Sunday, January 13, 2019

Educators as Storytellers

I recently had the opportunity to have lunch with some of our high school students and talk about their educational journey in our school district.  With a focus on instruction, assessment, resources, and technology, we talked about the things that they felt were important to them and their school.

I went into the conversation wondering what the students (juniors and seniors) would say about the last 12 years in our school district.  Would they complain about school lunches or dress code?  Would they talk about their favorite teachers or coaches? Would they question whether we should start school later or add more study halls?

The students definitely shared bits and pieces like these, but there was one critical take-away from the conversation---their connections with teachers.

They lit up when they shared about the relationships that they had with some of their teachers.  They laughed about funny quirks of some teachers and personal anecdotes from others.  One thing rang true--the relationships that were cultivated throughout their high school experience were meaningful and longstanding.

Image result for storytellerOne student shared something particularly important--the idea of educators as storytellers.  The group all agreed, the best teachers were those who told stories, not just personal stories, bridging connections in the classrooms but those who wove stories into their content.  Without realizing it, their teachers hooked them in to the learning with the power of a story.

This made me reflect on my own education and those teachers who crafted stories within their classrooms.  You probably remember some as well--the ones who had you hanging on their every word while (slyly) infusing history or literature content.  You felt like they were just talking to you, but they were really just finding pathways to incorporate core content in meaningful ways.

The high school students shared that they found comfort in those teachers who crafted stories to support their subject areas.  They expressed feeling more engaged, more interested in the topic, and more connected to their teachers.  It didn't matter if it was art, music, math or foreign language, the conversation kept coming back around to the stories that teachers tell.  Isn't that what we want for every student?  Connections to their teachers.  Connections to the content. Personal connections that lead to deeper understanding.

So the challenge is:

Teachers--Reflect this week on your role as a storyteller.  Do you weave examples and stories throughout your content?  How does that make a difference to your students?  Ask them!

School Leaders--As you visit classrooms this week, look for the storytellers.  How are these teachers intentionally using storytelling as an instructional tool?  What do you notice about student responses?

Also think about your role as a decision maker and an instructional leader, where can you use storytelling to compel others to take action or improve their practice?

Please leave a comment on the power of storytelling in your school.  I'd love to hear how these opportunities are impacting teaching and learning.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

3 Maker Tools to Try This Year

Maker learning is happening in schools and libraries.  It is an exciting time in education as we have so many tools and materials as our disposal.  Our classrooms and makerspaces are filled with so many options, how do we know what to choose?

When you spend time with students, it is always interesting to see what materials they gravitate towards.  Sometimes its the unexpected item that gets a lot of attention.  Other times, the things that you think are going to be a huge hit are actually a big flop.  Before I introduce materials to my teachers or students, I usually try it out at home with my own little makers.

It's exciting when I bring home a new product to try.  My sons and I love to tinker so we figure out how things work and play around with them.  That's really the heart of making, if you ask me.  It's that informal messing with materials that provide a creative spark or a new idea that pushes kids to think differently about whatever it is they are working with.

Right now my older son is loving Plus Plus.  These interlocking mini blocks can be used to build just about anything.  2-D and 3-D structures, people, or vehicles.  In a short time, my son used the images from the packaging to replicate a robot, flowers, and an airplane.  Pieces fit snugly together and are perfect for small hands. They offer flexible play on the part of the learner but can also be used to follow a set of directions to accomplish a specific end product.  We love the colors and the creative opportunity that Plus Plus offers to create and design whatever you want.

If you haven't heard about Buddha Board yet, you will want to give this a try.  Think relaxation meets maker education.  We all need the opportunity to step away from technology and do something to "de-stress".

Buddha Board is essentially a painting canvas that only requires water and a little imagination.  The brushstrokes are quite calming as students use the water to create sentences, images, or anything they come up with.  The challenge is that it doesn't stay for long. Within a minute or two, the water dries and the image is gone.  It's a great tool for brainstorming or sketching but is especially powerful when it comes to the mental impact.  Now I know that might sound a little far-fetched, but painting on the Buddha Board can really calm you down. It provides this zen-like opportunity for individualized creation that works for every student.
I recently stumbled upon Solarbotics, based on my youngest son's obsession with creating marble runs.  We have a plastic set which he builds and tears down a dozen times coming up with new and improved iterations.  When I found the Gravitrack from Solarbotics this took the idea of the marble run to a whole new level.  Adding battery and solar powered panels, allows the mechanisms to move the marbles at different points in the track.  Other models from the company include carousels and other machines that makers will love building, hacking, and remaking.

There are tons of great maker tools out there.  This post represents just a few fun options for the little makers in your life. They support both structured and unstructured play for students.  While you can't beat free materials like cardboard and some duct tape, these are all fairly inexpensive ranging from $15-$40.  Don't have the funds? You can always create a Donor's Choose post to add these maker tools to your space this year.  

Do you have a favorite maker tool that we should try in 2019?  Please post a comment below.  

Keep on Making!

Tuesday, January 1, 2019


I have thought a lot about my one word for 2019, as I am sure that many of you have.  It's tough to pick just one word, isn't it?  I mean, there are lots of words that can provide inspiration and guidance, but choosing just one word to focus on all year, that requires some special consideration.  I wanted to choose a word that was original, but that's hard too, as there are so many great posts this week with people sharing their chosen word.

I wanted a word that could prompt inspiration in both my personal and professional life.  I wanted a word that would push me to be better.  I wanted a word that would bring to the surface what was most important.

Last year, I chose curiosity.  It was a bit selfish, I must admit.  I wanted to chase my own curiosities and try new things.  I didn't want anything to stand in my way.  I was determined to pursue whatever it was that piqued my interest.

Travel to new places
Learn new things
Write til my heart was content
Meet new people
Let loose and have some fun once in a while
Wherever the curiosity took me

My year was filled with excitement and opportunity.  While I don't want to lose the inspiration that I gained in 2018, I feel the need to reground myself and find some balance, so that is the word I have chosen.

After juggling a lot in 2018, (including writing three books and expanding my presentations to an international audience) I need to regain my balance among the different aspects of my life.  As a mom, a wife, a daughter, a friend, an educator, and an author, my work/life balance has been a bit out of whack.  I need to attend to all of the pieces of my life and ensure that my energy is spent devoting quality time to what is important.

It is easy to get overwhelmed with responsibilities and requirements working in a school district. Balancing my school life with my family life can be a challenge at times.  Add to that, my work life (what I do "on the side") the work of writing, speaking, and consulting with educators. All of those things combine for a pretty full plate at times.

Over the course of the last month, I was also reminded that friends and laughter are critical to my personal well-being.  I don't always take time to let down my guard and fully enjoy the time with those special people. so in addition to my work/life balance, I need remember add my friends to that balance, as well. Sometimes "play time" with friends and colleagues is just as important to our mental health as getting enough rest and eating right.  Which takes me to the next piece of this balancing act.

I spent the latter part of 2018 finding balance in my personal health.  No longer a slave to carbohydrates, I will continue to balance my food choices in a way that fuels my body and my mind and equips me to be my very best self.  (With 37 lbs. down and many more to go) I am committed to maintaining my health balance in 2019, because part of the balance means I need to leave some room to focus just on myself.

Throughout the year, no doubt I will be challenged with things that will attempt to knock me off balance.  When faced with a choice, I will ask myself, does this create an unbalance in my world?  Will this path provide balanced perspective?  Balance means making choices and prioritizing.  As I explore the delicate balance of life, I wish you a Happy New Year and best wishes for an amazing 2019!