Don’t Be the Smartest Person in the Room


My granny always said, “You are the company you keep.”  Today, I have been in a room filled with greatness with my North Carolina Digital Leadership Coaching Network though the Friday Institute at NCSTATE.  Sometimes, I pinch myself wondering how I ended up there. As a person who seems to be, “the talker in the group,” I love sitting in among people who have so much more to share.  I admit, in the beginning, it was a little intimidating.  The people around me were throwing out buzz words, books, and methods that I had never  heard of.  When working on google suite, they would have something drawn, linked and shared before I could figure out what was going on.  The could throw out apps and extensions I didn’t know existed.  My first thought was, I am out of my league.  I have found myself just sitting and listening more than ever.

I quickly noticed that even though I didn’t quite know the terminology mentioned, they seemed to have a common love and desire for good teaching students and teachers.  I learned that this was a good time for me to listen and put the pencil to paper.  It is a remarkable feeling to be in a room full of people you want to learn from.  At times, my pen couldn’t keep up and I just had to soak it in.  Through conversations, break out sessions, and numerous beautiful group posters….I learned quite a bit.  Here are a few things I felt should be shared.

Relationships –  It does not matter what degree you have if you can not work with people.  Relationships are everything.  No one cares a hill of beans about your research if you don’t seem to care about the humans you work with.  This applies to students and adults.  Identify with the person first and then find ways to be helpful.  It takes me back to one of Sean Covey’s seven habits, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” As a newbie  in my school last year, I had a certain comfort level.  Although comfort was nice, I could not move forward with out really getting to know my staff.

Programs do not Replace People – In education, people are our most valuable resources. There is no program that is going to transform our practices and children.  As educators, we must keep in mind that it takes all hands on deck to ensure best learning environments for our children.  In the same hand, we must do all that we can to know how students learn and thoroughly understand what they need to know while under our care.

Technology is Not Just One More Thing – Friend, technology is here.  It is not going anywhere.  If you feel that there is no room for technology in your classroom, then you may be on the wrong train. It is a language of efficiency and creativity that we must learn to use ourselves and model for our students.  They already speak the language, and know that the world is at their fingertips.  We all need to work on curating what is great in the tech world and what could help students understand and experience concepts better.  Virtual reality comes to mind.  Remember when you could only experience the coral reef through images in textbooks or in real life?  Now through this tech tool, students can experience the coral reef in your classroom.

These are just a few things I have taken away from my experiences with the #ncdlcn.  I am thankful for these friendships and look forward to forging forward with these remarkable humans.  Today I left with a little bit of “brain hurt.”  I hope you can find others that give you that same feeling after a day of collaboration.

Questions to ponder: 

How could you improve relationships with your learning community?

What can you do to better understand who and what you teach? 

How can you utilize technology to control your digital narrative and perhaps make your life a little easier? 







Check Your Fear at the Door and Share


Consider schools ten years ago.  They are quite different than today.  Although the difference can be quite remarkable, have you ever considered how you got here?  How did you know to change?  Who influenced you to be who you are today as an educator? What made an impact on how you learned best practices?  When I first started teaching, I remember sitting through professional development and hearing colleagues share with me that we were just on the next “wave.”  At that moment, that particular wave was important, but something else would eventually carry our attention.

Although we have all experienced tons of waves, the essential questions remain.

What is best for students?  

How can I make sure I am doing what is best for students?

Of course we can talk data, and we can talk about mandates.  You and I both know that our peers are our BEST resources.   We have a campus of educators seeking the answers to these questions every day and answering them.  If you are reading this, I’m sure there is something that you could share that is working really well in your room.

I am not an advocate for cookie cutter classrooms,


I am an advocate for a culture of sharing.  

Just the other day, I witnessed something great going on in a couple of classrooms.  Later, I commented that they should share it with our staff.  They were so proud. My sweet, humble, rock star teachers shrunk and said, “No way.”  They knew what they were doing and felt afraid of how staff would perceive them if they were asked to share their best practices.  I was quickly mentally reminded that not everyone is the “loud mouth,” I tend to be.  Not everyone is comfortable speaking in front of their peers.  It is time to check your fear at the door.  When you find something that works great for your students, it may be the very thing another teacher is seeking.  We must rid ourselves of the notion that sharing is “pushing” our ideas on someone else.  Most of the fear we have of our peers is all in our head.  Win that battle of the mind, and check any perceived egos at the door. Everyone benefits.

When we share what works, we are fostering a culture of collaboration.  We are strengthening our relationships as professionals and banning together for the good of students and our profession.  By modeling a culture of sharing, our practices will show our students how the world really is supposed to work.

The truth is, there is no way any of us can do this alone.  There is no teacher alone on an island changing the world for good.  We are stronger together.  The next time someone shares something with you, acknowledge with a sign of appreciation.  Next time you have an “aha moment” in teaching, spread it like jelly.  If you still remain afraid of the wonderful humans on your campus, post it on twitter….they are invisible. 🙂  After all, #kidsdeserveit.

If you want to learn more about fostering a collaborative culture, I suggest these books:

Learning by Doing 
by the Kings and Queens of PLCs (AKA, Richard DuFour, Rebecca DuFour, Robert Eaker, &Thomas Many)

Pure Genius 
by Don Wettrick

Your School Rocks……So Tell People!
by Ryan McLane and Eric Lowe

What can you share that has been great this year?

Who shares with you that you could thank?  




The Finale is Here


When the school year begins, we find ourselves saying, “Before long, it will be Christmas.”  Once the holidays roll around, “Before you know it, we will be out of school.” As a child, I remember feeling like time moved so slowly as if it stood still.   I wonder if children feel the gale speed winds of change that adults do.  This year, I told my fifth graders that we had urgent business as the school year was going to fly by.  I assured them that there was so little time to learn so much.  They looked at me like I was crazy (this is normal, I’m a little on the crazy side).  Today, I reminded them of our conversation and told them that they were finally ready for middle school.

One of the number one complaints as educators is that we do not have enough time.  I agree.   What can we do to successfully send our students off to summer vacation?

I WONDER….. – If you haven’t already, inspire your students to create a list of “I Wonder,” statements to explore over the summer.  Create a common hashtag so that everyone can communicate their findings over break.  Igniting a sense of wonder and curiosity among students can kindle a motivation for learning like no other.  Share the website Wonderopolis with students to learn about the wonders of others.

STEM STEM STEM – Again, this shouldn’t be held just for the end of the year, but some haven’t quite gotten comfortable with project based learning.  There are no excuses now. The video streaming is cut off for testing, and you have got to harness the energy of these little humans in your classroom before they eat you. As a regular classroom teacher, I used to have a robotics week where students teamed up to create robots for particular tasks.  They loved it and willingly wrote, drew diagrams, and presented on their robots.  If that isn’t your cup of tea, try out the site Little Bins for Little Hands.  They have great ideas to help you get started.   little

Get Outside – Great teachers do this all year long, but if you haven’t had the chance…..remember that a classroom is where the learning is happening.  It can be outside too!  Brainstorm ways to break down the barriers into the great wide open.  If anything, just go out to read.  A yearly ritual of ours was to read a novel outdoors.  I ended the year with The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane.  We had several copies so everyone could read along. This magical book had us all captivated as the China rabbit, Edward, journeyed through good times and bad.  We always had tears flowing…… Connecting with the love of literature while in nature is something that students can do over break too.  Help them learn to treasure the outdoors and good books.

Children are World Changers – After the hustle and bustle of testing, we all need a little motivation…even children.  We always ended the year with a classroom program.  In the beginning, I scripted it all.  As a seasoned teacher, I handed the reigns over to students. They wrote their own parts.  The only part I dictated was the music.  They sang Lean on Me (Bill Withers)  and Man in the Mirror (Michael Jackson) complete with solos, duets, and trios……with a microphone.   This program afforded them a grand sense of pride, empowerment, accomplishment……and the mamas cried (we all know the true measure of success).

Time, you still have a pinch of it.  The finale is here. 

What are you going to teach to the last bell? 

How can you implement more projects like these throughout the school year? 

How do you want your classroom to be remembered once they leave you? 



Where Do You Find Your Joy?

“Marsha, how are you are always happy?”


“You are always smiling.”  I am honored to hear this from time to time.  When my dying day comes, I would like to be remembered as a happy person.  When students remember Mrs. Sirkin, a smile is a good way to be remembered.   The truth is, I choose joy.  To be happy is a choice.  Does that mean my life or journey is any easier than any one else?  I’m afraid not.  I am a firm believer in Newton’s Third law, and feel that it works in our mind as well.  For every negative there is an equal and opposite positive, we just have to choose to acknowledge one or the other the most.  There are a few tricks to this one, and I would like to share those with you.

Find Your Purpose and Keep it Sacred – Everyone has a different idea of their particular purpose.  My purpose is to change the world for good for and through children.  I take this job very seriously.  Do you remember yourself the first day of your teaching career? That person still exists and you should channel that version of yourself to help you remember your purpose.  Keeping a little reminder of your purpose is a great idea.  I have a 14-year-old photo of my very first kindergarten class framed in my classroom.   We all are unique, and we all have a God-given purpose.  I find that pretty cool, and do not want to disappoint.  When I find myself slipping away from joy, I spend time with children.  They are the best remedy.

Remember That Everything is Relative – Sometimes this is easier said than done, but it helps me not sweat the small stuff so much.  Someone always has a situation worse than your own, and survive.  This pencil poem comes to mind when thinking of relativity.


Joy is a choice.  It is not naive.  It is not ignorance. It is not easy.  Sometimes joy is not in a smile, but refraining from saying something ugly when you have the urge to.  I choose joy not because of who I am, but who I am striving to be. It is a choice to choose to find the silver lining and forge forward, because after all, our children are worth it.  The good thing, is that joy is contagious.  Spread it.

What can you do to help remind you of your purpose? 

Who do you have in your life that brings joy to the table?  

What strategies can you share about finding joy? 

How can you shift your thinking to choose joy? 

A Good Leader is Everything


We are always being asked to find the leader within us.  We lead our classrooms, our schools, our communities, and our homes.  What about the leaders in our lives?  Over the years, I have learned that a good leader is everything.  The leadership around you sets the culture and motivation for everyone in the building.

GREAT LEADERS KEEP STUDENTS IN MIND – One of my favorite administrators always had the question to follow the question.  “What is best for students?”  We all knew in meetings when debate arose that this question would help regain focus on why we were there.  When I was torn between one option or another, this question helped me think clearer.  Knowing that teaching is about the students should always be at the forefront of our mind, but sometimes our vision gets blurred and they appear as subjects, standards, and deadlines instead.  On my first day of my teaching career, Mr. McClure gave me the book, Discipline with Dignity.  He knew that my students would need a teacher who loved children through the learning process, and first year teachers tended to struggle with behavior in their first year.  By being proactive rather than reactive, he made himself someone that I often went to for guidance as a teacher.

LEARN YOUR STRENGTHS AND LOOK FOR WAYS TO HELP YOU GROW – Although I taught all subjects, I gained recognition as a strong math teacher.  I always looked for ways to relate it to other subjects and the real world.  As we adopted Common Core, I noticed students catching on and sustaining math practices like never before.  I found myself defending and explaining the core around my community and other professionals.  Knowing this, my administrator signed me up for Math Foundations.  She knew that I had the “how,” but the “why” was more difficult to articulate.  Although I consider myself a very motivated person, I have always found it helpful when the leaders around me help guide and inspire me to push my comfort zone.  With out a good leader, risk taking can get stifled.  When applying to be a part of the North Carolina Digital Leaders Coaching Network, I had to ask permission from my administrator.  She knew that the partnership with this cohort would help me as a learner and benefit our staff and students.  I am forever thankful.

SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF SO YOU DON’T HAVE TO – School systems can have quite a bit of red tape.  Red tape makes it difficult for teachers to take risks and try new things.  I remember bringing an idea to my administrator.   She received a, “No.”  I recall stopping in over and over again.  She would say, I still have a no…”but I just haven’t asked the question the right way.” Eventually we got a YES.  Honestly, I can’t even remember the red tape she was cutting for us, but I do remember the time and endurance she had taking care of it.  Good leaders do this all of the time.  Red tape will always be there, unfortunately.  A good leader can advocate for you to move past it towards what is best for students.

SEEK EXCELLENCE IN HIRING – This is a big one.  Looking back, I feel very fortunate to have been hired by the leaders in my life past and present.  There is a teacher shortage, but does that mean we should lower our standards?  The answer is a simple NO.  We should seek teachers who not only love teaching, but those who think forward for schools and students.   I remember being hungry for each job I’ve applied for.  Every day I work to prove my worth to my students, colleagues, community, and leaders around me.

APPRECIATE TRUTH – Somewhere along the way, our culture has created a mindset where others are encouraged to be less than honest when a mistake is made.  A good leader appreciates the truth.  A good leader notices the effort it takes to set pride asides and admit mistakes.  We all make them and good leaders appreciate good old fashioned honesty.  When that honesty is present, the culture of a school is more positive and progressive.  When teachers are not afraid to admit truth to their leaders, they are more likely to teach honesty to their students.

FEED THEIR PEOPLE – I could go into the metaphorical “feeding,” but you already know about that.  A good leader knows how to get the food to the table.  Some of the most meaningful conversations I’ve had with colleagues and leaders are over food.  Whether it be a celebration meal or a meal in the workday, food always serves as a catalyst for a culture of caring.  Our PAC, a parent group, brings us freshly popped popcorn every Wednesday.  Everyone looks forward to it. Recognizing and providing one of our most basic needs as humans brings us all together for good.  I fondly remember meals provided by Dr. Sharon Ritchie with the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute and FirstSchool.  When we traveled to Chapel Hill, she frequently invited us to her home for dinner the night before.  I remember thinking, “This lady is a national leader in education and she making me a pot roast.” We had some of the best conversations about student learning and schools over those meals.  They were never hurried and always appreciated.

REMEMBER,  WE ARE ALL HUMAN – Every good leader seeks ways to identify with others.  No one is perfect, and everyone makes mistakes.  I tell my students is okay to make mistakes as long as you learn from them.  Mistakes are how we learn.  Great leaders know and recognize that those around them have lives outside of the classroom.  Great leaders understand that life happens, and we are all a part of it.  Last year, my family was hit hard with a job loss.  This was devastating.  My administrators were so supportive during this time.  They offered support and encouragement when they noticed me at my wit’s end or looking a little on the tired side.  I will never forget them.  Not only are we all human, we are all family.

KNOW HOW TO HAVE A LITTLE FUN – I couldn’t end a blog without this one.  Good leaders are not always uptight.  Good leaders know how to show their fun side.   It is easy for us to put them on pedestals themselves and forget their humanity.  I remember someone suggesting her concerns about being “friendly” with others working for her.  In my opinion, that could not be further from the truth.  When others collaborate and solve the world’s problems together, friendships form.  Whether it be jamming out, in the dunk tank, dressed like a turkey, or laughing at ourselves these incredible leaders know the importance of work and balance.  My husband, a great leader himself, used to say to his employees, “Work hard, play hard.”  The greatest leaders I know have found a good balance with this, and have stained the greatest memories in my brain.

Most of these attributes were followed by examples of administration.  They also apply to so many more leaders in my schools, church, county, and state.  There are even great leaders that I look up to in my PLN. I’ve found that I gravitate to leaders and learning experiences. Thank you for giving me time to reflect on their best qualities.

Only two names are mentioned in this blog entry.  This is simply because so many of them have these attributes and there were names that you would see over and over and over again.  You know who you are. 😉  Consider yourself appreciated.


What are great attributes that you have noticed in the leaders around you? 

What are leadership styles you are most successful with? 

Which of these attributes could you work on as a leader?