Be REAL-Educate From the Heart-Thoughts on the New Book by Tara Martin

I wasn’t going to do it.  I wasn’t going to buy another book to inspire teachers. So many of them are starting to look the same. But then, something pulled me towards Tara Martin’s new book, Be REAL-Educate From the Heart.  I didn’t know much about it.  But I knew Tara.  Well, virtually at least.  I met her on Twitter, have followed her work, and there’s just something about that welcoming smile of hers.  So, before I knew it, I had clicked purchase on Amazon.  My book was instantly on my Kindle app and I was ready to read.  Immediately, I knew I had made the right choice.



E-Expose a little vulnerability


L-Learning through life

The book is set up in four main parts as listed above.  There’s so much to glean from this book that one post is just simply not enough to share what I’ve learned from and plan to do with this book. Tara has a writing style that pulls you in, makes you feel like she is talking to you over coffee or soda (I don’t like coffee, but do enjoy my pop!), and several times makes you want to reach over and give her a hug with all that she has experienced in her life.


“Being relatable means that we allow others to come as they are, even if they are deoxygenated–broken, frustrated, hurt, or simply in need of support–and then we listen to understand and show empathy.”-Tara Martin, Be REAL Educate From the Heart

From this first section so many things struck a chord with me.  There are simple things like greeting your students each day and greeting them by name.  This goes for fellow staff members as well.  There have been many times I and only one other staff member have been in the hall, and not once would she greet me.  It really bugged me.  So, I made the decision to be the one to greet her by name each time we crossed paths.  Over time, she not only reciprocated, but initiated the greeting.  It may seem small, but over time it’s made a difference in our relationship.

The value of being relatable really hit home three years ago.  At the end of the year I had received a wonderful gift from a parent, but it was the handwritten thank you note from the student that made my whole year.  I knew we had connected, but had no idea to what extent until that letter. I found out that he often didn’t want to come to school, but did because of the connection that we had made.

However, I need to learn more about my students, all my students. That’s where the Little Yellow Notebook strategy comes in.  It’s a strategy Tara’s own teacher, Mrs. Wright, used.  This year I will make a notebook, section it off where each students get a few pages, and record the small conferences I have with each student.  The conferences will focus on their dreams, how they are pursuing them, what interests them, how they are feeling.  It not only will help me connect, but stay connected and monitor how they grow throughout the year.  If paper is not your thing, Microsoft OneNote would be a great way to do it as well.  Also, don’t underestimate the power of the Morning Meeting. It’s a great way to get a pulse of the classroom and start the day off on the right foot.

Often relatability really comes out during a difficult time or discussion.  The word you choose, the questions you ask, can make all the difference in the world.  Tara provides you with a pathway during these times.  It’s REAL Talk Treasures.

REAL Talk Treasures

  1. Value Individuality
  2. Humble Inquiry
  3. Listen to Learn
  4. Empower
  5. Provide Accountability
  6. Open Exaltation

Value Individuality-This is something we all want.  We want to feel our ideas are valued. That we are valued.  Tara points out that just sitting next to the person, and not across from, shows that you value them, and are not putting yourself in a power position.  My current principal does this during our evaluation meetings.  It definitely makes you feel like you’re having more of a conversation than an evaluation meeting.  I also do this during conferences with both parents and students.  It just feels like we’re working together when we do this.

Humble Inquiry-As Tara puts it, “humble inquiry is a question that genuinely seeks to hear what the other person has to say.”  I love her example of asking “What’s on your mind?” or “What are you thinking about?”  This goes a long way in understanding why a student has done something.  It could even be useful in a meeting where no one is talking or sharing ideas.  It can really get to the root of the matter.

Listen to Learn-Pause before you speak. Focus on understanding the other person’s perspective.  Show empathy.  All of these are what you do when you first listen to learn.  Once you’ve listened, paraphrase back to the person what you’ve heard.  It’s a great way to be sure you understand the situation. Another great way if there are disagreements in the classroom to fully understand and help the situation.

Empower-What a great word.  So many possibilities stem from that one word.  This is the time to offer advice and work together on possible solutions or a course of action.  It’s where that colleague or student feels motivated to try something new.  Many times this is all I need.  The freedom to pursue the answer to the question, “What if?”

Provide Accountability-This is the set a goal and check back phase.  It’s also the phase I need to devote more attention. I’m great at making a goal, but sometimes lack in the follow through department.  I’m a dreamer, but sometimes I don’t get past the idea stage.  Having an accountability piece would definitely help.  It’s the same for kids.

Open Exaltation-Be sincere and openly share your appreciation or gratitude, but be specific.  This is something that I have really worked hard on with my first graders and my own son. It’s easy to say tell someone they’re doing a good job, or that you are proud of them.  However, going the extra mile and telling them why means so much more. Building a person’s empowerment helps them see their own achievements.  So many of our teachers need to hear that what they do is appreciated, so that they believe more in themselves and what they are doing.

Tara has a quote from Gerard Trotman that in a way speaks to me as to why there are so many attacks on teachers and public education.  The quote is this:  “People who repeatedly attack your confidence and self-esteem are quite aware of your potential, even if you are not.”  It’s time we realize our potential and own it.  This is something I will be working on more this year.  I feel that I have a lot to share with my fellow teachers, but don’t relish speaking in front of them.  I need to get over it and believe in myself more.  It’s a work in progress.

The next part of the book focuses on exposing vulnerability and will be my next post.  Follow Tara at and on Twitter at @TaraMartinEDU.  Be part of the conversation on Twitter and follow #REALedu.  It’s a great way to connect with others and grow your personal learning network.  You never know the great people you will meet.


Kids Deserve It! And…So Do Teachers


Have you ever read a professional book and found that you just couldn’t put it down until you finished reading it?  Or, once finished you just had to share with all your friends, especially those on social media.  Well, you will once you get your hands on Kids Deserve It! you’ll see what I mean.

The book is written by Todd Nesloney and Adam Welcome.  What’s great about these gentleman is that you feel like you already know them as you read through the book.  LIke you could be sitting out on the deck after school discussing your crazy ideas and how to make them happen.  I’m particularly impressed in that these are practicing educators.  I find myself trusting these kinds of writers much more.  After all, they still know what’s it’s like to be educating kids today.

This book is an inspiration for teachers who are in all phases of their career. I find it particularly inspiring for those of who have been in education long enough to have experienced the pendulum swinging back and forth a couple of times already.  Kids Deserve It! will remind you of the teacher you started out to be, once were, but may have gotten side-tracked along the way.  It’s a book that will speak to you, but not in an excessively preachy way.  Rather in a way that you wish you were in your classroom right now, ready to set the world on fire.  Yes, it’s that good.

The premise of the book is to create an atmosphere and experiences that kids deserve to learn in each and every day.  However, I’d like to go further and say it’s what teachers deserve as well.  The book will not tell you exactly what to do to in order to achieve certain results.  Rather they offer you suggestions, examples from their experiences, and fill the book full of personal anecdotes.  In addition, after each chapter they include things to consider and Tweet about.  I mean, come on, they’ve already included a ready made book study and Twitter chat.  Now those are principals who are taking care of their staff, whether their personal staff or those of us who have now adopted them as our virtual principal.

Here are just a few of my favorite ideas/quotes from the book and my thoughts about them.

Worse than loneliness is the negativity that comes when we’re in an environment where, even if you want to innovate and push boundaries, you feel isolated by people who aren’t willing to do anything but push back.

I’ve often referred to this as being on an island.  Todd and Adam often talk about that alien look.  You know, the one where  you are talking about something you are doing or want to try, and some of those around you look at you like you’re an alien. We have to learn to not let it bother us so much, or we have find a way to get them on board.  Regardless, your kids deserve a teacher who is willing to go it alone if necessary.

The good news is that you can choose whom to connect and collaborate with–and they don’t have to be within the walls of your building.

Collaboration does not mean everyone on the grade level team is doing the same thing, the same way, sharing the same planbook.  To me, it means sharing ideas, helping a teacher who may not even be in your grade level, being a sounding board when needed.  It’s great when this happens in your own building, but why stop there?  I have learned so much by being on Twitter.  Not just reading the feed, but by interacting in chats.  When I’m asked how I heard about a new piece of technology, found a new book to read, or how I knew what was happening at the state level with education, my answer is often that someone in my Twitter PLN told me about it.  Don’t  limit yourself to someone else’s idea of collaboration, or even the walls of your building. Get out there and connect with people who will support your desire to grow.  After all, kids deserve it.

While you think we may be talking about being “techie,” what we’re actually talking about is being relevant for your kids.

In some education circles it seems that in order to be considered an innovative teacher you need to be using technology in everything you do. Yet, like everything else, you need balance in your approach. Some of my best projects have been those that involved roles of various types of tape, paper, and cardboard.  I do love technology.  I just want to be able to offer my kids the best approach for the task at hand.  My kids deserve it.

When leaders don’t lead, no one grows, and superstars leave.  Without strong leadership, exceptional team members will leave in search of a campus where they are challenged to grow.

Sadly,  I’ve seen this happen all too often. Teachers feel their ideas aren’t being listened to, or there’s no real support. Or, I’ve seen teachers who demonstrate innovation and leadership only to be accused of showboating or bragging.  Sometimes, they just don’t feel like they belong because their ways are so different than their team or building. Sometimes a lack of vision and culture of growth can drive teachers straight into the arms of a school that will.  Teachers deserve to work in a school where growth mindset is not just for kids, where our ideas and research are respected.  We deserve the respect we are due.

I got lost in the scores and judged my entire year by one day of testing-forgetting the ways we’d touched and changed lives.

While I am great at letting my kids know that they are more than a test score, I have a hard time telling myself the same thing.  That I am more than twenty-four test scores.  When scores roll in, I find myself wondering what more I could have done.  For the past few years I have felt that all I do is test kids.  Yes, I know I do way more than that and provide my kids with numerous learning opportunities, but it feels that I am just a testing machine. I tend to overlook all the growth and excitement in learning when scores don’t always meet my expectations. My goal for next year is to actually believe that I am more than a test score.  I’m not a test giving machine, I am the person who helps kids realize their dreams.

When you relinquish some of the control, stop making excuses, and trust kids just a little, they’ll always surprise you.

I started doing that more this year.  Not just with kids helping me learn new apps or other technology, but in the classroom itself.  Why can’t they be given more responsibility?  My goal this year is to give my students more opportunities in which they can do this.  One thing I’ve learned over the years is to go into anything new with the attitude that it will succeed.  Kids can’t be responsible and make the right choices if they are never put in the position to do so.

Now, go out and buy this book.  But more importantly, join the movement and the conversation using #KidsDeserveIt.  Get on Twitter and follow Adam (@awelcome), Todd (@techninjatodd), and the book (@KidsDeserveIt).  They also have a website,, as well as being on Facebook.  Our kids  deserve the very best that we can give them.  And teachers, you deserve to be the best teacher that you can be.


The Core Six Essential Strategies for Achieving Success with the Common Team Building Activity-Part One

The Core Six: Essential Strategies for Achieving Excellence with the Common Core

This will be a six part series discussing each of the six strategies discussed in the book.  I will also post my lessons using these strategies as I create them.  I hope to update the posts once I actually teach the lessons after school resumes.  

This past school year our Literacy Team began looking at ways to improve writing instruction in our K-5 elementary school.  Our principal gave us several excerpts from Core Six Essential Strategies for Achieving Excellence with the Common Core by Harvey F. Silver, R. Thomas Dewing, and Mathhew J. Perini.  After reading just the section on writing, I knew I had to read more.  I’ll define each strategy, provide the reasons the authors state for using this strategy, steps for implementing, and then how to use the strategy with written arguments.  There is so much great information that I can’t possibly include it all in a single post.  I highly recommend this book so you can learn the strategies in greater detail and how they match up each of the strategies with the Common Core standards.  In addition, at the end of each chapter are sample lessons.

Reading for Meaning

  • Previewing and predicting before reading
  • Actively searching for relevant information during reading
  • Reflecting on learning after learning

How does Reading for Meaning address the Common Core?

  • Text complexity
  • Evidence
  • The core skills of reading

“Because Reading for Meaning uses teacher-created statements to guide students’ reading, teachers can easily craft statements to address any of the Common Core’s standards for reading.”–Harvey F. Silver, R. Thomas Dewing, and Mathhew J. Perini

Seven Steps  for implementing Reading for Meaning in the classroom.

  1. Identify a short text that you want students to “read for meaning.’
  2. Generate a list of statements about the text.
  3. Introduce the topic of the text and have students preview the statements before they begin reading.
  4. Have students record evidence for and against each statement while (or after) they read.
  5. Have students discuss their evidence in pairs or small groups.
  6. Conduct a whole-class discussion in which students share and justify their positions.
  7. Use students’ responses to evaluate their understanding.

One of the steps I’ve been thinking of incorporating more is step six.  I love to have my students participate in discussions where they must justify their response.  They did a pretty good job last year, but I want to go deeper.  I am thinking about using the Socratic Seminar method.  I was just introduced to it at my district’s Leadership Summit.  Click here to access my Pinterest board where I’ve begun gathering resources.

As with any strategy that you try, there are quite a few things to consider.  The authors provide several considerations in the book, but I picked out a few that hit home with me.

Planning Considerations

  • What standards do I really need to address?
  • What kind of hook will I use to grab their attention or capture interest?
  • What article, document, or passage needs emphasis and intensive analysis?
  • What questions can I develop to engage my students in a discussion throughout and after the lesson?

For those of you familiar with Dave Burgess and his book Teach Like a PIRATE, his strategies for hooking students into a lesson would fit perfectly when planning your lessons.  Beyond the textbook, or even novel, there are other texts readily available for your students to use for Reading for Meaning.  Some of my favorites are ReadWorks, DOGONews, DOCS TEACH, and  newsela.  Just click on those for some free texts to use with your students.

The final section of the chapter is a writing extension using written arguments.  Use a statement either from a “completed Reading for Meaning lesson or you can always introduce a new one.”  The authors stress that that “either way, the statement should sit at the center of the content, tie back to your instructional objectives, and require students to draw heavily on the text to make their case.”  This would definitely increase the amount of meaningful and relevant writing for my students.  Also, it would provide them with experiences in coming to a discussion prepared.

Almost anything can be “Read for Meaning.–Harvey F. Silver, R. Thomas Dewing, and Mathhew J. Perini

I’ll be working on lessons using the Core Six Essential Strategies and will create a separate page and update the post in order to share these lessons. I hope you’ve found this post helpful.  Again, I recommend this book to any teacher trying to meet the Common Core Standards in a deeper, more meaningful, and accessible way.

The next post in the series is on Compare and Contrast.  I thought I knew this strategy until reading the chapter.  It was not what I expected, but turned out to be one of my ah-ha moments.

I’m Setting Sail and Becoming a PIRATE

First of all, let me be honest.  I resisted reading TEACH LIKE A PIRATE Increase Student Engagement, Boost Your Creativity, and Transform Your Life as an Educator by Dave Burgess for quite some time. I’ll be honest here, it was the title. I don’t like pirates. Well, except for Captain Hook on ABC’s Once Upon a Time, but that’s an entirely different post. However, Dave Burgess hooked me with his definition of pirates. It looks like I’ve been a pirate all along and just didn’t realize it.

“Pirates are daring, adventurous, and willing to set forth into uncharted territories with no guarantee of success. They reject the status quo and refuse to conform to any society that stifles creativity and independence.”-Dave Burgess

This quote sums up the Teach Like a PIRATE philosophy and sets the tone for the book. If you’ve never read the book or it’s been awhile, set sail with me for a short voyage through the book.  I’ll briefly explain what each letter of the PIRATE acronym means and share my favorite quotes from the book.  (In case you don’t stay with me for the entire voyage, here’s the short version.  Read the book!  It will get you motivated to teach or it will help you reconnect with a passion that you thought you had lost.  It’s not just a feel good book, it has solid strategies for engaging your students and yourself.  You will find many strategies to hook your students into your lessons.  There’s bound to be one that you can feel comfortable with trying and then find one that takes you out of your comfort zone.)

One idea that really resonated with me from the book is when Dave (and since I’ve tweeted with him I feel I can call him Dave) speaks the hidden truth. We are not always passionate about what we teach. I think that’s why I’m always trying projects or trying new things. I don’t always enjoy every subject I teach and therefore am constantly finding ways to make those subjects more interesting to me, thereby making it engaging for my students.

So, before I share anymore quotes from the book and my thoughts about them, I’ll briefly explain what the PIRATE acronym means.

Passion-Feel passionate about what you’re teaching, even if you’re not passionate about it.
Immersion-Be immersed in the moment to engage your students.
Rapport-Getting to know your students and showing them that they are more than just a grade.
Ask and Analyze-Ask the right questions and be open to feedback.
Transformation-Reframe your subject to overcome barriers.
Enthusiasm-This is your most powerful tool. Use it freely.

A few more quotes that I identify with concerns the “cookie cutter” approach to teaching and collaboration.  It seems like more and more that either an administrator or a team conveys that idea that collaborative planning means we all do the same thing, on the same day, in the same way.  And, if you don’t, you are not a team player.  As good as the ideas in this book are, Dave cautions that what gets him excited will not necessarily work for someone else.  Again, the key is to find your personal and professional passion and bring those into your teaching.

“Resist any movement that attempts to clone teachers and lessons and instead rejoice in the fact that it is your individuality and uniqueness that will  always lead you to become the most effective teacher that you can be.”-Dave Burgess

“I strongly believe in the power of collaboration, but I don’t believe the final goal of such work should be to come to a single “right” way of teaching.”-Dave Burgess

“Let’s just be sure that the “definite purpose” of collaboration is improving education, not simply standardizing it.”-Dave Burgess

This post is getting incredibly long, but I hope it gives you an idea of what it means to be a teaching pirate and nudges you into the direction of reading it.  As I said, I resisted reading it and then couldn’t put it down. It renewed in me my passion for teaching and gave me that added reassurance that I am not alone in pursuing my passion for teaching.  Now, read the book and then join in the weekly Twitter chats at #tlap.  The Twitter chat is a great way to connect with other teachers finding their passions and engaging their students.  I’ve already met a lot of great pirates there!  As I end this post I’ll leave you with three more quotes to think about and then feel free to leave me a comment if any of these quotes have  resonated with you.

“You have to have a vision of what your ideal classroom experience looks like if you want to have any hope of creating it.”-Dave Burgess

“Don’t allow misguided and ill-informed critics to steal your enthusiasm for innovation.”-Dave Burgess

“One of the most rewarding parts of teaching is the personal and professional relationships we develop on our voyage”-Dave Burgess

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