Author: Nili Bartley, author of Lead beyond Your Title: Creating Change in School from Any Role

Currently a technology teacher and digital learning coach at Wilson Middle School in Natick, MA, I'm in my seventeenth year in education. I am passionate about bringing unconventional learning to students and colleagues, empowering them to bring their strengths and passions to school every day. After an eleven year adventure in the classroom inspiring students to lead, my technology integration role at the elementary level for the next three years pushed me to see the importance of a thriving culture. Through coaching colleagues and implementing innovative ideas together, I was able to serve as a catalyst in order to sparking positive change. I continued to grow as a teacher and coach while taking the leap to middle school and now in my current role, am invested in creating innovative experiences. A MassCUE Committee Member and Champion, BrainPOP Certified Educator, enthusiastic presenter, and author I am committed to sharing my passions beyond the school community and am always excited to connect with other educators.

A Supersized Experience at Empower18


It wasn’t just about the posters.  Yes, I had turned my basement upside down preparing and although scored with the square inch requirement, neglected to double check the length.  As a result, my posters representing the brilliant work of the SuperYou FUNdation were extremely large and stood out to say the least.  I had indeed supersized SuperYou.  What I realized, however, after three days filled with laughter, crying, deep thinking, and even soul searching, was that my whole experience at #Empower18 was larger than life.

We ache to learn about the cutting edge approaches changing the lives of students and educators, and #Empower18 certainly did not fall short.  Full of heartfelt sessions, keynotes, and interactions with passionate people, any expectation was completely surpassed.  I had the honor of meeting amazing leaders like Alex Kajitani (the Rappin’ Mathametician), who not only titled his session, “Culture of Compassion,” but created one right in the moment.  And the second Manny Scott (an original Freedom Writer!)  took the stage for a once in a lifetime keynote, I knew I would leave changed.  In fact, I believe this larger than life experience felt so big, because I unexpectedly learned about myself.

A Supersized Session 

I chose to park in a garage a mile away from the Boston Convention Center, which meant I had to wake up even earlier, all to save a few dollars.  Waiting for an Uber, trying to keep my posters from flying away, I couldn’t wait for the 8:00 session with Tacoma Schools and LaVonna Roth.  I had the privilege of meeting LaVonna in December, and although we talked A LOT, I had never seen her in action.  I could only anticipate what it would be like, but I knew it would be worth every second.


When I found LaVonna bright and early outside of her session doors, she noticed my favorite shirt in the whole world, one I had randomly found in Walmart a few years before.  Printed nice and large is the phrase, “I NEED A HERO.”  She looked at me with a smile and said, “What do you mean you NEED a hero?  You ARE a hero.”  It seemed so easy for her, like the words just flew out of her mouth.  I love that shirt as does every student who sees it.  Kids literally run up to me announcing they are up to the task.  Teachers typically break out into song as soon as I walk by and this always leads to bonding over the decade in which we grew up.  I’ve actually written before about this very shirt and how everyone needs a hero, but not once has anyone reacted as LaVonna did.  My mind and heart were reached before I even walked in.

When she took the mic, there wasn’t a second that lacked engagement and connection.  We were captivated by her stories (and music), reflected on the importance of teaching children and adults to not only discover their strengths and passions, but use them as one powerful package, and even found mindfulness in blowing bubbles.  Yet we were also pushed out of our comfort zone, forced to talk to strangers, and met vulnerability head on as we pondered whether our brains sprint to the negative or positive when reacting to a situation.  I learned so much in less than an hour that this eye opening session would have been enough. (And I definitely go to the negative first a lot!)


As LaVonna was wrapping up what felt like just scratching the surface, Andrew Gardner, Vice President of Professional Learning at BrainPOP and friend, got in touch and asked where I was.  I responded with, “I’m in 102B at best session ever and I have a seat for you!”  Of course he came immediately.  Who wouldn’t after a description like that?  It’s a good thing, because the final challenge was to turn to the person next to us and share something we are celebrating.  I was relieved as this person was Andrew, but I froze.  I am writing the third book in the Lead Like a PIRATE series and I couldn’t even say it out loud.  He was the one who reminded me that this could have easily been the first thing to come out of my mouth.  I consider myself a PIRATE educator, one who has gained confidence over the last several years as well as taken risks I never thought possible.  Yet as I walked out with Andrew, I realized I still have some work to do.  This realization stayed with me for the whole weekend and is still brewing.

A Supersized Atmosphere 


Anyone who saw the poster area at #Empower18 might agree that it was a bit of a tightly squeezed maze.  Ironically, the close proximity of one presenter to the next forced us to become fast friends.  The Saturday session was a bit slow, so we had a chance to bond and as a result, had a blast.  The few “outsiders” that did in fact stop by my poster were kind enough to show up and support me.  Without my friends, Lourds Lane and Jay Billy by my side, (who I truly missed!) I was a bit nervous.  So, I made a conscious decision to grab some courage, my “wish superpower,” and let it take the lead right along with enthusiasm.  It turns out a little music, art, and a whole lot of superhero empowerment is incredibly appealing, and I’m proud that some crazy awesome leaders came to listen.

My second poster session was completely different as I didn’t know most people who decided to venture over to our little neck of the woods.  I buckled up and enjoyed the ride.  Instead of trying to draw a crowd, as was the goal at ISTE a couple of years ago,  I spoke with one or two people for half an hour at a time.  I learned so much about the educators I spoke with, I could list their names, states, countries, roles, and why they listened when I encouraged them to stop by.  We embraced each other with hugs and some were even brought to tears.  What was supposed to be one hour quickly turned into two.  In an atmosphere that appeared to encourage a walkthrough, connections were made and relationships were sparked.  I learned we can never underestimate the size of an experience based on the size of its space.

A Supersized Conversation 

If anything was clear at #Empower18 it was leading with why.  I saw this come to life unexpectedly walking by the vendor booths before my Sunday morning poster session.  I was honestly exhausted and with a large coffee in hand.  The evening before was filled with fun events and people and there was even some dancing, which I happen to love.  I unintentionally let out a sigh.  I’m pretty sure I was contemplating in my head the best way to re-energize.

A vendor representing a start up called Leaderally politely stopped me.  She let me know whatever it was I was going through, she could relate and it was cool.  Our interaction immediately put a smile on my face and we began to talk in true Lead Like a PIRATE fashion, with complete transparency.  I felt badly as I needed to run, but I promised I would be back.  After my poster session, Leaderally was my first destination.  As I spoke with Liz, Tara, and Kimberly for a whole hour, I learned they were on a mission to revolutionize online PD based on what teachers want.  They revealed how PIRATE they are, diving into uncharted territory, and taking one huge risk with their careers.  I was intrigued by their product, but I was even more intrigued by them.

I came back after hearing Manny Scott speak and we talked again.  They fed me jelly beans numerous times, cried as we relived the power of Manny’s words, and next thing I knew we were exchanging phone numbers and making plans to attend the same conference.  This was a conversation I never intended to have, yet one that kept me running back for more.  Of course the what came up.  These amazing leaders are, after all, highly intelligent.  But the what was not our major focus.  We shared our stories and how we’re trying to bring something to the world in our own unique way.  The energy resembled one of friends getting together and I can say with much certainty I have never spoken to vendors anywhere close to the amount of time I spent speaking with Liz, Tara, and Kimberly.  It’s weeks later, we’re still in touch, and they’re even reading my posts!  And it all started with a sigh that transpired into a very real moment.  It seems that as human beings we crave real sometimes even more than coffee.

And the pirate tank top was on!

A Supersized Conclusion

A few weeks ago I contributed to “A Wicked Good Conference,” a post Beth Houf,  Jay Billy, and I wrote together about the Massachusetts Leadership Conference which we experienced side by side.  Jay and Beth were my people and it’s awesome to have your people at a conference, those you know you will be spending time with and even collaborating with in a post.  Unlike #Maleads18, I attended #Empower18 all by myself, yet never once felt alone.

As Beth Houf stated, it’s about the people and I believe it always will be.  I thrive when I’m around educators who are real, embrace who they are, and push those around them to do the same.  At #Empower18, I was able to spend time with a different group of my people, a group that formed a long the way and changed daily.  Some folks I knew pretty well, some I didn’t, and because I had time alone, I got to know one even better; me.  I came to the conclusion that to truly be comfortable in my own skin and fulfill my shirt’s request, I have to be my people first.  Although it might sound easy and even obvious, I believe sometimes as educators we get so caught up in recognizing the awesome in others, we neglect to recognize ourselves.

I have revised countless tweets (or just not written them!) in fear that it might sound like bragging.  I have put a hold on certain initiatives I felt passionate about because I received pushback.  I have celebrated more times than one could imagine the successes of others, yet I couldn’t even say out loud to my friend that I had finished a first draft  about leading beyond our titles.  At #Empower18 I learned that without your people attending a conference with you every step of the way, you’re left to push yourself to thrive.  Ironically when you find the courage to show who you are, it’s not just about finding your people.  Magically, whether in a session, exhibit hall, or even the dance floor, others seem to find you.

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I never ordered a supersized experience at #Empower18.  In fact, I had no idea it was on the menu.  Yet from the first moment to the last, supersized is what I got.  Sometimes it’s the item we don’t order that makes one huge impact.













A Break the Script Mindset


Chip Heath and Dan Heath in The Power of Moments define breaking the script as “defying people’s expectations of how an experience will unfold.” 

I’ve written about breaking the script before and it was certainly one of my favorite posts to write.  Lately I’ve pondered the idea of a “break the script” mindset as I have had the honor of working with an educator who understands the importance of straying from the plan, being spontaneous, and creating moments for students and staff.

I believe a “break the script” mindset is difficult to accomplish.  One must be present every second and so in tune with those around them, it’s almost like a sixth sense.  Chris Basile, a PIRATE colleague who I write about a lot, exemplifies a “break the script” mindset, knows her students inside and out, and gives each and every one a voice.  When kids show up to health and PE, they know they matter, they know Mrs. Basile will listen, and whether they’re learning about drugs and alcohol, working out to Star Wars challenges, or creating videos in hopes to stop bullying, each student knows he or she will leave the room having learned something that will last a lifetime.

A couple of months ago, I was in the library right next to where my good friend, Chris, was teaching a health class.  I was finishing up an activity with a small group of students when I heard her ask for help.  The Epson speakers were not working and she had a lesson that of course required sound.  As someone who has transformed with use of technology and social media, I knew she had done everything she could so I simply changed the output back to her laptop and then switched it back to the Epson.  Honestly having no idea if this would work, I thought to myself just in case I should have something ready to play that won’t distract the kids, but fit into the theme of their lesson.

Not only were they well into their bullying unit, this class is also known as the “Friendship Class” and is immersed in Ignite Your S.H.I.N.E.® lessons through Thrively.  They continuously bring out the best in each other with their amazing teacher, Dena O’Shaughnessy, leading the way.  So naturally, I found Count On Me by Bruno Mars and hit play.  What happened next most certainly broke the script.  Students began to sing along and knowing Chris, I let it happen.  So did she.  Suddenly, every student had gathered around me, Chris was videoing this incredible moment, and as someone who misses having a classroom of students, I soaked up every second.

Immediately, Chris’s “break the script” mindset was on full blast as she came up with the idea to perform Count On Me as a surprise at our March Meeting of the Eagles.  This special event occurs every two months as a time to come together, sing, and celebrate.  Thanks to Barbara Gruener, I had bought a ukulele in the fall so in true PIRATE fashion, offered to teach myself the chords.  None of this was in Chris’s lesson plan for that period, yet the kids left thrilled and on a mission.  Chris and I left smiling.  Two months of practice, practice, practice came next and three teachers who were thrilled about what was yet to come for our whole school to see.  The best part of all was that I knew I could truly count on Chris, Dena, and her whole class, and they knew they could count on me.

The big day was finally here.  The plan was for the students to sing (and for me to play) with background music from a video just as we had practiced many many times.  Only the plan didn’t go accordingly.  Two students spoke proudly into the microphone and shared our story beautifully.  We were all set to go and the music even started to play, which I was grateful for since my own plan was to blend right in.  Then the music stopped.  Suddenly, against all plans, I was the music.  My heart began to pound.  As a passionate technology integration specialist, I chose to ignore what was happening with the technology.  Although nervous, there wasn’t a doubt in my mind that we couldn’t play on.  In a matter of seconds, we defied what we ourselves expected as we simply kept going.

Check out a glimpse of our Count On Me performance, one I was honored to be a part of.   I felt the need to explain the risk we took right after the song (to over five hundred people) and my principal shared a statement that made every second of both practicing and performing completely worth it.

As I continue to to connect with students, staff, and administrators I will push myself to be more like Chris Basile.  Her “break the script” mindset is an example for every educator in the world to get comfortable with straying from the plan, the norm, and the every day routines.  Her ability to make magic happen and create unforgettable moments stems from the passion she has for connecting with children, and as a result, a whole school was impacted.

And of course Chris was sitting right on the floor with a gym full of kids singing along.

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Honoring the Conversation


I love listening to #IMMOOC episodes with George Couros and Katie Martin, because I have the opportunity to hear powerful (and often entertaining) conversations unfold. By the end of each, I’m always left with the same question:  “What can I do?”  When you’re not an administrator, answering this question becomes more challenging, but far from impossible.  Here are just a couple of lines from one of my favorite #IMMOOC interviews with Joe Sanfelippo and Tony Sinanis.  It’s one I come back to often.

Katie Martin:  “If we’re really creating meaningful experiences for teachers that shift their thinking, that shift their experiences,…what are some tangible things that we can take back to our own context?”

Tony Sinanis:  “I think first and foremost, we need to give teachers time to collaborate.”

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“Let’s do another Lead Like a PIRATE session.”  It was early December and I was on my way to Edcamp Southeastern Massachusetts.  Although I had made no commitment to lead a session, I found it impossible not to.  At this point, spreading the PIRATE message is part of who I am.  Colleen Worrell, my #LeadLAPmass co-launcher, happily accepted the call to duty.

About thirty people in one room joined us for a whole hour.  Completely unprepared, something raw and beautiful transpired.  Sharing our PIRATE stories transformed into many in the room sharing theirs.  Those who hadn’t begun their journeys were curious, joined Twitter on the spot, and followed numerous authors.  “What is PIRATE?  Where do we start?”  A high school classroom soon became an intimate powerhouse of ideas and support.  Administrators and teachers came together confiding in each other the triumphs and struggles that come with establishing a PIRATE culture.

There was such a strong desire to jump in and contribute, many of us were finding it hard to stay still, while others were listening intently to a whole new world they had just entered.  Of course Dave Burgess was tweeting to #edcampsoutheastma in no time, embracing and empowering this community.  Having listened to the original #IMMOOC episode (starring Dave himself) on the drive down, it was almost fate that his snowball analogy became a hot topic as we talked about creating change.  Walking in as strangers, we walked away bonded and motivated to make a difference in the culture of our classrooms and schools.  And just in the nick of time, Beth Houf was able to join a few of us through FaceTime, providing an extra boost of encouragement.

I remember looking at Colleen simply stunned and could immediately tell I was not the only one.  What had just erupted was a real life, heart racing, jump out of your seat conversation.  How often does this happen in our buildings?  How often do we make it happen?  I was inspired to make it happen in mine.

Although it would be mini, modified, and optional, our first building edcamp was in the works for a while.  In fact Chris Basile, an amazing colleague of mine, came up with a catchy slogan to help us sell it: “Remember December!”  We had created video advertisements and purposefully only did raw takes.  We knew they would be funnier and full of mistakes, carrying this message; On December 18th at our teacher choice staff meeting, teachers would be given a voice; the whole time.


Capturing attention was a priority.

Motivated by The Power of Moments by Chip Heath and Dan Heath (and I had only just begun!), I was determined to look for defining moments that made our #edcampsemass conversation what it was so that I could make memorable moments for my colleagues.  I didn’t have to think too hard.  About halfway through our session, Brian McCann said the following.

“I’m not asking permission to be awesome and I’m not apologizing for being passionate.”


This statement broke the ice for all of us.  The second those words came out of Brian’s mouth, I knew I was in the right place at the right time that day, as well as in my career.  It gave us a push to unleash who we are, trust each other, and share our thinking.  This is what edcamp is all about.  After much reflection, I decided the “moment” I would spark for staff and administrators would be the actual experience.

It was important to hype up a couple of things before the big day; PIRATE and the power of conversation.  I met with my colleagues who committed to leading or exploring a topic and made sure they felt prepared to be unprepared.  I encouraged them to honor the discussions that would unfold.  I was simply providing the fuel and letting them drive.  I also wanted teachers to know they had immediate support from a few exceptional educators who not only bring their passion to work daily, but have certainly found their purpose.  I reached out to a few of my PIRATE friends and “Passion Pep Talks” were born.  Needless to say, they were a big hit.

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YOU are invited to add your own “Passion Pep Talk” Flipgrid video HERE to share your thoughts on bringing  passion to school.  And of course addressing my colleagues as “Elmwood Rockstars”  will hopefully inspire them to add their own.

With PIRATE themed decorations, snacks, and a lot of coffee, twenty colleagues showed up to the library ready to learn.  I spoke very little as not to take up precious time, and anyone who knows me knows I love to talk. This was, therefore, a challenge, but I stuck to it.  I shared Tony Sinanis’s thoughts about collaborating, replayed the end of one of the most exciting Patriots game ever, and thanks to The Power of Moments, left teachers hungry to discuss this question: “What is the game for students?”

From there, teachers as well as my principal dove into meaningful conversations around social emotional learning strategies, Breakout EDU, video creation apps, Seesaw, the PIRATE revolution, and Genius Hour, which included Thrively and Ignite Your S.H.I.N.E.®.  Although it was mini, modified, and optional, On December 18th from 3:30 to 5:00, Chris and I created an edcamp experience.  High on their priority list, teachers took with them something they could try with their students the very next day.  Most had walked in with only an idea of what to expect, and went home that afternoon craving more.

There is no better way to learn than from your colleagues! Thank you to everyone who shared- it was a great experience and I learned a lot!

I loved learning more about such exciting opportunities. It was so great to talk to my colleagues and to share their excitement – and my own!

I loved the enthusiasm brought today. Such a great change of pace and it was engaging. I would love to be able to do something like this again!

What I took away more than anything else was joy.  We not only learned from each other, but had fun in the process.  Time flew and the only critical feedback was that teachers wanted more of it.  Within this joy, I also witnessed laughter.  It hit me the value in bonding over laughs, particularly when administrators are in the room.  It’s good for the soul and it’s good for relationships.  I’ve learned it’s also incredible for productivity.

IMG_0373Teachers explored Breakout EDU together, sharing videos of students in action.

IMG_0372Do Ink, Chatter Pix, and Clips oh my! Many teachers shared ideas on how these fabulous video creation tools have (and could in the future) enhance learning and empower students. Immediately after this session, my colleague led another on using Seesaw to capture student learning including with the tools above.   

IMG_0367What’s in your toolkit? Chris Basile has created her own to help students regulate their learning readiness and was willing to share her research and creations!

Although a small group, we dove further into the PIRATE mindset and the impact on teachers, students, and administrators.

IMG_0377 (1)One teacher shared her Genius Hour experience and how Thrively and Ignite Your S.H.I.N.E® lessons within Thrively played huge roles.  Curiosity was sparked as well as a thoughtful discussion on how teachers might be able to make Genius Hour happen in their own classrooms.  It was such a rich conversation, it’s hard to identify who’s leading. 

DRvh2PXVAAEAhvgEdcamp style PD doesn’t happen without a CREW willing to be unconventional right along with you. (A second grade teacher who led sessions on video creation apps and Seesaw, is not in this picture but did one amazing job.)

Victory, right?  My answer is yes with a long road ahead.  Unfortunately, the way it has always been in many schools is we either unintentionally provide forgettable moments during PD or lose sight of the ones that mattered.  It’s time for the statement of “Wow, that was powerful!” to transform into the question, “When and how can we do that again?”  Luckily, several teachers did just that and their voices were heard.  Pushing for  change is certainly a challenge, but far from impossible.  With supportive administrators and colleagues, I will indeed “Remember December” and strive to not only honor conversations, but intentionally make them happen.

“No matter what your position, you can create change. If you are struggling to do so, maybe you’re trying to pick up all the snow at once. Just grab a handful, pack it tight, and then start pushing. Change is a lot easier when you’re rolling snowballs downhill.”- Dave Burgess (Rolling Snowballs Downhill)


The Power in Proaction


I’ve always been pretty emotional, which can be a blessing and a curse.  When something awesome happens, I scream with joy.  When music comes on, my body moves and I like to laugh…a lot.  But when you experience life with your heart first (an often vulnerable heart) simply put, it can be hard.

A quick swipe to the right and we have access to it all, the worst of what’s happening in the world.  Often a jolt to my system, I try to process and lately, this is becoming more challenging.  Admittedly, I’ve even pondered whether getting up in the morning and immersing myself in my work is a healthy distraction or a path of proaction.  Although it’s quite easy for me to become scared and certainly sad, I consciously choose proaction.

Two days after I experienced a minor concussion also happened to be just two days after a mass shooting.  Yet there I was, standing in front of our whole staff leading a crew of PIRATE teachers in presenting our MassCUE Conference take aways.  A contradiction to  something I consider a strength, I found it difficult to speak.  Knowing I wasn’t quite myself, I anticipated this and had practiced.  Luckily I found my way back to exactly what I wanted to say.  Completely out of tune with my title and yet beautifully connected, I spoke about humanity.

“I don’t think there is a person in this room who doesn’t go to sleep at night or wake up in the morning without thinking about the state of our country.  The kids who walk into your room every day will be leading us. Let’s teach them to be good at it.”

MassCUE stands for Massachusetts Computer Using Educators, but our take aways sail well beyond the title.  My MassCUE Crew is a group of human beings who attended a conference that spoke of empathy, empowerment, growth mindset, and global change. We came back inspired to share these fragile themes as well as the sessions that embraced them.  We came back bonded over ideas we can’t wait to implement.  We came back with a question for our colleagues and administrators.  “What can we do?”

As I continued my two minute introduction that of course turned into five, I complimented the teachers sitting in front of me on last year’s astounding state test results.  I also looked them in the eyes and said, “Your students may not remember their scores, but they will remember the journey.”  I am so proud to work with people who are helping children become readers, writers, thinkers, and problem solvers.  I am also proud to work with individuals who I can challenge to capitalize on what they’re already doing, who will listen to me say, “We need to meet our kids where they are as well as where they are headed.”

I asked them not only to accept a shift in mindset, but to act on it.  The amount of technology we have access to will never hold ground to providing students real life opportunities to use it.  I met teachers where they are as we talked about how it’s mind blowing that many of our eight and nine year old students are already on social media.  After all, we didn’t grow up like this.  At the same time, I brought them back to today’s reality, because our students are growing up like this.  Audience, connection, empowerment.  I encouraged teachers to not only think about how they can bring all three to their classroom but to themselves, because it starts with us.

Perhaps the best part of this experience was immersing myself in the voices of others.  I was able to segue into a video my enthusiasm twin, Chris Basile, created about her transformation with social media.  This passionate wellness teacher couldn’t be with us because she was presenting to over a hundred educators as Massachusetts PE Teacher of the Year on the very same topic.  As she shared her captivating journey, her message reached us within seconds.  Becoming a connected educator will not only change our lives, but the lives of our students.

As I sat back and watched the rest of the MassCUE Crew come up one at a time to share their take aways, I found myself in unfamiliar territory.  For the first time in years not only did it hit me that I wasn’t alone, but I knew I would never be alone again.  Each colleague in her own unique way spoke with excitement and humor, yet at the same time conveyed importance and even a sense of urgency.  And when you see a colleague passionately discuss sessions you actually led, it’s humbling to say the least.  Beyond that, it’s a sign that my “healthy distraction,” is indeed proaction and it’s bigger than me.

I am a technology integration specialist.  My job description on paper is pretty clear, but I can’t help but look past the print.  Nowhere does it say, must strive to be a transparent human being, spark change in others, and lead a crew of colleagues to lead our staff and administrators.  I take calculated risks and while I’m sure not everyone loves them, no one was preoccupied that morning when the MassCUE Crew spoke from their hearts.  Eyes and ears were on us.  Questions were asked, attention was grabbed, and also maintained.  Rather than distracted by us, teachers and administrators were engaged with us, and maybe even empowered to think about their own path of proaction.



Just Ten Seconds Can Save the Day


I love taking Lead Like a PIRATE challenges.  They continue to push my thinking as well as my actions. Beth Houf’s most recent challenge, in Honoring the Moment, pushed my awareness.

Whether you are a parent, educator, or both I imagine you can probably empathize with the situation I am about to explain.  Monday morning I dropped  my daughter off at school.  A typically happy six year old, she is usually full of conversation as we make the walk from our car to the front door.

This particular morning was different.  For the first time in what seems like years, she allowed me to choose her outfit.  Of course I chose the shirt above, given to her by a parent of a former student.  It made me smile and even laugh that I was the one selecting it.  Those that know me well I’m sure are not surprised by my decision.

A proud mom, I headed out of the house with my both of my kids.  The tears started as soon as we got in the car.  If only the weekend could be longer.  My daughter just couldn’t snap out of the Monday morning blues and all I could think was, “Too bad she’s not surrounded by the magnetism of #tlap and #celebratemonday” like all of us.  I had hope, however, that she would feel better once we arrived.  Unfortunately, she only felt worse.

Holding her hand as we walked, I suddenly remembered her shirt.  What an amazing opportunity to rise to the occasion and save the day.  Here I was, her “superhero” ready to give her my wisdom.  I told her that whenever she became sad to imagine me zapping my superpower of courage right through her hand.  I reminded her how much she loves school, that she had music in the afternoon, and that we could do whatever she wanted when we got home.  Absolutely nothing worked.

I began to realize as we approached the school that no matter what I said, her sadness was so strong that it outweighed my words.  She wanted me to stay with her and my mere presence was clearly escalating the situation.  Suddenly it felt like the doors, open and welcoming, were closing in on me and I was running out of options.  What was I going to do?  I couldn’t let her walk in like this.  The quiet crying was starting to break my heart.

I snapped out of my own fear, jumped into practicality, and gave her three choices.  She could try to be brave and just go inside, let me explain at the office that she was sad and see if I could walk her to class (although I told her this would make it even harder), or I could mention to her principal who happened to be standing right by the door that she was having a hard time. She chose the third option.  I was a bit hesitant as I didn’t want to slow down student traffic, but we went for it.

I remember speaking, but I didn’t have to say a word.  This principal, who admittedly I don’t know all that well, immediately sensed what was happening.  With open arms, she drew my daughter in, wiped her face with one hand, and consoled her with the other.  She told her that sometimes Mondays are just tough, that she would not only be okay, but that she would have a great day.  And that was it.  She took her inside and brought her to class.  My daughter was fine and she had a great day.

Here I was, my child’s “superhero” unable to do anything in my power to make her happy.  I realized soon after I left that maybe the best thing I could have possibly done was not only trust someone else to take over, but capture the moment she did.  Being in a serious rush I could have easily said “thank you” and walked away, but I didn’t.  I stayed and I watched.  Had I not stopped and paid attention, this beautiful interaction between my child and her principal would have slipped right by me.

In thinking about Beth’s recent post, I knew this unexpected moment was worth honoring.  This was a moment that reminded me about compassion and humanity in education.  This administrator led with both.

I challenge all of us to push ourselves to become aware of the interactions that fly by.  Whether we are watching them or making them happen, there is so much good that lies within the words and actions between us.  Whether it’s an administrator we hear, a conversation among colleagues, or my personal favorite, students talking to each other, let’s slow down and listen.  Let’s pay attention.  Let’s do something to honor what’s happening right in front of us.

I decided to write my daughter’s principal an email and I concluded like this:

The interaction I saw was only about 10 seconds, but that’s sometimes all it takes to save the day.  You did that for her (and me:) and I’m sure you do it for students and staff daily.

Have a great rest of your week and Happy Principals Month.

If part of our mission as educators is to catch what happens in those tiny unexpected fractions of time, those interactions that bring humanity and compassion, they can become a part of us.  We can honor them, show our gratitude, and spread their importance.  Just ten seconds can save the day.













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!