Champions of Change


For such a small word, change has a big impact on our lives. Some hear that word and cringe. Others hear that word and get inspired.

Change is something people have been chasing since the dawn of time. Never quite comfortable with what we have, the world has seen an immense amount of change in its existence. Most recently, in the last century, change has become so rapid we are having a hard time keeping up. Just read up on the Knowledge Doubling Curve by Buckminster Fuller. Human knowledge doubling every year? Holy cow!

For the many areas in our life where change has become a constant (technology, anyone?), there are an equal amount of areas where there hasn’t been much change. One of these areas is in education. There is often the question that if someone from 1915 were to time travel to a present day classroom, could they tell they had traveled 100 years into the future? I’m not sure that is a fair question, but it is worth thinking about. Have we changed our educational practices to meet the needs of our students today? Are we preparing them for the rapid change in our world?

If we want to prepare our students for a world that will soon double its knowledge every 12 hours, we need to be champions of change. We have to train our students how to deal with this…the influx of information, that things will come and go quickly, creating their own change. The best ideas are the ones that aren’t out there yet, so how to do we ready our students?

1) Weeding information

With the massive amount of information that is and will be coming in, we need to teach students how to decipher that information, collect what is useful and what isn’t, and then how to use it to their benefit. Students need to learn how to research, especially digitally, and find reliable sources.

Databases can be helpful for students, but we also need to model how to use the Internet. ‘Google it’ has become the primary way for all people, adults and children alike, to find information quickly. With the information highway getting more and more crowded, we need to model how to locate good information, change how we use our critical thinking skills, research, and interpret what we find.

2) Adaptability

As change comes even more rapidly, we need to show students that we too can be adaptable. We need to embrace the fact that our teaching practices have to change to be able to help students with rapid change. Using technology, giving students the ability direct their learning, and leading from the sidelines are all ways we can show students how to adapt and give them key skills to use our new and ever changing world.

3) Find your passion

We all have things that we are passionate about. We need to be able to share that with our students, but at the same time, we need to be able to give them the freedom to find their passion as well. Working on our passions inspires and engages us in what we love. From this comes the greatest of creations.

We have a choice. We can decide to become overwhelmed with change, let it bring us down, and cringe every time we hear it. Or we can become champions of change, working with our students to learn from it, move forward, and create a world that is ripe for it and its citizens.

Allow change to inspire you, your classrooms, and your students. Because it isn’t going away and be happy that it’s not. Change will be the only thing to help us to cure cancer, clean the environment, and bring peace. And your students are in possession of that change. Help them deliver it.

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Warning: Challenges Ahead

How many of you opened this blog post looking forward to a challenge? A challenge…who can resist? People like challenges. It gives us the ability to see if we can rise up and take on something that others may not be able to do. Just the words, “I challenge you,” make people sit up straighter and listen more intently.

Yet at the same time, the word challenge can be scary. Challenge has an air of difficulty. It may involve risk. It may even include…gasp…failure! But we challenge our students every day…to stretch their minds, work with others, share their thoughts, make good choices, and be better people. We need to be okay with the fact that challenge is difficult, it is risky, and it can lead to failure. But failure is never the end. We can pick ourselves up, learn from it, and try again.

School is a time for students to learn how to learn, but school is also a time for students to learn how important relationships are. How to build them. How to keep them. How to trust. How to collaborate. How to interact. We adults need to be the best models for that learning, and it is challenging…perhaps one of the most complex things in life.

One of the best ways we can show students we care is to teach them principles to build relationships. There are so many, some more difficult than others. But, since this blog post is about challenges, I figure I might as well pose four of the more challenging ones to think about and put into practice as we model the way for our students.

Challenge #1: Time

“Time is your most precious gift because you only have a set amount of it. You can make more money, but you can’t make more time. When you give someone your time, you are giving them a portion of your life that you’ll never get back. Your time if your life. That is why the greatest gift you can give someone is your time.” Rick Warren

People in this day and age come in and out of our life at the speed of light. Because of this, we tend to have more superficial connections with people. But in this age of connection, do we really know how long someone will be in our life? A person you meet in the grocery store could end up being your new best friend. An online Twitter acquaintance could end up being a future boss. What if we give everyone we meet the gift of our time? Would you look at people differently, act differently, invest more? Would our world be kinder, more empathetic, more understanding?

I challenge you to use your most precious gift, time, to teach students (even with the invention and importance of technology) how crucial true connections are in our world. Because now more than ever those connections are what make our world go round.

Challenge #2: Encouragement

“And I realized it wasn’t my turn. It was that girl’s turn to get that job. My turn will come. So I never got discouraged.” Carol Brunette

Disappointment can be crippling. One of the hardest lessons I believe we face as humans. It can lead us to question ourselves, our talents and abilities, and other people. I first heard the quote above by Carol Brunette when I was watching student documentaries for National History Day. Carol had it right. We will have disappointment, but on the other side of the coin is someone’s joy. We may not get the job, part, house, or even shoes we want (arg…Kohls and your lack of sizes!) but that doesn’t have to prevent us from being happy for others.

I challenge you to encourage others even through your disappointment to show students that sometimes it isn’t our turn. Sometimes it is their turn. And that’s ok, because our turn will come.

Challenge #3: Appreciation

“Sometimes the people we count on the most are the ones who hear thank you the least.” Unknown

For those who have read my prior blog posts, you know I am a fan of appreciation. And honestly appreciation is not hard. It’s easy to say thank you. What is hard is finding those who really deserve it. I find that often the same people receive appreciation around us over and over. For whatever the reason, through visibility, advertising, or another means, we have people that often come to mind when we give thanks.

I challenge you to find a way to appreciate those that are quiet, those that don’t sing their own praises, those who work just as hard, those we count on and don’t realize. Show your students that everyone matters in our life. In a way, each person in our life has contributed to our success, our joy, our happiness, even if it is in a small way. Appreciate them too.

Challenge #4: Meaning

“I don’t want to live in the kind of world where we don’t look out for each other. Not just the people that are close to us, but anybody who needs a helping hand. I cant change the way anybody else thinks, or what they choose to do, but I can do my bit.”– Charles de Lint

As we go through this thing called life, it’s easy to become complacent. But I truly believe that everyone that comes into our life is there for a reason. They may teach us something or they may make us better people. Shouldn’t we take the opportunity we have to be in other people’s lives and use it to add meaning?

I challenge you to optimize the time you have with the people who have entered your life and add meaning to theirs. Show your students how to be the reason that someone smiles, the helping hand, the reassuring voice, the comfort in sorrow. Because all we have in life are the relationships that we extend to one another, and those should be meaningful.

Did you notice that the four challenges spell out T-E-A-M? Pretty clever, I know. Together as a people we are all a team. We need each other. What’s better than modeling that for our students?

Will you accept the challenge?

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It’s that time of year…

Here in Wisconsin, we tend to hit this time of year where cabin fever sets in. The holidays are over, the cold and snow have lost their novelty, and the days are still short – it’s a rarity on a regular work day for me to be outside when the sun is still up (with the exception of bus duty weeks…). Students feel cooped up, unable to get outside without freezing to get fresh air and exercise. And it only gets worse. Third quarter is the most difficult for students and teachers, a quarter where there are no breaks, parent teacher conferences are held, and there is no let up in the temperatures.

This time of year is one of the most challenging, and you can see it on everyone’s faces. Stress sets in, people get overwhelmed, and a negative slump ensues. This tends to be a web that both students and teachers get caught in. We often see behaviors in students rise and grades drop. Negativity has a strong impact on everything in our lives, and a focus on this behavior can lead to a rut that is very hard to get out of.

So how can we pull ourselves and our students out of this slump? What positive things can we add to our lives or routine to help us deal with the doldrums that arrive this time every year? Here are a couple of activities I have found, and research proves, that can help with stress, negativity, and ‘this time of the year’:

1. Get moving –

Exercise is important for everyone. Besides the physical health benefits, exercise releases endorphins and gets blood flowing to the brain, improving memory, concentration, and performance. Something to remember about endorphins is that they wear off, so it is important for exercise to be a part of your routine to fully reap their benefit. 

2. Set goals –

Setting goals is essential for our every day lives. Humans need things to work toward; they give us purpose. Goals set a clear focus, force you optimize your time, and motivate you. Setting and reaching goals is one of the ways the dopamine chemical is released in the brain. It is important to have small reachable goals every day, but it is just as important to have long term goals. Easily attainable goals help give us dopamine, but long term goals give us purpose. The best way to have success with long term goals is to set small reachable goals to keep up your motivation. 

3. Appreciate someone –

Showing appreciation, especially in public, is highly important to our wellbeing. Often the work we do is done for others. When we do things for others, and then it is recognized, it not only reinforces the relationship with that person, it also makes us work harder to continue to make that person proud and raises our confidence. And even better yet, when you appreciate someone, it has benefits for you too, including changing your focus to the positive things in your life, creating an avenue to eliminate stress, frustration, resentment, and anger.

4. Be generous –

And money won’t work…You need to be generous with things that are invaluable, like your time and energy. Take the time to talk with others, not to be able to respond, but just to listen to them. Do something for someone that they cannot repay. The more that you give without expecting something in return the more you want to do. Even experiencing someone else’s act of generosity can positivity affect you. Think about the pay it forward movement. When someone does something for you or you see someone being generous, it makes you want to do the same.

5. Stop the negative comments –

What you say has an impact. Even for those who say words don’t bother them (think the sticks and stones saying), they do. Many of us can remember something negative someone said about us, but often have trouble remembering something positive that was said. By saying negative comments, you affect your mood. Continuing to participate in negative thoughts will increase the quantity of them. It also pulls others in, creating a cyclical pattern of negativity.

Bonus activity –

If all else fails, and you don’t want to or can’t do any of the above…SMILE! Find ways to have fun, and it will brighten everyone’s day. The act of smiling is contagious, causing other people to smile in return. And the contraction of your facial muscles when you smile is another way dopamine is released in the brain.

“Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.” Buddha

Be a candle for others. We need more light in this world.

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What are we teaching kids these days anyway?

Being the technology integration specialist in my 1:1 middle school, you would think that I get to experience the wonders of technology on a daily basis. And you’d be right. But I also get to experience the worries. Students, just like adults, make bad choices, and those made with technology can be profound. I have had conversations with many teachers and parents about the difficulty of having students who have technology in their hands 24/7. Such power can be a wonderful and dangerous thing. Usually these conversations boil down to one of two things: restrict the technology or take it away.

Restricting technology is the act of blocking access to apps and/or websites on the device. While this seems like a great option for students who have trouble with controlling themselves and their time on technology, it doesn’t often work the way people wish it to. Restrictions always have limitations. And those limitations can be breached. Always. We have tried locking down iPads, and it has never completely worked. If students want to message other students, no amount of blocking or restricting will stop them from doing it. I can block an app, but they will find another one. If students want to be on Facebook, they will find a way, no matter how many methods I impose. It has never ceased to amaze me their ability to get around restrictions and how hard they will work to do so. It is a sad fact, but reality. Where there is a will, there is a way.

The other option, taking away technology, has been a less explored option. I often hear, “I never had any technology growing up, and I turned out fine.” But, our school invests in an education that requires students to be connected, not only to each other, but to the world. Although removing technology from the hands of a student has been an extreme option, I feel when this happens, these students are missing out on learning opportunities that the majority of us have never been able to have. The skills that students can now learn through the use of technology in this fast paced society are of great importance for our future. 

So the question begs to be asked, Why do students need technology? What are we teaching kids these days anyway? 

Technology has broken down the walls of our classroom and created a living and breathing world at our fingertips. One we can touch, and see, and hear, and believe in. We need to teach students the true power of technology and how to handle that power with care, concern, and responsibility. Technology has the ability to transform, to teach students more than they have ever had the chance to learn before. It forces students to take skills that should be learned to the next level, employing them in new ways for our ever changing society. 

What we as a society really need to see is the importance of shifting our view of technology and the classroom. Instead of seeing roadblocks, changes, work, challenges, and the death of education, we should see opportunities, hope, perspective, and a new world. Technology should be used to help students have authentic, engaging moments during the school day. The power of our current technology has the ability to revolutionize our world, and it starts with our students. Let’s grab hold of and invest in even the tiniest bit of that power, harnessing it for what we should be teaching kids these days anyway:

To be brave: Reach out and find those who think like you do, who you can learn from, who motivate you. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box, be original, stand out. Think differently. Then share yourself with the world because it wants you.

To learn something new: Take the knowledge we’ve known for centuries, grow from it, then make it your own. Create something new and give it to the world, because the world deserves it.

To be critical thinkers: Ask questions, evaluate and critique the answers, formulate responses. Share these with the world, because it wants to hear what you have to say.

To ask for help: Communicate to find assistance. Seek out understanding. Find those who care. Then support others in our world, because they need you.

To appreciate: Give thanks to those who came before you, to those who will come after you, and to those who will challenge you. They are the ones who will create who you are to become. Then let the world appreciate you back.

To inspire others: Make people think. Make people wonder. Make people change. Help others find their calling and then find yours. Solve the world’s problems together: collaborate, dream, believe. 

To fly: Grow you wings, tend to them, and soar beyond your highest heights. The world is waiting for you.

And in all of this, each and every one of us, parents, teachers, administrators, friends, and community, should be by their side, helping them make connections, contact people around the world, effectively communicate, steer their decisions, raise questions, and be their advocate, their cheerleader, and their confidant. Because that is what they, and the world, need now more than ever.

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Just One Word

In January of last year, Wisconsin got hit hard by a polar vortex. High temperatures were not coming out of the negative numbers, school was cancelled day after day, cars, busses, and most modes of transportation were struggling, and just the simple act of walking out of your house was painful and pure torture. If ever people experienced ‘cabin fever’, these were the days. Being stuck in the house, dreading the arrival of the mail truck was enough to render a person insane, or at least depressed. I remember one of the last of these days agreeing to go out to lunch with one of my friends and colleagues from school, Teresa, thinking, “I don’t care if I end up frozen to the seat of the car…I can’t stand to look at these four walls any longer!” Most of you who lived through last winter in the northern United States understand my sentiments…

Looking for inspiration during this time of deep, dark, bleak gloominess and boredom, I turned to the Internet. I was reading news articles and happened to stumble upon some about New Year’s resolutions. According to a study done last year by the University of Scranton, only 8% of people who make New Year’s resolutions actually achieve what they set out to do. Some people make tremendous, overwhelming goals that require a devotion that can’t be sustained. Even more choose goals that simply aren’t achievable. For many others, after a few weeks of working at their goal, real life happens, and the goal is soon forgotten. 

One of the articles I was reading led me to an interesting website with a different view on New Year’s resolutions. Instead of making a goal that you want to achieve during the year, pick one word. Yes, one word. Choose a word that you can focus on all throughout the year. This gives you the ability to truly change yourself, your practices, your habits, your life. Because that one word can be used in everything you do, not just with one goal. 

So, I decided to give this a try, one word for 2014. I gave it some thought, and then let it go. I didn’t want to pick a word just to pick a word. I let the word pick me, and in the doom and gloom of the January polar vortex, it eventually came to me: STRENGTH. Little did I know that the weather at the dawn of 2014 was just the beginning of many moments throughout the year where I would be given the ability to build my STRENGTH. 

And as I look back over and reflect upon the year that was 2014, this word has given me a gift. The gift to see myself through its eyes, to consider where I began and where I ended, to watch myself grow and get stronger, to admire the person I have become, and to appreciate those people and circumstances that have shaped me along the journey. I will forever be able to remember 2014 as my year of STRENGTH, and I can see the impact it has made. With me. In others. Throughout all aspects of my life. But most importantly, in the future and what is to come. Because even though 2014 was my year of STRENGTH, the person I have become will forever change everything from here on out.

So, I challenge you, my colleagues, PLN, students, friends, and family, to join me in choosing just one word for the year of 2015. Who will you become? How can you make a difference? What will your impact be? Do you believe? Visit for some ideas, or like me, let the word pick you. Then share it. Let others know. Because the support from those around you is what will make the word truly come to life and allow it to gain power. Imagine it, inspire others, influence your world.


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Hard Work Doesn’t ‘Pay Off’

Have you ever thought about the phrase ‘hard work pays off’? This phrase means that if you work hard every day or on a big project or whatever the thing of the moment is that you will get something out of it. In our work life, sometimes that means money, sometimes a new job or promotion, sometimes a corner office. According to this phrase, rewards become your motivation to work so hard. But have you ever wondered if hard work actually does pay off? And if it does, does that new corner office or raise make you feel like you accomplished something? Or better yet, does it make you want to work hard again?

This past week, I presented at a national conference for the first time, the TIES conference in Minneapolis, MN. I did this with my friend and colleague, Paul Hermes (@BVPaulHermes). We spoke about how to flip your teacher staff meetings as a means to bring more active, collaborative, and meaningful work into a staff meeting versus the typical informational sit and get. You have limited time together as a staff…are we using this time to our advantage? It is inspiring to work in a profession where many of our colleagues are continually working to improve their practices. Those who came to our session at the TIES conference were looking to improve their staff meeting practices, and this will be hard, challenging work, just like it was for us.

Paul and I also worked really hard on this presentation. Countless hours of blood, sweat and tears went into it. I don’t think most people know how much time, effort, and commitment putting together a presentation like this takes. And it gets even more complicated when you are giving a presentation with another person. But our hard work didn’t ‘pay off’. Paul and I didn’t get paid for our presentation. We didn’t gain any new information or insights to take back to our school due to our presentation. We worked through a lot of stress, meetings, debates, and anxiety, all to share this presentation with others. We never set out to do this presentation for a pay off, and I don’t think those who sat in our session will be looking for a pay off through their hard work in flipping staff meetings either. Our hard work will go well beyond a pay off.

I’ve read the book Drive by Daniel Pink and fully believe in his motivation theory that states Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose are the three strongest motivators in people’s work. I know that I didn’t work hard on this presentation because I was looking for a pay off. I worked hard on it because I had a purpose. I know what we do at Bay View for our staff meetings is right, better, and essential for our teachers, and I wanted to share that with other educational leaders. I wanted to motivate them to take up this cause for their staff and be innovators like us. I wanted to make a difference in other schools, districts, and states, because that is what education deserves. Therefore, I feel we need to rephrase ‘hard work pays off.’

Hard work lives on. That is what happens to hard work. It lives on in the conversations people have. It lives on in peoples’ hearts. It lives on in changes that come from it. It lives on through the change that happens in you. It lives on through the relationships that are made. That is what makes hard work worth it. The best thing about hard work is it doesn’t just affect you. You have the ability to influence others with your hard work. You have the ability to change the world. Motivation to work hard shouldn’t be centered around a reward, it should be centered around a purpose. 

And after all of our hard work this past week and the weeks before and the weeks beyond, I’m honored. Honored to present along side Paul Hermes. Honored to meet other educators that want to change their practices. Honored to represent what we do at Bay View Middle School. Honored to have the opportunity to do hard work that we can share with others. 

Because hard work doesn’t pay off, hard work lives on.

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Original Thought

Just the other day, I was talking to one of my principals, and he made a comment about needing to tweet out his own ideas on Twitter. Now, I haven’t been tweeting all that long. Lurking on Twitter, sure, but actual Tweeting, only over the past year. 99.9% of my tweets have been sites, blog posts, and quotes by others. Few by me. And it made me think, do I have any original thoughts to even share?

Don’t get me wrong. There is something to say about ideas from others. There are millions of people out there more than wiling to share their ideas and thoughts. They change the way we think, the way we feel, the way we behave, the way we are. One example of this is an article I came across in a blog post on Schoology. The article, which was mainly about growth mindset, referenced a book called Linchpin. This series of ideas, thoughts, and questions led me to one of the best books I have read in a while.

That very day I checked out the ebook Linchpin and read it in less than 24 hours. It is a fascinating read on our world, business, the past, the future, psychology, philosophy, and you. And what I’ve learned from Seth Godin is that we have the ability to be innovative, to be a linchpin, if we just get rid of that voice in our head that says we can’t. No amount of money or given title will allow you to be great. The linchpins of society create art. True art is a gift. We don’t value it because it costs a lot of money. We don’t value it because someone told us to. We value it because someone uniquely special poured themselves into it and then gave it away just so people can enjoy.

So why does our society still value the all mighty dollar? Prestigious colleges? Factory-like jobs? Following directions? Uniformity? Because all of those things are simple. There is a formula to follow. Anyone can do them. That makes you dispensable. What makes you indispensable? Passion. Vision. Creativity. Discernment. Original thought.

Our classrooms and schools for the most part are set up to follow the societal value of uniformity. There is one right answer, an exact curriculum, one way to solve a problem. It is scary to share, in fear of being different or giving a wrong answer. Students usually want to know what the teacher expects so they can turn that in for an A. What if there was no right answer? No exact curriculum? More than one way to solve a problem? What if we learned how to learn, created our own art, poured ourselves into our passion? Reading those questions makes us uncomfortable. Why? Because there is no uniformity, no formula, no direction. But, just for a moment, allow yourself to think…when we open our students up to be innovative visionaries with their own original thoughts, what type of world will they create?

It’s time to allow yourself to be a linchpin, to be innovative, to have original thought. After all, we have the responsibility to be a model for our students. And so my blog begins. At some point, I will hear that voice in my head that says your idea is dumb, people won’t like it, you haven’t written in a week…what’s wrong with you?? And that’s ok. That fear means I must have something important to say, and it just may end up being different, or innovative, or even original.

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