#DBCBookBlogs: Balance Like A Pirate

I was intimidated when I started this book. I know I’m imbalanced; I can feel it. I think you can feel it too, when you’re out of balance. If not, take some time to listen to your body.

My shoulders and neck are stiff. My head hurts. I’m not sleeping well. I eat more junk food. My house becomes cluttered. My kids argue with one another and I become very short-tempered. I find myself planning for the next day rather than the next week. Have you been there? Of course you have. If you’ve not, you’re lying. Yep – I just called you out.

We’re educators; imbalance is a way of life. Thankfully, Jessica Cabeen, Jessica Johnson, and Sarah Johnson share their stories in the third Lead Like a Pirate guide book, Balance Like A Pirate.

I knew going into this book that it would be conviction central, and sure enough… I’m riddled with guilt right now. Jessica-squared (this is really how I remember them) and Sarah share stories of their own imbalances, which help with the guilt. They assure us that we will never be at a mathematical balance, where we are exhibiting a 50-50 relationship balance between work and home. In fact, the authors contend that there aren’t only two areas in which to focus. There are four. These are as follows:

  • Personal – Who are you? Outside of your job, what titles do you hold?
  • Positional – What is your role at your job? What pays the bills?
  • Professional – How do you continue to grow and learn your job?
  • Passions – What gets you out of bed?

I took time while reading to dive into these quadrants and define them in my own life. There are some excellent activities the authors share to help us think through where we currently are in our balance, and where each piece of ourselves fits in the quadrants.

Personally, I am a wife, mother, caregiver of a child with Type 1 Diabetes and high functioning autism, daughter, sister, aunt, granddaughter, niece, cousin, Christian, nursery worker, and friend. Positionally, I am a digital learning coach and a media coordinator. I work with teachers and students in my school, as well as partnering with administration to bring about meaningful and sustainable change in our school. I also lead district and state level professional development. I serve on our ISTE state affiliate board of directors and am a Future Ready Thought Leader in Instructional Coaching. Professionally, I read books and connect with my PLN to provide my own growth. #DBC50Summer and #DBCBookBlogs have been the main instrument for growth, in addition to Twitter chats. I enjoy attending edcamps. I attend state level conferences and would like to attend a national or international conference in the near future. Finally, my passions include reading and writing, watching football, and connecting with others.

Like many of you, I’ve got a lot on my plate, so to speak. I drop the ball every day on at least one of these quadrants. I’ve got to get better at this balancing act, and this book was exactly what I needed to help me make small steps to see big changes in each of these areas.

There is so much I enjoyed about reading Balance Like A Pirate. The practical advice at the end was definitely the highlight for me. As a believer in the quote from the Captain himself, “Inspiration without implementation is a waste,” I was thrilled to see the final section devoted to ways to readily implement the ideals and philosophies held within the pages of the book. I will be implementing many of these in the near future. My official implementation plan for this one is a bit different from the ideas given at the end of the book.

When I started my weight-loss journey over a year ago, the first thing my doctor suggested that I do was write down everything I put into my body. If I drank water, write it down; if I put barbecue sauce on my chicken tenders, write that down, etc. I thought this was lame, but realized that I weighed more than I had when I was 9 months pregnant with my youngest daughter and I knew I was in a spiral into depression. So… I documented it all with my FitBit app. What I quickly realized was that I was gaining weight because I was eating nothing but junk. I wasn’t eating much at all, but when I did it was a Snickers bar and Mountain Dew. I was drinking nearly a liter of Mountain Dew every day and absolutely no water. We would go out to eat every night and I would load up on all the starchy vegetables and leave the good stuff out. I would eat a half of a bag of Doritos at 8:00 at night, then wonder why I couldn’t rest well. It was bad, y’all. If I hadn’t written it all down, if I hadn’t taken that step to become aware of what I was doing to myself, I’m not sure that I would be able to tell you that my weight-loss journey has been a huge success. I have lost over 40 pounds in a year and feel better than I’ve felt in a long time. Granted, I’ve gained some of it back in the past few weeks due to excessive amounts of time reading and blogging (ahem, imbalanced much?!), but as part of my EduNinja Mindset implementation plan, I will be getting up early at least 3 days a week to exercise in the mornings. (This hasn’t gone so well yet, but I will get better.)

With this in mind, my implementation for Balance Like A Pirate will be very similar. I will take a pulse of my commitments and my time in each quadrant by writing down what I am doing each day. Every 30-60 minutes, I will take a short pause for reflection writing down which quadrant I have been focused on. If there have been multiple quadrants addressed during that specified time, I will note that. I will do this for at least one week, possibly longer, until I see a clear picture of where I currently stand in the quadrants. I’m not sure which quadrant I’m spending the most time in right now, but it is clear that my personal quadrant is being neglected the most.

If you’re a parent and an educator, you likely feel the same convictions I do when it comes to our own children. My daughters get the worst version of me.  They unwillingly make so many sacrifices because their mom is a committed educator. They need me to be a committed mom. I come home exhausted from answering a million questions, dealing with middle school drama, and pouring my heart out for my students, and there’s just not a lot left when we get home. After working until 4:30-5:00 every evening, we come home to quickly do homework, grab something quick to eat, go to whatever ball practice/game is on the schedule for the night, then come home for showers and bedtime. They deserve better from me. This much is evident without even taking a pulse on where I currently am in my imbalance. Once I see where the majority of my time is being spent, I can better adjust using ANCHOR Goals (described in this book, it’s the equivalent of a SMART goal for balancing our lives) without eliminating my time in the quadrants altogether. I look forward to seeing what comes from my time with this book. I am excited to spend more time with my family, but fearful of what that will do to my professional growth. I’m not going to lie, I’m looking forward to sleeping again, ha!

Also… that freaking out chart… that thing is on point! You’ve got to see this thing in the book! It’s pretty much perfect!

Head on over to the Dave Burgess Consulting website to preview this book! You can follow along with others going on this journey working toward achieving a better balance using the hashtag #BalanceLAP and following Jessica, Jessica, and Sarah. You may also check out their websites! Jessica Cabeen’s is here, Jessica Johnson’s is here, and Sarah’s can be found here. Jessica Johnson’s website has a list of podcasts she has appeared on, as well as her own podcast, Principal PLN. Sarah also includes podcasts and publications here. I highly recommend purchasing this book for yourself and for a friend. Being sure that both of you have a copy gives you the opportunity for immediate accountability partners who will speak the same language. Oddly enough, my accountability partners are people I’ve never even met; you all. You are my accountability partners in that you pushed me to finish #DBC50Summer, and you are currently encouraging me to follow through on the implementation plans I created for that, and the rest of the #DBCBookBlogs and you may not even be aware that you’re inspiring me to complete this journey. But you are. And I appreciate that. Continue to follow along with me. There are only a few books left (I’m sure more will be coming very soon, but at least for now I’ll be caught up).

As always, Andrea Paulakovich (creator of the flipgrid for all DBC, Inc books) and I invite you to share your thoughts on the flipgrid for Balance Like A Pirate.

The next book is Kim Bearden‘s Talk to Me. I’m beyond excited about this one. I have heard that I’m going to love it, so I’m eager to see if it will live up to the hype from my dear friend who suggested it. Also – there’s a special something in store for this blog!!! Stay tuned!

#DBCBookBlogs: Lead with Literacy

Hold on tight – I’m about to get my Usher on. This is my confession…

I became a media coordinator to promote my love of technology, not reading.

There. Don’t throw things at me, though. My blog, my reflections. Just stay with me.

In my district, there is no such thing as an instructional technology facilitator/specialist. In January 2011, I started an online program through East Carolina University (the Pirates… not even kidding) to earn a Master of Arts in Education in Instructional Technology. In early May 2012, I graduated. I flew through that program and loved every minute of it. I was devastated when I spoke with our HR and found out that there was no funding (nor would there be) for these positions. He did let me know that our media coordinators in our district were filling the role of instructional technology facilitators in many cases and that perhaps I should look into that.

So I did. After applying in late May 2012 for the online Master of Library Science program at East Carolina University, I was accepted, and within a matter of days found out I was expecting our youngest daughter. I had to make a decision… was it worth it to me to earn my MLS when I could get paid for having an MAEd in the classroom?

I enrolled in classes reluctantly. The only reason I was pursuing this degree was that it was my only avenue for sharing my passion with other educators. Incorporating technology in seamless and meaningful ways was the goal. I finished the MLS program in May 2014, fulfilling my internship requirements by already being hired as media coordinator in an elementary school media center. I never went into my role in the media center because I wanted to promote a lifelong love of reading.

Don’t get me wrong… I enjoy reading. However, I despise everything about Accelerated Reader, Reading Counts, and other read-then-quiz-to-get-points programs. Those programs were the norm in my district. Also, I despise Battle of the Books. I CAN admit that I always enjoy the book list. But those questions? How much more arbitrary can we get? Unfortunately, this club is the norm in my district as well. (I’ve tried to make the best out of the situation. You can see how I gamified Battle of the Books to try to incorporate my own passions to make it more palatable for me to sponsor in this archived post.) With these two programs that I am adamantly against, I can confidently say that I dreaded my role in the media center with the expectation that I would have to not only support these programs, but encourage participation in them.

I did it for 2 1/2 years. During those 2 1/2 years, I discovered my own love of reading children’s books. My favorite media classes were those in which I read aloud a story. I loved our mobile Book Bus, a school bus that traveled a combination of our bus routes to deliver new books and a snack to students multiple times during the summer months. Our local Rotary Club supported literacy by gifting kindergarten students with a free book four times a year! They would come and buddy-read to the students and personally give the student the book. It was a highlight of my time in elementary school. Dr. Seuss Day made me smile. Our character parades were amazing and a dance party ended the day with lots of “characters” dancing to celebrate reading! I fell in love with literacy when there were no strings attached.

See, I grew up with Accelerated Reader. I remember taking those quizzes as a student. I remember being in Academically Gifted (AG) classes and being required to take a certain number of tests, cheating on the tests because I hated the books we were required to read. It destroyed my love of reading. I’ve watched my own 4th grade daughter lose her love of reading; “Oh, Bailey, you loved the book?! How did you do on the test?” I won’t let that happen on my watch. Not anymore. If there is any silver lining at all to a loss of funding, it’s that the AR program was cut in nearly every school in my district. This has given an opportunity for significant growth, thinking outside the box, getting creative. All schools have been tasked with casting a new vision for promoting literacy in our schools.

After reading Lead with Literacy by Mandy Ellis, I am armed with TONS of new ways of promoting literacy in our school.

This isn’t a program, it’s a culture.

In truth, our district is asking every school to change its culture. That’s not happening over night, but it will happen. And we’ll all be better for it.


I knew from following Mandy on Twitter we were going to see eye-to-eye when I finally got to read her book. Unfortunately, at a #BookSnaps workshop this summer (see Be REAL by Tara Martin post here), someone accidentally took my book (I choose to assume positive intent). Mandy immediately replied asking for my address so she could send me another copy. Not only did she send me a copy, she sent me a signed copy with stickers! She’s got a heart of gold! (Thanks again, Mandy – I cherish my book!)

Mandy’s passion and intentionality in creating a culture of reading is evident both in her twitter feed and on the pages of her book. There are so many ways to embed reading into the culture of the school that can be applied to every level of education! Before reading this book, I didn’t see myself as a literacy leader by any definition. Even though I advocate for choice in reading, I’m still very much seen as the technology person among media folks in my district and in the state. As I read Mandy’s book, I noticed that I do many of the things she does in her school! I was blown away!

According to Mandy, I am certainly a lead reader (#DBC50Summer is clearly evidence A, and my insanely full bookshelf of children’s books in my office would suffice as evidence B). I tweet and blog my book reflections regularly, sharing with faculty and students what I’m reading. I ask what students are reading and dive into conversations with them about their books. I make suggestions to students for books to read next, but do not mandate book selection. I encourage choice in selection of books, and offer a variety of options for our students. I value quality of books over quantity of books, regularly stating that I’d rather have 500 books that I can’t keep on the shelf than to have 5,000 that sit on the shelf unopened.  Mandy’s book is so full of ideas that there are at least 5 or 6 things I’m looking to implement as we move forward with our updated literacy plan. Knowing that culture won’t change overnight, I’m focusing on just a couple things at a time.

Here is a copy of the draft of our new literacy plan. This is a living document and will be changed throughout the year. These plans are only a starting point. My first year at middle school, I only had around 400 circulations in a media center which served approximately 400 students… yes, one book checked out per year per student. Sad.

Last year we increased that number to around 2,700 circulations in a year. A 600% increase, but still nowhere near enough reading happening. I am thrilled to say that we are already at 1,689 circulations and students have only been in school for 6 weeks! We’re moving in the right direction!

The greatest factors to students checking out books, I believe, has been time and independently set reading goals. Students have been given protected class time to check in and out books twice a month. I really appreciate our teachers making this a priority. Students were asked to determine their own reading goal each quarter with no strings attached. There are no rewards, other than the satisfaction of reading amazing books, and no consequences (absolutely no ties to grading, quizzes, point systems, etc). They aren’t “in trouble” for not meeting their goal, and I’m only disappointed if they don’t set a goal. I was honestly worried how this would turn out when I took this risk. I was expecting a ton of students to set their goal at only reading one book, while others focused on quantity versus quality by reading 20 books. (Although I can say from personal experience that this may be a false dichotomy as my goal of reading 50 books this summer was strongly rooted in quantity AND quality… just saying.) Here are their goals for the first quarter.

Aren’t they impressive? I’m excited to see where this takes us! Mandy’s book is one that is available for media coordinators in our district as we partake in a small group book studies this year. I am excited to see what others in my district will implement from this insanely amazing power-packed Lead Like A Pirate guide book!

*Side Note: This is the second of the #LeadLAP guide books! Mandy continues the tradition of excellence that Shelley Burgess and Beth Houf established, and Jay Billy built upon in his guide book Lead with Culture.

More information can be found on Twitter using the hashtag #LeadLIT! There is such greatness waiting for you there, so jump on over if you’ve not already! This book is an incredible addition to any media coordinator, or principal’s professional library. Classroom teachers will also take so much from this book! I’m feeling a bit like Oprah – YOU need this book and YOU need this book and YOU need this book! (Sorry, can’t give them to you like Oprah, but man wouldn’t that be epic?!) Check out the first few chapters here! Once you fall in love with it (because you will), go ahead and order your own copy! Mandy’s website can be found here!

Also, share what you’re reading on the flipgrid created by Andrea Paulakovich (which I get to copilot, thanks Andrea!)

Next book up (because you should always have a book on deck) is Balance Like A Pirate by Jessica Cabeen, Jessica Johnson, and Sarah Johnson.

#DBCBookBlogs: Be Real

It’s been two weeks since I blogged. I have to tell you that I’ve felt lost, without purpose, and out of sorts. I’ve had a hard time wrapping my head around events in my life, professionally and personally because I wasn’t reflecting as I should. I think it’s safe to say that writing has become my main outlet for reflection and sharing my voice, with others, but most importantly with myself. I knew that after the incredible #DBC50Summer journey, I needed to put on the brakes a bit and spend time with my family. I needed to catch up on sleep. I wanted to watch some Netflix, HBO, and Amazon Prime movies and get back into football. My house desperately needed to be cleaned. So here we are two weeks later, after finally watching The Greatest Showman (so good), with 100% less dark circles under my eyes, and a moderately cleaner home.

After trying to read Be REAL: Educate from the Heart by Tara Martin for a week while being totally distracted by life (and only reaching page 57), I finally made myself intentionally go back to my reading spot (center seat of our sectional), eliminated distractions, opened the book to page 1, and pressed play. This time, I couldn’t put it down.


I don’t remember the circumstances under which I first spoke to Tara online. I just remember an instant connection to her. I felt as if I’d known her for years within moments.

In this way beyond cute video in which Tara and Wendy (DBC Director of Operations) announce Tara’s accepting a new job with Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc, I found out that I had won a #DBCChallenge (a contest run each week – see Dave’s blog post for more) and got to pick any book from the DBC, Inc line for free! (I chose Social LEADia by Jennifer Casa-Todd – great book! See my #DBC50Summer post here!) It was the first time I had ever seen Tara and Wendy on video and I instantly wanted to hug the both of them! They both appear to be so authentic… so REAL!

A little over two weeks later (June 18, 2018 – my oldest daughter’s birthday), Tara’s book was officially released to the public. Be REAL: Educate from the Heart is everything that I adore about Tara! She is relatable, vulnerable, approachable, and employs an attitude of lifelong learning. Through no surprise if you’ve picked up many DBC, Inc books, REAL is an acronym:

  • Relatable

  • Expose Vulnerability

  • Approachable

  • Learning Through Life

Without giving away too much, you will read this book and want to pack your bags, figure out where Tara is, and give her “big squeezy hugs” multiple times before reaching the last page. Tara is an amazing storyteller; she captivates you and pulls you in, sharing her truths, many of which are heart-wrenching. After removing the mental block I had, eliminating outside distractions, and finding my “reading spot”, I now sit here with tears in my eyes, convicted to be as REAL as I can for my students and the teachers I have the honor of serving.

As an instructional coach, I relate to many of Tara’s stories and look forward to employing her strategies of coaching teachers and other coaches. I love the REAL + Innovator’s Compass (inspired by the work of Ela Ben-Ur) section & look forward to using this practice in my own relationships. More information can be found on Tara’s (insanely awesome) website here. I also love the REAL Talk Treasures shared in the book! Humble inquiry has served me well as a coach!

This past summer I was fortunate enough to serve the western half of my state as a Digital Learning Competency Ambassador. During this time, I traveled over 530 miles to deliver professional development in four schools to over 1200 North Carolina educators. I facilitated a session with the spectacular Emily Brown (Follow her on Twitter: @ebrown0789) called #Twitter101, then moved into facilitating a live Twitter chat and growing a #PLN in a session called #Twitter102, and finally, got to share my love of #BookSnaps in two sessions, which were almost always at capacity.

#BookSnaps are a digital, visual representation of our connections to the text using common tech tools like Snapchat, Google Slides and Drawings, Seesaw, etc. See all you ever need to get started on Tara’s how-to page here! Tara sent swag to give to participants and even created an epic personalized video for those in my sessions! The love of #BookSnaps has now spread virally throughout North Carolina! Tara speaks about #BookSnaps and how it got started within her book, and she shares exceptional stories of their impact on students from educators.

I had so many a-ha moments while reading Be REAL: Educate from the Heart. The first was in the foreword written by the author of Teach Like a Pirate, the Pirate Captain himself, Dave Burgess. You can see it on his blog here. Other moments were certainly tweeted:





So much good stuff to choose from in this book! Care to know what my implementation is? (Yes, I will continue to share these because, as the Captain says, “Inspiration without implementation is a waste.”)

After all the awesome that #DBC50Summer has brought to my life, sharing my thoughts with each of you, and figuring out my passions, my why, and many times forming an opinion while in the middle of writing these posts, I realized I need to take the advice of my mentor, director, and friend, Lucas Gillispie. As soon as I read this portion of Tara’s book, I know it was time to make the change. It’s time to finally transition my blog site to become my professional website. The blog will still be housed here at aliciaray.com, but will become a subset of the larger website. In the coming months, I will be adding resources, presentations, contact information, and more. So the home page will look a bit different, but just click on blog and you’ll be back in the right spot. I’m not really sure what to expect of this space, but know that I plan to just “cannonball in” (see what I did there, Tara) and see where it takes me.

I can’t say enough about Tara Martin as a person. I can assure you that she is the REAL deal – I can see her heart and soul through her social media presence and through the words in her book. I know that sounds weird as I’ve never talked to her face-to-face, but you just can’t fake it on social media that much. Everything I know of her matches up. I so look forward to the day I finally get to meet her (we were in Chicago in June together, but our schedules just wouldn’t allow it to happen) and finally get that “big squeezy Tara hug” AND give her one back in return! You should seriously go grab a copy of her book here. I highly suggest following her on Twitter at @TaraMartinEDU.  You can check out her newly updated website and book resources here! This is amazingness, by the way, so prepare yourself!  You can preview Be REAL: Educate from the Heart here. Because everyone adores Tara (seriously. everyone.), you can find tons of podcasts featuring Tara by a quick google search. Check out the hashtags #REALedu and #BookSnaps on Twitter and follow along!

Also – you want to follow @HeckAwesome! If you see photos tweeted from the book, it typically includes the illustrations. Carrie Baughcum sketched every illustration within this book and they are fantastically beautiful! Find more about her and sketchnoting on her website here! She was super inspirational in her #HiveSummit conversation with Michael Matera (author of Explore Like A Pirate), and I tried sketchnoting for the first time last week. It was an awesome way to creatively taking notes!

This book seriously reminds us as educators and readers that many of us have overcome life’s challenges to get where we are; we have persevered and beat the odds to have the privilege of standing in front of children day in and day out and facilitate the creation of a love of learning.

I’m inspired to share more of my story, with you and with my students and teachers I serve, in hopes that it inspires someone else to persevere. Thank you for your REALness, Tara. You are so appreciated and your story is valued beyond words. It came out 5 days after #DBC50Summer started, so I knew I’d have to wait a long time to get to read it… I must say, it was worth. the. wait.

If you’ve read Be REAL by Tara Martin, add your thoughts to the Flipgrid (copiloted by Andrea Paulakovich and me) here! If you’ve not, grab a copy, then add to our flipgrid!

Up next is Lead with Literacy by Mandy Ellis!