Author: Nili Bartley

Five Commitments Challenge: The Time is Now


When I read the #LeadLAP 5 Commitments Challenge over the summer, I was so committed to the posts I was working on, I didn’t have a chance to write this one; yet.  I wasn’t even sure what I would write about, but I had faith that when I was finally ready, it would come to me.  I’m ready.  The time is now.

Commitment Number 1 (My personal favorite!)

I’m committed to my colleagues, to seeing who they are, every one of them.  Twenty years ago, I was a student athlete at Boston University.  I was a little freshman in awe of every coach including the women’s basketball coach, Chris Basile.  Chris is the PIRATE in the middle of the picture above.  She went back to teaching wellness after finishing her college coaching career and I’ve had the honor of working with her over the last two years.

Echoing in my head throughout the four years I was in school was, “The time is now.” That’s because in my world, Coach Basile was the first person to say it. Although we spoke only a handful of times at BU, this statement made a difference. On our first staff day, my principal gave us the opportunity to share our vision of passion in the classroom. I knew we had to include The time is now in our presentation as well as share the story behind it.  It was important to Chris to share the value of staying in the moment as this is what the best athletes do.  We both wanted to share the value of bringing passion to school NOW for ourselves, for each other, and for our students.

Passion Activity
Our simple opening slide.

So we took a risk, shared our story (much of it unscripted, which made it even better!) played the “Top Three” activity from Lead Like a PIRATE,  and had a blast.  As I looked around the room, I realized our colleagues were captivated.  Many told me they even had the chills.  I literally could not walk down the hallway later that day without someone stopping me and I give so much credit to Chris.  She was truly inspirational.

Any PIRATE book I have ever recommended, she has read and this has been the bond that’s made us closer.  We push each other, we support each other, and I easily could have missed that boat.  Had I continued to see Chris as a big time coach from the past, and remained too shy to speak to her, I may have never seen the PIRATE within.  I am committed to seeing each of my colleagues beyond the surface.  The time is now.

Commitment Number 2

I’m committed to supporting my principal like never before.  I’ve had wonderful administrators over the past thirteen years (fourteen administrators total!) but what came out of my mouth just two weeks ago shocked me. In yet another incredible meeting, I looked my principal right in the eyes and simply stated “I got your back.” Completely unplanned, super dorky, but as real of a moment as you could possibly hope for, it just happened.  When you’re persistent and fight for relationships you know will impact change, you never know what you’ll unleash in each other.  You have to try.  I’m learning it’s too important not to.

Over the summer I wrote about an end of year energy I predicted would break down the doors when we came back.  I might just be onto something, because the energy in the air right now is different.  It’s completely genuine and seems  to be building every second. Enthusiasm is spreading and perhaps the best part is we’re sharing how excited we are to be back.  This is certainly a result of the way school ended last year, but it’s also due to my principal’s leadership in supporting us.  I, like never before, am committed to supporting her.  The time is now.

Commitment Number 3

I’m committed to the being a catalyst.  Ever since I had the privilege of hearing Kevin Carol, (a.k.a. the Katalyst) speak at ISTE three years ago, I fell in love with the word. This year my role changed.  I am a full time technology integration coach and couldn’t be happier about it.  Inspired by George Couros, I am committed to sparking change and launching a year of teacher leadership.  And I’m very much looking forward to getting out of the way whenever I can.  In the classroom, it was a dream to see students move ahead without me and now, I view this as an exciting part of my role with teachers!  I love seeing people excited to teach and learn, to own something, and run with it.

A colleague who I met with less than a year ago to discuss Seesaw led our building last week in what quickly became forty-five minutes of happiness, curiosity, and motivation.   We met only once to reflect last year on how Seesaw was going and I introduced her to a first grade teacher who was equally passionate about this fabulous tool.  That was it.  She did the rest.  This was her first time presenting to staff and administrators and she knocked it out of the park. Not only did the interest in using Seesaw spike, we were able to come together in our first ever Google + Community to celebrate this incredible teacher.  I am committed to being a catalyst for my colleagues.  The time is now.

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Commitment Number 4

I’ve always been more passionate about writing than reading, but this year I’m committed to reading. I’ll never be as fast as Beth Houf and Jay Billy (and they are super fast!), but I’m committed to conquering the fear of reading too many books. I always thought I would get lost, but today information is coming at us all of the time. If I don’t learn how to take it in, connect it, and apply it, how can I ask students to do the same? Plus I was able to create the best summer PD of my life!

If you’re reading this post, you’ve most likely experienced a page turning adventure with at least one of the books below.  You’ve probably even figured out how to apply what you learned.  I made a conscious decision, like you, to do exactly that.  In the process, however, something unexpected happened.  My confidence boosted just from reading what these authors were offering the world.  So I did something I’ve never done before.

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Shattering the Perfect Teacher Myth and Social LEADia are next!

I worked for hours to create a presentation I knew would impact teachers and administrators before I asked for the time to share it.  I was driven and I knew somehow that drive, my thirst to inspire student owned learning, teacher leadership, and all around empowerment was too strong to be rejected.  Thanks to my administrators, it wasn’t.  I learned that these books went beyond giving me powerful information. Each author handed me courage in their own unique way and I am forever grateful to them. I am now committed to keep reading for myself and also for others.  The time is now.

Commitment Number 5

I’m committed to writing this year without seeking approval.  Typically I go into publishing mode with my heart racing and the urge to get at least three people to say it’s okay.  When I finally click Publish and tweet it, I secretly worry no one will read it or even worse, they’ll read it and won’t like it.  If that’s not enough, I rarely share what I write with my own colleagues who I happen to see every day.  When I had the recent honor of spending an afternoon with Jay Billy, I asked him for his greatest piece of advice when it comes to me and writing. For those of you who know Jay, you know that his honesty and genuineness are two of his greatest attributes.  It didn’t take him much time at all to tell me the following two words; “Let go.”

If I’m going to put myself out there, and inspire colleagues and students to do the same, I must write from here on out without fear. To Lead Like a PIRATE, building trust amongst each other is everything.  We must also remember to trust ourselves, our stories, and our ideas.  I am committed to writing without worry.  The time is now.

My five commitments.  I thought about where they came from and I think I figured it out. I’ve tasted each of them over the past few months and I’m hungry for more.

The time is now to share this post.  Well it was.  Honestly, I was just about to click Publish. I somehow became distracted (it wasn’t avoidance, I promise), but I’m glad I did. I remembered I wanted to buy a “Choose Kind” t-shirt to support #HornetsHelpingHumble, a fundraiser Beth Houf and Fulton Middle School launched to help Humble Middle School in Texas.  I jumped to her Twitter page and found this tweet from yesterday’s #LeadLAP chat.

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Although I remember this poster the first time Beth tweeted it, it’s been a while.  I’d like to think somehow it helped me write this post even if it was subconsciously.  What I know without hesitation is that it fits perfectly and I’m thrilled to include it.










Flipping Our End of Year Energy Part 3: Let’s Keep Sharing Our Stories


In Flipping Our End of Year Energy Part 2: Leading With StoriesI made a commitment to finish my own end of year story.  This is post is dedicated to four third grade classrooms where passion was exploding and students were running back even during the final days.  Together with their teachers, they created a contagious energy I predict will lead us back to school in a way we haven’t seen before.

Our Genius Hour Story

As LaVonna Roth pointed out during our most recent Google Hangout, the third graders who took on Genius Hour didn’t just create projects, they developed solutions.  Students went beyond spreading awareness about endangered animals, a hurting environment, and food and water shortage.  They became young innovators determined to solve a problem meaningful to them.  Students rushed home to build prototypes, flood their living rooms with materials, and FaceTime their partners to plan next steps.  They blew their parents, teachers, administrators (and peers!) away with the level of devotion they gave their learning as well as level of expertise they were able to display.

Kicking off their mission was a panel of sixth grade “superpirates” who brilliantly shared their experiences (and became Genius Hour assistants).  Third graders were sucked into their stories, and miraculously, these sixth graders remembered every single one of their classmate’s Genius Hour projects from two years prior. (Check out their story here!) Questions were asked, mental and written notes were taken, and the focus was honestly unreal.  These young third graders adopted a level of confidence we knew would see them through.


Although students were pumped to begin, it was important to make sure they had a solid grasp on the process.  Their rockstar teacher (Mrs. O’Shaughnessy) and I searched for a video third graders would be able to understand even if we had to pause and discuss. We came across a gem simply called Genius Hour, which I highly recommend for elementary students!  We also provided numerous links for students to explore through Google Classroom as well as books.  And every day, Mrs. O’Shaughnessy gave her kiddos a dose of empowerment with inspirational videos, pushing their curiosity and determination to the next level.  As a result, we learned from them more than we ever imagined.

Check out our school’s first ever Genius Hour!

After reading Launch this summer, I can’t wait to inspire teachers to add The Launch Cycle to students’ experiences next year. Shift This and Empower are next on the list to finish!

Our Student Edcamp Story

Two years ago, I wrote my very first post on my very own blog titled, Student Edcamp, An Extraordinary Experience.   Strikingly, it still holds the highest number of views nineteen posts later!  There is certainly something about Edcamp not just for us, but for the students we serve every day.  To help a few teachers I knew were intrigued, I shared my post, but it wasn’t enough for their students to understand what Edcamp is all about.  I desperately needed a video and after searching like crazy, I found Edcamp 2016:  Student Led at LTISD.  Students and teachers alike immersed themselves in the story of another school and were thrilled to create their own experience.

Three classes gave Edcamp a go with their own unique twist.  Below is just a glimpse into the magic they experienced.  Although I wish the video were better quality and included more from each classroom (I was literally bouncing around trying to capture it all), my sixty-nine year old mother watched it and said this:

I wish I had that in 3rd grade.  It would have changed my life.💜

That alone pushed me to post it.

Check out our school’s first ever Edcamp!

Whether they chose to bring Genius Hour, Student Edcamp, or building a cardboard arcade to students, four third grade teachers felt a call to action.  They embraced these cutting edge approaches to learning, bringing a new energy at an unbeatable pace for students who simply couldn’t get enough.  Any peers who witnessed the student owned learning that transpired, ached to own it too.  (And many teachers ached to give it right to their students!)  This is what I tried to capture.

I can’t wait to write about a continuing journey once both videos are unleashed within our school and district. I have found that when students and teachers lead together, their stories ultimately end up leading us.  I am committing now to writing about my five Lead Like a PIRATE commitments and sharing our school story will certainly be high on the list!

CHALLENGE:  CONTINUE to capture the awesome experiences happening in your building so that others will be inspired to create their own!  Why stop at one story?  Let’s get students, staff, and administrators running back to as many experiences as possible!





Flipping Our End of Year Energy Part 2: Leading With Stories


I recently wrote Flipping Our End of Year Energy and I focused on the idea of running back to school at the beginning of the year rather than running out at the end.  (Don’t forget to tweet a selfie using #LeadLAP if you dare to to try it!) Discussing Lead Like a PIRATE with our principal is still my greatest end of year spark and I can’t wait to meet with her again soon!  There’s more, however, to my end of year story and in my last post I made a commitment to tell it.

Before a team of PIRATE teachers took a chance in the rain, an energy spread through the halls during those final days, moments, and even seconds.  I literally heard from colleagues, “We can’t wait next year!  We have to start right away!”  “We want to do that too!”  What if we all heard what I heard, felt the end of year energy oozing from the walls?  Students, staff, and administrators might just come back hungry for more.

On the last day of school in front of over 500 people, my principal took the mic and gave us her wisdom. “This is what happens when people share their passion and put their heads together.” Her words came directly after we played a video capturing our first ever cardboard arcade.  Although my year ended with fireworks, this post is dedicated to the blast of learning everyone got to see, just one hour before doors broke open for summer.

Those of you who have ever asked students to design their own cardboard arcade I’m sure have been inspired by none other than Caine’s Arcade.  If you haven’t, I highly recommend pausing this post and clicking on the link above!  Christopher Weiss also shared his school’s Global Cardboard Challenge, which helped students greatly to brainstorm and visualize their ideas.

Taking on this innovative project, however, brought a level of humanity I did not expect. The skills (soft as well as academic) it took to build functioning games were of course off the charts.  The energy, however, that naturally formed when families, teachers, and administrators came to play, provided a freedom for all to let go, be themselves, and have fun.  When you witness principals and directors laughing, hanging out, and even screaming with a joy students handed them, it’s almost an obligation to share it.

Check out our first ever third grade cardboard arcade!

A mission ignited by someone else’s journey ended with our own and our whole school was able to be a part of it.  As I was writing this post, I thought deeply about the power of immersing ourselves in the experiences of others.  In a conversation with Beth Houf, I was reminded of Lead Like a PIRATE’s philosophy on sharing our school story. Not only do students and staff become empowered, but so do those that watch.

Regardless of their age, when kids have a chance to see other kids doing amazing things, they want in and why wouldn’t they?  This is when every one of them should ask their teachers, “Can we do that?”  I believe we need to invite this question more often.  Too much good is being done in our world.  Why not find it, hand it to even our youngest students (or encourage them to hand it to us!), and give them a chance to make it theirs. This is exactly what my courageous colleagues and I did when we indeed shared our passions and put our heads together.

My next project is to write Part 3, revealing two more end of year sparks exploding with passion based learning; Student Edcamp and Genius Hour. Although not new to education, both were new to my building. Inspired by stories that transpired into our own, I can’t wait to hand them to our district and beyond.  This year, my hope is that students and colleagues will help me so together we can LEAD by capturing the awesome within our walls and creating an environment where this is the norm.

CHALLENGE- Capture a story in your school and share it so students, staff, and administrators (in your school and beyond!) run back every day, after every weekend, and most certainly after vacations!













Flipping Our End of Year Energy

Recently I saw this post shared by close friends who happen to be teachers.  I totally get the humor in it and I adore Melissa McCarthy, but I can’t help but wonder this; if that’s what we look like on the last day of school, what in the world will we look like on the first?

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This has been the mindset of so many educators for so long, thank goodness Lead Like a PIRATE is spreading a shift in thinking; inspire your teachers to run in, not out.  Like everyone else, I love summer and of course I’m tired, but there’s a difference between exhaustion and deflation.  The energy I left school with, the magic that brewed during the final days only gave me inspiration to break down the doors in just a couple of months.

What pushed my energy off the charts?  Simple.  People trusted me, we put our heads together, and took action.  Anything new for many brings hesitation, but we must never ever give up. It took a lot of time and I’m still learning, but just like when a teammate starts a two out rally, I’ve discovered it really only takes one spark.  If you’re lucky, that one spark becomes many.

This post is dedicated to my final energy booster, the greatest spark, the one that keeps me running every day of the summer.  Rather than racing toward the finish line, however, it’s a line that will mark the beginning.

The Power of Two, a PIRATE Two


Have you ever brought an idea to someone else in hopes it would make a difference? What happened when you went at it alone?  What happened when you brought someone with you?  I have written about leading from my role in the past and the journey I began when I became a technology integration specialist.  One meeting alone taught me there is nothing like the power of two, especially a PIRATE two.  

It’s easy to feel alone when the ideas you bring to the table are perceived as outside of the box or even crazy.  To make things harder, the best approaches go well beyond their titles. They need to be experienced with every bone in our bodies.  Yet once another teacher in your building believes that just as strongly as you do, and has felt blood rushing because an educational experience was just that good, that might be all it takes.

A few weeks ago I spoke with my colleague who had just finished Lead Like a PIRATE. We were pumped at the realization that we were ready to bring this number one best seller in education administration to our principal.  It was the second to last day of school and it was pouring outside.  Our principal was finishing up bus duty and it was the worst time possible to meet with her.  We reminded ourselves of a favorite quote from Martin Luther King Jr.  “The time is always right to do what is right.”  That’s how serious we were.

My colleague courageously led the way.   People like me bring passion, but we can also be loud (and even repetitive) with our enthusiasm.  Sometimes the best decision is to let someone equally passionate initiate the conversation. The beauty in this concept is that ultimately, it shows whoever it is you’re trying to inspire that you’re not alone.

Our goal was to schedule a more formal meeting and our amazing principal simply couldn’t say no.  I’m sure this was partly because we were laughing in the rain at the timing of our passionate plea.  Naturally, the next day my colleague and I talked for an hour strategizing who would say what and why, at the same time keeping it real.  We wanted to empower our principal to include us in her vision and allow us to join her team.

Two days later, for the first time, I wasn’t a teacher begging for something I believed in. This time, together, we were leaders bringing something to the table (literally) worth fighting for.  We joined our principal’s team, but just as importantly, she joined ours.

From presenting an overview of the book to discussing passion walls, pineapple charts, and revolutionizing staff meetings, we hooked her in.  We also listened.  We focused on every word our leader had to say as well as paid attention to each other.  The energy, humor, and relatability was like nothing I had ever experienced in a meeting before.  It turns out our passion and even vision were very much in line and for an hour and a half, we talked of the incredible potential that lay ahead.

I think we were in a bit of shock to be completely honest as my colleague and I both learned a valuable lesson.  Regardless of what people might perceive, and regardless of how things were done before, we are all on the same team.  When we were able to see this, tension loosened, we unleashed who we are (right in front of each other!), and suddenly a different kind of energy took form.  An energy that can only build, because we own it together.

I am of course at the edge of my seat now, waiting with much anticipation for our principal to finish Lead Like a PIRATE and meet with us again soon.  I can’t wait to write about the PIRATE transformations we bring as a leadership team.  In the meantime, I plan to share in my next post the risks teachers and students recently took.  They certainly created an excitement for teaching and learning that I predict will not only break down doors, but open opportunities for our whole school in just a couple of months.

CHALLENGE:  Take a picture of yourself running into school on the first day and tweet it using the #LeadLAP hashtag!



Tomorrow’s Classroom Starts TODAY


There are many problems, but I think there is a solution to all these problems; it’s just one, and it’s education. Malala Yousafzai

I never imagined a one day conference would leave me with so much.  I don’t want to just say I attended TCT17, I want to commit to it.  I want to commit to giving teachers and students tomorrow’s classrooms today.  I believe it matters now more than ever.

How do I bring back all of the wonderful take aways to my district and hopefully beyond?  I could share a Google Doc capturing the engaging tools I learned about (and I eventually will), but I believe the use of digital tools is an avenue to empowerment.  The approaches to teaching and learning, the fresh ideas that rock your world, and the lessons learned from a collaborative experience with professionals who are fueled by passion:  These ignite our missions in the classroom, in our schools, in our communities.

In this post, I would like to focus on three important lessons based on my experience with the educators I was surrounded by.  It’s adrenaline rushing to attend a conference like TCT. The people, the energy, the air in the room.  It’s almost addictive.  Yet as hard as it is to leave, this is when we have to remember the responsibility that accompanies aching for the best, the latest, and the most life changing.  We are the ones who must ignite the change.   If we don’t, we risk staying in today instead of tomorrow, and even worse, allowing for comfort in yesterday.

Although cool and cloudy,  Jersey was blazing just one week ago.  A hot spot for revolutionary education, everyone attending TCT17 was on fire with teaching, learning, and sharing. Striking the match was Angela Watson.  Not only is she a cool person to speak with, but speaks to a crowd with nothing but honesty and experience. Angela is clearly a student of education and her outside the box thinking is an immediate attention grabber.  She brilliantly brought her expert advice through a series of questions and ideas leaving all of us charged to make a bigger impact.

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*Give yourself permission to “eliminate the good and make time for the best.”

*Before you bring even the most innovative idea to your classroom or school, ask yourself the following:  Will this experience be meaningful and authentic for my students right now?  Ask students to be a part of the process when making decisions.  Innovation should be something we do with our kids not something we plan for our kids.

It’s one thing for us to reflect on the advice above, but we also need to spread it like crazy and share the results.  This is the greater task.

Here is Angela’s Do Fewer Things Better Notetaking Guidehighlighting the five questions she shared during her keynote at TCT17.  This is a gem for every educator on the planet.

In 9 Ways to Create Tomorrow’s Classrooms Today, Angela embraces the characteristics of TCT, sharing practical ways to foster each.  I highly recommend sharing her post with everyone in your building and beyond!

If nothing else, get these characteristics out there for everyone in your school to see!

  • Autonomy
  • Risk-taking
  • Embracing failure
  • Tinkering
  • Collaboration
  • Real world application
  • Patience
  • Caring attitude
  • Technology integration


Lesson 2

I always hear from teachers and administrators on Twitter, “Surround yourself with other passionate educators.”  I’d like to go one step further and reflect on the importance of immersing ourselves in courage.  In order to make Lessons 1 and 2 come to life, we need to be brave.

Jay Billy (PIRATE principal), Beth Houf (co-author of Lead Like a PIRATE) , and Lourds Lane (writer/musician, creator of SuperYou) are experts in their field.  They each bring immense passion to their work and I connect with them every week if not more.  Beyond anything else, however, they have taught me to be courageous in my own work just by being who they are.  I still have to work hard at this, but I am not afraid to be who I am. In fact I have learned to even wear who I am and those days are the most fun.

I was immersed in courage at TCT17.  My friend, Jay Billy, led the way.  To me, his superpower is genuineness.  What you see is what you get and it’s all heart.  Jay is not afraid to be himself, to stand up for what he believes in, and to spread his love for education to others.  I also had the honor of meeting rockstar teachers and administrators who I hope to stay connected with forever.  Young trailblazers leaving their marks early along with veterans who are leaving new marks unafraid to shake things up.