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.


#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: 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!