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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