Mustang Madness

Teaching to an empty room

This quote is at the heart of the book Teach Like A Pirate by Dave Burgess. (Shoutout to Shelley Burgess for creating this beautiful graphic!)

When I read about Ryan McLane‘s Teach Like A Pirate Day, inspired by this quote, in the book he and Eric Lowe co-authored, Your School Rocks, I knew I had to figure out a way to make it happen! It quickly became one of my implementations for #DBC50Summer even though I had no idea how I was ever going to convince the teachers I serve to give up a day in their already busy calendar.

The Plan

In early August, I met with my principal and explained this day centered around celebrating a love of learning. The more we discussed it, the more her eyes lit up. (Side note: I love that she is constantly finding ways to let me lead & grow. This was just one example of that. She rocks.) We discussed that this would need to be brought to the School Improvement Team (SIT), so we made a plan for me to pitch it to them at the next meeting. Little did I know that I would be elected to serve on SIT just a few weeks later.

Every month we have a Mustang Madness Day built into our schedule. These days are usually held on dates with early release schedules or at the end of the quarter when we’d be holding our awards programs for academics and athletics. The members of SIT seemed eager to develop this idea further, so we preemptively looked for holes and concerns our teachers might have. We scheduled the first attempt at a #tlap day for the Mustang Madness day before Christmas vacation. Then… life happened.

In late November, I sent our SIT chair and principal an email asking if we were still moving forward with the date as scheduled. Getting the green light from them, I began organizing the day with as much structure as possible, as suggested by SIT.

Here’s how it went down…

Every teacher in the school shared their activity on a Google Sheet. Using that sheet, I created a form for students in each grade level to rank their interest in the activities (1st choice, 2nd choice, and so on). Here’s an example of a form.

*We decided to keep students with their grade levels to streamline the process this time.*

During media classes in early December, students completed the form. It took about 5-7 minutes in each class. Using those responses, I created schedules for every student (yes… every. student.) making sure to respect their 1st and 2nd choices in the core classes and 1st choice in their encore classes. No child ended up with anything less than their 5th or 6th choice!

On Wednesday, two days before our Mustang Madness date, I printed a copy of each teacher’s class lists for each class. Teachers still had their planning period in tact and would be going to lunch at the same time. On Thursday afternoon, I emailed every student their schedule for the day.

Let me just tell you, the hype was REAL! Kids were pumped to be at school the next day! I could hear them discussing which classes they had and trying to figure out who they would be in class with!

*When students completed the form, they did not know which teacher would be doing which activity – I wanted them to choose based on activities only to eliminate any preconceived notions about their own interest level. When they received their schedule, they only got the name of the teacher! So there will still so much suspense around what they’d be doing the next day. It was so much fun to listen to them guess which teacher was going to do which activity.*

Then… it was time.

Signs were placed at classroom doors with the name of the activity and the teacher’s name. I hung up poster-sized schedules with 1st period locations to prevent confusion among students, especially our 6th grade students. The bell rang and the excitement in the halls was palpable. By the end of the day, I was so exhausted, but in the best way! I had FUN teaching! To my knowledge, there wasn’t a single behavior issue the entire day. I asked students and teachers to complete a survey at the end of the day and responses are still coming in. This is the preliminary data.

That’s HUGE! Do you SEE that? From what I’m seeing, 62.5% of students CAME TO SCHOOL (on a snow make-up day, no less) because they were excited about Mustang Madness! Yep – that’s making kids want to tear down the walls to get INTO school, rather than to get out! In my eyes, that statistic alone makes the day a huge success.

Here’s some other feedback I received:

From students

What did you love about today?

“it was funner than school has ever been”

“having teachers i don’t normally have”

“I loved the fact that we could do what we chose and that we could choose our own schedules.”


What would you change?


“make it longer”

“If i could change anything i would make the option for the students to have more access to which students there going to be placed with in there classes because some people may have got no classes with there friends and people that may have really wanted to have this day together couldn’t so i would love to see more accessibility towards that part.”

“Today everything was fun and we don’t need to change anything today.”

From teachers

What did you enjoy about today?

“Getting to do lessons that we are really passionate about, and being able to meet new students that we normally do not see.”

“The vibe of the school is so much fun.”

“How much the students engaged in something that was an “out of the ordinary” experience.”

“Getting to have fun with the kids and see them at their best.”

What would you change?

“Not much, the schedule worked great but having a little more input or access to the sign-up process would be nice.”

“Do it on a full school day; may need more time with some activities”

“Let kids sign up during homeroom so we can catch the ones that are absent.”

*It is worth noting that 100% of teachers said this is something they want to do again!*

So… what’s next?

I would love to see this run like Ryan did his. Students report to first period for attendance and announcements, then disperse throughout the school for classes. I think that once a class is full, the teacher will shut their door and any remaining students who wanted that class can go to their next choice and try to attend the class they missed in the next block of time. I’m excited to see our 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students mixed up within the classes. This was something our teachers were very hesitant about; I mixed grade levels in the media center with no trouble, and am hoping that will serve as a model for the next iteration. I believe that allowing free movement and not having a “schedule” ahead of time will give students the ability to have more classes with their friends. Also, if we have it on a regular school day (not an early release) students and teachers will have more time in each class.

Some of the best feedback I received from this day came from three different people.

One teacher said, “You didn’t know it, but I needed this day so bad. It reminded me why I love teaching. I had forgotten.”

One of our custodians said, “My favorite part about today was seeing teaching today. Every time I walked by <his/her> classroom, <he/she> was so excited! I’ve never seen <him/her> teach like that.”

My administration said (and this meant so much to me), “Today was the very best, smoothest last day of school before a break that I’ve ever experienced in my 17 years of education. Thank you!”

As kids were leaving the school, the halls were vibrating again. It wasn’t necessarily from excitement to leave. It was from students yelling their “see you laters” and “Merry Christmases” to new friends. I believe they will be excited to be back on January 2nd, and that they will be looking forward to our next Mustang Madness.

Enjoy a few of the pictures of our day celebrating a love of learning! This is just a sample of what our incredible teachers and students enjoyed. Thank you for this incredible idea Ryan, and for sharing it in Your School Rocks! Just another example of how #DBC50Summer is changing my world, one book and one implementation at a time.

For more on this idea of #tlap day, check out Ryan’s blog! He has so many resources and has done this many times! It’s a wealth of knowledge and he’s super helpful if you need anything that you can’t find there!

Time Tracker Test


Last night I really struggled with some internal battles. I should have been on cloud nine as this has been an incredibly fulfilling week. My school rocked our first Teach Like A Pirate Day (more on that in a separate blog later), our Community Game Night was a success, and I got to co-facilitate two terrific #BreakoutEDU games, one for every 7th grade science class and the other for every 6th grade social studies class!

There were a few setbacks; I felt pretty rough Monday night and Tuesday and my youngest daughter had the stomach bug Thursday night. My daughters are excited about Christmas which means they are a bit wild(er than normal). Combine that with getting less than ideal amounts of sleep, I was operating on a short fuse at home.

However, none of that was enough to make me feel as melancholy as I was feeling last night. I even tweeted about it – which I VERY rarely do. Typically my tweets are insanely positive, but last night, I just couldn’t help myself. I had to share my thoughts.

Of course, my amazing PLN responded with love and kindness.

I just kept trying to figure out what was getting under my skin though. Reflecting on the week, I began thinking about self-care and balance. That’s when I remembered that my Balance Like A Pirate implementation for #DBCBookBlogs was to track what I did every 30-60 minutes and determine which quadrant (professional, personal, passion, and positional) those activities belonged in.

I may have cheated a bit because I didn’t do this throughout the week as I had intended, but by thinking backward through my week I was able to account for each of the major things I did this week. I used this spreadsheet to write down my activities (feel free to make a copy of your own). The results were pretty much what I expected.

Out of the 168 hours in a week, I spent a little over 50 hours sleeping. Subtracting that time, because it doesn’t really fit into one of the quadrants as it’s a necessity, I was left with roughly 115 waking hours this week.


My Positional responsibilities ate up over half of this time this week. The Positional quadrant includes my role at my job; it’s what “pays the bills”, as the authors of Balance Like A Pirate, Sarah, Jessica and Jessica say. This doesn’t always take up over half of my week. This coming week, for example, I am blessed to be able to spend the week with my family for Christmas break. However, in the past week, I spent over 52 hours physically at work, over 7 hours working from home, approximately 10 hours commuting (including running my daughters to practice, etc) and nearly 7 hours showering and getting ready for work. If I did the math right, that leaves me with less than 40 hours in my week. (This is easily an example of why teachers advocate for a higher salary and summers off. I worked over 60 hours this week.)


Our professional responsibilities are how we continue to learn and grow in our ability to serve our students and staff. This week, I spent less time in this quadrant than usual. Normally, I spend over an hour on Twitter chats nightly, connecting with educators from across the globe to improve my practices and revisit my educational philosophies. I also did not read a professional book this week (odd, I know!) and this is my only blog post this week. I was able to connect with my PLN on Sunday night for two of my favorite chats, #teachpos and #BeKindEDU, Monday night was an incredible #tlap conversation, and this morning I enjoyed the #LeadLAP chat. I have also been taking an online course and spent some time today revisiting and learning about self-care from the one and only, Dan Tricarico (author of The Zen Teacher AND nearly released Sanctuaries).

I highly recommend diving into Dan’s courses, in addition to his books. I finished his first course, which is an introduction of sorts to self-care called Self-Care Starter Kit. I am currently nearing the halfway point of another of his courses, Self-Care 101, and am enjoying the breathing exercises and mantras he takes you through. I really appreciate that he gives us permission to take care of ourselves. Dan reminds us that it’s okay to be idle; we must schedule this time for ourselves. He says that self-care isn’ t meant to be something extra, something added to your schedule. It’s actually about subtracting, about taking things away to make time for yourself. Carve out some time in your schedule to go through one of Dan’s courses! You can go to for more information. He breaks the courses into 5-7 minute videos, so it’s easy to take bite-sized pieces. Trust me, it’s good stuff. This week I’ve spent around 9 hours in the professional quadrant.


So the personal quadrant is all about who you are outside of your job. It’s about all of the others titles you hold. For me, these include Believer, mother, wife, daughter, sister, friend, niece, aunt, cousin, nursery volunteer, dog mom to our almost 11 year old shih-tzu, etc. Some of the personal quadrant is a joy. Others, however, are not so much fun. I spent nearly 10 hours this week doing “chores” (I miss getting an allowance for these things, don’t you?!). We do a ridiculous amount of laundry, and with our youngest daughter being a newly-diagnosed type 1 diabetic, we spend a lot of time packing lunch and counting carbohydrates as we continue to get used to managing her blood sugar.

Checking homework and cleaning the house and the car are also among chores I don’t enjoy. Finally, with both my youngest daughter and I being sick this week, I didn’t waste any time taking the trash off. We had to do some last minute shopping this week for the holidays  in addition to our normal grocery store visit.

However, there are many parts of my personal quadrant that I greatly enjoy! These are times when my daughters and I are laughing together doing karaoke in the car line at school, or when our family enjoys Christmas movies lounging on one another on our sectional. (We got two movies in this week!) We spent about 7 hours eating meals as a family this week, while other meal times were spent at work/school or on demand. Throughout the week, we spent about an hour tucking our kids in bed. We spent a little over 2 hours at church on Sunday. I am a volunteer in our church nursery, so I loved on the babies during one service and attended the next one. During that service, our oldest daughter Bailey was baptized based on her profession of faith, which was a huge celebration in our family.

The last few hours (only about five hours this week) were spent reflecting as I lay in bed at night before I fall asleep, playing games on my phone, watching TV, and just relaxing.


So where does that leave room for my quadrant of passion? According to Balance Like A Pirate, our passion quadrant includes that which gets us out of bed every morning. I am incredibly lucky in that my profession, my position, and my family are all passions of mine. Sure there are parts of my position that I’m not passionate about, and those chores I don’t enjoy. However, I typically can find joy in most of what I do.

So why was I have such a tough night last night? Why did I feel as if the rainbow on the umbrella in the image drawn by my student (isn’t it beautiful?!?!) was being erased rather than being exposed?

I’m still not sure, to be honest. Part of those same feelings from last night are still lingering today, but blogging is really helping. I am in the middle of writing my story, my implementation from Stories from Webb and Run Like A Pirate. I wasn’t able to take any time this week to write part of that, so perhaps that is what is bothering me. I am expecting to finish the writing of my story during Christmas break, so hopefully that will lift a weight off my shoulders. It’s been on my mind incessantly since this spring, so having it “out of my head” and “onto paper” (errrr, Google Doc) should free up some headspace. (Possibly? I’ve never done this before so we’ll see if that really happens, ha!)

So back to my Balance Like A Pirate implementation. Passion is embedded within my other three quadrants, so based on this week my positional quadrant took two-thirds of my waking hours, while the personal quadrant was given about 25% of my waking hours. The remainder (less than 10%) was spent in the professional quadrant. I was surprised to see the professional quadrant being so limited, and perhaps that is the real reason I felt so off-kilter last night. I have devoted so much time to professional growth in 2018, that maybe I felt as if I was neglecting that this week.

Either way, the most important thing to remember is that there is no such thing as perfect balance. It’s just not going to happen. Instead, we will constantly fluctuate between our quadrants based on our needs that week, that day, even within that hour. It’s about finding joy and having an attitude of gratitude. It’s about making the time to take care of ourselves and acknowledging those moments like I had last night. I truly feel like it’s important to share those moments with others, because we all have them. It’s equally as important to pick yourself back up and move forward, so others can see perseverance and determination. I’m picking myself back up and am determined to have a tremendous week with my family during this holiday season.


Where Everybody Knows Your Name?

My family and I just returned from a week of luxury aboard the Disney Fantasy, a cruise ship with the Disney Cruise Line. We were thrilled to be able to spend time as a family, completely removed from work, social media, and the stress of day-to-day life.


Disney Fantasy in port in Cozumel, Mexico

From the moment we stepped off the airplane and into the Disney transportation portion of Orlando International Airport, we were treated to the Disney experience. Because it’s just the way I am, I couldn’t ignore the connections between the Disney experience and the experience I try to give students at school each day.

Of course, the customer service was superb and the amenities were outstanding. Disney pulled out all the stops; they went all out to ensure that our experience made our family feel special and made us want to come back. Our schools should be like Disney for our students. Every child, yes, even those children, should feel special, cared for, and like we want them to come back.

What stood out the most to me was the relationships formed while on the ship. In just seven nights, we formed bonds with other families that will last a lifetime. My children were devastated to leave the characters and the fun, but they were also sad to leave our stateroom host and servers! How does Disney form these relationships so quickly?! Two big things stood out to me!

§- The Power of A Name -§

It started from the moment we embarked on the ship. We were greeted instantly and were asked our family name. Upon entering the ship’s atrium for the first time, we were introduced to the cast members and crew of the Disney Fantasy and were met with applause. A crew member took us to the side and gave us a quick rundown of logistical information and invited us to the Sail Away Party later that afternoon. After asking if we had any questions (we did not), she encouraged us to explore the ship and shared where to go if questions should arise later. What a greeting!


Our amazing stateroom host, Narciso

If you ever doubt the power of learning names, let me share this short story…

Narciso was our stateroom host. Every time we ran into him in the hallway, our conversation went something like this:

Narciso: Good morning, Alicia! How did you sleep?

Alicia: Great, thank you! How was your evening?

N: It was good! Are you planning to visit the island today?

A: We’re hoping to. We didn’t plan an excursion but we hope to check out the shops nearby.

N: Sounds great! I hope you and your family have a great day. Is there anything I can do to make your stay more comfortable?

A: No, thank you.

N: Will Bailey or Sophie be on the top bunk tonight? (He placed the stuffed animals they sleep with on the bed when he turned them down each night.)

And the conversation would continue. He was exceptional! On a ship full of strangers, it felt like home because someone knew our name, and greeted us by name. It had a calming effect that I wasn’t expecting. I realize that if I feel more comfortable in a space upon hearing my name, our students likely do as well.

§- Likes and Dislikes -§

At our first dinner our server and assistant server introduced themselves and called us by name, asking what we preferred to be called. They already knew our names because they had taken the time to view our information before we joined them. Our servers had between 24-30 people to attend to throughout the cruise during our seating, with another 24-30 at the other dinner seating. They had our names memorized and quickly learned what we liked and disliked in meal preferences.


Danijel (server), the Faulkners, the Rays, and Clifton (assistant server)

Now I don’t, for even a second, believe Clifton just remembered that my oldest daughter wanted Sprite and my youngest daughter wanted water with extra ice nor do I believe that Danijel remembered that I like my sirloin cooked medium and my husband is an adventurous eater. They took the time to write it down, jotting a note in their record so they could refer to it the next night. How often do we do that with our students? If you are a classroom teacher, I encourage you to make a list of your students and write as much as you can about each one from memory, and add to it as the year progresses. Because I fully believe Dave Burgess‘s quote “Inspiration without implementation is a waste,” I will use a <large> notebook (I serve approximately 400 students and 30 educators) and create a page for each one, adding notes about their likes and dislikes as our relationships continue to form. Is that going to take time? Of course! Will it be worth it? I believe so.

Why do I think it’ll be worth it? I just experienced 7 nights with people I’ve never met before who took the time to pay attention to the little things and get to know me as a person. I never felt like just another family on vacation. I never want my students to feel as if they’re “just another student.” I want each one to feel special. That starts with knowing their name, pronouncing it correctly, and taking the time to learn their likes and dislikes to make a genuine connection as quickly as possible.