Author: Nili Bartley

Paving a Road to LeaderSHIP; a PIRATE Challenge Indeed

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After joining the PIRATE Revolution, I had never felt so excited to be an educator.  I was leading my kids in more ways than I could have imagined and by the end of the year, they were steering the ship. My special crew proved that what I once considered close to impossible was quite possible after all.

Life in the classroom was great.  I woke up every morning ready to jump out of bed and run to school (of course with coffee in hand!).  Turns out I wasn’t the only one who couldn’t wait.  Sneakers skidding down the hallway soon became my most anticipated sound as my students risked getting caught. Every day they raced to Room 202 hoping they would be first to enter the world in which we created together.  I remember clearly a smile of satisfaction from the student who came through the door first.  Out of breath, but gleaming.

If any group of students was going to inspire me to stay in the classroom, it was this one. If any group of students was going to push me to try something new, it was this one. Together we were passionate about making an impact, using technology and social media to influence and learn from others, and utilizing our strengths and passions. So when I was given a chance to share with other classrooms the opportunities we had grabbed, I took it.

Two years ago, I became the technology integration specialist for kindergarten through third grade, a role I soon realized I would need to define not only for others, but for myself. I quickly learned that when one classroom becomes forty five and teachers and administrators are depending on you, you can’t experiment with new ideas as easily as you once could.  I also learned that I wasn’t sure how to lead both students and teachers.

Admittedly, I wasn’t truly aware of my potential in leading colleagues when I was in the classroom.  I wish I had been.  I was willing to share like crazy and certainly take anything my neighbors offered up.  I was often thrilled to find a paper left behind at the copy machine with outstanding lesson ideas and I was happy to leave behind my own!  When announcing I was becoming a PIRATE, I even started my own book club. It wasn’t enough. I was so intensely focused on my students and the culture within our own community.

Diving head first into a position where I was now working with over a hundred educators was eye opening to say the least.  There were times I brought my ideas on too quickly and because of this, was often misunderstood or even rejected, and maybe even resented. Twenty four kids who not only know you, but seem to love surprises is a different scene. And I couldn’t quite wrap my head around this question: Was I in a leadership position?  It was a lateral change, no salary increase, and I was certainly not an administrator.  Then what was I?

I was determined to figure it out.  I decided to focus on building relationships and soon realized this would be my ticket to molding the kind of technology integration coach I would become. After all, sharing who I was and getting to know my students was always priority.  Of course, however, I ran into some roadblocks.  If your district is anything like mine, time is always an issue.  I felt I couldn’t reach teachers in ways I dreamed, and even worse, I worried they couldn’t reach me.

It’s the PIRATE in me that challenged myself to be resilient and to connect with educators in similar roles who are walking the walk every day.  It was when I spoke with Casey Echelmeier, former teacher now technology extraordinaire, that I shifted my perspective. Seeing myself behind what often felt like closed doors wasn’t working for me, so I decided to push them open and run through as fiercely as I had before.

I also became committed to reading the draft of Lead Like a PIRATE.  My first reaction for Beth was “This book is insanely good!”  I felt a new sense of excitement as I became glued to Beth and Shelley’s stories, tools and strategies they had so brilliantly put into practice, and challenges that forced me to think about my unused potential.  Their powerful message for every individual working in education (and in my opinion beyond!) hooked me in right away and kept me reading.  I knew it was time to dig deep, tap into my courage, and get creative.

What I once controlled in the classroom I am unable to control for two staffs and 900 students, yet I now believe in the power we hold regardless of our title.  It’s real and often times, quite fragile.  One must not only unleash it, but take good care of it.  It’s with this belief that I was able to write the statements below.  My hope is that they not only reflect my change in perspective, but address the challenges we so often face as passionate people who ache to share. In addition, I hope my words show the creativity I pushed myself to use in order to pave my own road to leaderSHIP.

I may not control when I work with our staff, but I LEAD with every part of my being during every minute I get.  

I may not control when I work with each class, but I LEAD by filling every second of teaching with empowerment. (and some humor!)

I may not make the BIG decisions, but I LEAD by reaching out to administrators, proving to them I can make a difference with my heart and mind.

I may not create the master schedule, but I LEAD by creating my own in hopes that I inspire 21st century learning in every classroom.

I may not control our school Twitter account, but I LEAD by convincing teachers to take the awesome they’re doing and share it with the world.  

I may not have written our mission statement, but I LEAD by putting students on a mission to discover what makes them unique.  

I may not be in charge of our school culture, but I LEAD by challenging students and teachers to be a positive contribution.  

As a result, BIG things are happening.  Our Wellness Department is not only rocking Twitter, but launching  a technology driven initiative with all second and third grade classes.  They have infused each of their units with BrainPOP Jr., Kahoot, and Quizlet Live. My colleagues are creating their own lessons through Google Classroom daily and although it’s occasional, are starting to contribute to our teacher Classroom.  Five third grade classrooms are piloting Ignite Your S.H.I.N.E lessons through Thrively and several are starting Genius Hour for the first time.

A first grade teacher is writing to our administrators with a proposal for a one to one classroom because she’s on fire with 21st century teaching.  She has brought more digital tools to her young students than I’ve ever seen before.  Right next door, her colleague is teaching her six and seven year olds to be innovators through passion based projects and STEAM . It’s classrooms like theirs that I run to capture learning through pictures, videos, and posts, because they are exploding with moments worth sharing and accomplishments worth celebrating.

I fight tirelessly for professional development time with staff and take advantage of every second I receive.  Whether it’s ninety minutes or five, I bring my “why,” and I help teachers leave fueled to create their own.  My schedule is busier than ever and staff members feel free to simply add their name in an open block.  They trust me to sell an idea, model a lesson, and support them when they take a risk in trying it themselves.

When I don’t receive that precious time, I turn innovation on full blast.  During every lesson I model, I show teachers how they can utilize a particular tool and we brainstorm ideas together. Each Thursday morning before school, I hold a “Delicious Demo” with coffee and music.  I advertise what I’m selling and every week people show up.  I create a “how to” video for those that can’t and throw it in the tech tip for the week. Even if only a few, those that come are inspired to share and we learn from each other.  Suddenly, there is hype around a new tool or approach spreading throughout the building and everyone wants a piece.

It’s still not perfect, but what in life is.  I have found my own way to lead and being a PIRATE educator has everything to do with it.  I can’t thank the PIRATE authors enough for empowering me in their own unique way.  With new inspiration from Lead Like a PIRATE (which I can’t wait to read as as an official book!) and Start Right Now (which I have only just begun!),  I understand our potential to lead is too important to keep to ourselves and too important to keep within the walls of our classrooms.  I’m still on an important journey, one I now consider as a leader who believes every voice should be heard, including her own.

I do hope to read posts from others who felt inspired to take on this motivational #leadlap challenge (and it’s never too late!).  Just click here to read Beth’s incredible post! I highly recommend it as I think you will find it just as liberating as I did.  Although I’m still paving my own road, I now have a clearer direction. I’m forever grateful to Casey Echelmeier, Jay Billy, and Beth Houf for always pushing me to go for greatness and nothing less.



Stretch Yourself!


“If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all,” a powerful line all of us grew up hearing.  It was the rule, but I realized recently I never quite stressed this rule with my students or with my own children. Why? The more I thought about it, I came to the conclusion that it ultimately keeps us quiet. Somewhere deep down I must have known this. It was a good thing to keep in mind, a traditional quote to maintain a peaceful environment, but also a line that built an atmosphere of holding back our voices.

I can’t help but imagine the number of missed opportunities where children have been silent instead of soul searching for something nice to say about a classmate. I can’t help but think if we watched my favorite “president” of all time, we might be in a better place. In his video, “20 Things We Should Say More Often,” Kid President tells us that if we don’t have anything nice to say, we aren’t thinking hard enough.

One kindergarten class is taking this seriously and turning otherwise quiet situations into moments of spreading positivity. Meet Mrs. Homan and her Superheroes of Kindness.

I walked into Mrs. Homan’s classroom recently to ask her students how their mission was going, one they launched with two other classes last month. I imagined they would give me the usual update, which typically consists of reporting the number of links in their kindness chain and examples of how they have been kind to each other. I was not prepared for what I heard.

They had gone above and beyond their call to duty. I discovered that her five and six year old students are learning to speak up whenever they have the urge to say something nice. It can even be while they’re working! Students explained they don’t even need to raise their hands. As long as they are not disrupting anyone’s learning, it’s free game with compliments. These young children are pouring love into each other’s buckets and at the same time, accomplishing their academic work with much success!

Mrs. Homan and I were so impressed we decided to give these moments of sudden kindness a name. When students now have an “On the Spot Kind Thought,” they have permission to go for it. Not only that, but as a reminder that it’s okay to give themselves the freedom to share their voices, the class often congregates to chant, “As long as you’re kind, no one will mind.” (as seen in the video above)

What are Mrs. Homan’s students saying?  Several ran right up to me just to let me know!


Yes, you can play with us!

 I like your necklace!  

Good morning!

 I like your shirt!

 I love you!

Thank you!

You can go first!  

I like your pony!  

I like your shoes!  

Here, you can have my book!  

You can play with my ball!

 I like you your basketball shirt.  

Wow, those are great E’s you’re making!

Fine, I will wake up:)

To our media specialist…I LOVE Library!

To Mrs. Homan…I LOVE kindergarten!  You’re the best teacher!

How do these “On the Spot Kind Thoughts” make students feel?  The whole class agreed that it not only feels good to receive them, but also to say them.  Students expressed to me that this is because they can actually see their classmates and peers smiling. The feeling of happiness is mutual and it’s clear students understand and, very importantly, hold high respect for this balance.

In speaking with Mrs. Homan at length, I learned that she loves experimenting, which I believe is key in doing anything great!  She wants her kids to learn that it’s good to give and repeats to them often that a compliment is the easiest gift to give anytime and anywhere, because you don’t have to buy it, shop for it, or wrap it. Needless to say, her students are eating this up.

At times they do need some prompting.  “Look around your table right now and give someone a compliment.” In addition, she began asking her table captains to look for and report acts of kindness so students can open up their eyes and ears right along with her. Just like with anything else, it takes modeling, practice, and patience.  After all, when you are attempting to amend a “Golden Rule,” one that’s been instilled in us for years, it may take some time.

Knowing this, it’s important to Mrs. Homan to connect social and emotional learning to classroom literature as well as to the theme of the month.  This month, her students are focusing on friendship so, of course, Rainbow Fish paid a visit.


Students were asked to not only share their perspective on the lessons in the story, but were also encouraged to use words to communicate friendship in their own way. To celebrate this idea, Mrs. Homan wrote every student’s most recent “On the Spot Kind Thought” and glued it to a picture of Rainbow Fish they had each decorated.

Notice that Rainbow Fish has only one shiny scale left.

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While the goal of teaching her students to give remains at the forefront of her day to day lessons, Mrs. Homan’s ultimate goal for her students is to notice the world outside of themselves.  I couldn’t have been happier to hear those words come out of her mouth as I recently wrote a post dedicated to unleashing the power in seeing our students and each other.  I think more than ever we need to do this now, especially if we are challenging our youngest generation to do the same.

Recently, LaVonna Roth (and if you don’t know who LaVonna is, stop reading this right now and follow her on Twitter!) advised me to keep stretching myself.  This powerful statement resonated with me.  I was inspired (after having a couple of not so great turnouts with Twitter chats) to continue to put myself out there, throw my whole being into the risks I choose to take, to share what I’m passionate about regardless of how scary it may seem; to stretch myself.  I was motivated to write a post about stretching ourselves professionally when working with each other and this is certainly still the plan!

The minute I walked into Mrs. Homan’s class, however, I knew this post would write itself first. In the beginning of the year, her students tended to complain a bit more and at times, react to situations with negative comments.  Mrs. Homan doesn’t see this anymore. Remarkably, her superhero students don’t hold their negativity in as we were taught to do for years.  They flip it around, challenge themselves to find something kind to say (which we all know can feel impossible!), and spread positivity. Mrs. Homan has stretched her thinking and because of this, her students are stretching their hearts.  I can’t think of expanding anything better.

Mrs. Homan’s class and I challenge you to stretch your hearts with your students and to see those around you more than you ever have before.  I can’t help but imagine the potential in this world if we push ourselves to be loud with kindness first. Remember, “If you can’t think of anything nice to say, you’re not thinking hard enough.” -Kid President

Thank you, LaVonna.  You empower people every day, because you take the time to see them and that’s everything.  You are certainly a part of my I in SHINE  and I can’t thank you enough for taking the time to believe in me.

And of course, thank you to Lourds Lane.  If it weren’t for the “superhero code” you so brilliantly and lovingly created in The SuperYouFUN, these special students would not be on the mission they are on today.


“We use our hearts to love, we use our eyes to see, we use our heads to understand, the superhero is me!”

I am pleased to tell you these superhero students are living this code every day.  I’m thrilled to continue their journey with them and their exceptional teacher, whose intuition for teaching is truly inspiring.