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?

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…..it 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. 😉