Half-Present to ALL IN


Have you ever been in a meeting where you were there in body but not in mind?  Think about what you were doing at that moment.  What was going on?  Who was doing the talking? What was it about?  How did you feel about it?  We’ve all been there…..half-present.  Whether you are in the education world or corporate, it is human nature to let your mind wander when you are less interested, unmotivated, or exhausted.    Now tune into a meeting where you were ALL IN.  What did that look like?  What did it feel like?  What sold you in the meeting?  Who was doing the talking? During these moments we see time speed by us, and before we know it…..it is over….. leaving us to wonder further on our own.

Everyone’s motivation for presence is different, and I could say that it changes daily for each of us.  Consider how this applies to our classrooms with students. They are with us every day.  Do you have half-present students? When you are working with small groups, are you ever concerned of their true presence?  With 1:1 technology, there comes a valid concern over, “What is happening on their screen?”  When marinating over this digital age problem, I’ve resorted to the basics of analog classrooms.  Earlier, how did we know that students were really reading when they were looking at a book? We didn’t. I brought out the shelf of my old standbys prior to Twitter and Pinterest for ideas:

Image result for Alternatives to worksheetsImage result for What are the other kids doingImage result for Literacy Centers What Your other kids do during guided reading groups

The copy write of these spanned from 1992-2002 and the message was the same. Students must be provided opportunities to be creative and connect content to their real world.  The road from old school to new school may be a little more bumpy than you imagined, but the basics remain the same.

Favorable Learning Climate – Classroom climate, is very important.  Is it established as a place to learn, not just regurgitate information.  If your students feel happy to be there, they are more likely do their best.  Just as in the work force scenario, we all work harder when we feel valued and appreciated.  In the past, I have found more success when goals are set together.  Goals matter more to students when they have a voice in them.  Achieving personal goals does wonders for intrinsic motivation and can move mountains in your classroom.  Voice and Choicewrite it down and post it somewhere as a reminder to ourselves to include it throughout our day.  

Consider the 4Cs.  I know, I say it quite a bit.  By encouraging a culture of collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and creativity…..not only are you to have more buy in, but you are also going to help prepare your students for their unknown future.  I hate to break it to you, but hours on end of math fluency practice, does not incorporate these.  Math fluency is important, but should not be taking up most of your students’ independent work time.  On the same note, the bulk of their time shouldn’t be reading passages and answering questions.  Extend knowledge gained  in literature by rich conversation among students and real world applications.

“Marsha, that is all well and good….but I am only one person, and I am tired.”  – you
Although it is really easy to lean on those level 1 DOK activities and programs, there are so many more resources out there that can help your work flow and encourage the 4Cs.  Let me help you.  

Seesaw – Look at how this student sorted his spelling words for Daily Five.  He sorted them and recorded himself reading them aloud.  This gives his teacher immediate evidence that he understands how to sort and read his spelling words for the week. Now is classmates can go in and comment with him about how they sorted their words.


Nearpod – I love the essential questions and immediate feedback of these lessons.  I also love that it has multiple modes of gathering understanding. They also have a really nice VR component.  How about allowing students to independently experience the world while you are meeting with small groups?  Nearpod is a great “safe space” to do so.  

Brainpop – I can’t say enough about Brainpop.  If you are only using it for video access, your students are missing out.  Now, students can create their own Brainpop styled videos to demonstrating understanding of concepts.  Image result for brainpop make a movie

Their concept mapping component is AWESOME!  I love how both give an image bank on each topic.

Image result for brainpop make a movie

I’m sure there are many more ideas and opportunities out there.  Ask your students. I encourage you to sit and have a conversation with your class about their “presence.”  Remember you are stronger together and will go farther if everyone is ALL IN.

I’d love to hear about great experiences in your classroom!

What motivates you?  

How does motivation relate to learning? 

How can we connect classroom content to the real world? 

How valuable is student buy-in? 

Would you want to be a student in your classroom? 


People Before Programs

Yesterday, I had a scheduled planning with a new teacher in our school.  Our plan was to go over the technology resources available at our school.  Excited to make the most of our time, I plowed through a grand grocery list of programs.  After 45 minutes, we didn’t still didn’t finish.  I felt like I had just ran a marathon.  I couldn’t imagine how my new friend felt. I became the “accidental diminisher”…….Sometimes as leaders our good intentions can diminish the enthusiasm of those around us.  It reminded me of this Wiseman Group infographic discussed at our North Carolina Digital Leaders Coaching Network pow wow (because they are my tribe).


How can I prevent from my new friend ducking around the corner when I round the hallway again?  There is no perfect answer to this question.  What we must realize is that people and our relationships are most important.  My sprint through the list will not stick.  Reflecting, a moment chatting about prior experiences, inspiration, and goals would have been the better road to take.  In the same sense, focusing on the learning and 4Cs would have been more appropriate. I love this infographic adapted from the children’s book Going Places by Paul and Peter Reynolds.  Click here for  a free poster.

Image result for above and beyond 4cs infographic

Technology for the sake of technology is no bueno.  When seeking the program or technology that best suites the needs of your students, consider these questions:  Does it help them learn better?  Does it make concepts more relevant to my students?  Which of the 4Cs does it incorporate?

Dear new teacher friend, I hope I didn’t scare you too badly.  I’m not too crazy, just excited about learning together with you and our students.  Coaches, school leaders, and world changers……it is okay to be excited.  Don’t kill your spark.  Remember, your spark is fabulous.  Use it to form great relationships to change the world for good.  People are always the solution, not programs. Keep on truckin!

We Must Have a Growth Mindset Ourselves #IMMOOC E1



This is first week of #IMMOOC with The Innovator’s Mindset.  Jo Boaler rocked this session as a guest speaker.  One comment she made really stuck with me, “If we want our students to have a growth m

indset, we must adopt that mindset ourselves.”  She also mentioned how learning changes our identity.  I couldn’t agree more.

Jo’s specialty is math as she has authored, Mathematical Mindsets. I love her perspective on how our approach to math instruction should change to better our society as a whole. By sharing a growth mindset with our students, everyone will continue to grow onward and upward.

Her approach applies to so much more.   Students must see us as learners with them.  I recall George saying, “In a classroom, everyone is a teacher and everyone is a learner.”  This contributes to an amazing culture of caring and excellence in our learning spaces.

This reminds me of a fun experience in second grade.  In second grade, students are in the final steps of learning to read as they prepare to go into the read to learn phase of their academic career.  I wanted to model the importance of practice and persistence for my students, but how could I do so when I knew how to read?  I had recently bought a blue guitar.  As a primary teacher, I spent many days incorporating music with instruction.  Learning how to play a musical instrument is quite similar to learning how to read.  It takes tons of practice and instruction.  As an awful guitar player, I brought it to my students and had them help me come up with a plan. They suggested I enroll in lessons and practice. My students were able to observe and encourage my growth along the way.  Interestingly, they called me out when they noticed my practice habits slacking. This helped me truly relate to students learning something completely new.

It was an incredibly humbling experience to show my struggle to my students. Identifying with them on this level taught them that it is okay to be challenged and it is not always easy.  The push through is totally worth it.

How are you connecting with your students?

How are you modeling change and growth mindset with your students?

What can you do to help foster intrinsic motivation among your students? 

You Can Eat a Whale…..One Bite at a Time

Image result for whale

At a young age, I learned to listen to my elders.  A few years ago, I sat in a funeral for a dear friend’s husband.  His son spoke about wise things his father said.  One of his wise sayings was, “You can eat a whale, one bite at a time.”  I live in a coastal community, so we have many things that can be said about the ocean that applies to real life.  This piece of wisdom has stuck with me from the moment it reached my ears.  There are certainly many times in life where we can feel like the tasks at hand are larger than a whale with no end in site.  I have found this to be true more times than I can count.  Being a mom, teacher, leader, reader, fun person and maid can fill a plate quickly.  In these situations we all have two choices: 1. Complain about it OR 2. Start eating the whale.  What good would this blog be if I didn’t have a few “eating” strategies?

  1. Stay Optimistic – Your tasks are part of a greater vision.  Remember that. Know that even if it may not be the most enjoyable task, it will be beneficial to others.   Remember that more is possible than impossible. If it has never been done before, then be a pioneer!
  2. Solicit Help – If your whale can be shared, find a few key people to help you carry out your task or goal.  I have a core group of colleagues who I know I can call on for just about anything without worrying about judgement.  Those friends are true treasures.  Remember to be this person for others as much as possible.
  3. Keep a To Do List – This has been one of my best strategies.  It feels so good to check items off of a list.  Recently, I’ve began using Google Keep as a tool for task lists.  I just love how it strikes through completed tasks.  It is the little things friends.
  4. Be Honest – This is so important.  Being honest is a time saver too.  By doing so, you don’t have to worry about back tracking and covering up or remembering truth.  Who ever said, “The truth will set you free,” really knew what they were saying.  It is okay to say, “I don’t know.”  Somehow we have become a culture where that seems taboo.  Those around you will certainly appreciate your truth more than deceit.  

I have been eating my own whales lately, and felt like perhaps this little phrase can be what helps you get through your lists.

Remember, nothing worth achieving is ever easy.

Keep forging through and doing your very best every day! You will sleep better at night and accomplish mounds of greatness!


What are the whales of your time? 

How can you change how you approach what seems impossible? 

Who can you surround yourself with for support?

Who can you support that may be eating their own whale? 

Culture is Everything


For so many, you are about to get started on a fresh new year.  The summer reset is more than a break.  It is a time to reflect on the past, sharpen your saw, and plan for the future.  I remember keeping a notebook of ideas nearby to jot down to think about as they new year started.  Often times, it consisted of bulletin board ideas and catchy ways to get everyone excited.  Those are all fine and good, but we must reflect on the things that go beyond the beauty of colorful room sets and carefully planned bulletin boards.  What are we going to do to improve the culture of our classrooms, school, and community?  Here are a few things I have allowed to marinate over the summer.

What are we doing to foster a culture of family?
Transitions are so important.  A strong culture of family can really help those transitions go smoothly.  This year you may have students who have never graced your campus before.  What are you doing to create a welcoming atmosphere for them?  Do they feel well informed.  Do they have a sense of excitement?  If your families can visit your school and leave a little more excited than when they arrived you have done your job.  I’ve been there, I have left buildings with a lump in my mama stomach.  It is so hard to get your children excited about transitions if you aren’t yourself.  Consider this with your registration, meet and greet, and open house activities.  As much as we like to point fingers, if a family leaves the building less excited, it is our fault, not parents.  Break down the walls of your campus.  Social media can be a powerful tool when ramping up the school year.

What are we doing to foster a culture of creativity?  
This is huge.  It has taken time for me to really wrap my head around what that truly means.  I have always been a fan of project based learning and incorporating the arts into my classroom day, but this demands more.  A culture of creativity requires voice and choice. There have been numerous articles floating around twitter about rethinking the first day of school and daily morning work.  Should the first day of school include you speaking most of the day?  I surely hope not.  The first day of school is your big chance to ignite your students’ love of learning.  Another interesting topic is rethinking morning work.  It used to be, the first fifteen to twenty minutes included students quietly in their seats working on a worksheet or journaling.  I have been guilty of this myself.  What if students could prime their brains with choice activities that encouraged discussion and creating with their peers?  Give the copy machine a break and get out the Legos.  Instead of quiet, there will be a healthy buzz of problem solving and sweet conversation.

What are we doing to foster a culture of collaboration?
No longer can we shut our doors and just teach.  There is so much out there and you will work yourself to death if you try to do it alone.  Besides, there are so many awesome experts just down the hall.  If we want students to learn together, we must model it as adults.  A culture of collaboration requires honesty.  We must be honest with ourselves and others about our strengths and weaknesses.  It is okay to not be awesome at everything, but it is not okay to do nothing about it.  Are we using our time wisely together?  Are PLC meetings sounding boards for complaints or are you looking at each others’ data and planning together?  A room of we is much more productive than a room of me.  This year, I stepped out of my comfort zone into the world of twitter and blogging.  That collaboration piece has opened so many windows of thought to help me really understand and value a culture of collaboration.

What are we doing to foster a culture of excellence? 
I’ve been in education for fifteen years.  That isn’t long compared to many. If I relied solely on my college degree to teach, I would be a terrible teacher.  Don’t get me wrong, I am completely honored to be an alumni of Appalachian State.  My degree does carry value, but that was just the beginning.  When we recite our precious mission statements that always include the phrase, “lifelong learners,” we can not limit that requirement to just students.  The questions remain the same, “What is best for children?” As we learn more and more about the brain and how children learn, the answer to that very question changes.  We must know our stuff.  That means we must continually be seeking the truth. What are you reading and discussing with your colleagues?  What are you changing in your school or classroom to better meet the needs of the students we teach? Are we preparing them for the unknown future?  If our idea of that is a packet of worksheets, we are sadly mistaken. As leaders, we must lead the way we want teachers to teach.  How can we shift our professional development to model this?

There are a ton of weight with each of these questions.  One thing is for sure, we can’t do this alone.   When we work on relationships with families, colleagues, and students we are not wasting time.  That time is a major deposit towards a culture that can not be faked.  By fostering these cultures, we are moving beyond the superficial surface of bulletin boards, landscaping, and welcome packets. You will surely feel a difference, and it is absolutely worth it!

What can we do to improve the culture of our classrooms and schools?  

What have you done that you are really proud of?  

What advice would you give others?