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?


Connect Globally – You Won’t Regret It


I grew up in a small town.  Correction, a wonderful little small town.  I had no idea about the world surrounding us.  My first internet experience was the dial up senior year.  My technology class was on typewriters.  My how times have changed. The photo below is a slight exaggeration. I have always had this driving force to see more and do more.


In college, I had tons of opportunities to meet others from all walks of life from all over the world.   They helped, but it wasn’t enough. Senior year I remember suddenly feeling like a failure.  What happened?  When was I going to see the world? Why hadn’t it happened yet?  During a senior lecture, there was a call for volunteers to participate in student teaching in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico.  Little language was necessary as it was an English immersion school.  It was AWESOME.  During my time there, I got to  Captureexperience first hand what it feels like to be out of the comfort of my own native home.  I learned that it was necessary to lean on the kindness of others to get from a momentary point A to point B.  I made family there and will love them forever.  


Last year, my fabulous neighbor and writer, Helen Aitken, invited me to accompany her to Spain. We were on a tour bus with nearly fifty others from all over the world.  Initially, I thought it was a trip about Spain, but I learned so much more about so many more places with these wonderful people.  We made friends with others from India, New Jersey (lol) , The Philippines, Australia, England, and South Africa. Thanks to Facebook, our friendships continue to flourish. sangrada

Recently, my husband and I, took our second mission trip to Costa Rica.  These past trips have been very special as we have been with the same people both trips.  We were able to reconnect with those we worked with before as well as see the fruits of our past labor. kitchen They were more than friends there.  They made sure we were well fed and guided us in our work and servitude.  There is nothing like waking up in at sunrise, having an incredible cup of coffee, working yourself to near exhaustion, and gathering in the evening for a good meal together.  The best days were when we had worship services to to go with it.  Our friends there are family.  Their community is our community.


When I am in the classroom, I have a little bit of Mexico, Spain, and Costa Rica with me.  One thing that has stuck with me since day one of traveling, we aren’t that different. The best way to describe it is through Mem Fox’s, Whoever You Are. mem

I consider those wonderful humans when teaching the importance of global citizenship.  There is still a big big world to explore.  I may not see it all in my lifetime, but I want my students to feel empowered to learn all they can and establish relationships with humans all over the globe.  Luckily, through technology, we can plant the seeds through Skype, Twitter, Facebook, and any other social media out there.

The world is shrinking folks, and our neighbors are closer than ever. 

How to you teach global citizenship? 

What resources can you share to help connect the world with your classroom? 


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?