It Takes a Community to Raise a Teacher


Stylized Masai by Viscious-Speed

Here we are approaching the end of the school year.  When I was in the regular classroom, this was my best teaching season.   Our classroom mojo was at its finest.  With the warm weather came inspiration to expand our learning space to the great outdoors.   I recall the grand finale letter we sent home with the long list of dates when parents would be needed on campus. There was a particular joy and comfort of my colleagues.  We found ourselves planning together more and reflecting on the years’ past adventures.  The excitement of the past and future brewed.

Today, my son came home from the BEST DAY EVER.  He talked about going to every second grade classroom to learn something about Earth Day.  As soon as I was able to get the details from him, he grabbed the tape and a few things out of the recycle bin to make some more.  As I opened my email to write his teacher thanking her for that great experience, she had sent an email briefing us on the day and how they are going to do it again with a different topic. Terrific.  Now because of collaboration and creativity, my son is going to have another best day ever.  What more can a parent want? 

Looking back, my most favorite moments teaching involved people.  Planning with my team was so fun and productive. It was a meeting of the minds, and felt like magic at times. We challenged each other intellectually and built each other up.  We knew that when one of us had a great idea, everyone benefited.  Our students fed off of our excitement, and parents would appreciate the great dinner time conversations of the epic projects.  They loved participating and experiencing the classroom first hand.  The sense of community was monumental.  Everyone was a student and everyone was a teacher.

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We made famous American structures for the Hospice House Gingerbread Competition

No automatic alt text available.Perhaps the greatest collaboration of all time……HURRICANE WEEK. I’d like to equate the excitement of this project to shark week. The children built homes and then had to prepare them for an upcoming hurricane from goods and services provided by the community…..and map an evacuation route. During the hurricane, we cut the lights and had ice cream….so it wouldn’t melt of course! We would have never thought of this alone!

We turned our school yard into an enchanted forest for our grade level to perform fairy tale plays of their choice.  Sets were made and parents invited.  Even the most reluctant readers shined during this project!
With out a great team, this would not have been possible. 


Behind every great teacher is a great tribe.  Our human resources are our greatest assets.  Whether it be bouncing ideas off of colleagues, sharing research with friends, or participating in a great PLN……..we must know that we can not do what is best for students in isolation.  Our greatest moments involve the help and inspiration of others.  Whether you realize it or not, you are probably inspiring someone yourself.  Our peers, parents, students and community together are the perfect recipe for a great year.

What have been the greatest moments in your classroom this year?  

Who are those around you that inspire you? 

How can you strengthen your tribe? 

What will your students always remember about their year with you?  


Hammering on Cold Iron

“A teacher who is attempting to teach without inspiring the pupil to learn is hammering on a cold iron.”  Horace Mann

This quote was the prelude to a chapter in Teach Like a Pirate, by Dave Burgess. First of all, do you know Horace Mann?  I had to look him up myself.  Afterwards, in my guilt, I surveyed everyone in my path to find out they didn’t know either. To sum up a ton of quick Google searches…….HE WAS A CHAMPION FOR PUBLIC EDUCATION. His vision was for a public education for everyone.  A child of poverty, he overcame and knew where the fruits of hard work, dedication, and motivation could take him.

Now back to the cold iron mentioned above. We have all been there.  Sometimes those objectives are just uninspiring.  Sometimes the stress of the weight of the day gets in the way.  Sometimes the negativity of others drags us down. Sometimes we find ourselves just bored.  Everyone’s “ten” day varies from day to day.  This has an impact on our students.  Parents send their best child every day to school, and it is our obligation to bring our best selves.  Our best self is an inspiring one.

A teacher said to me recently, “I need some pizzazz in my classroom.” She had great intentions, but pizzazz is not what we need.  Glitter falls and fades away.  Inspiration is reaching into the mind and heart of each child and igniting a fire of motivation.

“Marsha, I know this, but how do I get out of this rut?”  – This has been asked so many times.  We’ve all had the champion speech.  But here are some quick tips to just try to prime your ability to inspire again.

  1.  Connect with your students.  – This always helps me calibrate and remember why I am in the building.  When you connect with them, you will learn about their interests and needs.  This will come in handy when making  their experiences relevant to them.  I always enjoyed a home visit to really connect with my students and families. If you really want to be brave, give your students an anonymous survey to find room for improvement.  Giving students voice after connection is so important.
  2. Try something new. – Think of one thing you would like to improve in your classroom.  Find the current research and experiment with new techniques and approaches.  This year, my “new” was the app SeeSaw.  This app is initially delivered as a digital portfolio, but has become so much more for my students.   By using this mindtool, my students get to experience real live digital citizenship.  They also get to be captains of the products of their thinking to showcase in their learning community.  When you try something new, you are modeling for your students what we all want to see in a lifelong learner.
  3. Find two friends. – Two?  Yes.  The first friend is going to be someone that inspires you to be a better human.  Find that person who really gets your thoughts turning.  Bounce ideas off of them and ask them about their professional triumphs.  The other friend is some one who could use a little lifting up themselves.  I have found my best inspiration and motivation through intentionally seeking others to help. Servant leadership is not easy, but it is the most rewarding.  I also feel that it brings about the richest results.
  4. Increase your PLN (Professional Learning Network). – Prior to about a month ago, I thought twitter was dead.  I used it during the occasional professional development to post a reflection.  It was also used rarely to post cool stuff about our school.  I had NO IDEA how helpful Twitter could be.  As a tech teacher, I use it to learn about current technologies and see how others are using them in the classroom.  Most importantly, I have made new friends around the world who inspire me to be greater for children and humanity.  THIS HAS HAD THE GREATEST IMPACT ON MY YEAR AS A PROFESSIONAL. I suggest a few of these hashtags to search and get started based on motivating educational books I’ve read recently: #innovatorsmindset #tlap #kidsdeserveit #Leadlap
  5. Remember you are already a champion! – Yes, this is true.  Remember that eager teacher on the first day of school.  You are still that person.  Unleash the beginning teacher in you and empower those children.  Show them that to stay relevant, we must continue to learn and change.  Don’t beat yourself up, and try to find a little fun on the way.  You may discover that you have been inspiring others all along.

Horace Mann was a champion.  You are a champion.  Inspire your students to be champions. Now that we all now know the legacy of Horace Mann, I leave you with some of his final recorded words.

“I beseech you to treasure up in your hearts these my parting words: Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.” – Horace Mann

The Impact of a Book

As teachers we are always encouraging our students to read.  Our students go to the library often in search of the perfect book.  I myself didn’t discover the love of reading until middle school.  I finally realized that teachers did not have to dictate EVERYTHING that I read.  Middle school.  Over a decade… took me to discover the power of a good book.

Fast forward (a short time) until now.  As parImage result for innovator's mindsett of the North Carolina Digital Leadership Coaching Network, through the NC State Friday Institute, I was handed this GEM.  Most educational books aren’t meant to “read aloud.”  This sentence captured my attention and now is placed on my desk as a reminder:

“We forget that if students leave school less curious than when they started, we have failed them.”  

I found myself picking it up at all times of the day and reading it to who ever would listen.  Funny enough, no one ran away.  My students would say, “You need to share that with my teacher,” or “Highlight that Mrs. Sirkin!”  I was able to model my love and excitement for a good book with my staff and students.  The questions quickly became, “What did you read today?” and, “I’m reading something great too!  Wanna hear about it?”

As a technology teacher, this book set me straight and validated so many ideas.  Programs do not replace teachers.  Teachers must feel empowered. Relationships are key to risk, change, and innovation.  As a technology coach, I needed to unleash the potential of my staff to change the mindset of our school.

Today a book is more than a book. Innovator’s Mindset was so intriguing to me, that when I heard the author would be the keynote for our state tech conference, I couldn’t miss it.  I felt like the biggest nerd on the planet, but I had to hear more….from the front row.  I couldn’t wrexcitementite fast enough and just had to set the pen down. I know George Couros thought, WHAT A CHEESE.  George’s sessions propelled me into Twitter world.  The #IMMOOC twitter chat and live sessions have been just as compelling as the book.  Thanks to George Couros, I have been able to calibrate my thinking to be a part of the conversation that changes the culture of schools for good…..around the world.


The power of words is immeasurable.  Two hundred and thirty seven pages, new friends, and an awesome new PLN of world changers.   The impact on students is priceless.  We all have so much to learn. Our children are worth it.

What are you reading?  How has it impacted your classroom or school?  Who are you sharing your inspiration with?

Please respond with your thoughts.  Since Innovator’s Mindset, I’ve read Kids Deserve it and Teach Like a Pirate (both great reads.) Now, I’m deep into the awesome, Lead Like a Pirate.  Perhaps Dave Burgess Consulting is onto something. 😉


Who Ever is Doing the Talking, is Doing the Learning.

“Marsha is a sweet girl, she just talks SO much,” said more teachers than I could count.  If there was ever a mark to be earned against someone, I got that one honest.  During my first year teaching, this phrase stuck with me, and I vowed to never say that to a parent.  As I wrote comments on my kindergarten report cards, I was advised by a wise mentor to never include something on a report card comment that a student would be ashamed of as an adult.  Words are everything.  This advice stuck with me to build students up and channel energy in a positive way.  I remember countless parent teacher conferences where parents would say, “Last year’s teacher said they talked too much. I just know that is why we are here today.”  This was my time to impress upon them the importance of good communication skills.

The truth is, we have raised generations of adults who do not know how to communicate.  Consider divorce rates and how different they could be if we spent more time in the early years laying the foundation for strong communication skills among our students.  In the age of social media and smart phones, our children are not being spoken to more than ever. Oral communication is not just for the debate team friends.   Our words can do so much. They can resolve conflict, express thoughts and feelings, persuade, and process information.

One of the saddest sights to me is a quiet classroom.  That buzz of intentional academic conversation among students is music to my ears.  Lecture and listen….sit and get….does nothing for our students.  They need time to listen and process their understanding…..not on a worksheet.  Worksheets may  not grow dendrites, but a great debate sure will.  My students learn quickly that not only do I not have all of the answers, I’m not going to freely give them to them either.  They have a love/hate relationship with my phrases, “Figure it out, ask a friend,…..” By encouraging these conversations I am giving them permission to take charge of the knowledge they want to gain.  Problem solving just doesn’t happen in the mind.  Sometimes children just need to talk it out.

A number of years ago, I had the privilege of participating in a FirstSchool study.  This project included someone taking a snapshot of my classroom and sharing data with me to improve.  Until then, I thought I was a great teacher. Once the data was revealed, I knew I had more than enough room to grow.  This time, Marsha really was doing too much talking.  Snapshot data revealed that my students were not given enough voice and choice.  Cumulatively, they could have potentially spent days not talking in a school year. Thankfully, my FirstSchool tribe with the Franklin Porter Graham Child Development Institute provided me with the sound and solid research supporting ways to encourage oral language development among children.  They even encouraged conversation in the the ever so forbidden quiet space….the hall.  By giving children voice, they learn to value the voice of others and become better listeners.   If you are curious about FirstSchool and their great mission, I highly suggest their book, FirstSchool: Transforming PreK-3rd Grade for African American, Latino, and Low-Income Children.

Academic conversation is important, but just good old fashioned talking has a place too. The silent lunch table is a subject that really bothers me.  Guilty myself, I used to send students there until I realized that out casting those children did nothing to improve the behaviors I was trying to “fix.”  Often times, those particular children need a vocal outlet even more than others.  They need more practice learning to express their thoughts and feelings in a healthy way.  The lunch room is the perfect space for such practice.

What does your classroom sound like?  

Are there areas in your school where students are to remain silent?

I’m not encouraging the circus to come to your class, but perhaps the time has come to evaluate a space for conversation on the academic table.

Now, go and talk about it.



Marinate, Marinate,….Write Already!

Two years.  Two years is how long I have had this blog marinating.  Last year, I even psyched myself up and had a contest with students to name my blog.  No post.  Why?  Writing is not something that I tend to put off.  I always have a grant or persuasive paper tucked away in my mind waiting to be written.  Why would I put this off?  There is a certain vulnerability that I just didn’t want to consider.   Why would I just put myself out there…..thoughts and all?  All of the ingredients were present but inspiration.

As a new “tweeter,”  I quickly realized that, “every one is doing it.”  My old school D.A.R.E. tactics were not necessary when my new friend, George Couros, author of The Innovator’s Mindset, put it in terms that I could not deny.  Blogging our journey as professionals is a way to help track growth and bring the relationship piece back into the realm of technology.   The world is shrinking, and never before have we had such access to professionals all over the globe that have the same vision, struggles, and fears as myself.

Growth, that is inspiration.  Why is growth so important?  In order to be relevant and ready for our schools and students, we must grow. Growth is synonymous with change. What good is a technology teacher who doesn’t change?  What good is a teacher with out a vision for change?  Change for the sake of change is not helpful.  Purposeful change, innovation, is so important.  As a coach, my peers are constantly hearing me encourage risk, change, GROWTH.  This leap of faith through a blog was me being the change I wanted to see.  I’ve had to step outside of my comfort zone.

It sounds so cliche when we say, “Be the change you want to see.”  You want to have a more positive relationship with parents – be the change.  You want to have students excited about learning – be the change.  You want your network to be stronger – be the change.  Initiate change.  Build relationships with your colleagues and other professionals to journey through growth together.  These relationships serve as a catalyst for risk taking, innovation, and positive change for good.

Change for some may mean taking a deep look into what is not working in your bubble of learning.  Are the same students having the same problems over and over again?  Are you still tuning into 1980’s research radio on Pavlovian styles of motivation?  Change your iTunes to today friends.  We know so much more about the brain and what is best for children than we did even ten years ago.

I challenge you to consider growth and change for yourself as a professional.  Where do you see yourself in 5, 10, 15 years?  We all have this inner compass steering us in the right direction.  Listen to it.

We all know someone who could use a little change.  Find someone to share your professional goals with and ask them to hold you accountable. Who can you encourage along the way?