What’s On Your Walls?

What is on our walls says a lot about what we value. At home, we have pictures of our daughters, a wall decal that reads Family Est 2006, and several Bible verses.

During #DBC50Summer, I read Steve Wyborney‘s book The Writing on the Classroom Wall and decided that my implementation would be to share my own educational views on the walls of the media center (my classroom). See my blog post here. Throughout the year I have added inspirational quotes to the tops of bookcases, on the circulation desk, and even on the school announcements which run on televisions in the front lobby, media center, and cafeteria.

When reading Unmapped Potential by Julie Hasson and Missy Lennard, I knew I wanted to put a map of the United States on the wall to remind myself and the students that we can break through our own mental barriers to uncover the potential within ourselves. (See the blog post here.) I took this implementation a step further!

This is my third year at the middle school I serve. Every year the 8th grade students put together a puzzle, and when it is complete, I frame it and put it on the wall. The first year was a 1500-piece puzzle with mustangs (our school mascot) drinking water from a river. The second year was a 1000-piece puzzle with globes of various sizes and colors. I wanted this year’s puzzle to be very special as I’ve been with a third of the group since they were eight years old. My former position was at the elementary school that feeds into my current middle school. I moved to the middle school when they did, so we’ve spent six years together. (Yes, I will be an emotional wreck on the last day of school.)

I decided that rather than placing a road map on the wall, we would put together a puzzle of a world map. Therefore, the 1000-piece puzzle for this year’s 8th grade is a map of the world. It has been framed and is now mounted on the wall with inspirational quotes on canvases all around it! Our amazing art teacher painted the canvases and did some beautiful calligraphy to make the quotes stand out!


I am so excited to see the map puzzle and the quotes around the media center so anyone who enters the media center knows what the space is about. They know what I believe about education without a question! Here’s a short slideshow with several of the quotes around the media center.

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A Day in the Life of a Middle Schooler

They say not to judge a person until you walk a mile in their shoes. While reading Kids Deserve It by Adam Welcome and Todd Nesloney for #DBC50Summer, I chose three different implementations of the book. Two of them I have failed at miserably, but the third? Epic.

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Five Positive Phone Calls per Week

I started this with every intention of completing it every week throughout the year. My thought was if I called 5 families per week, I’d end up calling about half of the student body during the year. In the first week, I called five families. These five were new families to our school – three were new 7th graders and two were in the 6th grade. The responses were overwhelmingly positive. The second week I called five more parents, two 8th graders, and three 6th graders.

Then I found myself so busy that I didn’t take the time to call. It’s not an excuse. I should have made the time. What concerned me the most was that when I thought of making the calls, it felt like a chore. It became something I was going to do to check a box on a list of things to do. This was never the intention and the feeling of “checking a box” was not in the spirit of what Kids Deserve It is all about, so I pulled back on this implementation. When I see a student going above and beyond, I still make the contact. I want to brag on these kiddos! I never want these conversations to feel forced or like I’m fulfilling an obligation. That will come through on the other end of the call, which will completely defeat the purpose of making the call in the first place. It should always be genuine.

Ride Each Bus

One of my favorite parts of the day is being in the car line with my daughters right before they begin their school day. We have some insanely fun car line karaoke together. I’ve got to be honest, there’s not much out there that makes me want to miss out on this time with them.

When I created this implementation, it was about three weeks before our lives got turned upside down by a Type 1 Diabetes diagnosis. We are managing quite well; I have a superhero in a 5 year old’s body. We are still figuring everything out, so bus rides in the afternoon are out of the question right now.

With both of those things in mind, I put my heart and soul into my third implementation. Here’s what I learned.

Shadowing Students

Spending a day in the life of a middle schooler is eye-opening and exhilarating. But spending a week in their shoes… exhausting.

Eighth Grade

I purposefully chose students based on course load. My first student to shadow was one of our eighth graders enrolled in all advanced courses. She is currently taking, as an 8th grader, World History, English 1, Math 1, and Earth & Environmental Science. She also had PE and Chorus. From my day with her, I learned that it is super difficult to jump from one 57 minute class to another with only 3 minutes in between. While my body got me from class to class in the allotted time, my brain couldn’t make the transition to be ready for the next subject area.

I learned that the good stuff happens at lunch. By planting myself squarely in the middle of the 8th grade tables, I was able to listen to conversations all around me. I quickly found out who was dating who, who was making poor life choices, and which best friends were in a squabble. I learned that some of our students use the restroom less than teachers do. Upon arriving at school, many of them use the restroom, then use it again around lunch, and try to make a sprint to the facilities before loading the buses. The time between classes isn’t enough to do their business if the three or four stalls are full, so the 8th graders usually don’t even bother. Finally, I learned that assigned seats in 8th grade are ridiculous. In the classes where students were allowed to choose their seats, they chose wisely. Allow them to sit where they’d like and you’ve won more than half the battle of the day.

Seventh Grade

My seventh grade student is what many would consider to be an “average” student. He gets his work done in a timely manner and usually does well on the completed assignments. He was quiet and rarely participated in class. He didn’t speak to many students. What bothered me the most about my day with this student is the lack of interactions between him and anyone else. He was acknowledged by teachers with a quick “hey”, but no one ever really talked to him. I realize this is just one day & could very much be an anomaly, but it made me pause to think about which students I unintentionally overlook day-to-day. How am I reaching my introverted students? How can I better serve them, appreciating their individual needs while still getting to know them & forming a relationship of the same caliber as my outgoing, talkative students? I need to do better at this.

Sixth Grade

Our sixth grade is very different from 7th and 8th grade. Our 6th graders are on teams, so they only have two teachers rather than the four of our older students. This is a change to our school this year and I believe it’s highly beneficial to our students! Our 6th graders are forming deeper relationships, and from what I could see, they are having a rich experience in their first year of middle school. This is a great transition year and I feel like the teaming aspect is giving community and pride. That hall of teachers also has a very strong PLC as they are able to discuss both content and grade level specifics.

Also – 6th grade was so much fun! We played games, had flexible seating, and I found a couple pretty awesome books on desks of those teachers!


Physical Education is Where It’s At

My favorite part of my time spent shadowing students was the PE classes! Even now, months after the shadowing, students come ask me when I’m going to play with them again in PE. I think I impressed them with my dodgeball abilities, haha!

I challenge you to spend one planning period in January participating in a physical education class. Or during recess, jump into their kickball game. This informal time is so important to relationship building. Sure you’re missing that valuable planning. But trust me, your return on investment is exponential!

If you can’t find the time to shadow students due to scheduling conflicts, definitely jump into lunch and PE! But do not, and I repeat, do NOT try to make it educational. That’s the only time these kids have to themselves, so don’t taint it. You’re on their turf at that point; respect it and enjoy it!

Mustang Madness

Teaching to an empty room

This quote is at the heart of the book Teach Like A Pirate by Dave Burgess. (Shoutout to Shelley Burgess for creating this beautiful graphic!)

When I read about Ryan McLane‘s Teach Like A Pirate Day, inspired by this quote, in the book he and Eric Lowe co-authored, Your School Rocks, I knew I had to figure out a way to make it happen! It quickly became one of my implementations for #DBC50Summer even though I had no idea how I was ever going to convince the teachers I serve to give up a day in their already busy calendar.

The Plan

In early August, I met with my principal and explained this day centered around celebrating a love of learning. The more we discussed it, the more her eyes lit up. (Side note: I love that she is constantly finding ways to let me lead & grow. This was just one example of that. She rocks.) We discussed that this would need to be brought to the School Improvement Team (SIT), so we made a plan for me to pitch it to them at the next meeting. Little did I know that I would be elected to serve on SIT just a few weeks later.

Every month we have a Mustang Madness Day built into our schedule. These days are usually held on dates with early release schedules or at the end of the quarter when we’d be holding our awards programs for academics and athletics. The members of SIT seemed eager to develop this idea further, so we preemptively looked for holes and concerns our teachers might have. We scheduled the first attempt at a #tlap day for the Mustang Madness day before Christmas vacation. Then… life happened.

In late November, I sent our SIT chair and principal an email asking if we were still moving forward with the date as scheduled. Getting the green light from them, I began organizing the day with as much structure as possible, as suggested by SIT.

Here’s how it went down…

Every teacher in the school shared their activity on a Google Sheet. Using that sheet, I created a form for students in each grade level to rank their interest in the activities (1st choice, 2nd choice, and so on). Here’s an example of a form.

*We decided to keep students with their grade levels to streamline the process this time.*

During media classes in early December, students completed the form. It took about 5-7 minutes in each class. Using those responses, I created schedules for every student (yes… every. student.) making sure to respect their 1st and 2nd choices in the core classes and 1st choice in their encore classes. No child ended up with anything less than their 5th or 6th choice!

On Wednesday, two days before our Mustang Madness date, I printed a copy of each teacher’s class lists for each class. Teachers still had their planning period in tact and would be going to lunch at the same time. On Thursday afternoon, I emailed every student their schedule for the day.

Let me just tell you, the hype was REAL! Kids were pumped to be at school the next day! I could hear them discussing which classes they had and trying to figure out who they would be in class with!

*When students completed the form, they did not know which teacher would be doing which activity – I wanted them to choose based on activities only to eliminate any preconceived notions about their own interest level. When they received their schedule, they only got the name of the teacher! So there will still so much suspense around what they’d be doing the next day. It was so much fun to listen to them guess which teacher was going to do which activity.*

Then… it was time.

Signs were placed at classroom doors with the name of the activity and the teacher’s name. I hung up poster-sized schedules with 1st period locations to prevent confusion among students, especially our 6th grade students. The bell rang and the excitement in the halls was palpable. By the end of the day, I was so exhausted, but in the best way! I had FUN teaching! To my knowledge, there wasn’t a single behavior issue the entire day. I asked students and teachers to complete a survey at the end of the day and responses are still coming in. This is the preliminary data.

That’s HUGE! Do you SEE that? From what I’m seeing, 62.5% of students CAME TO SCHOOL (on a snow make-up day, no less) because they were excited about Mustang Madness! Yep – that’s making kids want to tear down the walls to get INTO school, rather than to get out! In my eyes, that statistic alone makes the day a huge success.

Here’s some other feedback I received:

From students

What did you love about today?

“it was funner than school has ever been”

“having teachers i don’t normally have”

“I loved the fact that we could do what we chose and that we could choose our own schedules.”


What would you change?


“make it longer”

“If i could change anything i would make the option for the students to have more access to which students there going to be placed with in there classes because some people may have got no classes with there friends and people that may have really wanted to have this day together couldn’t so i would love to see more accessibility towards that part.”

“Today everything was fun and we don’t need to change anything today.”

From teachers

What did you enjoy about today?

“Getting to do lessons that we are really passionate about, and being able to meet new students that we normally do not see.”

“The vibe of the school is so much fun.”

“How much the students engaged in something that was an “out of the ordinary” experience.”

“Getting to have fun with the kids and see them at their best.”

What would you change?

“Not much, the schedule worked great but having a little more input or access to the sign-up process would be nice.”

“Do it on a full school day; may need more time with some activities”

“Let kids sign up during homeroom so we can catch the ones that are absent.”

*It is worth noting that 100% of teachers said this is something they want to do again!*

So… what’s next?

I would love to see this run like Ryan did his. Students report to first period for attendance and announcements, then disperse throughout the school for classes. I think that once a class is full, the teacher will shut their door and any remaining students who wanted that class can go to their next choice and try to attend the class they missed in the next block of time. I’m excited to see our 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students mixed up within the classes. This was something our teachers were very hesitant about; I mixed grade levels in the media center with no trouble, and am hoping that will serve as a model for the next iteration. I believe that allowing free movement and not having a “schedule” ahead of time will give students the ability to have more classes with their friends. Also, if we have it on a regular school day (not an early release) students and teachers will have more time in each class.

Some of the best feedback I received from this day came from three different people.

One teacher said, “You didn’t know it, but I needed this day so bad. It reminded me why I love teaching. I had forgotten.”

One of our custodians said, “My favorite part about today was seeing teaching today. Every time I walked by <his/her> classroom, <he/she> was so excited! I’ve never seen <him/her> teach like that.”

My administration said (and this meant so much to me), “Today was the very best, smoothest last day of school before a break that I’ve ever experienced in my 17 years of education. Thank you!”

As kids were leaving the school, the halls were vibrating again. It wasn’t necessarily from excitement to leave. It was from students yelling their “see you laters” and “Merry Christmases” to new friends. I believe they will be excited to be back on January 2nd, and that they will be looking forward to our next Mustang Madness.

Enjoy a few of the pictures of our day celebrating a love of learning! This is just a sample of what our incredible teachers and students enjoyed. Thank you for this incredible idea Ryan, and for sharing it in Your School Rocks! Just another example of how #DBC50Summer is changing my world, one book and one implementation at a time.

For more on this idea of #tlap day, check out Ryan’s blog! He has so many resources and has done this many times! It’s a wealth of knowledge and he’s super helpful if you need anything that you can’t find there!