Learning to “TEAM”

teamwork-and-collaborationMany times when we see the word “TEAM” we think of its association with sports. Quickly we make the connection to winning. With a sports team every individual has a role and is trained and ready to fulfill that role so that the “TEAM” will hopefully win.

However, in education, we come with all kinds of different skill sets. Each team member will, over time, gain the knowledge and training we need, but if the idea of “winning” is finishing first, some team members may not have the opportunity to gain the skills necessary to be the best team possible.

This became very clear to me in another part of my life. I participate in a group exercise program called “Camp Gladiator.” On a very early morning in Mid-August the trainer split us into two teams. One team had to unload a numerous amount of weighted sand-bells from the back of the truck into designated spots across the parking lot until the truck was completely empty and then return the sand-bells to the truck. The other team was assigned to do multiple mat exercises and tally each time they completed a cycle until the team with sand-bells had finished the unload/load task, then they would switch. At the end of the given time, whichever team had the most tallies, won. The key was getting the sand-bells moved quicker than the other team to minimize the opportunity to rack up tallies.

There was very little in the way of guidelines. What took place was a few very physically fit carried many sand-bells at a time while the rest working toward physical fitness were left standing with little to contribute. Was it efficient? Yes. Was it effective in regards to the “team” winning? Yes. But what was sacrificed? Not everyone was given the opportunity to be challenged, to be a valued team member, to grow in their personal fitness.

As an administrator it became very clear to me through this experience, how important it is to communicate effectively expectations and outcomes to teachers both for the team and each member in regards to the work done in Professional Learning Communities (PLCs). Additionally, emphasizing the value of the process of learning and growth of both the team and the individuals of the team must be made paramount; not who finishes first. If the focus is on finishing first as the idea of “winning” it could lead to team members not having the opportunity to be challenged, to feel valued as a team member or grow in their own professional learning.

Coming back to that morning at Camp Gladiator, the trainer quickly realized that the lack of guidelines and the drive to “win” was creating a “loss” of fitness for some. He corrected with new guidelines that required each sand-bell to be carried individually, emphasized teamwork in the way of cheering one another rather than carrying all of the sand-bells, and created value for all contributors.

In the same way, as leaders we can course correct to ensure high functioning teams and effective PLCs. Then as educators and team members we are all truly #winning.

Having a “Can Do” Attitude…

Image result for can do quotes

I have had the unique experience of transitioning from Middle School as an instructional coach to Elementary as an Assistant Principal.

If you put a kindergarten parent side by side with a parent of an entering middle schooler, I am sure their fears and concerns would be very similar.

One thing I think educators and parents have in common is we often rescue our children when rescuing them only inhibits their potential.

When I was at my district’s convocation, George Couros reminded us of the importance of the learner’s struggle and the learner working through the “problem.” He showed us a video where a boy had created a “marble maze” with several dynamic and intricate pieces. The boy hypothesized that it would take him at least 100 attempts to make the maze successful. On his 4th attempt he achieved success. The setting of his goal, working through the challenges and momentary failures, and then being successful on his 4th try was amazing. Why, because he persevered and never thought “I can’t do” only that “I can do.”

I wonder, if we had seen this kiddos plan and intervened as his educator or as his parent, would we have limited him unintentionally in an effort to shield him from “failure?” Yet, without any input or intervening this child was successful and celebrated, that while his first three attempts were not a successful attempt, his fourth was, and was way sooner than his projected one hundred attempts before he reached success.

I have come to see how I as a parent, educator and coach can either encourage growth and a “can do” attitude or limit it (even if my intentions are to protect the learner). This past weekend, just before our district began our new school year, I learned of how Target took a new approach to their Back to School advertising campaign. They believed in the “can do” of children ranging in ages 8-17 and let those children develop, design and ultimately launch a series of seven commercial.

Here’s what happened when coroporate Target went from a corporate advertising team to a advertising dream team of students:


My favorite part of this is that they felt that the adults “listenened” and “learned something from us.”

Going forward in this school year, how can we change the moments when we say “I don’t think our students/children can” to opportunities where we say “I know  you can!”?

I challenge anyone reading this to stop the next time  you catch yourself thinking my child/student can’t and re-think… how can I provide the opportunity so my child/student CAN? It will be a great adventure and in the process our children/student will know that we listened and we learned something from them.

Genius Hour Comes Full Circle…

As this year came to a close it marked four years ago I closed the end of a school year as a classroom teacher. It was four years ago that I stepped out and tried Genius Hour in my classroom and it was four years ago that I began to put together my story to share with others in my region of Texas and later the state of Texas the message of Genius Hour.

About mid-February of this year requests for proposals to present for Summer professional developments in my region and state started to hit my inbox. I had pursued and presented for the last three years on the topic of Genius Hour. Personally, my life as a mom and event coordinator had become exponentially busier. I had not gained a lot of traction where I had the most direct influence to implement Genius Hour. I felt like, while I whole-heartedly embrace Genius Hour, I did not have the same relevant message to share with audiences when it came to the implementation of Genius Hour.

As I was making the decision to “stand down” from presenting, a teacher in my district on another middle school campus reached out to me. Amy Nolan, an 8th Grade Speech and Communications teacher, contacted me to tell me her story with Genius Hour. Evidently she had attended two of my sessions over the past three years and had taken the leap to implement this past year. She was full of enthusiasm and full of individual student success stories. Crazy thing… she said it was all due to me. What?!?!? How could this be?

Funny how sometimes when you decide you might be done with something, events and circumstances say otherwise. Shortly after Amy shared her story with me I received an invite from a neighboring district to present on Genius Hour and within the same week an invitation to present to pre-service teachers at Texas Women’s University. I knew I had to accept, however, not as a sole presenter, but as a co-presenter with Amy. My message with her current experiences and successes brought relevance and fresh experience to the table.

As Amy and I planned, Amy realized there was yet another educator that was impacted by the Genius Hour message shared by me. This was yet another Speech and Communications teacher at an additional middle school campus in our district, Tambra Goode. Through Amy sharing with Tambra the information from one of the presentations of mine Amy attended, Tambra ran with the idea of Genius Hour. From the information shared via a PLC came the Truett Wilson Middle School “Project Change The World.” Of course, she too needed to be part of the story.

Ashes Matches Sparks Flames blog picToday, all three of us shared our stories with another group of educators in a neighboring district. I love how my presentation has evolved to include an even better way for students to begin the process of discovering their passions via Amy Nolan’s design called “Ashes, Matches, Sparks and Flames.”

We are still fine tuning the pieces of our presentation together, but now my story has come full circle. What I have shared is now being implemented and shared with those that I inspired and then inspired others. I am renewed and inspired once again as I first was with this message of Genius Hour. I am reminded again of how important it is for our students to learn from a place of passion, to learn with a desire to serve others with their learning, and confidently share their passions through uniquely and creatively designed processes and products. As Derek Sivers states, “Everybody’s ideas may seem obvious to them… but what is obvious to me may seem amazing to someone else. We should just put it out and let the world decide.”

I am once again renewed in my message of Genius Hour and it is all thanks to Amy Nolan and Tambra Goode taking the time to let me know that the message I shared impacted them and the many students they taught and will teach.

I wonder how many who have impacted me along the way needed to hear the difference they made in my life and as a result impacted the lives of my students? I am making my list right now. Make someone’s day and let them know. Let’s be part of bringing it full circle.

(To know more about Genius Hour, please visit my Google Site: Genius Hour by Kirsten Wilson)

Going Back to 7th Grade…#shadowastudentchallenge

shadow a student imageI am not sure many know how deeply I love working on a middle school campus. This passion for investing in middle schoolers comes from a less positive place in my own life. When I was the age of today’s middle schoolers it was not a time that would be categorized as “fond memories.” In my youth it was a time noted by descriptors like: awkward, unaccepted, unloved, misfit, and misunderstood.

Today I champion the cause of the early teen. The middle school student is enthusiastic, passionate, constantly challenging and exploring their world and defining who they are. They hold fast to the ideal, “if you can dream it you can do it.” They believe, as I do, that they will change the world.

When I took on the “Shadow a Student Challenge” I decided to shadow a student I had come to know earlier in the year when she enrolled at my campus in late November. I had already gotten to know a little bit about this delightful 7th grade young lady, “D,” while helping her get acquainted with our district’s student issued device, online learning management system and district provided Google account. I was eager to spend a day with “D” and get to see how school-life was through her eyes.

I joined “D” first period in Theater 2. She was in a collaborative group with two other students (one was absent) and were already working collaboratively on the finishing touches of a skit in Google Docs before the tardy bell rang. As the bell rang they never looked up, and with minimal distraction the teacher took roll as the rest of the class worked in the other groups pieced together around the room. All of the students were collaboratively writing a modern day Greek myth script. About 10 minutes into first period they all moved to a make-shift stage (raised platform (stage) with chairs in rows for the audience). Each group presented their skit. The audience provided feedback on different techniques used with dialogue and how they transferred the original Greek myths into a modern day skit. My knowledge of Greek mythology was a bit rusty, and my understanding of theater techniques were greatly lacking, so I decided my feedback would neither be necessary or beneficial. I did note that when “D” and her partner performed their skit with the assistance of a “stand in” for the absent student in her group, her explanations and justifications during the feedback/questioning after the performance came from a place of passionate understanding and deep well of knowledge. Not to mention, this girl can act.

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We went from Theater Arts to Science for second period. There was a sub for this class. Her teacher was writing curriculum as part of our district curriculum writing team. The class was mid-way through a “Biome Project.” Students were working in groups. I was impressed how “D” took charge of the group. There was one student that was sitting back and “waiting for it to get done” but “D” persisted and would not let her sit and do nothing. Her persistence with that student indirectly motivated the other group member and before too long all of them were working collaboratively to complete their “biome project” via Google slides. I probably slowed them down, as I kept asking questions about vocabulary (I was needing a refresher) as they added certain academic vocabulary into their slides at the appropriate places. I was able to show them a couple of tech skills to create a more visually pleasing slide presentation. Now their information is not just being shared through text, but they now have images and symbols to represent their knowledge.

SAS revising and editing.jpg

The next class period was a double blocked PreAP Language Arts class. At this point I was in dire need of a restroom, but classroom policy is to wait until the 45 minute break. I tried to pay attention, but I was constantly watching the clock and wondering how can 45 minutes seem so long!  We worked on revising and editing both for the “Do Now” and in two different passages with different multiple choice questions over the passages. I have to say it wasn’t like when I was in school where we diagrammed sentences. Many times when it asked us what the best transition word would be for the situation, I either didn’t like any of the multiple choice options or thought more than one answer could work. Aye yi yi! Whew, was I glad to make a run to the restroom when our break came! I asked if “D” was going to take a break too, and she replied,”No, I am going to read while I have a moment.” When the second half of the class began  we took a summative assessment over our revising and editing skills. I couldn’t wait for my results so I asked the teacher if I could grade mine… I have some work to do! As a former 7th grade Language Arts teacher, I was not real thrilled with my score of 84%.

Our next adventure was lunch. I was truly amazed at how many students DO NOT eat lunch! Oh was my mama instinct in over drive. “D” didn’t completely abstain, but all she had was a bag of Doritos! Not even a water or milk (probably why she isn’t having to go to the restroom!). How do these kids brains function without some sort of fuel for their thinking? I also noticed how many students were on their devices. I asked “D” what they were doing. She said that many of them were working on homework either due after lunch or due tomorrow; or they were playing games. I also notices that there were a few side conversations, but many were doing their own thing side by side. They were in what preschool teachers would call “parallel play.” I hesitate, though, to say they weren’t interacting. I observed and noted that students are more accepting of one another now than when I was their age.

After lunch we headed to Lifetime Nutrition and Wellness. They were learning about the 6 Essential Nutrients. The teacher had provided a document and a PowerPoint on his Moodle with information for us to reference as we filled out a note sheet on paper. “D” worked with one student while l worked with another at the same table. It was a solo project, but we talked quietly with one another, asked questions and conferred with one another. We didn’t finish the work for the class. “D” had homework- finishing the notes on the 6 essential nutrients.

At this point we had to go one hall back from where we were to get to our 6th period class…Texas History. It did seem like the school grew by 200 people during this passing period. Not sure why all the congestion, but “D” navigated it like a stealth lion. I, on the other hand, stepped on a few people, was stepped on equal to my own personal trampling. Oh, and I needed a restroom, again! We pushed our way to Texas History and then I ran to the restroom. I made it back into the classroom just as the bell was ringing… and lucky for me the teacher was still talking to another colleague in the hall and didn’t notice I was not yet in my seat! We had a bell-ringer activity and then moved into finishing up questions based on information in their textbook. Many students opted to grab one of the classroom copies of the textbook rather than reading the digital copy located in the teacher’s Moodle page. I asked “D” why she would rather grab the actual book instead of accessing the information in the online textbook. Her response, “I remember it better when I read it from a ‘real’ book.” Hmmmm…. something more to contemplate.

The next class I journeyed to with “D” was 7th Grade on-level math. It took a little time to refresh my skills but before long I was working the problems with the rest of my table group. I liked the format of the class and “D” and her classmates seemed to respond well to this style as well. The teacher utilized a “catch and release” style of instruction within a workshop model framework. The constant conferring between table groups, sharing out with classmates and the teacher’s continual monitoring and specific feedback made me feel like I was a mathematician rockstar. It seemed to have the same effect on “D.”

As we were getting ready to head to the last class of the day, “D” was picked up early for an orthodontist appointment. Frankly, I was secretly relieved. We were headed to P.E. and at this point there wasn’t much fuel left in my tank! Being a 7th grader is hard work.

This day is still rolling around in my head. I have reflected over and over about this experience. One thing I know for sure #shadowastudent should be an ongoing event. I would love for students to select teachers and administrators to shadow them, rather than us picking them. Perhaps we could do “mini-shadows” by class instead of by day, and shadow more frequently.



Every time we have an opportunity to “walk” in the “shoes” of another we gain perspective. I have loved this experience and the new perspective I have gained. All that aside, I am just excited to have spent the day with “D.” She has made an impact on me, and I hope, in some way, I have made an impact on her.

For  more information on the “Shadow a Student” challenge visit: http://shadowastudent.org/.


Resolutions, Intentions, Goals… Always Progressing

2016 new goals

From the moment the ball dropped and we ushered in 2016 I have watched the goals, mantras, claims of personal “one word” and resolutions come across my various social media feeds. To say the least, I am amazed and sometimes a bit subdued. I admire the ambitiousness and timeliness of my virtual and face to face colleagues and friends commitments for 2016.

I almost talked myself out of even writing my own #goals. Then I read my assistant superintendent, Dr. Rob Thornell’s blog post about the topic (Make 2016 About Goal Accomplishment). It prompted me to reflect on my goals from last year, the things I had accomplished and the progress I plan to make this year. So then I felt compelled to at least write it down and share with a few of my close mentors and friends.

steve mariboli goals 2016

Then my virtual #blogamonth colleagues and PLN tagged me in a post. It urged us all to “jump start” our blogs. We had all had changes in our educational careers in 2015 and, at least for me, my blog(s) had taken a back seat. After some thought, and encouragement from this precious group of educators, I decided to go ahead and share my #goals for 2016.

blogamonth 2016

They are a little late, but here goes…

My #goals for 2016 are meant for all aspects of my life. In each of the following it is meant to impact my family and friends, my personal and professional life.

  1. Grow… mostly this is about my spiritual growth, but I am in an ever constant state of learning and growing. This requires me to journal more, read more and seek more opportunities to learn from others.
  2. Listen…I could explain, but this blog post “People Who Possess This One Skill Are More Likable In Social Settings” says it best.
  3. Celebrate… I have so many times in my life I could have celebrating small accomplishments, moments, blessings and I postponed or waited because it wasn’t “THE BIG THING” I was striving for… well no more!
  4. Invest… see #2 and pour myself and my resources into things that create meaningful results.
  5. Be Gracious… allow myself the opportunity to reset; give myself and others a break; laugh and cherish life in every moment.be kind and gracious
  6. Be Real… blog from the heart, bravely share mistakes/failures, share imperfections, own the “I don’t know,” and mostly ask for others to share this journey of life, learning and experiences with me.
  7. Be Healthy…keep running, be more consistent with weight resistance and core (pilates/yoga) training, make healthy food choices, and above all GET MORE SLEEP (4 hours a night is NOT sufficient)!
  8. Pursue with Passion… go ALL IN, don’t let a list dictate what’s going to be done (I am a habitual and obsessive list maker/follower), do whatever it is because it “drives” me.

consistency in 2016This list won’t happen all at once. Some of these things I have done, but I let go of them in my daily doing of life and are bringing them back to the forefront. It will be done a few things at a time, with thought, purpose and intention. Sometimes it may be awkward, it will be messy, but most of all it will bring me to a better place within and make me a better me.

Additionally I hope my efforts to make personal progress in turn enriches, inspires and encourages others. Nothing brings me greater joy than to see others succeed, and when I have had the opportunity to be part of that journey I thrill in the knowing I was a part of something great with someone else.

Adams quote for 2016 goals post

May we all inspire others through our own pursuit to be always progressing.

Ways to #pumpitup Now and All Year

Over the past two weeks I have had the distinct privilege of hearing keynote presentations from George Couros, Michael Wesch, Dave Burgess and Travis Allen. In every message the ideas of wonder, risk-taking, relationship building and passion.

As we embrace the beginning of another cycle of instruction we have the unique opportunity to reflect, re-frame and redo. As one of my colleagues said, “Education is the only job where you have the opportunity to take an approach to a lesson, an assessment, and/or management technique and take action to do it differently and better than before.”

I could offer some very concrete “to dos” to start the year, but I think there are already some very good blog posts out there that have already done that. So what I want to offer is some suggestions that will help you stay connected with your inner passion and your students.

1. Create the opportunity for wonder in your classroom.

Move from posed questions and known answers to a learning environment that creates controversy, ambiguity and wonder. Design learning for wonder, not answers. Is the learning you are asking of your students “worth it” to them? Are you offering them an experience that is worth crying for?

Within this opportunity relationships are key. It takes risk to wonder, to share one’s passions and to fail. Are you, #1 modeling that and #2 creating a safe learning community that fosters a learning habit of wonder. Will your students want to take chances in your learning environment and more importantly are you taking chances right in front of them.

Michael Wesch2. Embrace the limitations around you.

My superintendent spoke to our campus leadership about a “beautiful constraint.” It requires one to ask propelling questions, have “can-if” thinking, see the gifts within the perceived limitations and ignite motivation. As Mark Bearden said,”The limitation became the impetus for a better outcome.” I finished reading “David and Goliath” by Malcolm Gladwell this summer. Over and over again, in different ways, the overwhelming lesson was that perceived privilege or disadvantage was not always the truth. Many times what was perceived as a privilege was a hindrance and what was perceived as a disadvantage was the tool to move toward success. (Read the book… it talks about a “growth mindset” without ever mentioning the popular educational catch phrase.)

A great way to demonstrate this idea is captured in the following TedTalk “Embrace the Shake” by Phil Hansen.

3. Learn something hard.

Often we educators become completely immersed in our profession. We do what we do well. Why can that be a pitfall? We lose touch with the struggle it can be for our students to learn something new and sometimes just learning in general. How can we truly understand our students and their difficulties if we are not putting ourselves in those challenging situations as well? Dave Burgess asked us in his keynote “What are you passionate about outside of your profession?” and then went on to add, “It is a must for us to find a passion outside of our profession to be relate-able to our students. Unfortunately, many of us struggle with this.” His advice? Rekindle that passion, now. We want our students to graduate knowing us “not just for my curriculum, but who I am.”

If you haven’t read Dave Burgess’ book “Teach Like a Pirate,” I highly recommend it. Not only does it have practical strategies to transform your lessons into amazing learning experiences it will leave you more passionate about your first calling… teaching.

These are my 3 things that I believe will help any educator #pumpitup in their classroom, building, and learning community. I am excited about this upcoming year and can’t wait to get this year started.

How are you planning to #pumpitup now and throughout this exciting new year?

Living the digital Life… It’s not a Generational Thing

Everyone has a storyRecently my twelve year old daughter asked my husband and I the following question: “I feel so upset when elderly people tell me I don’t have it as hard as they did, was life more difficult then than it is now? I think it’s different and we have challenges that they didn’t have, but it’s not any harder or easier… right?” Good question.

This went on into a discussion about research used to be making a trip to the library, decoding the Dewey decimal system to find the right book and spending hours looking through microfiche film versus now everything is just a Google search away. True that this may be, my daughter quickly pointed out that today learners have to know how to tell the difference between reliable sources and unreliable sources. #Win for the digital citizenship that has been consistently taught by her teachers and library media specialists.

This conversation got me thinking and changing my filter for how I see life being lived via the use of digital devices. I know how I use my digital tools… but how is my daughter’s generation using it?

Often it is assumed that these kids, who never knew a world without a personal computer, lap top or cell phone, automatically have technology skills. It is also assumed that those of us that who received all or the majority of our education before computers or ease of access to a personal computer lack the technology skills to survive fluently in today’s world. I know I don’t agree with either of these assumptions.

The digital connected world of today has created a leveling of the accessibility to information. Wifi, smart phones and more digital content than there are stars in the universe have made this possible. The question is… How are we leveraging this knowledge? What do we do with this knowledge?

I have been contemplating this for some time now. It is going to take a community of learners young and not so young, willing to listen to one another, willing to take risks, willing to communicate in different and new ways, willing to learn from one another and willing to collaborate.

We all can sit in our igloo of isolation and claim that one group of individuals or another has it harder than another, but that isn’t a benefit to anyone. A community of learners is ageless, fearless, pride-less, knowledge-seeking, group-minded, passion-focused and connected.

Every day, many times a day I learn from other educators and students. Honestly, as an instructional coach I am not the keeper of knowledge, but merely a one of many vehicles to pass on information, ask questions, brainstorm ideas and facilitate transformational learning. Almost anything we want to know we can Google, YouTube or utilize Social Media to access that information. However, it is when we connect with others beyond surface information to create, solve and collaborate that all our lives are enriched. Both the pre-digital device learner and post-digital device learner need that and best thrive when they leverage their digital resources via this approach.

I know this not just because the job that I do, but as a parent of two savvy digital kids. Some would say we are too connected to our technology. I disagree. I know my children, their passions, their fears and their weaknesses… and they know mine. Together we learn from one another and grow. This happens because of how we leverage our learning both digital and non-digital. Just ask my son who watched a YouTube on the “Not-so-Secret” In-N-Out Burger Menu to know what a “Flying Dutchman” was and ordered it on our last visit, or my daughter who sent me a Pin from Pinterest for a “Snickers” Frappucino when I offered to pick up a Starbucks drink on my way home from a meeting. Beyond food I see my students and my own children utilize technology with everything. Want to learn a new song on the piano? Watch a YouTube tutorial. Want to improve your Minecraft skills? Read three or four of the top Minecraft blogs. Stuck on a problem in Math? Check out the tutorials on Kahn Academy. The list goes on and on. The trick for learners of all ages is not finding content, but creating original creative content of their own. So as we move forward in this digital age, it isn’t what we each do alone, but how we move forward collaborating, learning and creating together.

How are you connecting and creating a community of learners young and not so young? How are you and those around you leveraging your digital resources? What has access to digital resources done to create greater access to knowledge in your learning community?