September Reading Update

There was no August update because I didn’t finish a single book in August.ūüė¶ 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 РThanks 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).
Posted in Reflection | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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, 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


Posted in Reflection | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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.


Posted in Reflection | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Quotes That Resonate, Volume 4

I will often underline key quotes while I’m reading professional books and mark the margin with a Q, which signifies a quote that resonated with me. After my recent reminder about the instructional core, from Instructional Rounds in Education, my first two quotes from are books I’ve revisited.

The Art of Coaching

Masterful coaches inspire people by helping them recognize the previously unseen possibilities that lay embedded in their existing circumstances. ~ Robert Hargrove (2003), as quoted by Elena Aguilar in The Art of Coaching (2013)

It is no secret that I love Aguilar’s work (if you are new to my blog ¬†you can read about it in My Coaching Beliefs and Core Values among many other posts!). What I love about this particular quote is the way it defines the work of coaching to be about the strengths and possibilities within each coachee. Coaching is about facilitating reflection for individuals, providing support when needed, and helping people see new opportunities in their familiar landscapes.



Image credit:

If students leave school less curious than when they started, we have failed them. ~ George Couros, The Innovator’s Mindset

I am participating in the #IMMOOC which is a HUGE virtual book study and discussion about¬†The Innovator’s Mindset and innovation in education. I first read the book months ago and even used a George quote in my first Quotes That Resonate post. I’ve written before about inquiry, and how young children are full of questions, but in a typical classroom, we see few student-generated questions (the older the students, the less questions). So many school experiences have been designed for students to follow the directions of adults, not their own curiosity. Through the inquiry work I led in my previous position, I saw a powerful impact on student learning. I hope that we are inspiring students to use their curiosity to drive learning, and I strive to do the same with teachers and leaders.

Teaching kids to write isn’t just something where you can turn down the lights, turn on some music, and say, “Write!” It takes really clear strategy instruction to lift the level of student’s writing. .. And that means teachers having opportunities to work on their own writing. ~ Lucy Calkins, “Remodeling the Workshop: Lucy Calkins on Writing Instruction Today” from Edweek (though I read it first in Kappan September, 2016).

If you know me in person, or have read my blog for awhile, you know that my love of writing is strong. Writer’s workshop training at Teachers’ College with Lucy Calkins changed the way I taught and coached. Calkin’s is an expert in the field of writing instruction and I appreciate her perspective on all things writing. Having worked at elementary, middle, high school, and college levels, I can say that many¬†educators have not had formal writing instruction themselves, nor training on how to teach writing to children. In addition, many adults I have worked with have a great fear of writing. I see adults struggle with and also embrace the writer in themselves through a district-wide blog that celebrates our learning community.

The United States imprisons a larger percentage of its black population than South Africa did at the height of apartheid. The United States now has the highest rate of incarceration in the world…~ Michelle Alexander in The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

Wow. Just wow. Talking about resonating with me. Reading these statements further cemented in my mind the need for criminal justice reform in our country. I already had this belief after the Serial, Undisclosed, and Making of a Murderer opened my eyes to the frequent miscarriage of justice that happens to poor, minority, and/or people with intellectual or physical challenges. So many statistics, with research cited, in this book are prompting me to question our national practices.  I appreciate when a text makes me question, makes me happy, makes me angry, and makes me want to take action.


These are a few quotes that have been resonating with me. What’s resonated with you lately?

Previous posts about quotes that resonate:

Posted in Reflection | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why Innovate? #IMMOOC

Thank you to George Couros, Katie Martin, and Dave Burgess for inspiring me (and hundreds of other educators!) to share reflections about innovation while we discuss The Innovator’s Mindset through the #IMMOCC.

In the first week’s video, Dave charged educators with the¬†“relentless pursuit for what engages our students”. ¬†In his book Teach Like a Pirate he also asks educators whether their students would show up to their classes if they didn’t HAVE TO show up. ¬†I would challenge principals with the same question about their staff meetings and professional development opportunities.

Two weeks ago I had the opportunity to hear Dr. Pedro Noguera speak at the San Diego Equity Symposium. ¬†Dr. Noguera asks us, a room full of educators, how often our students run home and say, “Wow! You won’t believe what I learned today! I have to tell you all about it!” The audience laughed, knowing how infrequently that must happen in most communities. ¬†Later in the symposium Dr. Noguera asked a panel of high school students (juniors and seniors) how often they ran home excited to share their learning. Most of the students had at least one learning experience they could remember. One. Learning. Experience.


Thanks George for the quote and image!

This past Saturday’s #satchatwc was all about innovation. One of the questions asked us when is innovation¬†worth the risk for our own personal growth. My response:

It’s easy to say it’s time to innovate. As a leader I know that it’s much harder to lead a learning community through a long-term change that is sustainable. ¬†This is why it’s so important to surround yourself with a PLN that encourages, supports, and challenges you to learn and grow in new ways.

This past weekend I had to have head shots taken for an upcoming opportunity. The photographer sent me over 80 pictures to review in order to narrow down to my top four pictures for editing.  I HATE looking at pictures of myself. I really hated looking at 80 of them in a short period of time!

I also dislike hearing my voice on tape/video. When I saw George’s charge for us to share a 30 second Twitter reflection about the introduction to his book, I panicked! ¬†These experiences reminded me of what George said in the week one video about disrupting our norm and about the importance of sharing our work publicly.

While I may not love my pictures or recorded voice (or each of my lesson plans or professional development plans), if others can learn with and from me, it’s important for me to share. When teachers and leaders are hesitant to share, I think it’s often driven out of fear. I know for me, the thought of others judging my pictures the way I did in my mind was scary! But in reality, we don’t judge others – we are excited to see great work happening around us. It can inspire us to innovate in new ways.

I guess this means I need to go record my 30 second video- you will hopefully see it on Twitter soon!








Posted in Learning | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Things I’m Loving Friday, Volume 19

On Fridays I like to share the things that help me as a leader and a learner. Please join in by sharing what you are loving lately!

  • Twitter, Tweetdeck and Hashtags, oh my! – I’ve celebrated all of these ideas in previous Friday posts. Today I love how these have built a community within my large district, and how more and more educators are connecting through the Twitterverse. I love seeing new colleagues find value in Twitter. This week one of our schools did a Twitter chat during their Tech Tuesday lunch!




  • The Instructional Core – In the book Instructional Rounds by City, Elmore, Fiarman and Teitel, the instructional core is defined by the interaction between teacher, students, and content, in support of a task that demonstrates learning (see visual below). I first read this book about 6 years ago now, and then spent a long time delving into the instructional core in my last job. At a conference last week, one of the presenters mentioned this as a foundation of their work and my first thought was, “How could I forget that?”. ¬†The instructional core helps ground leaders in discussions about what they are seeing in classrooms. It helps teachers in PLCs when planning purposefully to meet students’ needs. It helps students get clarity on the purpose of the tasks they complete.



These remind me that we don’t always need something new and shiny to motivate us. We can reflect back on books and resources we’ve used in the past and determine how they have relevance in our current work. Maybe these updates will become Flashback Fridays!

Posted in Reflection | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

We Don’t Know What We Don’t Know

Back in October of 2015, when I was interviewing for my current position, I brought up the idea of hosting an Edcamp in my district. Once I got the job I set out to build a committee of teachers and administrators who would be willing to make that vision a reality with me. I was able to recruit a core group of people to join the committee; only one of these people knew what an Edcamp was before our first meeting.

We held our first Edcamp at the end of August¬†and it was great! ¬†But this post is not about our Edcamp. It’s about how to bring new ideas to educators who don’t realize what they don’t know.

The educators I work with are talented, hard-working, dedicated professionals who care about their students and their colleagues. They get up every morning ready to do their best on behalf of students. Most of my district had never heard of an Edcamp before this year. Does that make them unconnected? Out of touch? Resistant to change? Behind the times?


There are so many great ideas happening in schools across the world. It’s impossible to implement them all and do anything well. It’s also impossible to know everything that could happen in a school. Our jobs are hard enough without collapsing under the weight of all that we don’t yet know.

One of the reasons I love my job is that I have the privilege to facilitate¬†new professional growth opportunities that educators¬†might not otherwise know about. I get to take initiative to create new models of adult learning. I have the ability to use my own Social Media connections, professional organizations, and personal learning to expand my repertoire and bring ideas to my colleagues. ¬†We don’t have to know everything as individuals, but the value of collaboration is that collectively, we can all benefit from each other’s expertise. ¬†That is also the value of events like Edcamps, where the learning comes from within the group.

How do you facilitate professional growth opportunities for yourself or others?


Posted in Reflection | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment