Education According to Hamilton: Helpless

Education According to Hamilton Room Where It Happens (1)

This song is my jam! “Helpless” is the one song on the entire Hamilton the Musical soundtrack that I can quite literally listen to again and again without getting tired of it. I’m singing it at the top of my lungs on repeat number two and still going strong on repeat number ten! My own daughters know almost every word of this one, too. Check it out here (or below).


If this is the first time you’ve heard “Helpless”, you may be wondering how in the world this is related to education. Some of it may be a stretch, but it’s my fave and we’re going to make it work! Ha!

Everybody’s dancin’ and the band’s top volume

With some of the students that have been hardest to reach, I finally broke through with music. In fact, there was one particular student of mine last year who barely said a word all year. One of the first conversations we had was after he shared that “Guns and Ships” was his favorite Hamilton song. I had the “clean” version of the soundtrack playing – which still requires a quick song change every now and again – and he just randomly mentioned this little tidbit about himself to me. I had him. After that, we had several conversations, but that was my “in” with him. Is the class (or is it just you) having a rough day? Find some grade-level appropriate music, crank it up, and take a little dance break! Dance with them! Don’t be afraid to look silly; in fact, the sillier, the better!

I’m about to change your life.

Education has the power to change lives. Why do you think slave owners didn’t want their slaves to be able to read and write? Education is empowering! If the slaves weren’t literate, the slave owners had an advantage. This is why many slaves learned to read and write on their own, or by being secretly taught by others. Having an education provides a level of independence that one will struggle to find otherwise. I remind my students of this independence when I see their work ethic diminish at school. We chat about what’s going on, usually a less-than-optimal situation at home, and then talk about how education can get them out of that situation and possibly provide them with the means to care for themselves and their future family. Every morning we could say, “I’m about to change your life,” to our students… By all means, lead the way.

If it takes fighting a war for us to meet, it will have been worth it.

So that’s a bit extra in this discussion about education, but think of all the things in education that are a bit more difficult to do. It’s easier to teach to the average student and hope everyone else “gets” it. It’s easier to run a worksheet than to create an experience. It’s easier to maintain status quo than to put in the work to be exceptional. But you know what? Going above and beyond, teaching each individual student, creating experiences, putting in the work to be exceptional… it’s worth it. Every time. It’s worth it.

There’s nothing that your mind can’t do.

We have to believe this about our students. If we don’t believe that our students can achieve success, there’s no point in going any further. Bobby’s success may look different from Tamilia’s success, but they can both be success stories. Angel’s success might appear more like stereotypical “success” than Mychel’s success… but every success should be celebrated and we must believe that every student can reach their own success. Imagine what our classrooms would look like if we truly believed “there’s nothing that your mind can’t do” about every student… yes, even that kid.

We’ll figure it out.

I love, and I truly mean… I love when a student asks me a question that I don’t know the answer to immediately. That means we get to figure it out together. That’s one of my favorite things about the Friday afternoon game club that I facilitate. There are many games that none of us know how to play, but we figure it out together. It allows me the freedom to be a little less teacher and a little more student… try it sometime. Let your guard down and let the students lead. Learn from them. (Hey! Hamilton says it’s okay!)

What’s your educational takeaways from “Helpless”? I’d love to hear your connections! Reply below or comment on Twitter!

Education According to Hamilton: The Room Where It Happens

Education According to Hamilton Room Where It Happens

This song was among some of the first exposure I had to Hamilton the Musical and I fell in love immediately. There’s so much to learn about education through this song. Bonus: It’s so fun to listen to! Let’s find out what exactly happens in that room. Check it out below, or click here!

Do whatever it takes

As educators we should do whatever it takes to get students to love learning. It’s really not even about the content, but about helping students become passionate and excited about gaining new information. When we can unlock that enthusiasm in students, we’ve hit the educational jackpot!

The room where it happens

Don’t you want to be that place? Don’t you want students to be doing everything they can to get into your room? Our equivalent to this is when students discover who their teacher is. In my district, most students find out who their teacher is at Open House or Back to School night. It always made me smile to hear parents say, “My son/daughter is so excited because he/she got you as their teacher.” I’d have the goofiest grin (I’m sure) as I told them that I was so excited because I got them as my student! And then, the magic happens in our room! Now, I do everything possible to make our media center be the room where it happens. How can you make your environment the room where it happens?

Let’s hear what he has to say!

Listen to your colleagues. I’m working on this one! I tend to get so excited that I jump in with my own ideas before listening to the ideas of others. One of our faculty norms is to “share the floor”. Listen to one another and build the best experiences and opportunities for students by combining the best of what one another has to say.

Not only this, but we should also give students a chance to say more! Give them the mic. Whether you use an analog journal, a digital option, or something in between, give students the opportunity to share their thoughts. The most valuable feedback I am given each year comes from my students. Sometimes, they roast me. And I appreciate it because it makes me better when I use their feedback and grow from it.

Not every issue can be settled by committee

I’m just going to leave that one there. Committees are valuable, yes. Committees should be comprised of representatives of various groups and those committees create options for implementation to bring before the whole. Issues should not be “settled” by committees. Solutions should be generated by the committee, then those solutions are brought to the group for feedback. The committee meets again using the feedback given and then comes back with limited options for a vote. At least, this is how I’ve seen successful committees run in the past.

You don’t get a win unless you play in the game

Sitting on the sidelines simply isn’t as fun as playing the game. Get in the game with your students. Learn beside them. Allow them to teach you a thing or two, or ten. If you play in the game with the students, ultimately you and your students will experience your own victory.

I wanna build something that’s gonna outlive me

Build your legacy, one day at a time, one student at a time, one conversation at a time. Use every conversation as an opportunity to uplift students and show them the possibilities that lie before them. Help students become solution-oriented and encourage initiative to find the problems around them and create plans to solve them. This is how we build something that will outlive us, not by creating beautiful bubbles on answer sheets.

I could go on and on about this song. It’s truly one of my very favorites and has so much educational truth in it. What else do you take away from “The Room Where It Happens”? Comment below or share with me on Twitter! I just love hearing your educational connections to these amazing songs from Hamilton the Musical.

Sneak Peek:

If you stand for nothing, Burr, what do you fall for?

What do you stand for in education? This is what my upcoming book, Educational Eye Exam, is all about! You embark on a journey to the optometrist to find your core beliefs about education, your educational philosophy, and then create a plan to implement those beliefs in your educational environment. Be sure to follow along for updates at #EduEyeExam!


Education According to Hamilton: Meet Me Inside

Education According to Hamilton Meet Me Inside

Now that I’m seeing all of these connections between education and Hamilton the Musical, every morning’s drive to work (yes, teachers are already back at work) is like my own personal pep talk from Lin-Manuel Miranda and the Hamilton cast.

“Meet Me Inside” is a song that gets stuck in my head all the time. It’s one of the first songs from the show that I knew by heart and I think we have a lot to learn from it as educators.

Check out the video with lyrics below (or by clicking here).

Hamilton! Sir! Meet Me Inside!

When George Washington is livid with Alexander Hamilton for allowing this duel to take place, he doesn’t criticize him in public. Even though he’s called inside in front of his peers (similar to calling a student into the hallway, or having them stay after class), he isn’t humiliated in front of his peers. Think about how important this is to the relationship between the General and Hamilton. Think about how important this is to the relationship between you and your students. Embarrassing students in front of the class does nothing to solve the underlying behavior problem. I would encourage every educator to carry a few post-its with “see me after class” written on them, or create some form of communication where you let the student know the behavior is not being ignored, but that you as the teacher are unwilling to call them out publicly. Simply placing one of these sticky notes on the corner of a desk sends a message to that student without further disrupting class and protecting the relationship between teacher and student. If the unwanted behavior is a cry for attention (I truly believe that all behavior is communication), you show them that the negative attention will not be given while still letting them know that you see them. Meet your students confidentially for these conversations.

And if you’re curious… public behavior charts with cards, clips, cute monster avatars, etc. mounted in front of the class… that’s not solving behavior concerns.

If you gave me command of a battalion, a group of men to lead…

I have found that one of the best ways to handle situations with students who exhibit unwanted behaviors is to give them some leadership. Allow them to be table captain, give them the line leader position, have them peer tutor in an area they have shown success. This flips the script and gives them positive reinforcement, and the opportunity to model the behavior that we’d like to see from them for others! The kid who was constantly telling me how to do my job, and pointing out my errors in the middle of class, was given the job of editor. He would proofread anything I sent home to parents. We came up with a special signal anytime I made a mistake (yes, I sometimes mess up, but I’m sure that’s just me…right?). I gave him the power to use his strengths as a leader, without disrupting class. And honestly, he quit getting under my skin and I appreciated his input. Try giving students a group of friends to lead and see if the behaviors transform into sought after leadership qualities.

What other educational, or life, lessons do you find in Hamilton‘s “Meet Me Inside”? I’m excited to hear your thoughts! Feel free to comment below or reply on Twitter!

I am so excited because the next song will likely be one of my very favorites from the entire soundtrack… which is your favorite Hamilton song?