#DBCBookBlogs: Through the Lens of Serendipity

A little over a year ago a serendipitous treasure was shared with the world. I struggle with self-doubt and a constant desire to be better, to be more. I constantly fear that I’m not enough; not enough as a friend, not enough as a mom, not enough as a wife, not enough as a daughter, an aunt, a sister, and the list goes on and on.

Then Allyson Apsey came into my life with her first book, The Path to Serendipity. That book forced me to change my self-talk and visualize an inchworm moving ever-so-slowly toward its destination. It is this visual that reminds me that “All [I] need to do is move inch by inch toward the person [I] want to become; that is enough. [I am] enough.” In all the beautiful, powerful quotes through Allyson’s first book, this one impacts my day-to-day life in a most profound way. I still struggle with self-doubt, but I’m moving toward the person I want to become.

Naturally when Allyson shared that she had finished her third book (yes, she’s a writing machine – check out her second book, The Princes of Serendip), I was ready to click pre-order immediately. In early January, Allyson tweeted out that she was offering the opportunity to endorse her newest book… and I went all “I volunteer as tribute”! The incredibly amazing Hans Appel and I were selected to endorse the new book and I immediately sat down to read what would become the 70th book released by Dave Burgess Consulting, IncThrough the Lens of Serendipity.

#SerendipityEDU

Here is my endorsement (with 100% more clickable links, ha):

“First, she astounded us with her authenticity in The Path to Serendipity, then she gave us The Princes of Serendip, an exceptional picture book for social-emotional learning. Allyson Apsey amazes yet again with this timely masterpiece on trauma-informed practices. She shares actionable, practical ways to show compassion and empathy to everyone around us. Whether in education, or in any other career field, this book gives readers the tools needed to understand how to HANDLE others with care. Through the Lens of Serendipity should be on every bookshelf, highlighted and tabbed, to be referenced again and again.”

When I received the print copy last week, I was so excited to do just as I recommended in the endorsement… highlight and tab all the things! I’ve got to tell you… reading it way back in January was an honor; however, I needed this book at the very moment it arrived at my back door (yes, my delivery folks rock out here in rural North Carolina). This book has such valuable information on trauma-informed practices that are really just good practices in general. She shares this information through stories about students and scenarios involving fictional characters, and the acronym HANDLE. (I have to say that I love this because Dave Burgess shares how he likes to put “handles” on his material so others can pick it up in his #tlap sessions.)

Allyson has such a heart for social-emotional learning, trauma-informed practice, and becoming our best selves and it is evident in every word she writes. I’ve not met her face-to-face yet, but I’m fairly certain her heart is quite literally made of gold. Truly.

I could share so many thoughts & stories as I reflected & connected throughout this book, but instead, I’d like to just share some quotes that really stood out to me. I believe you will see how beautiful Allyson’s soul is through this alone.

“…understand your personal needs so you can be your best self and therefore more effectively help others.”

“No one’s life is perfect. ‘Perfect’ just doesn’t exist.”

“If you knew that person’s story, would you treat them differently? My guess is that if you were to look at everyone you meet with compassion, their behavior and your own would significantly change.”

“When we treat students the way they have always been treated, they will behave the way they have always behaved.”

“The supports that allow people affected by trauma to heal and grow are good for all people… trauma sensitivity is people sensitivity.”

Implementation

Although there are a dozen or more impactful quotes I could continue to add, this is the one I will implement because “inspiration without implementation is a waste” (courtesy of The Captain in Teach Like A Pirate).

“The only person you can control is you… you cannot change others. Only they can decide to do that. You can only change yourself… if you wait for the world to change for you, you may wait forever.”

Allyson shares this piece of advice she gave her son after a particularly rough day he had as a young child at school. How profound and true! I needed this the moment I saw it. It’s amazing how every time I reread a book, a new truth jumps out at me. This one not only jumped out, but it held on tight. It reminds me of the Emotions Deflector from The Path to Serendipity. There’s an old saying that you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. The horse must decide to drink the water of its own free will. There is something resembling freedom that I feel when I am reminded that I cannot control others. It helps me to not feel responsible for their actions, because I am not in control of their actions, only my own.  (“I am the one thing in life I can control” -Aaron Burr “Wait for It” — Hamilton runs on repeat through my head now, thanks to my students.)

The lesson applies to many aspects of my life. As an instructional coach, I can share best practices. I can model them. I can support the teacher through co-planning and co-teaching. I can rinse and repeat, but until that teacher is ready to change, it won’t happen. That’s not to say I should quit trying to help and support positive change. But just realizing this truth depersonalizes the struggle for me. As a wife, I cannot expect my husband to change some of his annoying habits, just as he cannot expect to change mine. (Bless him; I’m sure I have more things that annoy him than vice versa.) I can’t control him. I cannot make anyone do anything. I cannot change anyone.

But do you know what I can do? I can have compassion for others. I can give grace freely. I can show others my heart. I can speak positively and (as Toby Mac says), I can speak life into those I encounter. I can choose to believe that I am enough. I can discover my best self, so I can be a better educator, wife, mother, and friend. And thanks to Allyson’s newest book, I have many tools to do just that.

Follow along on Twitter with the conversations around this book using the hashtag #SerendipityEDU. Also, you simply must check out this TEDx Talk that Allyson just did! While you’re at it, have you seen Allyson’s website? Check it out here! Her blog is powerful and she shares terrific resources!

Finally… oh my goodness… are you thinking of a group of colleagues that you believe would love this book? You should read it together! BOOK STUDY!!! Are you nervous about facilitating a book study? Or don’t have the time to pull together questions and resources? Y’all… DBC has you covered! They have just introduced an amazing new section on their website specifically for book studies! You just have to see it; it’s that amazing! There are activities and reflection questions already created for you! Seriously! So thankful for this incredible resource, which saves educators time and makes facilitating book studies a breeze! And yes… the book study for Through the Lens of Serendipity is ready to go! So grab some copies of the book, some friends, and have fun! Remember to share your learning on Twitter using the hashtag #SerendipityEDU!

 

 

#DBCBookBlogs: Learner Centered Innovation

Back in 2017, George & Paige Couros teamed up with Dave & Shelley Burgess to create a division of Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc. IMPress introduces us to books that dive deeper into the message of The Innovator’s Mindset & continue to showcase what George first brought us in DBC’s ninth book. (See the big announcement on a blog by Dave here.) As of this blog, there are seven books published under the IMPress label.

I am breaking a rule of mine by reading Learner Centered Innovation by Katie Martin first. I have typically read the books in order of their release (this is the second release from IMPress), but I had an amazing opportunity to meet Katie Martin at a What Great Educators Do Differently conference a few weeks ago in Houston, TX. (Blog about this experience is here.) Because I was meeting her, I wanted to dive into her book. I never expected it to take weeks to read it, but more about that in a moment.

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To discover what this book is about, simply read this quote from Katie:

“Many of today’s kids will have to create their jobs and forge a new path. The world has changed so dramatically and will continue to do so at an exponential rate, and, to best serve our students, educators and institutions must evolve with it, or we will leave our students behind.”

-Katie Martin

Katie begins by sharing the beauty of two words: “What if”

She immediately pulled me in by pointing out the traditions in education (as related to the industrial age model) and how that is preventing innovation from taking root in more than just pockets around our schools, district, state, and world.

Evolution of the Teacher’s Role

She shares that our role as educators has evolved. It made me stop and consider if I have evolved with the times. Do I teach like my teachers taught me? Some of my very favorite teachers did the “traditional” courses… desks in rows and columns, the teacher at the front of the room using the whiteboard or overhead to display information, and the students taking all the information in from that teacher. Perhaps their classes weren’t edge-of-your-seat excitement, but I knew those teachers cared about me.

Early in my career, I definitely taught as I’d been taught. I still use storytelling (like my amazing 4th grade teacher), humor (like my 7th grade social studies teacher), and student choice (like my 8th grade ELA teacher).

Katie shares that one of our most prominent roles should be that of an activator. Here are some of the definitions I found for activate:

  • to encourage development or induce increased activity; to stimulate
  • to trigger, to actuate, to set off, to enable
  • to excite
  • to remove the limitations of by providing a license; to unlock
  • to bring a player back after an injury

Even down to the sports definition, I want to be an activator for students! I want to encourage them, stimulate them, enable them to do more than they ever thought they could and then get them excited about doing it. I want to remove their limitations by unlocking endless potential in their minds and hearts. I want to make school fun again, bringing them back to the place of creativity and imagination that so many of our “traditions” in education squash like a bug on a windshield. I want to be an activator.

Testing or Learning?

Katie says, “We will never achieve the results we want by focusing on performing well on a test.” Let me repeat that for those in the back…

“We will NEVER achieve the results we want by focusing on performing well on a test.”

-Katie Martin

Guess what that means? All that time spent painstakingly going over released test items… better spent doing Project-Based Learning where those same problems are relevant to students. All the time spent reading and highlighting short passages using question stems from “the test”… our time is better spent allowing students to select their own reading material & having (wait for it) conversations with them about what they’re reading. You want to use question stems? Ask the questions and don’t expect an A, B, C, or D response.

I’m preaching to me right now, too. Do you have any idea how much time I spent reviewing at the end of each year I was in the classroom?! I flew through curriculum so I could be sure to have enough review time before the standardized test. What if I’d just ensured that students learned the content (and so much more) thoroughly the first time? Imagine the possibilities.

Here’s what I think (and it appears to align with Katie’s beliefs, too)… standardized testing isn’t the bad guy here. It’s the overemphasis on them that gives them a villainous role in education. Think about it… I’m thankful that my students in rural, high-poverty, small town North Carolina are expected to learn the same content and perform at the same level as rich, suburban kiddos. It wouldn’t be fair for the standards to be different for those groups of students; set the bar high, I’m okay with that! However, when we focus so much on the outcome of those tests rather than the process and growth, I have a problem.

This test season take the time to have fun! Play games, make learning authentic, give students an audience like never before… I truly believe that “the test” will take care of itself if students are having a good time while learning the content.

Professional Learning Communities

I remember hearing about PLCs for the first time many years ago. The idea that teachers were to work together to create lessons with common assessments and “share” students was insane to us. Until that point, we were in competition due to the aforementioned test scores. Several teachers didn’t want other teachers to know what they were doing successfully because that teacher might use it and (God forbid) the students down the hall might perform better than their own. If you’ve been in education long enough, you remember this and you know I am speaking truth.

Our PLCs turned into exactly what Katie talk about in her book. It was a checklist. The questions she shares… the exact questions we had to answer each week. It became a running joke because we knew those questions by heart the same way we knew the script for the end-of-grade testing by heart.

Thankfully, I was part of a PLC that was exceptional. We worked together, co-planned lessons, shared everything, switched up students for flexible grouping as needed, and when one teacher’s students performed better on a given objective, that teacher taught our students, too! I knew every student in 5th grade’s name and to be honest, I see some of those students now (many are high school/college age) and I honestly can’t remember if they were on my roster or not because I taught them as much as those in my class. It took a lot of time to get to that place; we had arguments, petty things mostly. We got on one another’s nerves. It wasn’t all rainbows and roses, but we were a rocking PLC. We celebrated birthdays together; our kids played together; we laughed together and cried together. We even did graduate school at the same time. The three of us left the school one after the other. I truly believe it’s because we didn’t want to do the job without the others; we had experienced a true PLC and struggled to replicate it. One became an administrator and moved to a high school during the summer months, I left halfway through the year to begin my journey as a media coordinator, and the third left at the end of that year to move to a middle school library position.

Katie’s book reminds us that the same things we know that are true about building relationships with our students is true of our colleagues. “We are more willing and able to hear critical feedback when it is coming from someone who we perceive cares about us as individuals, sees our strengths, and is willing to invest the time to help us grow.”

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It took me over three weeks to finish this book. If you’ve been around for any of #DBC50Summer, you know that means something. Katie’s book covers so much ground. It’s all interwoven and connected to everything that has the potential to make education what it should be for children (and adults). In many ways, after reading this, I don’t even know that we need to do anything but submit this book to Congress and tell them that THIS is how we should be doing school and begin implementing it nationwide. I have to tell you… when you get your own copy of this one, carve out time to really read it. It’s not a “light” read; you need your brain fully activated (see what I did there) while you’re reading it. I have notes all over the margins of this book and didn’t even use a highlighter because I knew I’d need three or four of them as I read.

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Implementation

This implementation will begin next year. I still have several implementations of #DBC50Summer and previous #DBCBookBlogs to do and only a few weeks left to do them. In the implementation post Creating a Stronger Foundation, I shared that I created a template for 6th grade students to tell me about themselves. In Learner Center Innovation, Katie shares about a teacher who stopped asking students about their favorite color, etc and instead asked for an open-ended list – “The Top Ten Things I Need to Know About You”. I’m 100% doing this! I can keep the template I had created, but add ten slides at the end with students putting one thing I need to know about them on each slide. They can add pictures, videos, etc to that slide if they’d like. I love the open-ended nature of this as it will allow me to get to know them better and deeper much faster!

Remember to get your own copy of Learner Centered Innovation by Katie Martin! It’s the second book in the IMPress line, a division of DBC, Inc. You won’t regret it! And if you have the chance to see Katie in action, I highly recommend going! She is also an amazing presenter! Follow along with the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #LCinnovation!

 

What Exactly Do Great Educators Do Differently?

April 1, 2019

I woke up ready to find out the answer to this question…exactly what great educators do differently?! I anxiously packed for a trip to Houston, Texas where I’d find out the answer! I was anxious because, although I’d been on a plane before, I had never navigated an airport alone and would be going the furthest west I’d ever been.

Maybe you just learned something new about me. I’m not exactly a world traveler (yet). I was pretty worried about this trip. I checked off a lot of “firsts” while finding out what great educators do differently… first solo airport navigation (including security, where I learned that multiple Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc books stacked at the bottom of my carry-on looks suspicious enough to merit a bag search), first flight alone, first time renting a car, first time being in Texas (I’d only visited TX long enough to stop at the welcome center when I was a teenager visiting friends in Louisiana), first time driving in the city, first time driving through a toll (yes, seriously), first time attending a conference alone, etc, etc. You get the point. For someone with generalized anxiety disorder (ahem, me), this was a HUGE undertaking.

I made it to the Texas airport, and as I was approaching the line to get my rental car, I hear my name. Nervously I looked around and (insert squeal of delight) THE Pirate Captain is coming down the escalator! I’ve never been so happy to see a friendly face in my life! That might be a slight exaggeration, but not by much.

That evening I had the privilege of meeting & chatting with several of the speakers for the Houston 2019 What Great Educators Do Differently conference – David Geurin, Jimmy Casas, Amy Fast, Katie Martin, Jeff Zoul and I got to reconnect with my dear friend, Derek McCoy and my awesome publisher, Dave Burgess! Heading to bed early, I was ready for the upcoming fast-paced day of learning!

April 2, 2019

As always, Dave lit the room on fire with his Teach Like A Pirate keynote. It reminded me that this month is ONE YEAR since I experienced his keynote for the first time. I wrote a blog about it here. (Spoiler: It changed my life; literally a Life-Changing Lesson, or LCL as it’s referenced in the book.) I saw it again in June 2018 in Florence, SC, so I was pumped to take it all in again. This was the perfect way to start the day. From Dave’s keynote, I got that great educators create experiences, not just mere lessons; for “lessons are easily forgotten, but experiences live forever!”

Following up on this idea was Jeff Zoul‘s session on classroom management. It is unrealistic to expect every student to be engaged every second of the day. It had been a long time since I’d engaged in a best practices session on classroom management, so I was excited to hear what Jeff had to say. I was affirmed in this session because many of the management strategies I already use, Jeff shared. What I learned about great educators in Jeff’s session is summed up in this tweet. Don’t copy someone else’s management techniques… they have to be YOU!

Perhaps one of the sessions I was most excited about was Jimmy Casas’s session. I’ve got to be honest, I didn’t care what the author of Culturize (and more) presented on… it could have been oompa-loompas, fairies, or proper techniques to watch paint dry… I just couldn’t wait to hear from him! (Culturize left me in pieces – read more about that in my #DBC50Summer blog post.) He did NOT disappoint. His session on addressing underperformance was a clear reflection of his passion and purpose in developing a strong culture in schools. I learned from Jimmy that great educators don’t shy away from the difficult conversations. Great educators have the conversations and offer help, not just in that moment, but checking in & following up with those who are struggling.

As if the day couldn’t get any better, it was time for our lunch keynote from Rick Wormeli. Yep… THE Rick Wormeli, one of the first National Board Certified Teachers, international speaker extraordinaire, and the man who made me realize that traditional grading practices are asinine during his #HiveSummit interview with Michael Matera (author of Explore Like A Pirate) this summer. Lunch was delicious, I met Aaron Hogan (author of Shattering the Perfect Teacher Myth & a new book coming soon – so excited), AND Rick owned the keynote and taught me that great educators “never sacrifice sound pedagogy because someone above [them] isn’t there yet.”

It was time for the final session and I wanted to see David Geurin, Derek McCoy, Amy Fast, AND Katie Martin speak! I would have LOVED to clone myself in that moment. I split my time between Katie Martin and Derek McCoy. Katie’s story about her own child’s struggle in school reminded me that great educators know their learners. Great educators focus on the strengths of their learners and grow them from where they are. Derek got me when he said, “we can’t spend any more time building schools based on what adults need!” From him, I learned that great educators are focused on the students.

By the end of the day, I had chatted and learned from these phenomenal educators and several of the participants!

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(Left to Right and Top to Bottom) David Geurin, Dave Burgess, Jimmy Casas, Amy Fast, Aaron Hogan, Jeff Zoul, Katie Martin, Rick Wormeli, Derek McCoy

April 3, 2019

As I confidently (because hey, I survived so many “firsts”) packed up my suitcase, careful to separate the books this time to get through security faster, I reflected on my time at the What Great Educators Do Differently conference. I wondered, if I were to sum up what I learned in one or two sentences, what would I say?

I spent the majority of my flight home considering that, and came to this…

Great educators are willing to take risks in the best interest of their students. They are willingly to relentlessly learn and grow, seeking the very best way to teach every learner.

And I realized in a VERY humbling moment… I did just that. I took a huge risk, investing time, money, and a tremendous amount of anxiety to attend a conference to better myself and my practices for every learner I have, both adult and middle school learners. Flying halfway across the country to attend a conference alone, meeting and reconnecting with several educators I admire and respect, was something many around me could not understand. (Trust me, they asked why I was doing this multiple times.) I am so grateful for the opportunity to attend #WGEDD and I highly recommend going to one if you have the chance. I will definitely seek it out again!

**I believe this qualifies as my #DBC50Summer implementation of Ditch that Textbook by Matt Miller and serves as a piece of my implementation of Lead Like A Pirate by Shelley Burgess and Beth Houf. I had no idea about this conference during the writing of those blogs, but it certainly fits the implementations of letting go of fear and being relentless, don’t you think?