesson planning:
1) Curiosity comes first
2) Embrace the mess
3) Practice reflection
What rules do you use when planning your own lessons?

3) Any other reflections?

Video 2


1.) Do you agree that “everyone needs a coach?”

2.) Phase II of our state’s accountability plan includes effective teachers and leaders. What do you think about using Bill Gates’ plan for accountability?

3) Any other reflections?

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Leading from the Heart with Lolly Daskal

Last week, we kicked off our weekly state twitter chat, #ALedchat, with a special guest moderator.

Lolly Daskal

Lolly Daskal is a consultant, coach, speaker and author, and The Huffington Post has called her One of the Most Inspiring Women in the World. We were so blessed to have her on #ALedchat to kick off the new year. Her questions and comments caused us all to pause, reflect on, and share our thoughts on heart-based leadership. (The archive is at the end of this post.)

If you are looking for inspiration or uplifting thoughts about leadership, follow Lolly on Twitter. Her weekly chat #leadfromwithin joins leaders from all walks of life. You can read her blog at

Lolly's book, Thoughts Spoken From the Heart: Over 500 thoughts that bring meaning to your life, was published in November 2013.

(The link below is an affiliate link. If you purchase from the link, I make a small income to support this blog.) 

Thoughts Spoken From the Heart

You can purchase her book on Amazon HERE.

Thank you, Lolly, for helping us to become better educators and leaders! 

Monday, January 20, 2014

Motivation Monday #3 - Life's Most Persistent and Urgent Question {January 20, 2014}

Do you want to read more of MLK's famous quotes? Click HERE for 15 of Martin Luther King Jr.'s Most Inspiring Motivational Quotes. 

Source for image of MLK

Friday, January 17, 2014

Recap: TEDxThursday 2 (January 16, 2014)

Yesterday was Week 2 of TEDxThursdays as part of our January PD. I will share the videos and questions each week.

Video 1

In the video, Drew Dudley describes a “lollipop moment” as a moment when someone else says or does something that makes your life fundamentally better. He then asks if how many of us go and tell that person that they did it. Can you share a “lollipop moment” that you’ve experienced?

A lot of what Drew describes is what teachers do every day. Do you agree with him that these “lollipop moments” are examples of leadership?

How does this TED talk relate with the following quote by Margaret Mead:  “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.”

Video 2

Diana describes two schools – one of the past, one of the future where experiential learning, student voice, and embracing failure are characteristics. Where on the continuum do you see Hoover High School? Why?

If you had all the answers, would your vision of school have any elements of Diana’s speech? Which ones?

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Risk Taking: Challenge 2014 in Freshman English

Below is the email I received from Beth Nowell, one of our teachers of 9th grade English, after school on the first day our students returned for the second semester:

I just thought that I would share my lesson for today. I normally get my kids to write on the first day back and have them reflect on first semester and what they can do differently second semester....same ole same ole. This year I decided to show them the Challenger launch. (I have been amazed at the number of students who were not aware of it.) I asked them to focus on their launch date, May of 2017. We have had the best discussions about what they can do to prepare for their launch and what can interfere with their launch from HHS. 

Tomorrow they are taking the grammar income test, which is really all made up, that will predict their income level based on their grammar score. It's fun and it actually is a mini-lesson on common errors.

Happy New Year!

On Tuesday afternoon, I visited her 7th period class. The investment and excitement by the students was easily observable. She had captured them with an engaging and relevant lesson. I asked Beth to write a blog post so that we could share her activities with you. Enjoy!

Challenge 2014 in Freshman English

The first day back at school after Christmas break has always presented somewhat of a challenge for me. I have so many things on my mind as far as wrapping up the first semester and making plans for second semester, but first and foremost is usually the same gnawing question. What can I do to motivate my students for the second semester?  

I must concede that more times than I would like to admit, I have started off by asking my students to write down a few resolutions and reflect back on the first semester and what they could change to make the second half of their year even better. That approach was always met with pretty mediocre initial responses and very average long-term results. This year I wanted to do something different, and an online communication with an old friend gave me just the spark that I needed.

A former colleague in South Carolina shared in a Facebook post that she always talks to her seniors about their launch date and what they need to do to finish strong. It dawned on me that I need to make my freshmen more aware of their final “launch date” in May of 2017 instead of just focusing on second semester. 

I don’t want them to wind up in their junior year scurrying around with a low GPA, worrying about college admission, and wishing that they had taken their studies more seriously when they were younger. The spark from my friend and my desire to motivate my students were the catalysts for my new approach, Challenge 2014.

Second Semester Day 1 - I started the first day back with this video footage of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986.

The students really had no idea why I had chosen to show them this video; I even asked them to guess. I looked at their puzzled faces and asked, “Does anyone know what happened to the Challenger? What caused the explosion?”  I had some students who had never heard of the Challenger. On the other hand,  I also had a few who not only knew about it, but had discussed it in a science class and remembered that it was the O- ring seal that was the culprit. After everyone was engaged in the conversation, I segued into my reason for showing the video clip. 

I pointed out that they, too, were going to have a launch date, not from Kennedy Space Center, but from Hoover High School in May of 2017. I stressed to the students that I want to be there to see them walk across the stage on that day, and I also want them to be prepared for the next stage of their lives after the launch. 

Metaphorically speaking,  I want my students to have the perfect landing, unlike the one of the Challenger

At that point, of course, they realized my motives, and we discussed all the possible “O-rings” that could interfere with their launch, and they were quite candid in their responses. Their list included drugs, alcohol, peers, social media, laziness, and lack of motivation, just to name a few. One especially vocal student even shouted, “Myself!”  Everyone agreed that he had hit the mark for most of them.

The next step in the day’s lesson involved a journal entry that asked them what they could do to make sure that they would have a successful launch from Hoover High School and a landing in keeping with their goals and dreams.

With the journal entries written and filed away, we recapped the day’s lesson, and the students commented on the especially poignant scene of Christa McAuliffe’s parents as they witnessed their daughter’s tragic launch.  I think many of the students realized at that moment that they want to accomplish their goals not only for themselves, but for their parents as well.

Journal Entries

Second Semester Day 2 – In keeping with the Challenge and Launch Date theme that I had introduced on the day before, I decided that it was the perfect time to introduce them to the Grammar Income Test, another way to think about the future. I had already planned for the students to revise and edit paragraphs and essays later in the week and focus on common errors so The Grammar Income Test was a perfect fit for that.  Not only does it force students to examine common errors, it gets the students engaged in lively discussions, especially when they discover that the test is not actually what it claims to be, an accurate predictor of future salaries based on 20 questions on grammar and usage.

The test can be viewed at the above link, but here is the scoring guide for projected salaries.
0 to –4 $150,000 and above top executive
5 or –6 $90,000 to $150,000 upper management
7 or –8 $60,000 to $90,000 key personnel
9 or –12 $25,000 to $60,000 semi-skilled
13 or –18 $10,000 to $25,000 unskilled
20 or more $0 to $10,000 unemployable
Grammar Income Wrap-up - After my students took the test and commiserated about their scores, I handed out the mini-lessons on the common errors on the test and explained that we would go over those and that they would have an opportunity to raise their scores on another quiz a week later.  Since the students initially bought into the concept of the test as a valid assessment, it was not until later that I revealed that the test was fabricated.

Day 3 – Raise Your Grammar Income Quiz – Now that the students realize that the Grammar Income Test is actually a fake, I stress that even though the test is not exactly valid, the premise is true. Grammatical skills and vocabulary as well can greatly affect a person’s success!  

I referenced  “The One Thing You Cannot Hide,” a lecture by Earl Nightingale, which will provide closure after the students take the final quiz that will raise their Grammar Income. 

Overall, my students enjoyed the Challenge 2014 exercise and The Grammar Income Test.  These lessons coupled together started them off thinking about the future and that they have the power to control where they will be headed in May of 2014. I can’t wait for their launch!

Monday, January 13, 2014

Motivation Monday #2 - Be Kind {January 13, 2014}

Sometimes the students who need love the most do things to push others away. Sometimes we forget that the smiles of others can hide pain, uncertainty, and fear. All we need to do is show that we care.

Have a super week,

Friday, January 10, 2014

TEDxThursdays - A New & Different PD Idea

This past November, I was fortunate to attend a TEDx Salon event. I saw the event it in my Eventbrite app, and it looked interesting so I signed up for the waiting list. Once I found TEDxBirmingham on Twitter and followed them, I got a nice email telling me that they set aside some tickets for each event, and they would reserve one for me if I wanted to attend. (Another reason why I love making connections on Twitter!) Of course, I responded that I would love to attend. Since the theme was "Education," I was very interested in being a part of it.

I didn't know what to expect at the TEDxBirminghamSalon, but I knew I wanted to find out what it was all about. The description on the website read, 
"It is a series of free recurring events leading up to TEDxBirmingham. The format for Salon events is two 40 minute sessions of TED Talks videos, with time before, in between, and after to connect and converse. There are no live speakers at Salon events. The format for Salon events is two 40 minute sessions of TED Talks videos, with time before, in between, and after to connect and converse. There are no live speakers at Salon events."

The event was held at the McWane Science Center where we, the attendees, watched five TED talk videos. One video I had already seen, one I had heard about, and three were new to me. Even though I had seen one already, it was a completely different experience to sit with a group of people and watch it together on a big screen instead of alone in front of my computer. 

Clapping together... laughing together... meeting others who were interested in the theme of Education... it was a great experience! After attending, I knew that I wanted to do something similar at my school. 

TEDxThursdays were born! 

What are TEDxThursdays? Each Thursday during the month of January, teachers can come to the conference room, sit in comfortable chairs, and watch TED talk videos with other teachers. Afterwards, they will get to discuss the videos and share any ideas or "take-aways" from the videos. 

Yesterday was the first of the series. I chose to show two videos that were shown at the TEDxBirminghamSalon event. The first is the talk given by Rita Pierson, "Every Kid Needs a Champion." Although it is a popular TED talk and some of our teachers have already seen it, it was the perfect video to kick off the series and the start of a new semester. 


Here's one of the follow-up questions we discussed:

In the video, she talks about the ways her mom built good relationships with students, and she says that her mom left a legacy of relationships.  What will be your legacy that you will leave behind?


The second video is the TED talk by Sugata Mitra, "Build a School in the Cloud."

Here are some discussion questions:
In the video, he says that schools are not broken but are obsolete. What do you think about this statement?
The students who find the computer in the middle of a remote village in India are curious and learn on their own. Do we stifle creativity and curiosity in schools, and if we do, how can change that?

The conversations were terrific. Teachers shared from the heart and all teachers contributed their own perspectives to the discussions. I'm looking forward to the next three Thursdays!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Four Ideas to Connect Students to the World

Yesterday, Holly Sutherland and I held a "Twitter 101" session in our school library. We invited teachers to drop in during their planning periods to learn more about Twitter. 

We answered questions about hashtags, privacy settings, tagging, and twitter chats. We also shared ideas with teachers on how to use it in their classrooms and how we use it at our school

On the heels of our "Twitter Day" and as we prepare for Digital Learning Day on February 5th, here are 4 ideas to connect students to the world

1. Invite experts to tweet with your students. Create a hashtag by using your classroom number (#SHSA244 for “Smart High School, room A244”) or subject matter and period number (example: Eng11p3 for “English 11, period 3”), then share the hashtag with the experts. Which experts? Authors, college admissions, firemen, scientists in the field, entrepreneurs, TV hosts, chefs… ask your students with whom they want to chat and search for them on twitter.

2. Skype/Google Hangout/Facetime with a guest speaker. Artists, farmers, engineers, actors, coaches, and more. Hosting a guest speaker can add a real-world connection for you and your students. Finding a guest speaker from another country is an added bonus!

3. Use Google Docs to collaborate with classrooms across the globe. From peer editing, to sharing science data, to collecting data for a mock election like the one described here, Google Docs allow students to easily work together on a project.

4. Get your students blogging. Whether you start a class blog as a cooperative effort and allow all students to take turns contributing posts or if each student hosts his/her own blog, students can hone their writing skills and share their thoughts and ideas with the world. 

Want to see some examples? Click here to find the landing page for high school English teacher David Theriault’s student blogs. When you click HERE to go to the home page of the blog, you will find featured blog posts from his students. Near the top of the home page, you can click the links to see listings for the individual blogs of all of his students.  (I believe, as David does, that to make this work the teacher must blog, too. Here’s David’s blog:

Does the commercial below reinforce the belief that students need to make global connections?

The ideas above are just four of many. Try just one this semester and share with me your experience. I'd love to hear from you!

Monday, January 6, 2014

Motivation Monday #1 - Giving Compliments {January 6, 2014}

I'm excited to kick off this new series for 2014! Each Monday, I will post "Motivation Monday," a short post with a video, image, or quote that will serve as inspiration or motivation for the week. 

Today, for the first of the series, I'm sharing a video by Soul Pancake. They put together some really neat videos, and this one is called "Listen Up." It's a terrific reminder to give compliments to others. Enjoy! 

I hope you will check out the blog each Monday!

Friday, January 3, 2014

What About the Outliers?

I think I first heard the term "outliers" when I was taking a research class for my master's degree. 
An outlier is an observation that lies outside the overall pattern of a distribution (Moore and McCabe 1999). source

At the time, I had had personal experience with it in my classroom as a teacher. When I would survey my students in order to get feedback about my teaching, there they would be... the outliers. A few comments that didn't align with the rest. They were "outside the pattern of distribution." 

As an administrator, I have experienced it as well. A boss who prefaced the comment with, "Maybe I'm the only one who has said this to you before..." or the very few responses from teachers/staff on an end-of-year feedback survey that are not even close to where the rest of the responses are.

What should we do with these? Should they be discarded? Or written off as comments from disgruntled students/employees?

What do you do with the outliers?

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

My 3 Words for 2014

Those of you who have been following my blog or my twitter account know how much I love quotes and themes. When I coached, we had a motto/theme every year. I'm not sure why I haven't incorporated that concept into my leadership in education, but it is an area where I want to make a change. 

I have been following Chris Brogan for a while, and I love his concept of selecting 3 words for each year. I believe in setting goals then doing whatever I need to in order to reach that goal. Along the way, I practice positive self-talk and I use visual reminders (posted quotes, words, etc.) to keep me on track. His practice of selecting 3 words for the year is something I have observed and admired, but until now I have not actively participated. This is the year I will change that. I've selected three words for this year, and as part of my accountability I'm sharing them with you here. 

The first word is Discipline. I want to be more disciplined in my personal life and with my time. One of my favorite quotes is this:

"Everyone has the same 24 hours in a day. I don't know what you're going to do with yours, but I'm going to use mine."

I read that quote sometime back in my college days, and it's been with me since then. Two ways I've committed to this is by using the app MyFitnessPal to help me with accountability in what I eat and how I exercise. That is one area that I'm pretty disciplined, but I've been slacking in that area and I know it. Another way I've committed to this word for the year is that I deleted Candy Crush from my iPhone. Sound silly? I was finding that I would prefer to play the game than read my new books... so I deleted it. Discipline.

The second word I've chosen for 2014 is Intentional. When you look up intentional, it says "done on purpose." There are so many personal and professional areas where I want to be On Purpose in 2014. 

Have you ever felt like this? 

Professionally, my focus areas are growing teachers and leaders, increasing collaboration, finding a mentor, creating a PLN, and taking chances. Those may seem vague, but I am working on the specifics so that I can sharpen my focus. Intentional.

My third word for 2014 is Balance. I'm an educator, mom, wife, athlete, blogger, sister, daughter (I'm sure there's more!) I don't believe that balance means that everything is equal.... or equal time spent on professional activities as personal activities. To me, it means that I say no sometimes and I prioritize so that the time I spend on either personal or professional activities is quality time, not just time. It means that I will take care of me first, so that I can be the best ME when I help others. Balance. 

Jon Gordon does a One Word challenge... so when I tweeted my 3 Words this morning, he sent me this tweet:
It got me thinking about the three words and which one I would choose if I could only use one as my theme word for 2014.

The word I would choose would be Intentional. I think it kind of "covers" the other two. If I'm Intentional, I will be Intentional about what I eat, when I exercise, what I am doing with my time, and more.

If you are looking for one word for 2014, Leadership Freak has an excellent post about it HERE

I would love for you to share your 3 words (or your one word) in the comments and connect on Twitter