The Gift of Giving

This Christmas season has been quite exceptional – spending time with my family and closest friends. I have been blessed with many great Christmas seasons, but this is one of the most memorable. The difference was my personal approach and response to an internal struggle.

There’s only one thing in life you can control: your own effort


For many years, our Christmas revolved around how much can we gift each other. Although the intent is pure and rooted in a genuine love to make one another happy, the process became a stressful endeavor for me. The ideation, the selection, and financial appropriation were amongst the most the challenging. This may be the Christmas spirit, but this is not the reason for the season.

A great friend introduced me to an amazing non-profit organization — my world needed a changed and Kiva did that for me. It repurposed how I celebrated Christmas with my loved ones. Kiva lets individuals lend as little as $25 as a loan to create opportunities in over 80 countries around the world. Once the opportunity has been realized, 99% of the borrowers are able to repay the loan so that the original investor can repurpose the funds to another individual. I gave each person in my family a Kiva gift card to spread joy, love, and opportunity throughout the world. This is my gift of giving. 

For the first time, my Christmas was not challenging and my funds (and my spirit) went to endeavors that speak directly to my heart and the hearts of those that I love. As Mark Cuban emphasized, my effort is what I can control – that is what has changed my Christmas reality.

Movies in the Classroom + Intentional Purpose = Fun Learning #SAVMP

Let’s be honest for a second!

As a classroom teacher, I remember the shouts and cheers when I would announce to the class that we would watch a movie that day! I remember thinking that I could get things graded, have conferences with individual students, or just hang out on the floor and watch the movie with my students. I am probably not setting the best example, but we are being honest. Movie days were memorable moments for many reasons.

As a campus administrator, it’s easy to say no movies in the classroom, especially full-length movies, because this “lacks purpose”. But is this the zero tolerance approach that we want to infuse in our learning culture and climate? Do movies — even full-length movies — lack purpose in the classroom? Absolutely not! How can administrators support and coach educators on the effective use?  We all know that movies effectively used in the classroom bring purpose, meaning, authenticity, current events, and culture in the classroom, as a few examples. And, quite frankly, students perk up and enjoy movie days. The real question is how can educators effectively use movies in the classroom to accomplish real learning? 

Ponder on these questions when implementing a movie in the classroom:

  • Why are you choosing this movie?
  • What would the students say about your movie choice? How can you enhance their perspective?
  • Does it have a purpose connected to learning in your class?
  • What is the learning purpose?
  • In what ways will you continue to fortify the purpose/use of the movie?
  • How will you incorporate student voice in the learning design?
  • What experiences will you build to complement the movie?
  • What would the students say about the experiences designed? How can you enhance their perspective?
  • Would students consider the learning experiences busy work? If so, how can you build experiences to meaningfully complement the learning objectives?
  • How do you want to present/introduce the movie to the students?
  • Will the students watch the full movie? Parts? How will parts be selected?
  • How have you made movie day fun & interesting?
  • How will you know that students learned? Understood? Transferred knowledge?
  • If asked, what will students say once the experience is complete?
  • How will you recycle the movie to revisit essential questions?

Movies are great resources in the classroom and should be a good experience for learners and educators. We, as educators, must always take learning to the next level. We should always effectively design learning to complement movie choices in class. No matter what choices an educator makes or how an educator decides to implement those choices, the students will still shout and cheer when they hear that it’s movie day! We might as well make it meaningful. 

This post was written in response to #SAVMP

#SAVMP The Journey Continues

The Journey Continues

I am so excited to be a part of the School Admin Virtual Mentor Program for another year. Two years ago, I had the privilege of starting with an amazing mentor, Ann Michaelsen, with whom I continue to learn and remain in contact. Today, I am honored to continue this journey with Jay & Jann and learn from them and their experiences.

Reflection is essential within any journey and I value this pause to appreciate the journey of learning and leading. This first blog post I ever wrote was Why I Lead. The most interesting part about this reflection is that the core purpose of my decision to lead remains validated today: I lead because I absolutely love doing it. I invite you to journey back with me and read my blog post below:

Click here to read: Why I leadI would love to hear your thoughts….

Dear Series: 1st Year Administrator

5 Things that I learned as a 1st Year Administrator

Dear 1st Year Admin

I remember getting the call to come and sign my contract. That same day, a close coworker told me that I officially crossed over into the dark side. Although, I did not want to agree, he was right. I was no longer a part of the “us”; I was now a part of “them.” I remember being excited about the journey (and the excitement still captivates me today). I was determined to be a bright light on the dark side. In a previous post, I highlighted the best advice a friend gave me the night before my first day on the job. To this day, his advice is the thread that holds my leadership fabric together.

My first administrative position was at a 6A comprehensive Texas high school – that’s code for 3300 students, 250+ staff members, and an impressive assortment of academic and professional opportunities. Here are five things that I learned my first year that continue to hold true today:

  1. Embrace the crazy –  Every day is an adventure. Flexibility, a sense of humor, and an empathetic heart were the cornerstones of my sanity and survival.
  2. Develop a mentor/mentor relationship – Find and nurture a mutually beneficial mentor relationship with someone…from whom you would like to learn and with whom you would like to grow.
  3. Compartmentalize your day – Create a healthy work and personal life balance. I choose not to take work home – either physically or emotionally. Set boundaries and routines that meet your needs once you leave school each day.
  4. Enjoy the adventure of learning – The curve is steep, which is the fun part. Be a continuous learner in every aspect – model this for your students, staff, parents, and community members.
  5. Stay connected to the classroom – This is your gift. In theory, you are the closest you will ever be to the classroom as you grow professionally. Use this to your advantage. Stay grounded in the classroom.

Sharing 2.0: Collaborative Blogging

The following article is the second in a series of collaborative efforts by the K-12 Blogging Team of Dean J. Fusto, Tiawana Gilesand Anthony Poullard. Click here to see more information about the team

Collaborative Blogging: Process and Design

Traditionally, blogging is characterized as a solo journey of sharing ideas and interacting with others in a space without time constraints or geographical boundaries. Blogging is a format many individuals use to share their passion about a particular topic and those things that resonate with them. Given the popularity of Twitter, blogging has become an extremely popular way to connect with a broad, diverse network of teachers and educational thought leaders.

Collaborative blogging, however, augments traditional blogging by designing interdependence between two or more individuals.  Additionally, it presents an opportunity to team up with colleagues across the K-12 landscape, share perspectives at great depth, and craft blog posts that reflect the collaborative energy, effort, and spirit of like-minded K-12 educators.

Finding and Forming Your Collaborative Team

Social media is a powerful tool, and an effective way to challenge and validate your thinking while connecting with others to share ideas. During a recent Twitter chat, the authors who comprise this K-12 team partnership connected about strategies to develop and strengthen one’s professional learning network. We chatted purposefully and identified the professional values that we had in common: learning, sharing, and connecting with others.  During that chat, we decided to hold each other accountable, contribute to the education conversation together, and encourage one another throughout the process of blogging.

Our team of elementary and high school leaders spans the spectrum of K-12 public and independent school education. Consequently, we target a wide variety of topics that supports all stakeholders in education (from students & parents to educators & administrators).  Check out our first post about Relevant and Meaningful Pathways of Professional Learning.

Collaborative Blogging: Tools and Touchstones

The best tool for our collaborative exercise was GoogleDocs. We used it to create a shared space where we could brainstorm ideas and co-construct a blog post that represented our ideas. Our process included identifying a topic of interest, developing an idea from seed to flower, and negotiating appropriate grammatical and content revisions to yield a final product. We formatted our final draft to post to our individual websites and share with our respective PLN.  Our subsequent engagement with the broader social media community was easy. We decided to schedule tweets to different educational hashtags and hope our PLN would share feedback with us.

Collaborative Blogging: Next Steps 

As we move forward as a blogging team, we will continue to explore what is trending in educational research and social media communities. The ongoing conversation with professionals in our networks will serve as inspiration for continued collaborative blogging on other hot, topical issues.  We aim to provide energy and engagement on topics of interest to our PLN and a broader, global audience. We would appreciate hearing diverse views on topics and look forward to sharing relevant articles, books, and blogs.  

What is Responsive Teaching?

What is Responsive Teaching?

Students enter classrooms each year with learning baggage – preconceived notions, learning differences, personal biases, etc. As a result, we have to ensure that students are at the forefront of our thinking as we implement patterns of instruction and design experiences that help guide students on a meaningful journey of learning. And, that is Responsive Teaching! In a nutshell,  responsive teaching requires the educator to be in sync with students’ varied learning needs as it relates to the end goal: transfer of knowledge/skills acquired to relevant, authentic, and applicable situations in life.

The Intersection: Relationships & Responsive Teaching

The core of Responsive Teaching is relationships! It’s easy to allow the term “relationships” to become an eductional cliche, but it’s the fabric that is threaded throughout a successful classroom and educator-learner interactions.

  • Relationships help educators understand the intricacies of a learner to meet his/her needs.
  • Relationships help educators generate excitement, motivation, and interests to the content.
  • Relationships help to bridge the gap between content/curriculum and the learner’s background/experiences.
  • Relationships make it easy and efficient to respond to learner needs.
  • Relationships help educators understand content readiness and progress toward the end result.

Create Opportunities to be More Responsive While Teaching

Now that we have an understanding of the definition and how relationships are the core of Responsive Teaching, let’s explore some next steps to create opportunities to be more responsive while teaching:

  • Find as many moments as possible in class to connect with students more regularly and intentionally.
  • Set the bar high and foster complex thinking in class. Design challenging experiences for all learners.
  • Push learners to be metacognitive about their own progress and to share their reflection with you.
  • Provide voice and choice in the process (how learners get to the end result) and the product (how learners demonstrate they are at the end result). Provide as many ways as possible to express learning.
  • Intentionally design formative assessments to specifically measure impact on learning and monitor progress.
  • Design diverse & collaborative learning experiences that require students to learn from and evaluate the experiences of their peers.

As educators, it’s our duty to respond to the varied needs of our learners – and make achievement gains one learner at a time! Find ways to implement patterns of instruction and to design experiences that help guide all students on an extraordinary path of education. Now that we understand more about responsive teaching, be the responsive teacher!

Twitter Learning – #TweetGrowth

Twitter is a great resource for professional learning. But similar to anything that I want to learn, if I do not have transfer goals to bring life and meaning to information, I will never truly learn it. My Twitter Growth Challenge: to reflect on this month’s top 5 likes a/o retweets (and tweets) from Twitter! As always, I am excited about the opportunity to not only continue to curate information that is relevant to my learning, but also evoking purposeful reflection of the 140 character microblogs that I believe are the most meaningful.

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The tweet: Justin shares a tweet quoted from Rodney Hetherton that emphasize the attributes of a high functioning culture of learning – highlighting transparency, encouragement, and accountability as cornerstones. The reminds me of the best advice that I received from a friend.

My application: This is the reminder that when leading with a servant heart, the rest will fall into place.

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The tweet: Aaron shares George Couros’ 8 characteristics of the innovator’s mindset that create the conditions for better ideas.

My application: I love the idea of being a problem-finder and cycling through the process to develop (innovate) a newer perspective/experience. I consistently ask question about how to improve (innovate) processes – which lead to relevant, meaningful ideation.

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The tweet: Bill shares the Dan Rockwell quote above – emphasizing the importance of reminding others of their worth.

My application: Our campus designs a culture of gratitude from the top down. With the upcoming weeks and the holiday season, I am extending that culture of thanksgiving to ensure that the people that I lead know that they matter!

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The tweet: During a professional learning day, Jeremy highlights a share from one of our teacher-led professional conversations on learner responsibility. The article highlights practical ways to build in and thread learner-driven empowerment in learning. The article can be found here.

My application: The toolkit helps provide ideas to give educators the resources to design more learner voice and choice in the classroom. The more we empower learners in the classroom, the deeper their investment in the learning process.

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The tweet: Deana shared a quote with me from a very insightful conversation (of many) that we had about the negative control of knowing everything.

My application: This quote has become a constant reminder embedded in my decisions. No matter how knowledgeable we become, there is a need for a healthy doubt that counters expertise to ensure that we are as balanced as possible when decision-making.

Three Vital Questions in a Classroom Observation


The favorite part of my day happens when I enter classrooms to see the dynamic learning experiences that permeate throughout our campus each day. I refuse to allow a day to go by when I am not in a classroom supporting and championing the educators and students on campus.

My two of the main points of interests while in a classroom are to get a quick glimpse of the happenings and to ensure that high levels of learning remains the norm in the learning environment. To that end, there are three questions that I ask students to help me gauge these points of interests.

What are you learning? It is important to note that this question is distinctly different from what are you doing. What students are doing is the vehicle for what students are learning. Educators must design experiences that help learners internalize more than what they are doing in class; learners must value and understand the knowledge or skill to be acquired. It’s funny how students, when first asked this question, default to describing what activities and tasks they are doing in class; however after restating the question, it naturally causes students to reflect and think critically beyond their activity or task.

Why is learning (X) important? Learners must be able to connect what they are learning in class to the purpose (the why) of the learning. Without a clear understanding of the purpose of learning, students cannot move beyond “because the teacher said so.” The depth and richness of a curriculum must be brought to life by effectively designing and planning experiences to ensure transfer occurs back to an authentic purpose/reason.

How will you know that you learned (X)? Learners must know where they are in the learning process and how they will close any gaps to meet their learning objective. If educators design with the end in mind, then learners should know what the “end in mind” is to gauge their own learning.  Learners must self-assess where they are in the learning process, which allows learners to be in the driver’s seat for their own learning. By the learners identifying their individual progress, they will be able to set meaningful goals and targets to ensure their mastery.

The pattern of ‘playing school’ in the classroom is eliminated by asking the right questions. When students successfully internalize the answers to these 3 questions, their learning experience becomes significantly more meaningful. It’s important to note that scaffolding, on the part of the administrator, may be necessary to help learners articulate the content of these questions. However, once internalized, students are genuinely unleashed on a purposeful pathway of learning and understanding. 

5 Pathways to Productive and Purposeful Professional Development

The following article is the first in a series of collaborative efforts by the K-12 Blogging Team of Dean J. Fusto, Tiawana Gilesand Anthony Poullard. Click here to see more information about the team

In many K-12 schools, professional development is undergoing a long overdue metamorphosis. The paradigm has shifted in two significant ways. First, we have seen a deviation away from “sage on stage” outside “experts” delivering content and training. Second, teachers have asserted their voice through professional development designs like Edcamps and unconferences. In this post, we share 5 pathways that represent productive and purposeful professional development:

  1. Genius Hour(s) – An opportunity for educators to focus on their own passions to guide and strengthen their professional learning. Time and expectations are strategically designed for educators to learn more and share within the learning community.

  2. Teacher Talks – An informal opportunity for purpose-driven educational chats within the campus. Teachers populate the topics of interests (personal and professional) and 30-minute chats are “facilitated” by teacher leaders on campus. The sessions build on the collective knowledge and experiences in the room. Here are a few examples of Teacher Talks at a Texas high school.

  3. Social Media Learning
    1. Educators choose a hashtag (#) on Twitter that reflects their passion and interests to support professional learning. For a comprehensive listing of hashtags, visit the Twitter-PLN page at the edu-library.
    2. In addition, by exploring other social media sites with an educational focus, teachers can bring ideas back to their classroom and/or professional learning community. Some popular online resources used by educators are listed below:
      • Twitter
      • Teachers Pay Teachers
      • Pinterest
      • Linkedin
      • Facebook
      • Blogs
      • Voxer

  4. Initiative-Focused Professional Development – A pathway focused on strengths and needs of school staff. Differentiation of expertise is an essential component within this model to support novice and experienced teachers appropriately.The goal is to help empower teachers and build teacher capacity while increasing student achievement using a common focus.

  5. Books -in- Common – This model, ideally, includes all teachers and administrators in a school. Through a shared reading on any topic in K-12 education, all stakeholders can discuss themes, skills, and standards presented in the book. The chosen text could connect to current school initiatives or to broader themes in education. The goal is to add to a school knowledge base, support professional learning, and encourage ongoing conversations. Depending on the topic, a shared reading project might also open doors of communication with parents and help bridge the gap between home and school.

George Couros highlights in his new book, The Innovator’s Mindset, that “the focus… of today’s professional development does not inspire teachers to be creative, nor does it foster a culture of innovation. Instead, it forces inspired educators to color outside the lines, and even break the rules, to create relevant opportunities for their students. These outliers form pockets of innovation.”

We hope through these purposeful and productive models that “pockets of innovation” become the norm throughout education. Please contact any of us for more information, logistics, and reflection on any of these ideas.