Why I Write in 2016

Every October 20 is National Day on Writing. I first learned of the day last year through various blogs I follow, which led me to the NCTE page linked above for more information. Last year I wrote about why I write, and as I reread it today, I still feel the same. But I’d like to reflect on additional reasons I write this year.

I’ve recently been participating in the #IMMOOC, a massive open online course based on the book The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros. In this setting, I’m writing to make deeper connections with the content of the book and the other MOOC participants. I’m writing to add my thoughts to the collective discussion about innovation in schools. The more I write, the more I get to know others in the course. I’m also reading and commenting on more blogs than ever before, as I want to see how others are expanding their understanding of innovation in this context. I appreciate that this reading and writing is leading to new relationships (often through Twitter connections) with new educators across the globe.

The longer I’m in leadership roles, the most important I realize that trust and relationships are. For any endeavor to succeed, especially long-term, people need to trust in one another, in their leaders, in their own abilities (self-efficacy), and in the abilities of their peers and students. It takes time to build trusting relationships.

It takes more time than writing a quick tweet, text, or email.  While I love writing, and it is definitely my preferred method of communication in many settings, I know the value of face-to-face discussions.

After exchanging various introductory emails with my new mentor, from the AASA Women in Leadership Initiative, we both knew we would prefer to meet in person. Since we live across the country from one another, we had to make due with a phone call for our first conversation. We both agreed that we would like be able to talk face-to-face throughout the year, so Skype became our next option.

We could have written about the same ideas, over a variety of email exchanges, or even in a collaborative Google doc (now called GSuite I understand!), but we reached our desired outcome quicker and more collaboratively with a real conversation. I followed up our chat with a written summary in a shared Google doc (because I still love writing!), but it was more meaningful knowing we had a shared understanding of the ideas we had discussed.

Writing is an amazing communication tool, but even an introvert like me knows it can’t replace authentic conversations with real people.

Why do you write?

How do you know when you need to go beyond the pen and paper or keyboard and screen for a face-to-face meeting?

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Characteristics of Adult Learning Environments [#IMMOOC Week 3]

I am participating in a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) with hundreds of other educators across the globe, about The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros. These are my reflections for Week 3. 

In Chapter 7 of The Innovator’s Mindset George suggests 8 things to look for in today’s classroom, “the characteristics of learning environments that inspire innovative thinking”.


When I think about this list, I wonder how many learning environments for staff (adult learners) have these characteristics. Do professional learning opportunities for staff include these?

I’m not the first to make this connection and this is not the first time I’ve explored this idea. When I wrote about supporting instructional coaches, I included voice, choice and reflection as key elements for adult learning. In Factors of Motivation and Engagement, I dug into the CA ELA/ ELD Framework, and the suggestions they make about engaging learners. The framework highlights choice and self-assessment and relevance. While this list was designed for students, I wrote about considering the ideas for adult learning as well.

If we want our students to be innovative, our teachers must model the way.

If we want our teachers to be innovative, our coaches and leaders must model the way.

If we want our classrooms to look innovative, we must first consider what our staff meetings and professional development workshops look like for adult learning.

How are we modeling the way?

Here some questions to consider when designed professional learning opportunities for the adults in our educational systems.


  • What do the adults in your system want to learn about?
  • How do the adults in your system learn best?
  • Who among your teams has expertise/experiences to share?


  • How do you provide opportunities where adults get to choose their learning focus for the meeting/day/workshop?
  • How do you design adult learning opportunities so that adults can make their own choices?

Time for Reflection

  • When do you provide time for adult learners to reflect (alone and with peers)?
  • How do you encourage reflection in the adults within your system?
  • How do you model reflection (blogging, Twitter, journal, etc.)?

Opportunities for Innovation

  • What are the adult learners in your system passionate about?
  • How do you tap into the ideas of individuals to enhance the learning of others?
  • How could you create an “Innovation Day” for adults?

Critical Thinkers

  • When do you provide opportunities for adult learners to have meaningful conversations about ideas in order to receive feedback?
  • How can you encourage critical conversations and constructive feedback that challenges ideas and not people?
  • When do adults respectfully challenge the ideas of others (including rote curriculum and past practices) in order to help all move forward?

Problem Solvers/Finders

  • How do you engage the adult learners in becoming problem finders and solvers within their own classroom/ school/ district/setting?
  • With all the data we have at our finger tips, what problems do the adults see as needing immediate attention?
  • What problems of practice do staff members identify?


  • How can adult learners be engaged in professional growth, instead of a once a year evaluation?
  • How can adult learners create their own portfolio demonstrating their learning and growth across a school year?

Connected Learning

  • How are the adults in our system connected to something bigger than their own classroom/ school/ district?
  • How could a Google Hangout or Mystery Skype be used in a staff meeting?

I love that rereading The Innovator’s Mindset is sparking new connections for me. I have always used this blog as a way to reflect. As a leader who works with adults in professional learning opportunities, I am always looking for ways to innovate adult learning in education.


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[Mentor Text Monday] ROYGBIV

The “mentor text” for this post is actually just an idea- an idea to use all the colors of the rainbow, ROYGBIV, in a blog post either through words or visuals.


The amber brown of my tea looks up at me from inside of my large coffee mug. The white mug, a gift from a good friend, shares a simple green message:

Actually, I can.

As I ponder the message, and stare at the blinking cursor on my computer screen, I think about all that I can do.

I can write, for work and for fun, for reflection and relief. My typed words, in the usual black font, fill up pages and pages.

I can enjoy a beautiful sunset.


I can stand-up paddle board, on the blue waters of the San Diego Bay.


I can keep calm and carry on.


I can Tweet my ideas out to the world, a great way for introverts to communicate with large groups!


CCC licensed work

I can stop and smell the flowers.


I can find inspiration in so many places!

Bryce Canyon

What can you do?

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Rejuvenate Update #3

Rejuvenate is my word of 2016. While I haven’t blogged much about it, it’s still been a focus in my life. Every time I solve one medical mystery in my life, another one appears. With each new discovery, I remind myself to slow down, breathe, and sometime meditate.

Because of a recent foot injury, I had to give up my daily treadmill walk. I decided to finally return to yoga after a long absence and it has helped rejuvenate my soles and soul.

A recent weekend away with a friend also rejuvenated my spirit.

Sometimes it’s the little things that matter- enjoying homemade cupcakes, playing with little kids in the bright sunshine, or reading a great book simply for fun.

Rejuvenation is an on-going effort in my life, connected to seeking balance, mentally and physically and emotionally.

I’m still focused on my word.  What’s your word this year? How has it helped you?

Rejuvenate 2016


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September Reading Update

There was no August update because I didn’t finish a single book in August.😦 Here are the books I read in September.

  1. The New Jim Crow by – After the national discussions about continued police events and the efforts of the Black Lives Matter movement, this was a must-read book for me. I believe that every educator, every American citizen, would benefit from reading this book. The book covers the history of our criminal justice system and the role the “war on drugs” has played in imprisoning exorbitant amounts of black men in the past three decades. There are so many statistics in here, I sometimes felt like I was reading the longest research paper ever. My heart and soul ached while reading many of the sobering facts. The author’s call to action at the end is for us to begin a dialogue and plan real action. I would love to talk to anyone who has read this book.
  2. The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Shumer- I listened to the audio version of this book, read by the author. Though I don’t know much about her comedy, the book was funny and entertaining. Her chapter about what it’s like to be an introvert was spot-on, and exactly how I feel so often. Extroverts would benefit from reading that essay!
  3. Make Me (#20) by Lee Child – It’s a good thing I’ve been keeping my reading lists this year, because I can never remember which Child books I’ve already read. In this story, Reacher gets sucked into a private investigator’s drama and travels all over the US in search of a missing PI. I was fascinated by the research around the “Deep Web” in here, and the underbelly of shady activity online.
  4. Adnan’s Story by Rabia Chaudry – As a longtime addict of the Serial and Undisclosed podcasts, of course I had to get this book! I listened to it, read by the author, who is now a familiar voice thanks to the podcast. After all my addictive podcast listening, I did’t expect to learn much new information in this story. I was pleasantly surprised to hear new facts of the case, and to see a personal side to both Adnan and Rabia. I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoyed Serial!
  5. in a dark, dark wood by Ruth Ware – Thanks to my cousin for the loan of this fun mystery! It was scary with a good twist that kept the action moving. Each of the characters was so real I found myself rooting for them and disliking them in equal measure.  I love when authors begin in the present (knowing about a death/murder) and then flashback to the events that led to the big event (which slowly develops the mystery of the story).
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New AND Different #IMMOOC

I am participating in a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) with hundreds of other educators across the globe, about The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros. 

The blog prompts for Week 2 are:

  • In Ch. 1, innovation is defined as a way of thinking that creates something new and better. What are some examples that you consider innovative? How is it new and better than what previously existed?
  • Review the “Critical Questions for Educators” in Ch. 2. Why are these important to understand those we serve in education? What other questions would you ask?
  • How do you embody the characteristics of an Innovator’s Mindset?

I want to address each of these prompts, so this might be LONG!

When I think of innovation, one local idea that comes to mind is an idea innovated by a colleague, Mari Venturino, and her friend Justin Birckbichler. They loved the idea of Breakout EDU games. After trying them with their students, they took the idea and innovated a new version: Breakout EDU Digital. In the original Breakout EDU game, players need to have lock boxes with clues to solve to unlock various locks in order to find the “prize” inside. These games are fun and interactive and being used in PD and classrooms all over. Mari and Justin made the idea new and better by digitizing the concept. Now players don’t need the physical materials, as the “locks” are online. You still solve clues but you can open the lock when you type in the correct answer. Not only is this a lower cost option, but players can also play virtually, instead of being in the same room at the same time.  In fact, they even hosted a live Breakout EDU Digital event with players from all over working to solve puzzles virtually. I have broken out of a Breakout and a Digital Breakout and they are both fun learning opportunities!

As a principal, I often had to innovate inside the box, as George addresses in Chapter 2. I was constrained by the hours of the school day and the budget I was given, and was told that most schools did PD at their monthly staff meetings.  I knew that my teachers needed and deserved more professional learning that that, so I made a change. First, I called staff meetings “staff learning time” and I emailed out any information that didn’t need to be discussed face-to-face.  I then began to use my budget to provide release time for teachers from a grade level team to come together for Lesson Study. This took the idea of collaborative planning and turned it around- the collaborative planning happened as a team, first thing in the morning. Then, as a team, we went into one classroom and co-taught the planned lesson. After the teaching, we debriefed about the students’ learning and made adjustments before going into another classroom and co-teaching the revised lesson to a new group of students. Not only was this different (new) than the traditional planning the teachers had done in afternoon meetings, but it was better (according to them and student results!) because:

  • we all owned the planning, the students’ learning, and our reflections
  • we began to create a common language about our pedagogy and our students’ learning
  • it highlighted the different strengths that each team member brought to the process

When I became a Director at the district level, I wanted to do something similar with the site-based instructional coaches I supported. But our work was less around designing lessons and more about observing practice and providing feedback and support to teachers. I took the idea of Instructional Rounds (from the book by City, Elmore, et.al.) and re-purposed it for instructional coaches. We formed small groups and visited various site’s together, focusing on site-based problems of practice and how coaching could address the strengths and needs we saw as patterns within our observations.  This was new and different from the traditional model of peer observations or coaches working in isolation.

This collaborative learning was powerful for the entire group of educators and reminds me of the points that Shawn and Brady made in the Week 2 podcast. It is so important for district staff to be out in classrooms, seeing the teaching and learning in action. How can we make decisions that impact curriculum and instruction if we never see those things in the hands of students and teachers? I love the idea of #500C (visiting 500 classrooms a year) and I am proud that I have visited 82 classrooms in my own district and 16 outside of my district so far this year.

The Critical Questions for Educators in The Innovator’s Mindset make me reflect on adult learning and the educators who are in staff meetings, PLCs, and other professional learning opportunities. Here are my versions of George’s questions with a few more of my own.

  • Would I want to be a learner in my own professional development workshop?
  • What is best for this teacher/leader?
  • What is this educator’s passion?
  • What are some ways we can create a true community of practice?
  • How did this work for our teachers/ leaders?
  • What strengths do our teachers/leaders bring that we can highlight and support?
  • How can we learn from our colleagues?
  • How can we share best practices across our system?

Created by @sylviaduckworth based on  The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros

The 8 characteristics of the Innovator’s Mindset are a great place for educators to reflect on their own journey towards innovation.  I agree with Katie Martin in that reflection becomes more important the longer I am in this work. Reflection is a key element in adult learning theory and a step we would be wise to build into all professional learning opportunities.

In the first semester of my doctoral program, a professor advised us to start a “leadership journal” and to write in it every day. We spoke a lot about how leadership can be isolating and how important it is for leaders to reflect on their work. I started that journal on September 29, 2012 and I’ve kept it going for four years (though not every day). In addition to that internal reflection, I use my blog as a way to reflect and create as well.

When Katie talked about risk-taking, I was reminded of so many teachers in the era of NCLB. Many teachers were forced into the box of “teach the curriculum with fidelity” which often meant “read from the Teacher’s Edition and do not deviate”. This time period took away creativity from teachers.  Now that we’ve moved past that time, many teachers are scared to take risks.  Some will say things like Katie mentioned (“They won’t let me!”). These teachers put themselves in the boxes they complain about out of fear; they’ve lost confidence in their own creativity and innovation because they were told that was wrong just a few years ago.

Leaders can facilitate an innovator’s mindset for teachers by modeling the way, by opening the doors, and by letting teachers know they don’t need permission to take a risk! This would be both new AND different for so many teachers and leaders.  It’s time, don’t you think?



CCC licensed work by aitoff on Pixaby.com


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Knowledge Revisited

This morning I read this post about knowing and learning. Couros takes the ideas about fixed mindset (I don’t know) and growth mindset (I don’t know YET) and then adds in his innovator’s mindset (This is what I’ve created with what I know) to ask us to go beyond basic learning.  The post made me think for a number of reasons.

YET. About four years ago, when Dweck’s work about growth mindset was just coming to our schools, I was working with Stephanie Harvey and she strategically used the word yet to help our teachers a) move into a growth mindset and b) stop referring to our students as “low readers” or “under performing” or other labels that often seem to limit our beliefs in students’ potential.  The word yet became very powerful and a way for us to have difficult conversations about expectations for all students.  I still see value in helping students, teachers, and leaders recognize that while they may not know something YET, they have the potential to learn.

Couros’ idea of the innovator’s mindset is also meaningful to me. I know that I personally learn best when I have quiet time to reflect on my own, time to write (my favorite way to reflect), time to talk to others about the learning, time to see the work in action, and time to apply the new learning.

I think about how I learned Spanish. I began taking Spanish in 7th grade. I visited Spain twice in high school and was able to use my new learning in authentic ways, though I was by no means bilingual YET. By the time I graduated from high school, I knew I wanted to be a teacher. At my university I had to major in a content area, so I chose Spanish because it was my favorite class in high school! Many of my university classes in Spanish did little to advance my knowledge. I studied verb conjugation in order to pass exams, but I wasn’t getting better as a Spanish speaker. It wasn’t until I spent a summer studying abroad, at the University of Salamanca in Spain, that I began to realize how much I knew. Every day that I spent using my Spanish, solidified my learning.

When I became a Spanish teacher, I had a new layer of application added to my language skills.  By learning how to break down the language for new learners, I was able to use my knowledge in more ways. I also began to teach Spanish in ways that were different than the ways I learned in some of those classrooms. Twenty-nine years after my first Spanish class, I am still a Spanish speaker (and reader and writer when I need to be!).

In the comments section of Couros’ blog about this topic, Chad linked this article about knowledge. The article talks about how much we “learned” in high school or college but then can’t remember years later. It also talks about the importance of the knowledge that did stick.  This line stood out to me:

Naturally, knowledge sticks if it’s revisited

My example of how I learned Spanish is clearly an indicator of knowledge that was revisited over and over again.

I appreciate when someone else’s blog can make me think this much about a topic like learning. Please share in the comments your thoughts about knowledge and learning and mindsets.


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