Wednesday, April 30, 2014

What If Today Was Your Last Day?

If today was your last day...
Would you make your mark
By mending a broken heart?
You know it's never too late
To shoot for the stars,
Regardless of who you are
So do whatever it takes
'cause you can't rewind
A moment in this life
Let nothin' stand in your way
'cause the hands of time
Are never on your side

If today was your last day
And tomorrow was too late,
Could you say goodbye to yesterday?
Would you live each moment like your last?
Leave old pictures in the past
Donate every dime you have?
Would you call old friends you never see?
Reminisce of memories
Would you forgive your enemies?

The lyrics above are from a song called “If Today Was Your Last Day” by Nickelback. What powerful questions are asked in this song! I ask you, what if you woke up and found out that today was your last day. Would you do anything different today? What if you had two days… would you live the first day in a way so that you wouldn’t have regrets on your last day?

It’s easy to procrastinate. To put off the hard stuff. To fool ourselves into thinking that “one day” we’ll make up for, make right, or make better. At the fear of sounding like an alarmist or extremist…what we should realize is that life is not in our control, and our “one day” MAY be today. What would I do today if today were really my last day alive?

What if today were not my last? Would I just coast through the day? Would I even try to make a difference today? Would I give my best to the people who mean the most? I’ve often wondered if it would be worse to live a long time and look back on the past and have regrets of things left undone, relationships not mended, goals not met, or chances not taken.

Life is unpredictable. Think of the stories you have heard where someone was thrown a curveball and had to face a shortened life or an excruciating journey. 

Randy Pausch, famous for his “Last Lecture,” is an example of someone who made the most of the time he had in his shortened life. I wonder if he had any regrets as he reflected on his days on Earth.

Don Meyer, the recipient of the Jimmy V award at the ESPYs a few years ago, is a survivor. 

What we learn from situations like these is that there is a common thread among all of them: the truly important “things” in life are not “things” at all, but are about relationships with others – assistance, forgiveness, memories, honesty, and above all else, love.

As a mother, I ask myself, “If I died today, what would my daughters remember most about me?” put another way, “What will my daughters FEEL when they think of me after I’m gone?” 

As an educator, I ask myself these same questions. "If I died today, what would my students remember most about me?" and "What will my students FEEL when they think of me after I'm gone?"

For all, I hope that I live my life every day in a way so that when those questions are answered, they remember that I LOVED them. I hope they feel a warm, comforting, safe, and proud feeling.

What do you hope that others will remember about you?

Monday, April 28, 2014

Cancer Patient Lifts Up Others' Spirits - Motivation Monday #17 {April 28, 2014}

Every Monday I post quotes and/or videos to inspire and motivate you through your week. Get ready for a great week!

When you feel like giving up... get inspired by Chris Rumble's video he created at Seattle Children's Hospital just one month after being diagnosed with leukemia in 2012. 

How's Chris doing today? Here's an update...

CNN also did an update on Chris. 
Click HERE to watch the video.

"I think if you ask anyone who knew me before I wasn't always in the best of moods. But now, afterwards, I can't wait to come to the rink every day. I can't wait to be happy. I think it rubs off on other people, too."   -Chris Rumble

Who will you inspire this week?

Friday, April 25, 2014

Five Strategies for Getting Through a Mentally Hard Run

I'm currently a part of #500in2014, a challenge to run or walk 500 miles by the end of the year. It started on Twitter among educators, and it's been a lot of fun to share the experience with friends across the country. (Thank you @Principal_EL, @MathMinds, @GoldenEagleEye, and @BUCSlead for the daily inspiration!)

Today at school, I knew that I would be going for a run tonight, and I planned on 4-5 miles. When I got home from work, I had a pre-run snack, checked out Twitter, and then hit the trail. All was good... so I thought!

As usual, the start was the hardest. Soon into my run, my head was trying to talk me out of it. I thought things like, "Just walk. You walked 5 miles yesterday... go ahead and take your time." I also thought, "Maybe you should just go out a mile then back for a total of two miles." Believe me when I say, it was like a pinball machine in my head. The thoughts kept coming and banging around in there!

By the end of the run, I completed 5 miles, and I did it in my fastest time yet (which is not really all that fast, but fast for me!) So how did I turn it around? I used some strategies during the run that helped me get through it, and I realized that there are some great analogies to be had for running through life. 

Here are my five strategies for getting through a mentally hard run:

1. Set yourself up for success. I have found that I enjoy running in the morning more than running in the evening. I think it's because I drink a cup of coffee before my Saturday morning runs with my friend, Karen. So today, I had a cup of coffee when I got home from school give me an extra boost for the run. I charged my phone so that I could use my Nike+ running app to track my miles, and most importantly, to play my favorite songs on my playlist.

2. Set small goals along the way. When I started the run and I had thoughts of walking. I said to myself, "Just run to the 2-mile mark, then you can walk back." Then, as I got close to the 2-mile mark, I told myself I would run to the 2.5-mile mark then walk back (for a total of 5 miles.) When I hit the 2.5-mile mark, I said to myself, "Well, you've run 2.5 now, go ahead and run to the 3-mile mark and you can walk for the last 2 miles." Now you can guess what happened when I got to the 3 mile mark.... :-)

3. Turn your focus outward. I was tempted to think about myself, the doubt, the walking, the wanting to give up... but I turned my focus outward. I started looking at the runners and walkers I was passing, and I thought about them.  I thought about their own challenges that they may be having themselves. I raised my hand in a greeting, made eye contact, and smiled.

4. Visualize. Create a mental model. As I ran, I pictured myself at the finish line. Over and over as I ran. I saw myself running fast and strong as I got to the end of my run. Intentionally, I called up that image as I ran. Also, I had seen a certain runner on the trail during the week who made me want to "look like him." He ran fast and with ease. He became my mental model.

5. Remember your supporters. The #500in2014 community is extremely encouraging and uplifting. I thought about them as I ran, and I thought of their encouraging words. When I was having trouble doing it alone, knowing that they were "on my team" lifted me when I couldn't lift myself.

As I reflected on my run, I realized that the strategies used to get through the mentally hard run are strategies that apply to other situations, including ones at work, with family and friends, when working on a project, etc. 

What do you think? Have you ever had to get through a hard run? What strategies would you add?

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Using Metaphors to Describe Your School

Metaphors help us make sense of the world. They take abstract ideas and turn them into something concrete. They build a bridge between new information and something with which we are familiar. 

Try this creative way to find out what your students, administrators, and teachers believe about your school.


From the list below, have students (or staff) to underline the metaphor that best describes the school. Then have them to circle the word that describes what they want it to be. 

Factory                            Jungle
     Museum                      Summer Camp
Prison                             Family
Greenhouse                     Orchestra
Launching Pad                  Art studio
                                                       Team                          Laboratory

Are there metaphors that you would like to include that are not on the list? 


Ask your students or staff to fill in the blank:

I want our school to be a _________________________ because _________


Discuss the following with your students and/or staff. (Each person should answer and discuss.)

What role do I have in moving the school towards my desired metaphor?

What will I need to start doing in order to help move the school towards my desired metaphor?

What will I need to stop doing in order to help move the school towards my desired metaphor?

What questions would you add to the list?

Monday, April 21, 2014

Unsung Heroes - Motivation Monday #16 {April 21, 2014}

Every Monday I post quotes and/or videos to inspire and motivate you through your week. Get ready for a great week!

Last week, a student visited me and he shared with me that he feels hopeless. he described it this way: he said that he feels like he's in a circle and it's filled with dogs. The dogs are always barking at him, and he can't get them to stop. He tries everything, but nothing works.

The student comes from a home where he doesn't have a lot of support or structure, and his friends are not positive influences on him. He had lots of questions for me, and he wanted to know how to have hope again. How to even want to live.

In the many things that we talked about during our hour together, one of the things that I told him was to do something for someone else knowing that he wouldn't get anything in return. Seeing the amazing video below reminded me of the conversation with that student. It also was a personal reminder to me... I need to be doing more for others when I know that I won't get anything in return.

How about you? Are you ready to do this, too?

Thursday, April 17, 2014

One Year Anniversary of #USedchat (with 4 Free Printables)

Last year in April, Holly Sutherland and I hosted our first ever #USedchat. Each week, we look forward to hosting #ALedchat (Alabama Education Chat) and we get fired up for the week every Monday night! I've got to confess, though, that the #USedchat always revs me up because of the incredible guest moderators we've had each quarter. Friends like Daisy Dyer Duerr, Jimmy Casas, David Theriault, Principal El, and Aaryn Schmuhl are among all of the awesome guest hosts who have joined us for the quarterly chat.

This week, we celebrated our one year anniversary! 
Our topic was "Education Trends vs Sustainable Change."

Anyone who has been in education for a while talks about "seeing the pendulum swing back again," indicating that there are some initiatives, programs, and beliefs in and about education, teaching, and learning that are not long-lasting. We wanted to hear from people across the country on their views about certain topics.

Our guest moderators for this quarter's chat were 

(bios taken from Twitter)
Tom Kilgore, An educator committed to improving learning outcomes. Former Marine, SCUBA instructor, & radar systems engineer. Founder of   
Kris SzajnerKindergarten STEM Teacher | Technology Expert | STEM Educator | Google Apps | Flipped Classroom | Published Author |  Founder | National Speaker 
Don Miller, Fortunate father of four beautiful children, husband to an amazing & extremely hard working teacher; Principal Shea HS, founder & co-moderator of 
Mark BarnesAuthor of Role Reversal, The 5-Minute , Teaching the iStudent., Brilliant or Insane . New  daily.
Each moderator got to ask two questions, and below you will find the questions from Monday night's chat:
Q1: How does today’s classroom/learning experience differ from our own of the past?
Q2: How do you facilitate creativity in the classroom?
Q3: What are the essential components to engage the heart and mind of today’s students? 
Q4: How are we preparing today’s students for tomorrow’s jobs? 
Q5: What Impact has STEM had on education? 
Q6: How has the 21st Century changed teaching? 
Q7: What barriers are you facing while transitioning to 1:1 tech integration? 
Q8: How does a 1:1 class enhance assessment and feedback for learning?

We keep the archives on Storify.  (disclaimer: most side/personal conversations are omitted from the archive!) Feel free to enjoy reading the entire chat archive!

And now... for the anniversary gift! I have four free printables for you. Todd Whitaker had some awesome one-liners during the chat, so I've turned them into printables for you to use in your classroom or office. Todd is a champion for educators, and we were delighted to have him as part of the conversation Monday night!

We also announced Monday night that the next #USedchat will be in July (we are finalizing the date as we coordinate with our guest moderators), and we will be doing a Google Hangout as well as a Twitter chat. So look for it.... the next #USedchat. And #Aledchat on Monday nights. Our enthusiasm and passion is contagious, and we'd LOVE to have you be a part of it with us!

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Fred Factor - Motivation Monday #15 {April 14, 2014}

Every Monday I post quotes and/or videos to inspire and motivate you through your week. Get ready for a great week! This post contains affiliate links. All opinions are my own. Thanks for supporting

The Fred Factor is a book that's been out a while. It's a short but powerful read, and it reminds us that WE decide what kind of person we will be towards other people and what kind of customer service we will provide. 

Fred, a mailman, provided exceptional service to his customer, Mark Sanborn, who wrote a book about him. 

When Mark asked Fred what motivated him to give excellent service, here's how Fred replied:

This is a great reminder to all of us as we go through our daily interactions with others. 

Hear the whole story from Mark: 

Have an exceptional week!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

PD with Rick Wormeli: Assessment and Grading

Okay... so maybe the title is misleading. :-) Weren't you hoping to read about a visit from Rick to Hoover High School?

Rick Wormeli didn't really come to our school to lead professional learning with our staff, but we did watch his videos and discuss his ideas. 

We are looking at moving towards Standards-Based Learning/Grading in our district, and several teachers have explored the concepts that Rick shares in his videos. Here's a PD idea to use at your school if you want to really stretch your thinking and practices. 

First meeting:

When teachers entered the meeting room, I had teachers draw a slip of paper from a cup at the sign-in desk. On each slip of paper was a question, and when everyone was present for the session, each person with a question would read it out loud and share their answer with the group. 

Here are the questions that were on the slips of paper:

  • Why is it important to foster hope in students?
  • What do you think about the phrase “Failure is not an option”?
  • What are some problems with a teacher's argument that a student cannot retake his/her assignment/quiz/project?
  • How does allowing redos until students demonstrate mastery prepare students for the real world outside of school?
  • If a student doesn’t do the assignment, then the punishment should be to do the assignment.

Then we watched Rick Wormeli's video, "Rick Wormeli: Redos, Retakes, and Do-Overs, Part One." (Watch below or click HERE)


After the video, the teachers discussed his points and their thoughts about them. I asked the teachers to reflect on their own practices as they went through the week and to be conscious of their re-take/do-over procedures.

Second Meeting:

First, we watched Part Two of Rick's video. ("Rick Wormeli: Redos, Retakes, and Do-Overs, Part Two." Click HERE or watch below.)

After the video, we discussed their "take-aways" from the video and overall questions and reflections.

After the second meeting, one of our teachers created a survey for her students about redos and retakes. Click HERE to read their responses.

Third Meeting:

The third meeting was a "round-table discussion." The first question we discussed was this....

Is the purpose of education to make sure kids learn 
or is it
that they learn in a specific way at a specific time? 

* * * * * * * * * *

Next I shared 3 documents with them (hard copies) along with a highlighter. I asked them to highlight any and all statements that they agreed with or wanted to try in their classroom. 

Where did I get these documents? 

The first one came from Reed Gillespie's blog, Mr. Gillespie's Office. Reed is an assistant principal in Virginia and one of the co-moderators for #vachat, a weekly twitter chat. I always learn from Reed, and his ideas about a redo/retake policy were spot on. 

Here's the blog post where I got the list to share with our teachers: "12 Steps to Creating a Successful Redo and Retake Policy."

The second document I shared with the teachers was Page 1 of Smith Middle School's Redo/Retake Policy for 2013-2014

Our teachers noticed immediately the difference in tone between Smith Middle School's list and Reed's list. Can you notice it, too?

The third document was an excerpt taken from a blog post written by Brian Stack, principal at Sanborn High School. 

He says in the Connected Principals' blog archive:

Here is the one that my school adopted three years ago:

Second-chance assessment opportunities shall be made available to students who have missed a summative assessment, to students who have failed a summative assessment, and to students who have earned below an 80% on a summative assessment.  For students who missed a summative assessment for a legitimate reason (an excused absence or emergency), the highest possible score that may be earned on a reassessment is 100%.  Students who must reassess because they missed an initial summative assessment for an unexcused reason, who must reassess because they failed an initial assessment, or who wish to reassess because they have earned below an 80%, may earn up to an 80% on the reassessment.

Important Notes:

1.       If a student who fails with less than a 65% reassesses and earns a higher grade, the higher grade replaces the previously recorded lower grade (up to an 80);
2.       Since a teacher should only require students to reassess on non-proficient skills or tasks, the reassessment grade should never result in a lower final grade on the assignment;
3.       A teacher may require (as detailed above in Formative Assessments) a student to complete all formative assessments that are directly correlated with the summative assessment before a reassessment for the summative is administered (if this step has not previously been taken);
4.       A teacher may require students to complete a relearning plan (detailing the steps that a student will need to undertake to demonstrate proficiency on the summative) before a reassessment is administered;
5.       A teacher may assign a reasonable timeline for a reassessment opportunity;
6.       Reassessment opportunities for formative assessments are at the teacher’s discretion.

Our school-wide reassessment procedure is not an ideal competency-based reassessment statement. We consider it to be a hybrid procedure that has helped our teachers and students over the last three years make the transition from a traditional to a competency-based grading philosophy. One of our biggest limitations is that we don’t allow students to earn more than 80% on a reassessment. If we are to truly measure student learning, we can’t engage in practices that limit student grades. We certainly understand this in my school and we are moving to a model that will allow the reassessment grade to have no cap. Many of our teachers and students philosophically are ready to make this final leap. Some already have.

* * * * * * * * * *

After the teachers spent a few minutes quietly reading to themselves and highlighting their documents, I asked them to share their thoughts and responses to their highlighted statements. The teachers really liked having the concrete examples in the documents as well as an opportunity to discuss their ideas with each other. 

After the third meeting, one of our English teachers shared with me a conversation she had with her students about re-doing their work in order to get a better grade. Watch the video below to hear what her students had to say. (You can also click HERE to see the video.)


While considering a redo or retake policy is not on the horizon for Hoover High School, each teacher has the autonomy to implement one in his or her classroom. Many teachers who attended the sessions already have some sort of retake policy in place, and I'm looking forward to seeing what they put into practice in the fall!

Does your school have a Redo/Retake policy? If yes, would you mind sharing?

What reservations do you have about implementing a policy like this?

Which statements from the three documents did you agree with and want to try in your classroom?

P.S. I will be working with Rick in June. Want me to tell him hello from you?

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Do We Need to Foster Creativity in Schools?

Each week, I am a co-moderator of a "state" educational twitter chat. The hashtag is #ALedchat because the other moderator, Holly Sutherland, and I are from Alabama, but we have had participants from all over the world to participate! The chat is from 9-10pmCST, and it's a great way to start the week. The conversation is always positive and it never fails to stretch my thinking each week. I love Monday nights with my Professional Learning Network  - it's a terrific motivator for the week! (You can access all #ALedchat archives by clicking the link in the blog sidebar.)

Last night's chat was titled, "Do We Need to Foster Creativity in Schools?" It was based on a TEDtalk by Sir Ken Robinson (you can watch the video below or click here.)


Here are the questions I asked during the chat:
Q1: Why bother? Is it important to our futures that creativity be taught? Why? 
Q2: What do we need to STOP doing in order to foster creativity in schools?
Q3: What do we need to START doing in order to foster creativity in schools?
Q4: Is it enough to focus on the Arts as the source of creativity in schools? (Don’t we do this now?)
Q5: Can a teacher foster creativity if he is not creative himself? How does this affect making good hires?
Q6: How does fear of failure inhibit creativity? Can we impact this by what we do?
Q7: Do our new digital tools inhibit or promote creativity in schools? Explain.
Final Q: What's your take-away from tonight? Your one item on your action plan?

There were some really strong opinions about the topic! At the end of this post you will find the archive from the chat... cleaned up and containing responses without the "side conversations" that can bog people down when learning the flow of a twitter chat. Check out what educators are saying about "Do We Need to Foster Creativity in Schools?"

If you have an opinion and would like to answer any of the questions above, please leave a comment at the end of this post. Feel free to join us on Monday nights as we continue to learn from each other!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Motivation Monday #14 - Happiness is a Choice {April 7, 2014}

Every Monday I post quotes and/or videos to inspire and motivate you through your week. Get ready for a great week!

In the video below, "Mama Hill" scores a perfect score on the happiness test. Find out how she answers the question, "Why do you think that is?"

If you can't get enough of "Mama Hill," watch the video by clicking HERE to find out more about the lady who is "Mama Hill" to over 3,000 kids. 
She's Love in Action!

Have a wonderful week!

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Building a Strong Team for Student Success

There's something really refreshing about talking with potential teachers, as they are excited about their own potential, ready to put their learning into practice, and eager to make a difference in a child's life. 

Last week I had the opportunity to attend a local university's career fair for the students who are in their fifth-year master's program in education. These students already have an undergraduate degree (and in some cases advanced degrees outside the field of education), many of whom had already worked "in the real world" in another career. As the representative for our school system, I got to do 15-minute "screening interviews" for candidates in elementary education through the secondary level. 

In schools across the country, teacher turnover and hiring is either taking place or is about to take place. In our school, our principal will be talking soon with our superintendent about course enrollment numbers (based on course selection by our students) which will have an impact on staffing. Also around this time, teachers announce retirements, make decisions to stay home with children, move due to spouse's job transfer, and other reasons. Occasionally, teachers' contracts are non-renewed. All of these factors are part of the equation when building a strong team of educators.

When hiring or assigning teachers to classes, it's important to build upon a person's strengths in order to have the greatest positive benefit for the students he/she serves. It's also important to create a diverse staff with different strengths and abilities. Coaches understand the importance of having players with different strengths and abilities due to the different requirements demanded of each position. All positions are important and lead to a team performing well and reaching a goal together. 

At the high school level, several factors are considered when hiring or changing a teaching assignment:

  • Does the teacher understand (or want to or have potential to) understand the developmental characteristics of the grade level he/she would be teaching?
  • Does the teacher have the desire to be a champion for his/her students
  • How does the teacher fit in with the current team/department/content area?
  • Will a change make the TEAM better or stronger overall?
  • Does the teacher believe in himself/herself that he/she can work with struggling students to the point where the students will be successful?

The comic below shows how I feel about choosing teachers for different courses. While all teachers are working with high school students, it doesn't mean that every teacher can bring out the best in students from 9th grade to 12th grade or IB/AP through inclusion classes. 

Each teacher has individual strengths that should be used to bring out the best in students in each setting. This means that a leader needs to know the strengths of each person on his/her team so that when new members are added, those who will compliment and fortify the current team are sought after.

How does your school use teacher strengths to build an excellent team?

What would you ask potential teachers in order to discover their strengths?