Top Ten Blog Posts of 2018

What an incredible year this has been! Reflecting through blogging has allowed me to create something I’m proud of, highlight some incredible educators and students, share about my most favorite books ever, and find my voice. I had not written in so long that I forgot how therapeutic writing is. I am grateful to anyone who has taken the time to read these posts & share your thoughts. I realize they are a bit long by blog post standards, but hey – I’ve got a lot to say. Ha!

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Here are the top ten blog posts as indicated by views during the year 2018.

10. #DBC50Summer 14/50: 140 Twitter Tips for Educators

9. #DBC50Summer 2/50: Pure Genius

8. #DBC50Summer 10/50: eXPlore Like A Pirate

7. Where Everybody Knows Your Name?

6. #DBC50Summer 1/50: Teach Like A Pirate

5. #DBCBookBlogs: Stop. Right. Now.

4. #DBC50Summer 29/50: Social LEADia

3. #DBC50Summer Explained

2. #DBC50Summer Book 1-10 Recap

1. #DBC50Summer 9/50: The Innovator’s Mindset

I wish you and yours a very Happy New Year!

2019 is sure to be a great one! Looking forward to continuing to learn and grow with you!

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*Alicia

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.”

“everythang”

What would you change?

“nothing”

“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!

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.

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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!

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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.

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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.