Staying Grounded

My dear friend, Brian Aspinall (author of multiple books including two I’ve written about – Code Breaker & Block Breaker – and now CEO of Code Breaker, Inc which is rocking the world of education in Canada and beyond) sent a couple of books that his company has published to me. I always love reading and growing as an educator, so I was excited to check these out! Besides, Brian never steers me wrong. I’ve always been inspired by him.

As I opened Staying Grounded by Michael J Hynes, I was excited to see familiar names – Sir Ken Robinson, Abraham Maslow, Carol Dweck, and more – and knew immediately Mike was going to be one of “my people”. Within his book there are 12 principles broken down into three parts.

Part 1 about the “inside work” features principles like taking care of yourself and keeping a check on your attitude. Oops. Not even 50 pages into the book and I’ve already messed up on the first two principles. Clearly I needed to read this book, and I needed it now (as in yesterday). If you follow me on Twitter, you may have seen that I spent a whopping 17 hours asleep this past weekend… you didn’t see however that, after posting that picture, I didn’t even last 3 hours, then I went right back to bed. I slept for over 20 hours in a 24-hour period. I’m not sick; I’m just not sleeping well. I’m sure I’m not alone in this. Are you an educator? Are you sleeping well these days? I bet the last “good” night of sleep I had was pre-COVID. You?

As I read Mike’s words, I know that I need to prioritize taking better care of myself. Then he comes right after “take care of yourself” and hits me with “attitude diseases”. I’m thinking… is this guy watching my life play out?! I think I am a pessimist by nature, believe it or not… well, maybe not a “pessimist” – I prefer to see it as being a “realist”. This may truly come as a surprise to some, but I work hard to finding the good in people and experiences. It’s intentional. Every single time. It doesn’t come natural to me. In fact, when I’m traveling and have the opportunity (especially when I’m alone) I’ll find the nearest Hobby Lobby and spend some time walking around the wooden wall decor. The uplifting words all around me puts me in a positive mindset! It also means I’m putting another item in my cart online! What Mike says here is true; “Attitudes determine who we are and what we can do.”

Moving into Part 2 – the “outside work” – I was challenged by the power of routines. I am not a morning person. at. all. In my #DBCBookBlogs post The EduNinja Mindset, Creatively Productive, and Sanctuaries, I speak in some way to creating a new routine or habit in which I wake up earlier in the mornings. The first of those blogs was over two years ago… here I am saying (yet again) that I am going to create a new routine and stick to it. I am a believer that our routines lead to success. I just need to make myself live out my belief in this. Later in Part 2, Mike speaks about student shadowing. If you’ve never done this, and you’re an educator – especially an educator outside of the classroom – make shadowing a student a priority. I realize that COVID throws a wrench into many plans this year, however it’s worth the time if you’ll make it happen. (Read about my experiences shadowing students here.)

Further cementing that Michael J. Hynes is one of “my people” is his principle about educational philosophy.

What is our plan, vision and core values, and how do we operationalize them?

Michael J Hynes, Staying Grounded

Without knowing our vision we are doomed to become lesser versions of ourselves. We’ll follow anyone and agree with anything because we don’t have our own vision clearly mapped before us. I have many things to say on this particular topic. Shameless plug… when you’ve read Mike’s 10th principle in Staying Grounded and want more (because it is THAT important & he does an amazing job speaking to its importance), check out a personal favorite of mine, Educational Eye Exam. (hehehe… end shameless plug)

Finally, part 3 speaks to our “future” work and oh, how I wish I had this section of the book during my undergraduate program! It’s the perfect collection of all the major child development theorists in education and is written in easy-to-understand verbiage. We can’t even begin to understand our students and how to best serve them without knowing the information in principle 11! I needed the refresher course myself, even with this being my 15th year in education! It’s good stuff, y’all.

I thoroughly enjoyed getting to read Staying Grounded. I love the John Maxwell (for educators) vibes I get from this book and the ease with which Mike shares his story, and the stories of others in the “Leadership Stories” portions of his book. The organization of the book is well-done. It’s certainly a book I’d gift to educators – including my own children’s teachers. Check it out for yourself! You’ll be delighted that you did!

Must-Have Tech Tools for Remote Learning

I’ve seen, quite literally, hundreds of tech tools & curation lists & book lists & calendars & read alouds &… (exhausted, yet?) being discussed to prepare our students for remote learning through the coming weeks.

Can I just be real for a minute?

I’m overwhelmed.

If you are too, here’s a list (yes, another…) of my must-have tech tools for remote learning. I truly believe that if we’ve got these tools in place, our students can blow our minds with what they create and share with the world during the foreseeable future, even from home.

RemoteLearning COVID19 by Alicia Ray (2)


To access links, click here: RemoteLearning COVID19 by Alicia Ray

*Note: Some of the literacy links are specific to my school/state. Passwords to these cannot be shared with general public.

One section in particular that I hope will spur some thoughts is the section about virtual trips. It’s important that our students see the world during this time where so many things around them are shutting down. I hope it will allow our students the opportunity to get “out” of their homes while still being safely distanced from this strand of the coronavirus. The empathy we have the ability to foster in students right now is unbelievable. There are not many times in our history that we have joined together as a global people to combat something bigger than us. Just a few months ago, COVID-19 seemed so far away and now it’s on our door steps. Let’s use this opportunity to do some good and shower one another with love, grace, forgiveness, and inspire hope in others.

Remember, as overwhelmed as we may be feeling, our students likely feel that overwhelm exponentially.

«« • »»

For more ideas on digital learning, I recommend checking out these books:

Tech with Heart by Stacey Roshan

Ditch that Textbook by Matt Miller

Ditch that Homework by Matt Miller & Alice Keeler

50 Things You Can Do With Google Classroom by Alice Keeler & Libbi Miller, Ed.D.

50 Things To Go Further With Google Classroom by Alice Keeler & Libbi Miller, Ed.D.

Shake Up Learning by Kasey Bell

and for the love of all, please check out Master the Media by Julie Smith!




#DBC50Summer 23/50: Lead Like A Pirate

Settle in… this one will take a while. Seriously, go grab some coffee, a snack… perhaps you’d like a blanket? (Blankets are plentiful in my house; I’m always wrapped up in one, even on summer days!) In fact, go ahead and throw on your pajamas, tuck the kids in bed… do all the things before starting. I’ll wait…

All done? Cozy? Ready? Let’s go!

In 2011, I realized that I did not want to be a classroom teacher forever. (Hey, we’ve talked about this being judgment free here… don’t judge me!) Don’t get me wrong, I love the students; I love everything about learning with the students. I hope that if you’ve been on this journey with me for very long, that truth has been evident. However, I wanted a greater impact. I also knew that I had absolutely ZERO interest in being an administrator. I am wise enough to know that I cannot handle the stresses that come with running a building. I deeply admire those in administration and look on with fascination as each of you make the world turn so effortlessly, knowing all along that it’s anything but easy. I wasn’t sure where that left me though… in my district, you were a classroom teacher with leadership roles or an administrator or at the district office.

Somewhere along the way, I found myself serving as an instructional coach in practice, but not in title. Once I heard the label “coach” and identified with it, I hunted down all of the coaching books I could find. I took to Twitter in hopes of finding more information on this idea of being an instructional coach. (For a small glimpse into my educational journey, click here.)

In March 2017, I started reading all this hype on Twitter about something called #LeadLAP (I thought it was about racing… I am from North Carolina, right?). When I found out that it was a book that was the leadership equivalent of #tlap, I knew I had to have a copy. It was the first time I bought a Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc book immediately upon book release (it kind of started a trend… oops). It was everything and more. Lead Like A Pirate is written by Beth Houf (an amazingly passionate principal from Missouri with experience in K-8 administration) and  Shelley Burgess (Yes, the Pirate Captain’s wife, coauthor of P is for Pirate – I told you that you’d hear from her again. She is also an educational powerhouse. Can you imagine what it must be like in the presence of BOTH of the Burgess pirates? Whew! I can only handle the conviction & passion from one Burgess keynote experience at a time). This book is a must-read (yes, Beth, I went there… Must. Read. Period.) for coaches, administrators, and district leaders.


In this multiple rereading, I found something I’d never found before. See, in Dave’s book (and keynote) he talks about the the phenomenon of everyone buying a silver Honda Odyssey on the same day he and Shelley bought a silver Honda Odyssey. Of course, everyone around him didn’t buy the minivan at the same time, but the Reticular Activating System (RAS… I’m just trusting Dave on this one) that typically filters out all the extraneous information around us is now highly tuned into the subject of interest. In Dave’s case, it was the silver Honda Odyssey. In mine, today, it was one particular word. This word was repeated multiple times in Lead Like A Pirate and is my biggest takeaway from this book.  Not only is it my biggest takeaway, it’s also my implementation plan. I’ll tell you that word in a minute, just hang tight.

This book is FULL of great wisdom from two phenomenal educators. I could pick from a number of amazing topics from this book! Everything from the quotes throughout the book from various authors and notable people throughout the ages to the challenges at the end of each section to even the call to action at the very end were inspirational. There is also a list of sample interview questions that I literally had to stop and ask myself in the middle of my reading! Shelley shares a story about giving faces to data, and I identified with that as I tell stories frequently to make a point. I like to hook people by grabbing their emotions first (yes, I did go there with the “hooks” – been a minute) before sharing the connection to data, content, etc.

As an instructional coach, I value everything about the ANCHOR conversations that Beth & Shelley discuss in the coaching section. I appreciate that they differentiate between the role of an evaluator and the joy of simply having a teaching and learning conversation with other educators in their building. I speak a little about that in an earlier blog post about The Secret to Coaching. I am thankful they speak to the loneliness of being in an administrative role. Although I’m not an administrator, I am a lone wolf in my school, and in many ways, in my district. Piloting a new position was the loneliest experience I’ve had in education, and if it had not been for my directors and my Professional Learning Network (PLN) on Twitter and Voxer, I would have left education. My administration is fabulous, but even they were unsure of how to fulfill the vision of my role at the beginning of the pilot. I felt as though I were on an island, with no one having a clue the island existed, waiting for someone to randomly discover it and rescue me. Reading about the loneliness of being an educational leader was so powerful when I read this book for the first time. Thankfully, I now have a pack of wolves that I run with, and we have one another’s backs.

While reading, I was trying to figure out which of the powerful pieces of wisdom I’d focus on within the blog, and what I’d use as my implementation from this book. My way of taking notes is on Twitter, so here are some of the tweets I shared while reading.






There were so many paths I could take with the blog for Lead Like a Pirate. But there was one path that was glaring at me during this reading of the book and it had nothing to do with any of these posts. In fact, as I think of this path, it reminds me of the saying “off the beaten path”… it’s the path less traveled; truly, y’all, this path is so covered with thorns and overgrown brush that you’d likely need a machete to cut through it. However, it’s the path that my gut is telling me to take with the reading of this book, and by now, and I’ve learned to trust my gut.

The word that I’m taking away, which is also the implementation journey I will embark on in the new school year, is first mentioned in the introduction of the book. It’s actually only four paragraphs into the book that the word first caught my eye. It’s the manner in which we search for ways to make our school amazing. It’s written again, in the first chapter, the manner in which we go about developing, maintaining, and sustaining positive culture in our schools. I find it again in the Transformation chapter, the manner in which we take traditional education to new heights for staff and students. We do “whatever it takes”, right? (great song by Imagine Dragons linked here, you’re welcome – one of my favorites and could even be considered a sort of anthem of mine, but not what we’re here for at the moment… moving right along)

Again, we find this word sharing the manner in which we should filter out ideas that don’t support our long-term vision. It’s also the manner in which we should pursue what matters most in our vision. It’s the manner in which we should seek out and nurture each person’s gifts. It’s the way in which we increase our knowledge and expertise in an area. Later in the book it’s the way in which Dave Burgess was trying to figure out how to teach others what he did that made him successful in the classroom as he was writing Teach Like a Pirate.

Eight times this word stood out to me… in fact, it’s circled every time I saw it. It’s likely written more than that, but these are the sightings that grabbed my attention. I recently purchased a shirt for #HiveSummit with this word written on it. (You should check out – it starts Aug 1, 2018 and runs through Aug 14, 2018, then all videos are removed. Trust me, check it out!) You could also search on Twitter for this word and #tlap and find the newest DBC author that was announced (I’m SUPER excited to read his book!)… do you know the word yet?


Synonyms for this word are unending, persistent, incessant, continuous, unwavering, unfaltering, tenacious, untiring… these are words I want to embody this year. I want to be relentless in the ways I seek to connect with students and their families. I want to be relentless in developing and maintaining a positive culture in my school. I want to be relentless in seeking out and noticing the good in each person I work with. Relentless is both my takeaway and my implementation because, as Dave says, “Inspiration without implementation is a waste”. What will that look like? When something doesn’t work, I won’t give up. I’ll keep trying, constantly looking for ways to improve. I will be tenacious in my drive to see teachers and students succeed. I will be unwavering in my belief that every person at my school is there with good intent wanting to make a positive difference in the lives of students. I will be persistent in reaching my goals, starting with finishing the #DBC50Summer and implementing these changes to my practice in the new school year. I will be RELENTLESS.

*And yes, Hamish Brewer, THE Relentless Principal, just announced that he is writing a book for DBC, Inc! So excited!*

I just can’t get enough of Lead Like a Pirate! If you can’t either, check out the website where Shelley & Beth continue to blog incredibly inspirational goodness frequently. You can find the book’s resources here. There are multiple podcasts featuring the Lead Like A Pirate message, such as The Wired Educator, Perspectives in Education, 10-Minute Teacher Podcast with Vicki Davis, and LeadUpTeach. You can also head over to the flipgrid and share your thoughts on Lead Like a Pirate there! As always, the password is DBCSummer. I’ve got to give a shoutout to Andrea Paulakovich who had this amazing idea that we could use flipgrid as a place for global collaboration on every DBC, Inc book!

Follow along with the lively community on Twitter using #LeadLAP and join in the chat using the same hashtag every Saturday morning from 10:30 am -11:30 am EST! This community is incredible, encouraging, and full of school leaders, and administrators (both school and district level) who want to see education disrupted and transformed in the greatest way possible, the PIRATE way! Both Beth & Shelley are active on Twitter as well, so feel free to reach out to them; they both have such a heart and passion for education and leadership! I am constantly inspired by these two ladies and look forward to continuing to learn from them!

Spoiler Alert… this isn’t the last you’ve heard of Lead Like a Pirate… just saying! Apparently the rest of the DBC, Inc family couldn’t get enough either, so keep your ears open later in the summer.

Here we are… finished with another book and moving along to the next one on the list.  The next two books were released back to back, only a day or two apart! They aren’t considered a “set” but goodness, they should’ve been!  These two books, both about math, are phenomenal additions to the DBC, Inc line! First, Book 24 is Table Talk Math by John Stevens (yes, that John Stevens from The Classroom Chef) and Book 25 (***HALFWAY***) is Teaching Math with Google Apps by none other than the Google guru Alice Keeler and the late Diana Herrington. We will reach the halfway point very soon!