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.


Connecting Within Your School 

All over Twitter and Facebook you’ll find reasons to connect your classroom globally and opportunities to do so. While I believe these are important, and my classroom is participating in several, I’d say connecting should begin and be maintained within your own school. How better to create a positive school climate than to provide students and teachers with the opportunity to work across grade levels and really get to know one another?

Years ago, when I first began teaching, I did book buddies. This usually meant we read together or made a craft. That was all well and good.  But it wasn’t enough, or often enough, to foster real relationships. Then, a few years ago my friend and I decided to partner our classrooms to form STEM buddies. We found a great resource on TPT to integrate fairy tales with STEM projects. It’s been an amazing experience.

This isn’t a traditional buddy situation. We read fairy tales and our students build STEM projects to go along with them.  It’s truly a win-win for us all.  I get to teach with my friend.  We get to infuse reading content in a fun way.  We get to build.  I love trying the projects out as my students are doing them.  But more importantly, what we’re really building are relationships.  These are between teachers, between students, and between teachers and students.  Coleen (second grade teacher) and I compliment each other’s teaching styles and bring our own unique strengths to the projects.  Plus, how cool is it that I get to work with my best friend?  Her students become mine, and mine become hers. Each of our classes loves seeing the other teacher in the hallways.  Often hugs are quickly exchanged as classes pass in the hallways.  Our kids love seeing their buddies.  They will wave at each other in the hall, applaud loudly for them at assemblies, and if my class isn’t with me, they’ll ask me to tell them hi. With these relationships our students don’t see differences in ability or language barriers.  They only see a friend.  These relationships aren’t built by meeting once a month, we try to meet weekly.  There are of course, those instances when we can’t meet weekly.  And boy do we hear about it from our kids.  They can’t believe anything would prevent us from meeting with our buddies.  We try not to let that happen too often.  It’s hard to face a room full of kids giving you the look.

Just recently I was approached about a second buddy opportunity.  It would be one that centered on writing and would be an authentic way for third graders and fifth graders to work on writing.  My teammate from last year moved to third grade.  Emily has been reading through the writing series by Lucy Calkins that we are to be fully implementing this year and had an idea.  What if our students had writing buddies?  They would write something that meant something to them.  Maybe they’d exchange notebooks. They would have a real audience.  We’re just getting started with the planning and thinking of what we can do.  Maybe this could be a safe place to practice cursive writing. Maybe it’s a way to practice a new style of writing.  Or maybe, just maybe, it’s a place to develop a love of writing.  Where feedback is craved in order to grow.  Where telling a story, or sharing what you’ve learned, is more important than any grade.  I can’t wait to get started with this new buddy relationship.

Both of these buddy relationships allow me to continue working with teachers I admire even when our teaching assignments have changed.  So now it’s time for action. Is there a teacher you admire or want to get to know better in your building? Is there a new teacher who needs a mentor? Are you unsatisfied with the climate or culture in your building?  Then do something about it.  Approach that teacher about being a buddy classroom.  There’s no one right way to be buddies.  That’s the beauty of it.  It can be whatever you want it to be.  While academics might bring you together, it’s the relationships that will make it meaningful and keep you together.





Bringing Back The Teacher T-Shirt

I love teaching apparel. You have to understand that when I first began teaching it was the early 90’s. Everybody was doing it. But I really liked the clothing, I even had socks. Alright, yes.  I had earrings and bracelets as well.

Fast forward to 2001 and I found myself slowly not wearing them as much. Then came the day I wore the sweater. It was a killer sweater with apples, numbers, and math symbols. I rocked that sweater. Or so I thought until one of my fellow teachers openly mocked my apparel on several occasions. Then I started noticing no one else in my new school really wore that kind of thing on a regular basis. I gave in.  Packed my sweaters and shirts away. But no more. I’m bringing back my teacher shirts.

Now I hadn’t gone completely cold turkey. We had our staff shirts we wore each year. But that was different. I didn’t get to choose what was on the shirt. The closest I came to choosing was the PTA spirit wear. Well, that’s all been changing. I’m bringing back my teaching personality.

Why the shirts? They let me express either a view or my pride in being a teacher. For too long teachers have come under attack or have become political sound bites. No more. I’m proud to be a teacher and I’m going to show it.

Below are my current favorites. I have several more on my shopping list. What teacher shirts are in your closet?

I wore this on vacation a few years back. While at a McDonald’s several senior citizens raised their hands as I was walking by and thanked me for being a teacher.

My first EdCamp ever and then my first EdCamp in the great state of Kansas.

Love EdCamps! This year I’m attending virtual EdCamp.

This year I became a Front Row Ambassador. It’s a great Math and ELA program. Check them out at

Best book I’ve read all year. Very inspiring. Check out their website and join the conversation at

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.


A Teaching Bucket List

I think most people have heard of Bucket Lists. They range from fairly normal things to do to some extraordinary things to do. Of course the point is to not wait, to accomplish these things before you die. But have you considered a Teaching Bucket List?  What would you like to do in your career before retirement?  Here’s a few of mine so far.

My Teaching Bucket List

(in no particular order)

  • Attend a national education conference like ISTE, ILA, or NCSTA
  • Present at a conference
  • Meet members of my Twitter PLN in person
  • Attend an EdCamp in an area or state other than my own
  • Create a recording studio in my school
  • Start a Twitter chat in my district
  • Earn my doctorate
  • Teach first grade (I’ve taught 2nd-5th)
  • Implement Teachers Throwing Out Grades
  • Become a Google Certified Teacher
  • Teach in a project based school like EPIC Elementary in Liberty, Missouri or Apache Elementary in the Shawnee Mission School District in Kansas or 
    • create that type of school in my own district
  • Go storm chasing for a weather unit
  • Create a YouTube teaching channel

I actually began this post quite some time back.  So, happy to say, I have actually crossed off two, and have begun work others.

Item #3-Meet members of my Twitter PLN in person

Last week I attended #edcampLiberty.  While there I happened to notice a familiar face.  From the name tag I could see his name and Twitter handle, Dave @DavidGeurin. Now, I am basically a shy introvert in new settings.  However, something got into me that day to work towards overcoming that quality.  So, I walked up, introduced myself by name and Twitter handle.  I believe I sounded like an idiot, but he was very gracious and thanked me for following him on Twitter.

Item #5-Create a video recording studio in my school

This year I wrote a Donors Choose proposal for an iPad mini to go along with my @TouchCastEdu green screen, lapel mic, and tripods.  Thanks to generous donors I received the iPad mini.  We’ve created Christmas cards for parents, interviewed members of our school community for a writing project, and recorded students reading Dr. Seuss books.  The Dr. Seuss videos were shared with other classrooms in our school.  Some students are currently learning to podcast and will present their first project soon.  I’d like to keep expanding the projects like recording a weekly news show and a weekly video from me to add to our weekly newsletter.  I have aspirations of inviting other classrooms to use our studio, or even moving the green screen to a central location where more classes could use it.  My students would be able to train and assist other students with using the technology and the studio.  I want this to go beyond my classroom walls and become one for all to use.

Item #6-Start a Twitter Chat in my district

Last year I worked with the elementary coordinator for my district, Kristl Taylor (@Trending3-She’s now moved on to to Lawrence Public Schools.), to create a Twitter chat for our district.  It’s changed names twice, and I believe with the help of our District Technology Integration Coordinator, Cindy Swartz (@swartz_c), it will be changing to #232connect.  This will hopefully integrate the chat with a district wide desire to share what we’re all doing on a daily basis, and not just during monthly chats.  It’s been slow going, with only a handful participating each month, but that’s ok.  It will grow.  It’s not about the quantity of participants, but the quality of what is shared.

I’m not sure of how many items I will be able to cross off my list before I retire.  Early retirement is in about eight years.  Either I get busy real fast, or better yet, I’ll just keep teaching for a while longer.

So, what’s on your Teaching Bucket List?


Saying Goodbye To My Math Mentor

Two years ago I had the privilege to begin working with whom I have considered my math mentor, or more playfully when we co-taught,  my work wife, Rachel Kemper. I’ve written before about co-teaching with her and how sad I was when she went to primary and our coteaching experience came to an end.

It is with mixed emotions that I must say goodbye to her at the end of the year. She’s  leaving our school to spend her days with an adorable little boy. She’s made the decision to stay at home next year with him. He’s a lucky little boy to have her as his mom. I’m happy for what this means for her family, but sad to see her go.

Rachel has taught me so much in the last two years we have worked together. You see, I’ve never really liked or cared for math. I wasn’t good at it in school. I was fine teaching primary math, intermediate math, however,  was different story.  My own math anxiety would kick in and I’d have to work really hard to be sure I fully understood what I was doing so as to not let my kids down. Converting measurements and fractions would cause a panic that people around me never saw, but I felt it and had to work through it.

When we planned together, she provided a safe place for me to say,”I get the procedure, but why does it work?”  No judgements, just unconditional support. Our styles complimented each other well. She gave me the confidence to teach a subject I was never comfortable doing.

While unable to teach together this year, she has still been there for me. Whether it was a question, a wacky idea I wanted to run past her, or sharing the successes of our students, she always had time for me. My favorite was when I told her about our fraction number line. She was so proud of me for doing it this year. I told her that when we did it last year I didn’t really get it, but doing it on my own this year it really made sense. Again, no judgement, just support. I was amazed to hear myself say that I actually enjoyed teaching fractions.

When she told me she was leaving, I of course wondered who would take her place. Whoever it would be would have big shoes to fill. Imagine my surprise when she asked me if I would consider it. Shock and disbelief. I mean, come on, I just recently decided math wasn’t that bad. But she did what Rachel does.  She makes you feel good about how you teach. That what you do, and how you do it matters. Her enthusiasm about teaching is contagious. She makes you a better teacher by believing in you even when you don’t always believe in yourself.  While I’m not ready to leave my own classroom, it means the world to me that she would even ask me to consider taking over where she is leaving off.

So Rachel, thank you for all that you have done for me and have taught me. I wish you well in this new chapter in your life. And, I wish that every teacher has the opportunity to teach with their own Rachel. You will be missed my friend.

Revitalizing Staff Morale Using the SNAIL Method-Part Four

This post is the fourth in a five-part series.

In my first three posts I shared the five components of the SNAIL Method of revitalizing staff morale.  For this post I will offer my thoughts on the third component.

Stand up and take pride in our profession

Never pass up the opportunity to show appreciation

Acknowledge when things aren’t working and develop a new plan

Ignite a spirit of collaboration not competition

Let go of old hurts or jealousies

three snails

image from

Competition has its place, especially in sports.  However, it often has far reaching negative consequences that were most likely never intended. I found some quotes that I am using to spark conversation on this topic.

“A creative man is motivated by the desire to achieve, not by the desire to beat others.”-Ayn Rand

Pinterest, while one of my favorite sites, is the culprit of many competitions in a school.  Teachers compete to have the best bulletin board, door, or classroom decoration.  Forgetting mind you, that none of these are as important as who and what we teach.  I’ve seen teachers get upset when they realize that both found the same idea and wanted to be the only one to use it.  Why?  If it’s what is in the best interest of your students, wouldn’t you want to share that so that more students could benefit?

“It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.”-Harry S. Truman

This one is hard.  Everyone wants to be recognized for their work, but what if recognition becomes ego and competition?  What if more focus is placed on whose idea it was or who did the most work, rather than on how it affects students?  Praise accomplishments, but not to the point that the individual is placed on a pedestal and how their accomplishments affect students is forgotten.

“Life is not a competition, life is about helping and inspiring others so we can each reach our potential.”-Kim Chase

“I’m not interested in competing with anyone.  I hope we all make it.”-Erica Cook

Competition has a place in the world, but is a school the right place for it?  Sure, good healthy competition in theory would help you improve.  What if, however, it breeds resentment and mistrust?  Our focus should be on competing with ourselves and becoming the best teacher we can be.  We should also be focused on working together to make each other a better teacher. In doing so our students and school benefit.

“Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.”-Henry Ford

It’s important for administrators to think about which teachers work well together, complement each other, and genuinely wish to be together.  Genuinely wanting to be together on a team helps breed trust and the ability to be risk takers when trying new strategies.  Teachers are more apt to grow when given a safe place to do so.  This in turn creates teams who become more focused on working together for student and professional success.  When all this is in place you get a staff who would never dream of teaching anywhere else.  Stability in staff creates the opportunity for innovation.

When schools focus on collaboration for student success and professional growth, morale can only increase.  Teachers who enjoy their job, and the people they work with, are more focused on creating positive learning experiences for students.

Do You Lurk or Comment When Reading a Blog?

I admit it.  I tend to be a lurker when reading blogs.There are so many great ones out there that I follow, but will admit, I rarely comment.   I often will retweet a link to a great blog, but again, rarely leave a comment. Back when I started blogging I commented regularly. I was participating in a Twitter challenge for new bloggers to write ten posts during the summer and we all supported each other by commenting on one another’s posts regularly.  Then, school started up and I didn’t read or comment as often.

A fellow teacher at my school is also blogging and is at a crossroads as to what type of blog she wants to write.  She is wondering if it is worth the effort if only, as she phrased it, her mom and dad are the only ones reading it.  What if when you check your stats you find out only a few people a month are reading it?  Then, you have a decision to make.  Why are you blogging in the first place?  Is it to genuinely share with others?  Is it a cathartic experience for yourself? Are you blogging to communicate with your students and their families? Or, do you just enjoy writing?  I even had a teacher in my building tell me they didn’t know that’s the kind of blog I was writing.  Wasn’t sure how to take that one.  Whatever your reason for blogging, just be comfortable with your choice.

For me, I just like to write and it is cathartic.  At first I did worry that no one was reading my blog and commenting.  But then  had to remember why I began in the first place.  I wasn’t out to say my teaching methods were the best or to sell you a product.  I just wanted to have a medium to share my thoughts, model for my students a Genius Hour project, and if possible inspire a few others along the way.  I wanted to try something new.  I wanted to write.

So, stop worrying about your stats and if you’re going to be the latest and greatest blog in the educational world.  It’s not about the number of followers you have.  It’s about your purpose and your message.  But, hey, we all need a little encouragement and feedback on what we do.  So…I have a challenge for you.

I will be posting on Twitter my challenge and see if anyone joins in on it.  It is #blogrespond and the goal is to reply to five blog posts before you return to school.  For me, I report back in fifteen days.  Therefore, I only need to read and respond every three days.  I hope to do more, but I want an attainable goal to begin.  Part two of the challenge is to respond to a post ten times during the school year.  Again, attainable goal since it gets so busy during the school year.

I’ve learned so much from the blogs I follow and the amazing educators I follow on Twitter that I want to give back by letting them know how much I value them.  If you aren’t currently reading any education blogs and don’t know where to begin, check out  the blogs I follow (I’ll be adding more).  Another tip is to look at the people you currently follow on Twitter and see if they have a blog.  So, are you ready to stop lurking and start commenting?  Share the #blogrespond challenge on Twitter and link back to the blog you read.  This way others will benefit from what you found interesting and valuable.

Now get out there.  Start reading.  Start commenting.  Start supporting.  You have the potential to make a blogger’s day.

Revitalizing Staff Morale Using the SNAIL Method-Part Three

This post is the third in a five-part series.

In my first two posts I shared the five components of the SNAIL Method of revitalizing staff morale.  For this post I will offer my thoughts on the third component.

Stand up and take pride in our profession

Never pass up the opportunity to show appreciation

Acknowledge when things aren’t working and develop a new plan

Ignite a spirit of collaboration not competition

Let go of old hurts or jealousies

snail on post

photo from

Acknowledge when things aren’t working and develop a new plan

Sometimes there’s an elephant in the room.  The elephant is that for one reason or another a program, initiative, or strategy is not working.  However, time and money has been spent so the failed program or plan is continued.  Nothing brings down morale like knowing something is not working and still having to continue on with it.  So, what do you do about it?  Complain.  Whine. Sabotage.

No, when something is not working you really have to examine the reasons why and then take action.  Is it that simply there hasn’t been enough time to determine whether it has worked or not?  Often, unlike what we preach to our students, we bail when we don’t get the promised results or what we expected the outcome to be immediately.  We have to be patient, yet critical.  Are we doing everything necessary for the program, initiative, or strategy to be successful?  “To fidelity” are often words that cause teachers in my district to cringe.  I’m not saying follow everything to the letter (I’m one of those cringers) but if you don’t, you need to own it and be ready to justify.

Sometimes though, you’ve done everything you can and it’s just either not working or it’s not best for your students.  Rather than complain, whine, or sabotage, really think about what could be done differently.  Analyze what parts aren’t working and then develop a new plan.  Work with your grade level team, building teachers in other grade levels, or even your PLN.  Find a way to tweak what you’re doing or develop a new one.  They key is to not just accept it’s not working and then do nothing about it.  Many times I’ve gone to my administrators with a problem and possible solutions.  They get tired of problems too, and are more often than not very receptive to feedback when you come in with possible solutions.  No one likes a mess dumped at their feet.  Help them out, work together on it.  Often a complete overhaul is not needed, just minor adjustments and the support in which to do it.

So next time you or a colleague is sitting there complaining that something isn’t working, just think how bad it is if the whole building is feeling that way, yet everyone would rather wait for someone else to do something about it.  We don’t have to accept a program, initiative, or strategy that isn’t working.  We must advocate for our students, speak up, and be willing to put ourselves out there.  We have more control over things than most would believe.  We just need not be silent when it’s not working.  Be respectful, but work for change when it is necessary.  Never accept less than what you, your colleagues, and students deserve.

Revitalizing Staff Morale Using the SNAIL Method-Part Two

This post is the second in a five-part series.

In my first post I shared the five components of the SNAIL Method of revitalizing staff morale.  For this post I will offer my thoughts on the second component.

Stand up and take pride in our profession

Never pass up the opportunity to show appreciation

Acknowledge when things aren’t working and develop a new plan

Ignite a spirit of collaboration not competition

Let go of old hurts or jealousies

image courtesy of

image courtesy of

Never pass up the opportunity to show appreciation

Showing appreciation really does go a long way.  Whether it’s taking the time to express your thanks to a colleague for getting the copies you forgot, helping them out when they have an emergency, or just being there when you need to vent.  Knowing that you are valued and appreciated can take a staff through the hard times and uncertainty of change. By showing appreciation to your fellow staff members, you can better foster that spirit of team and community.  You are more willing to help someone who says thank you for the little things as well as the big things.  However, I value most the appreciation that is given with no expectation of recognition.  After all, you didn’t really help someone out for the recognition did you?

How can an administrator show appreciation to the staff?  First of all, don’t wait until Teacher Appreciation Week, and worse yet, don’t let that week go by without acknowledging it as well.  Show appreciation to the individual, not just a blanket statement to the staff. This can also occur during a walk through.   I’m one of those teachers who don’t mind my principal or learning coach dropping into my room unannounced.  Hey, I’ve even invited them in so that they could either support my students in something they were proud of, or to offer feedback on a strategy that I’ve been implementing and not quite sure how it’s really going.  When you do come in be sure to leave some sort of feedback.  It doesn’t need to be long.  Just a quick email, a message on Voxer, or a note left on the desk or in their mailbox.  The point is those small gestures go a long way, especially in the event you have to ask your staff to do things that add to their already full plates.  It’s no different from sending home positive messages to our students and parents, and then if one day we have to discuss something unpleasant we’ve already laid the groundwork for a positive relationship.  In addition, when you know a staff member took on an extra duty or covered for another teacher, especially if they did it without even being asked, show them that they are appreciated.  Again, never underestimate the power of simply letting someone know they are appreciated.

On the flip side, teachers and staff need to show appreciation to their administrators as well.  They often have a lonely job where they have to make decisions that are not always popular.  Take the time to let them know that while you may not always agree, you appreciate that they took the time to explain the situation and even include you in the decision making.  If you see there was extra help needed in the cafeteria or even coverage for a teacher and the administrator covered it, let them know how you were impressed by that and you appreciate them.  It doesn’t have to be a super big deal, but rather an acknowledgement that it meant something to you.

Finally, don’t forget the appreciation staff show to each other.  Too often we take each other for granted.  It’s not on purpose, we’re just so accustomed to colleagues who always pitch in and help, often without even being asked.  Take them time to say thank you and let them know you truly value them.  I am blessed to have worked on some amazing teams that all it took was a text saying I needed help because of an unexpected illness, and they jumped into action.  Our building is much the same way, someone needs something and you’ll find multiple offers of help roll in.  While no one is doing these things because they expect a thank you, all the same a simple thank you goes a long way in fostering that giving spirit.

So, if you want to build morale, never pass up the opportunity to show appreciation.  You spend so much time together, take care of each other.