#DBC50Summer 49/50: The Pepper Effect

Once upon a time in the far away land of #edcamprss on March 7, 2015 there was a second year media coordinator who was a huge fan of this book called Teach Like A Pirate. She had delved into the world of Twitter and was super excited to meet some epic twitter friends & #EduHeroes, like Mandy Casto and Derek McCoy. While enjoying a session on the book, I get a tweet from Dave Burgess (you may have heard of him before <insert sarcasm font here>)!

Um… no, it’s never too late, Captain! After some technical difficulties, we were able to chat with Dave live during our #tlap session!

(Yep, that’s me in the white shirt standing up)

One of the people in our packed out room was a principal. My friend and mentor, Lucas Gillispie, tweeted his question while I typed it into the chat box in Skype (Dave couldn’t hear us, but thankfully we could hear him.)

Wait a minute… that twitter handle looks awfully familiar! And the name… where have I heard that name?

This was the first time I got to chat with Dave and hear his enthusiasm! I declared then and there that I was #foreverApirate!

Who else was in the room, again?

Who is this guy?

Are you putting it all together? The day that Sean Gaillard, author of book 49 in the Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc line “met” Dave Burgess and first committed to reading Teach Like A Pirate, I was fortunate enough to be in the room typing the questions to Dave so he could answer them. I actually typed the question to Dave from Sean about how to best support teachers who are teaching like pirates as the admin.

Isn’t that insane? Now, here we are, over 3 1/2 years later, and I’m writing a #DBC50Summer blog post on Sean’s book, published by Dave and released on June 4, 2018! I’ve got to tell you… I love that story! THAT is the power of being a connected educator!

So which book is Sean’s? Sean is a self-proclaimed walking encyclopedia of facts about The Beatles and their music. As a nod to Sgt Pepper in Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Sean wrote The Pepper Effect.

This book isn’t just for fans of The Beatles! I’ll be honest, I’m not a fan. Not my style of music. I can appreciate their rise to fame, their willingness to go against the grain of pop music of the era. However, to me, music of the 60s and 70s isn’t that appealing. (Yep, and there goes the followers list back to zero… hahaha)

For the record, I’m a fan of late 90s boy bands and the teen pop and dance-pop music, as well as contemporary R&B and hip hop of the 2000s. I will sing every word to every Usher, Nelly, Destiny’s Child, and any of the teen pop songs at the top of my lungs on any given day.

Even with our vast differences in musical selection, I was still able to gain so much from Sean in the 85 pages of The Pepper Effect! I love how he weaves musical jargon throughout the book and makes these spot-on connections between the Beatles story and educational applications.  His style of writing is both detail-oriented and insanely creative, a cool mash-up of right- and left-brained traits! I especially love his use of Side 1 and Side 2 to tell the Beatles’ story and then shares how we apply it in our schoolhouses in Side 2. He has interludes between chapters and uses the concept of mixed tapes to encourage reflection and action at the end of each chapter. It’s a genius set list, for sure!

There are four main steps that bring together The Pepper Effect (both the book and the ideal). These are:

  • Believe in your vision.
  • Believe in your masterpiece.
  • Believe in your collaborators.
  • Ignore the naysayers.

These are instrumental (See what I did there?) in creating a positive culture of creativity, collaboration, and innovation in our schools. Through stories of The Beatles, Sean encourages us to do things like finding time to balance our personal and professional lives using “White Space” and to shed the status quo. He empowers us to create whimsical (I love that word) moments for our students and teachers. He reminds us that our students have masterpieces within them and it is our moral imperative to help them discover those. He share his heart in that he desires for the schoolhouse to be a place of love where “one teacher’s words can set a life-changing course for a student to take bold, giant steps toward building a dynamic future” and where teachers “encourage each other to pick up [their] instruments and play [their] songs in unrelenting passion…rooted in service and support”! Isn’t that powerful stuff?

This is an exceptional book that I highly recommend to Beatles fan, and non-Beatles fans alike! Sean certainly outdid himself! I would be remiss, however, if I didn’t bring to light one of things Sean is most well-known for creating! His own gift to the world is the #CelebrateMonday movement. (Ahhh, yes; now you’re getting a clear picture of what Sean is about and why I adore him so doggone much.)

The idea behind #CelebrateMonday is that many people dread that first day back at work. But why? His idea is to be excited Mondays because it becomes the positive catalyst for the week! Using the #CelebrateMonday hashtag, share awesome stuff happening in your school. Use that opportunity to celebrate your bandmates. What is going on that makes the day excellent? It’s about finding the positive with intentionality on a day that is normally an excuse to be negative. Find out why educators across the globe #CelebrateMonday by following the hashtag and venture into Sean’s new flipgrid space here! Share your own responses here as well!

I was so excited to attend Sean’s book release party this summer! While there, he signed my book and I got a selfie! (As a bonus, I also got to meet the amazing @mospillman!)

Sean is truly that amazing and that kind. He exudes positivity and is genuinely the nicest guy. I just can’t say enough great things about him, and his book is incredible, too! Connect with Sean on twitter at @smgaillard! Be sure to #CelebrateMonday each and every Monday; it’s not hard to find something positive if we’ll just look! That’s what I plan to do this year! I commit to finding something positive about staff members, students, or my school every Monday for the remainder of the year and tweeting it to the hashtag. As we have a growing population of parents, teachers, and students on Twitter, it is important to build culture in digital spaces as well as physical spaces. This can only help foster a trusting relationship between all stakeholders. As Sean points out, this leads to creativity, collaboration, and innovation!

You can follow Sean’s blog here. He recently appeared on DisruptED tv which you can see below.

There are several other podcasts on which he has appeared including #LeadUpTeach, Leader of Learning, and Reimagine Schools. He was interviewed at the Transformative Leadership Summit as well. Keep watching for great things coming from Sean! With his kindness and servant heart for leadership, he is going to continue to do amazing things! He was currently chosen as Principal of the Year for his district and his school was selected as School of the Year! The biggest thing I can share about Sean is that every time I speak with him, I am inspired and uplifted. I appreciate Sean’s friendship and I adore his book! As per usual, the flipgrid is available for your reflections. Huge shoutout to Andrea Paulakovich who created this amazing space for global collaboration during the #DBC50Summer and beyond! She has a heart for connecting and educating, so be sure to follow her, and her own #DBC50Summer journey!

*One other random connection between Sean and I (these blow my mind) is that this girl, Jessie DeLapp, who had the first ever signed copy of The Pepper Effect (<– order your copy)… she babysat my oldest daughter before she ever started teaching. Crazy, right?!


Do you know time it is? Can you believe we’ve reached this moment? The next blog will be for Book 50 in the #DBC50Summer! I am so excited to reach this goal, but I can’t get ahead of myself – can’t “count my chickens before they hatch,” as they say. According to my initial goal of reading the first 50 books published (#DBC50) as written in #DBC50Summer Explained, the deadline was by the last day of summer. Do you know today is? The last day of summer! Officially… summer ends at 9:54 pm EST. I still get to enjoy one more book, connect and reflect, and create an implementation plan for book 50. What a celebration it was on Twitter when #DBC50 came out! I’m going to morph from a PIRATE into a ninja to read book 50 – The EduNinja Mindset by Jennifer Burdis! Join me later on today (after a bit of rest and some family time) for the blog post for book 50!

Jen’s book will not be the final blog for #DBC50Summer. In keeping with tradition, I will create a #DBC50Summer Recap for 41-50 and plan to also do one final fun post with a super important announcement – stay tuned!

#DBC50Summer 48/50: Sparks in the Dark Part Two?!

Wait a minute, what? This is supposed to be book 49! What is going on here?

I’ll tell you what’s going on. I stinking read the rest of Sparks in the Dark this evening and I am so pumped up by Todd Nesloney and Travis Crowder! (Travis apparently is another hometown hero – had no idea he lived in NC until the end of the book; did I miss that somewhere? Home field advantage – I’ve got to come see you, Travis!)

I thoroughly enjoyed the first 7 chapters of this book and it was mostly about reading and integrating that into every content area and why reading is so important to our students. Well, then I read the last 6 chapters and I’ll be darned if I wasn’t inspired by their words on writing and now I’ve got to reflect and write an implementation plan for that.

Yes, you heard that right… This book is so doggone good that I’ve got to write two posts, reflecting and connecting to the text, then create another implementation plan – just based on (as Travis and Todd say) “illuminating the writing lives” in my students! Well-done, fellas; well-done!

As a child (I couldn’t have been more than 9 or 10) I sat at my old Windows computer (which required DOS prompts) and wrote chapters about realistic fiction. They were typically a knock-off of adventures in The Babysitter’s Club series by Ann Martin.

I kept a diary that I wrote in every night from the time I was in 1st or 2nd grade and distinctly remember writing a heartfelt post about the day my mom and dad officially split up and my dad walked out the door, when I was in 5th grade.

In 4th grade (Mrs. Byrd’s class), I wrote a lengthy answer to an essay question about changes in transportation in North Carolina on a social studies test. It is the first time I recall writing and enjoying writing at school. She was so impressed with the answer that it became an exemplar, which blew me away.

In 7th grade, we were required to write in a journal each week. Fridays were days for writing and we chose from 101 writing prompts and just wrote whatever we desired. Mine started out focused on the boy I had a [not-so-] secret crush on at the time. (I was 12, give me a break!) They evolved into more thought-provoking pieces of current events, as well as imaginative writing.

From there, school killed my love of writing. It became a chore.

When my ex-fiance and I broke off our engagement, I picked up writing again. I shared my “deepest, darkest secrets” in my journal (because calling it a diary felt so juvenile). I wrote my feelings, my apprehension about this new future, completely separated from the future I had imagined for years. When I met my husband for the first time, I wrote about him the night I got home. I wrote about the feeling that “this might be the one.” (Yes, I knew from the moment I met him, as did he… we were engaged in 6 weeks, married within the year, and through good, bad, and sometimes incredibly ugly we’re celebrating 12 years in December.)

Then social media kicked in. I found facebook (oddly enough) to be an outlet. It wasn’t as “deep-dark secret” as my journal had been, but it was a place to chronicle my life’s events. I would share my love for my job, day-to-day events, and yes, even what I ate at night (especially if it was Outback Steakhouse, one of my very favorites). I wrote about heartbreaks and shared with my family and closest friends – when we miscarried babies in not one… not two… but three different pregnancies, when I lost my Nanny (one of my biggest cheerleaders), and when my husband lost his job months after our youngest daughter was born.

Now… it’s blogging. This is my space. (See what I did there… y’all remember that? Whew – blast from the past!) It’s where I share my thoughts. Don Murray was so right when he says (as quoted in Sparks in the Dark), “You write to discover what you want to say.”

So my implementation plan is completely different from anything I’ve done to this point. I’m telling y’all… this book has grabbed my soul! It’s stirred something deep down. It’s awoken a passion that I didn’t realize I had; something completely different from what the math teacher in me would have ever admitted to having a passion for. Writing. It’s not about writing to a prompt. It’s not about answering the question of the day, or answering an essay question on a test. Like reading, it’s about choice. Choosing what you want to write about. It’s about getting your thoughts on paper (or screen, pick your poison). It’s about reflection. My best reflections have come through writing. Not verbal conversation with others. But through my own quiet time, after my family is asleep… when I sit in the middle section of our sectional wrapped up in a blanket with my heavily-stickered MacBook Pro in my lap. When I write. That’s when I discover what I want to say. Sometimes there are (what feels like) a bazillion typos. You may notice them. I do, too. I will eventually edit. But right now, it’s all so raw. I just want to get it out.

This implementation plan isn’t for me. It’s not even really for my students. It’s for you.

I challenge you to write. I challenge you to share your writing with others. Maybe it’s a journal (I don’t recommend sharing your deepest-darkest secrets with just anyone though… just sayin’). Maybe it’s a Google Doc. Maybe it’s a writing notebook. Maybe… just maybe it’s a blog. Whatever it is, write. Write to figure out what you believe. Figure out your passions. Figure out who you are. I’m 33 years old, and I am just discovering who Alicia Ray really is. Sometimes, she scares the crap out of me. Sometimes, I feel like she’s not enough. Sometimes, I love her. But she’s always me. And the best way to share her, this voice inside my head, is through writing. So, to you… go right now… Write. I’d love it if you’d give me a peek into your head. Please tag me when you share your post (if that’s the route you take)!

Go. Write. Now.

*Also, pick up a copy of Sparks in the Dark by Travis Crowder and Todd Nesloney. It will truly illuminate your own spark!

#DBC50Summer 48/50: Sparks in the Dark

I’ve not finished the book. I had to stop reading. So many ideas were swirling in my head that I couldn’t continue without getting part of these thoughts written down. I promise I’ll finish it. Surely, if you’ve been with me since the beginning of #DBC50Summer, you trust that I will uphold the integrity of #DBC50Summer by reading every word of every book. I will finish book 48. But it won’t be tonight. I can’t.

I have decided that Todd Nesloney is my spirit animal. Seriously – the parallels in our educational walk are insane… right up to where he becomes an administrator. I’m going to let you keep that one for both of us, okay, Todd? In previous blogs, I mentioned my journey in education. I was hired after three interviews with the same administrator (two face-to-face and one over the phone) as a fifth grade math teacher on a three-teacher team. I taught math to three sets of 20-22 fifth grade students. I had one small 20-25 minute block of SSR time (self-selected reading or silent sustained reading – pick an acronym meaning) and rarely conferenced with students. Why? Teaching reading was the job of our ELA teacher. Not. My. Job. (I, too, Todd, was wrong.) I used that time to grade papers, conference about Accelerated Math or Superstars Math, or troubleshoot the problems our Accelerated Reader program was having (ugh). It was the most dreaded part of my day, and I didn’t mind letting students know that I hated it. How arrogant I was! Then I transitioned to become a math and science teacher on two-teacher team. After two years of that, I was self-contained, teaching all subject areas in fifth grade. Only then, did I view myself as a reading teacher. How I wish I could go back and change my mindset then!

When former students hear that I work in a media center, I usually receive one of two reactions. A sideways glance and “oh really?” or a flat out “No WAY! I never imagined you in a library!” That’s how bad my disdain for teaching reading was coming across to students. I realize the impossibility of my next statement, but boy do I wish I had Sparks in the Dark by Travis Crowder and Todd Nesloney (coauthor of Kids Deserve It and author of Stories from Webb) when I was in the classroom!

This beautiful book eloquently states all that is right with reading and writing in the classroom! Every classroom, not just ELA, should be reading and writing daily! With intentionality. When I taught math and when I taught math and science, I should have been incorporating reading and writing. In a math methods class in college, I took a course that required writing every step to a problem in a problem set in paragraph form. We were to explain our chosen problem like we were explaining complex math to a kindergarten student. It was our responsibility to read the responses of our teammates, because we then presented their responses to the class. We wrote, read, and talked… in math. Never once did we draw diagrams unless we could specifically describe those diagrams in paragraph form. It was the hardest class I took in my undergrad coursework, but also the most meaningful. (I never used the information while teaching math, but I should have. Looking back, I realize that I did my students a huge disservice.)

I’m only on chapter 8, but I had to stop and share my takeaways thus far.

Takeaway 1: These fellas have passion for reading and writing in the classroom. Travis and Todd share their own failures, not only with us as readers, but with their students through written word. I had never considered writing for my students. I should definitely try that and see what happens! I did share the #DBC50Summer Explained post with them during media as an introduction to goal setting and reading as a choice. After they read the post, I asked them who the author was. Most had no idea. When I pointed out the URL was from aliciaray.com, several requested time to reread the article (or let’s be real, read it for the first time because they were now invested). Several immediately bookmarked my blog which blew my mind that they would be interested in these posts. I even shared that it was all “teacher-y stuff” but they didn’t seem to mind bookmarking anyway. (If any of you are reading this, hi and I love you! Do you have a book near you?)

Takeaway 2: Students deserve and crave choice and voice in their reading and writing. I have had a revelation in the past 5 years in the media center… I despise reading quizzes and book reports. I hate what it does to students’ love of reading. I’ve watched my own child devour a book and after watching her eyes light up as she tells me about it, I ask her if she’s doing to take a test on it the next day. It’s like flipping a switch. The light goes out. She’s no longer excited about the book. When did we get to that point as educators? Can’t they just read to enjoy reading? When did the enjoyment of reading a book become superseded by a need to reward students with arbitrary kids’ meal prizes or reward trips that parents still have to pay for after their child earned it (many times at the last moment due to peer pressure)? Traditional book reports do the same thing. Having authentic conversations about what a child is reading, giving them the opportunity to discuss their books with their peers… that will create a love of reading. Travis and Todd agree!

Takeaway 3: The quotes… oh the quotes from this book. Whether it’s the quotes from the likes of Penny Kittle, T.S. Eliot, John Maxwell, Virginia Woolf, Maya Angelou, etc at the beginning of each chapter, or the quotes interspersed within the chapter, this baby is full of amazing quotes! Here are some of my favorites:

  • “My reading scores were improving… [but] none of my students were leaving my classroom with a love of reading and writing. Change was necessary.”
  • “Change isn’t meant to be easy. If it were, everyone would love and seek out change.”
  • “When students see your genuine passion and interest, it will pique theirs.”
  • “Reading is part of a well-rounded life.”
  • “I find it exciting to work with children who claim to hate reading because much of the time the problem is they simply haven’t found a book that grips their heart or reaches their soul.”
  • “Providing time for children to read in every classroom shows the students just how important reading is and that, yes, your math teacher reads, too.”
  • “Our children are seeking to be understood while simultaneously seeking to understand. They have questions about current events and the choices that people make…we need to provide a safe space for them to discuss their fears, their worries, their uncertainties.”
  • “Arm us with books. Because the pen is mightier than the sword.”

See… powerful stuff, right? That’s not even close to all I’ve highlighted and written notes beside! What power reading and writing have for our students, and for us! If I’ve learned nothing else from #DBC50Summer, it is that truth. Reading and writing has proven to be an insanely powerful practice, and one that I will continue to pursue now that I’ve found my voice again. I will move from professional development books to middle school books and some young adult and picture books and continue this practice of reading and blogging. I believe it’s important for me to practice what I preach, so I want my students to be able to reference my publishing the blogs to a public audience as a positive example of digital footprint, citizenship, goal-setting, and writing for a purpose.

I have so many ideas of implementation plans swirling that I cannot possibly pick one right now…. and I’ve not even finished the book yet. I just had to stop and reflect! I can, however, share some of the possibilities with you.

  • Little Free Library – Our carpentry class made these for each elementary school three or four years ago and we supplied the LFL with discard books and Scholastic dollar books. I’d love to lead the initiative to create one for each of our middle and high schools this year.
  • Implementing a time in the media center to reflect on books as they return them. What did they like or not like? Should we keep the book in the media center or not? We are just recreating a reading culture at my school and many of the books (especially fiction) are not checked out very much. I have analyzed our collection over and over again, but this time, I will do it with the most important voices – the students’. They will help me decide which books to discard and which books we need to add to our collection through book suggestions.
  • We are doing a book tasting as part of a much larger Project-Based Learning experience next month. Stay tuned for a blog post with epic pictures and step-by-step directions for implementing at your school if you choose to do so.
  • For the first time ever, our students are given full freedom in book selection in the media center. In the past (in elementary school), every book was leveled and students could only check out books on their level. When students arrived at middle school, I do not level books, but I did require that students choose one fiction and one nonfiction book for a total of two books checked out at a time. I’m releasing control (whew – scary, but it’s the right thing for students, so I’m doing it) and allowing students to check out any three books they’d like. Of course, I’m encouraging them to read a variety of texts and to step out of their comfort zone in genres to try something new, but the ultimate decision is theirs.
  • Students are setting their own reading goals this year. Each quarter they are committing to reading “x” number of books before the end of the quarter. We discussed length of books being a factor, reading speed, genre, etc and that every book counted equally. So whether they read a picture book or Divergent, it counts as one book. Because there is no competition between students, only trying to reach your own goal, students were encouraged to create a realistic goal for themselves and share it with me. They then created a flipgrid video that shared their goal and their plan for reaching the goal using the following sentence frame: My name is __(tell your name)__ and my reading goal is to read ___(tell how many books)___ books by October 31. I will reach my goal by ___(share your plan)___. Finally, we will revisit these goals halfway through the quarter, evaluating our progress and at the end of the quarter will share on flipgrid whether they reached the goal and what their next quarter’s goal will be.

There is no reward for reaching their goal other than the satisfaction of reaching their goal and reading tremendous books. There is no consequence for not reaching their goal; we will just make plans for how to reach the goal next time. Finally, there is no quiz, project, report, etc to prove they have read or not read.

Crazy, right? But we’re trying it. Giving them complete ownership will hopefully create a desire to read like never before. Check back in early November for an update on how it’s going. Students had approximately 6 weeks left in the quarter when they created their goal. I am impressed that only 9% of students committed to only reading one book (zero wasn’t an option – they are expected to read something) in six weeks, while 50% of students created a goal of reading 3-8 books in this same time period. That’s an average of a book per week. If my students reach that goal, I will be super pumped! Reading a book per week is a HUGE upgrade from where we are now!

I’m excited to work alongside my administration and teachers to promote a love of reading, writing, and learning in our school. This book is exactly what we need as we partner with our students to create a literacy plan that empowers students to make their own goals and lead the way with reading and writing. It’s going to be awesome! I look forward to finishing the book tomorrow before starting book 49!

In the meantime, go get a copy of Sparks in the Dark and get inspired to implement great changes in your school in regards to reading and writing with purpose and excitement. Be sure to follow Travis and Todd on Twitter at @teachermantrav and @techninjatodd, respectively. Follow the hashtag #SparksintheDark for awesome conversation and ideas to integrate reading and writing into every content area. Check out Todd’s website here and Travis’s website here for more resources, including blogs! The podcast below from Vicki (@coolcatteacher) Davis is an amazing look into the book and the hearts of these two astounding educators! *I highly recommend 10-Minute Teacher Podcast – always! Great resources, conversation, and doesn’t take up a lot of your time. Win-Win-Win!*

Finally, hop over to the flipgrid and share your own story of a time when you saw sparks in the dark! This may be how you create a lifelong love of reading and writing in your school, classroom, or district. It may be a story about a student who finally “got it” and fell in love with literacy because of “that book”. Share with us! Andrea Paulakovich (creator of this amazing flipgrid space and the idea of global collaboration on all DBC, Inc book on flipgrid) and I would love for you to add your thoughts to the flipgrid!

Speaking of book 49 (which I will begin ONLY after I finish the last few chapters of Sparks in the Dark – remember, we’ve established that trust now, yes?)… Sean – it’s time! It’s FINALLY time! I have the best story about my friend Sean, and how we met and mutually connected to Dave Burgess in 2015! I cannot wait to share that story with you when I finally get to read, connect, reflect, and create an implementation plan for his book that released this summer! I’ve been waiting for this moment all summer, Sean! Book 49 is called The Pepper Effect and is written by my friend (and “neighbor”), Sean Gaillard!