Mindset of an Innovative Classroom

Adobe Spark (10)

As a school administrator nothing invigorates me more than walking into a classroom and seeing true innovation and collaboration happening. The culture of engagement with content, students, teachers, and technology is so exciting.  In Barnegat, where I currently serve as Superintendent we tackled innovation step by step.

Two years ago I attended a technology conference where I was impressed by robots, STEM projects and programs and students who were above par in every way. The issue in my district was a serious lack of funding and a mindset deficit. This meant that many people did not feel that students could be creative or that we (students and staff) could problem solve collaboratively.  I knew that had to change.

We set out to see Glenn Robbins (https://goo.gl/F941N2) in his former district where there was a full-fledged maker lab filled with Little Bits and Makey Makeys. I brought teachers and members of my Board of Education on that visit. What we received was more than an introduction into innovation.  It was inspiration that “we could do this” and a desire to implement a maker education program in Barnegat.

Mindset Matters

We know that without a commitment to improve, it will never happen. This goes for anything and everything. This is when you are improving your diet and fitness routine to organizing files at home to teaching a great lesson. The Barnegat team was committed to innovation, but in a very particular way.

Our interest was in the Stanford University School of Design. Their belief on innovation was slightly different than other versions of the design process.  

This graphic denotes the beliefs of the Institute of Design at Stanford.  Our favorite part was step one – Empathize. As a school team, we knew that creating empathy amongst our youngest learners was essential.  This was important not only because we felt that having empathy could produce innovations that could assist people in need but it also fed the cultural need we have in Barnegat to support each other. Our community is comprised of hard-working families. The need to lend and hand and receive assistance on occasion is very real to many in our district.  We wanted Empathy to be the cornerstone of our innovation, collaboration, and culture.


pastedImage0As a district team, I also felt it was important for the administration to learn from digital pioneers so we conducted two book studies.  One was Digital Leadership by Eric Sheninger (http://ericsheninger.com/) and the other was Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros (https://georgecouros.ca/blog/).  After the administrative team began to understand what digital leadership was, how technology and innovation were impacting schools in astounding ways, I did a “maker” activity with them.  Here is a link to the Emaze presentation from our administrative meeting.  https://app.emaze.com/@AFTWQOTR/are-you-a-maker#1. This was when things got REALLY exciting!  Some administrators remarked it was the best “meeting” they had ever been to.  When we discussed skills used in creating their maker project (which was a hands-free cell phone holder that could shoot video) they named things like problem-solving, collaboration, the ability to keep trying to make their holder work, planning, execution and listening to and honoring the ideas and thoughts of others. Here are some pictures from the day we did a maker activity together.

The Maker movement was happening in my district and we were excited about it!

Soon thereafter a maker space committee was formed. Teachers, administrators and board members observed other programs.  We evaluated each program and considered our options for implementation.

Budget was a challenge for us as we could not afford Makey Makeys, Little bits, or Ozbots. Our program began in the elementary schools in our district where each class had the opportunity to utilize the maker lab once a week.  Teachers collaborated, created lessons, and delivered innovative lessons that extended the learning from classroom to creative, encouraging innovation and teamwork along the way.

With any program to be relevant and effective, it must be analyzed and evaluated. This year, as we examined our program, the following assessments were made:

  • We were able to purchase small technology devices (such as Ozbots at limited cost using teacher supply money)
  • Our very youngest students (kindergarten, first  and second grade) could use a different approach than older elementary students
  • More time was necessary for some lessons because students got very involved in the design process
  • We noticed of all students, gifted or high level students seemed to struggle more than others. Our maker space teachers believe the open guidelines and student led discovery and collaboration may be different than how some of our students learned. This freedom was challenging for them.

Taking all these items (and others into consideration) we will make adjustments for next year to provide the most authentic learning experience possible and stay true to the core beliefs that were established at the inception of the program.

I have been lucky enough to present the maker education program at a New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association workshop.  For my presentation, click here: Maker Space Program – Karen Wood).

The opportunities and ideas are endless in Maker Education.  I think we are all “makers” in a sense and that creativity and innovation should be supported in our schools. In addition, the design loop graphic shared in this post is a great map for what we have been through.  We are not done yet with this program and we are now in the process of adjusting to meet the needs of all learners. We “prototyped” our program and even “tested” it.  Since we feel the need to modify the program, it is time to try another iteration.
One of the most exciting parts of maker education are the conversations you will hear as you listen to children create, brainstorm, speculate, guess, plan, and build.  It is incredibly rewarding and gratifying. I love hearing critical thinking and problem solving come to life in this vibrant classroom opportunity. We may still have improvements to make, but we will do it “bit by bit” until we get it right.

~Karen Wood




Let me tell you about the most amazing, life-changing book I have read recently.  This book is written with the intent of supporting female leaders everywhere, however if you are a courageous man, you, too can make a difference.

Lean In was written by Sheryl Sandberg who is the COO of Facebook. I was impressed by both her credentials and candor.  The book is referenced and annotated throughout, citing important data and research on this topic. I was so pleased to see that the ideas, thoughts, and feelings I have had as a female leader were legitimate. These were not just “how I felt” but backed by data. Amazing…

Her Ted Talk is about fifteen minutes in length and worth every minute.


Here are three of the items I have taken away from Lean In:

Sit at the Table

Sandberg talks about the necessity for women to sit at the table.  When I was a brand new vice principal, my Principal was holding a cabinet meeting, comprised of teachers and administrators. She intentionally did not sit, waiting to see who would sit where. Teachers scurried for seats. I noticed there were only a few seats left so I sat at the table.  Knowing no teachers, I did not sit near anyone I knew as this was my first meeting. Then I realized I had chosen the “head” of the table!  You know the seat…the one where the LEADER sits. I was mortified but it was too late to get up and move.  Just then, my Principal began the meeting. The first thing she did was commend me for “sitting at the head of the table.” Long before Sandberg’s book was published, I had the opportunity to work for a woman I consider my mentor. She “administratively raised me” and realized, more than two decades ago, how important it was for women to sit at the table.

Make your Partner a True Partner 

This portion of Sandberg’s advice is important and relevant for both men and women who work or choose to stay home and raise children. The most compelling proof for me is shared in both the Ted talk and the book.  To think that a home where chores, work, and child-rearing are shared equally have half the divorce rate is astounding! This reminded me of a recent article I read…


I find this research essential in building strong relationships, both at home and at work. There will be a follow-up blog on this topic, I can assure you.

Don’t Leave Before you Leave

Sandberg discusses why it’s important for women to keep their feet firmly planted on the gas pedal before leaving for childbirth.  She has found that many women decide that their career will have to be derailed to have children long before it is time to make that decision. I am taking this advice in a different way considering my current position. My contract will expire on June 30, 2018. You can bet that my foot will be firmly planted on that gas pedal until June 30.  I will not “leave before I leave”.

My deepest gratitude to Sheryl Sandberg for not only being a role model for women everywhere but for writing a “user’s guide” so that women can collaborate, reflect, and own their future.  This book has inspired me to establish a newly formed Women in Leadership group in my county.  More to come…


It’s that time of year. We’re all a bit more reflective, more cognizant of the needs of others, and maybe most importantly, the impact of our actions on those around us. Shouldn’t we adopt this practice more often?

As I️ reflect, it has been quite a journey. I️ recognize that there were times I️ let my mindset falter and it impacted my journey negatively. However, my mindset is positive again. Here are some strategies I’ve used to embrace the power of reflection and get back on course.

1. Try journaling. I️ know. I️ don’t have time either. Download the “five minute journal” app. It’s a great tool to start your day with good thoughts and prompts you at the end of the day to reflect. I️ also find it helpful (on a weekly basis) to read entries. That practice allows me to take inventory of my focus levels.

2. Read. Find some great books to inspire you. Whether they are fiction or education-based, find what moves you. Lately I’m inspired by coaches. I’ve always been a big fan of Pat Summit and John Wooden but try some others like Ben Bergeron, Urban Meyer, or Tony Dungy. All these authors share their tales as struggle, adversity, and eventual success. Athletes and coaches, as well as musicians and teachers, remind us that ANYTHING is possible if we practice and stay the course. I’d be remiss if I️ didn’t mention Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg. It is an absolute MUST read, especially for female leaders and male leaders courageous enough to admit that women can lead too and promote their strengths as women in power.

3. Remain inspired. Go see the movie, Wonder or tune into a classic like Miracle on 34th Street, the Polar Express,or It’s a Wonderful Life. Whatever you choose, stay connected.

4. Try meditation. Don’t knock it if you haven’t tried it. Try the app “headspace”, practice yoga, Tai chi, or Google “walking meditation” by Thich Nhat Hanh. Any of those methodologies will ground you and help you move purposefully through your life and work.

Lastly, be grateful for the challenges that you triumph over even though they are struggles. Remember that only when doors close do others truly open. I️ have learned to be present, focused, and grateful…even for the things that were hurtful or confusing. Take solace in your family.

I️ love this quote. Enjoy your family during this season of gratitude. I️ know I️ will. They remind me each day why every decision I️ make matters…not only for them but also for the students I️ have dedicated my time and work towards. Happy Season of Gratitude!

Transformational Leadership vs. Transactional Leadership

“Even though ideas may begin the wonderful new initiative or inspire the amazing changes happening in your district, a lack of process will sink a leader every time.”

In a recent blog post about collaboration, I wrote, “Consensus building and collaboration are essential to success in most cases.  However there are times when collaboration can work against a leader.”

In this blog, I’ll be explaining my thoughts and reasoning about why collaboration can work against a leader.  It all stemmed from this graphic:

Transformational Leadership Transactional Leadership
Public and private acknowledgement of achievements (higher level needs) Rewards and punishments (low-level needs)
Delegate tasks for supporters to act autonomously or in small groups Micro-manages team to make sure pre-set standards are met
Encourages change and thinking outside the box Avoids change, works to keep things the same
Concerned with ideas over process Concerned with process over ideas

For years I believed that being a Transformational Leader was the right way to lead. How narrow-minded of me.  Although it is still my preferred way to lead, I have learned many invaluable lessons (some not so pleasant) that have influenced my thoughts on leadership and when to use transactional or transformational leadership characteristics.

In a leadership study in my district two years ago, we learned that flexibility was an incredibly important leadership trait for leaders to use. Flexibility did not mean that we needed to be flexible with our core values, beliefs, or needs. In this case flexibility meant that as leaders we would be called upon to work with different people in different ways.  We would have to be flexible in our approach with them, recognizing their needs and meeting those needs throughout the problem-solving process.  This approach was new for many administrators on our team however when the trait of “flexibility” rose to the forefront of our ideas about leadership, we started recognizing the needs of those around us and we could see its impact almost immediately.

So, what does flexibility have to do with Transformational vs. Transactional Leadership and why doesn’t collaboration always work?

There are times when leaders will need to stand on their own, promote their ideas, and even micro-manage teams to ensure compliance.  Again, this is not my preferred way to lead however as a leader, why should you be held responsible or accountable when those around you do not complete tasks appropriately or in a timely manner? In the end, as a leader, you will be judged. Not the organization. Not the people who work beside you or for you. It will be you who faces the music – sometimes alone.

There is also a beauty in supporting process over ideas. Even though ideas may begin the wonderful new initiative or inspire the amazing changes happening in your district, a lack of process will sink a leader every time. Be sure to create a linear system that works for your team. This is essential to ensure the success of your “idea”. The idea will never come to fruition without a step-by-step process.

Remember that character trait of flexibility! You may encounter leaders who learn and lead like you and you may not. Good leaders recognizes the needs of their people and they use flexibility to support diverse needs. Only a transformational leader can put the needs of his/her people before their own in the quest for successful completion of an idea or task.  Lead on!



Creating a Culture of Collaboration

“There was a point during our planning when we were almost premature in the roll out of our program.”

Over the last several years the Barnegat School district has worked to create a culture of collaboration.  Although this has not been successful in every area of the district, the culture of collaboration has grown significantly and I am very proud of our collective efforts.

We know collaboration has benefits, however here are some examples of how our district has utilized collaboration to benefit teaching and it’s impact on learning and decision-making.


We use collaboration for building consensus.  There are many committees in our district and they often collaborate on important topics.  Whether it’s our school safety team, our school-wide professional development committee, our district advisory committee, or the staff improvement panel, we use it most often for building consensus.

One of the ways we’ve used collaboration successfully is with our equitable hiring process. Born of a desire from a Board of Education from 2011-2012 to hire the best candidates and deflect hidden agendas, we created a collaborative process.  Over the last six years the process has evolved.  Although the current process is similar to the one from the beginning of my career in Barnegat as Superintendent, we have managed to retain its integrity from the inaugural year as well as incorporate important changes each year thereafter. This year, that process has a Standard Operating Procedure that each administrator has helped shape, mold, and influence through our collaborative efforts at administrative meetings.

Each summer we offer a Summer Institute of Learning.  This is an opportunity for teachers to turnkey new learning they have acquired during the school year.  In this model, teachers present proposals and seek approval from district administration. They are given compensated prep time to develop their workshops and are paid to present. All workshop attendees receive professional development credits for attending workshops of their choice.

Teachers have taught everything from “Using Primary Source Documents in the Classroom”, to “Flipped Classrooms”, to ” “Classroom Management Strategies”, to “Close Reading”.  Each year feedback is elicited and changes are made to incorporate the desires of attendees.  At one time the Institute was only for Barnegat teachers but has now expanded to other teachers in the county.  One summer we had over four hundred attendees at about twenty workshops we offered!

During the 17-18 school year the Barnegat School District rolled out a semi-departmentalized fifth grade model.  Our four Elementary Schools feed one middle school. In our quest for providing depth of knowledge and specific work within the standards, we created a model that could support student’s learning needs as they ascended to middle school.

Under a previous model, our fifth grade students were in “self-contained” settings, with only one teacher for the entire school year (with the exception of specials). Our desire was to have fifth grade students have two core area teachers to better prepare them for middle school.

Over eighteen months our school district utilized surveys, developed focus groups of teachers, students, and parents, and visited several schools with semi-departmentalized fifth grade. Although this was a long process the need for collaboration was essential.  There was a point during our planning when we were almost premature in the roll out of our program. Rather than being hasty, we further examined the needs of our students and continued to collaborate until all stakeholders were comfortable with the proposed model.  I am glad we did.  After a couple of months into the school year, we have heard nothing but praise for the new program.  This helped us remember that collaboration pays off and listening to all stakeholders and building consensus supported our decision with this initiative.

Consensus building and collaboration are essential to success in most cases.  However there are times when collaboration can work against a leader.  That will be discussed in a subsequent blog.


Building Relationships…One Step at a Time!

You know how excited I am about my PLN!!!  Well look what the innovative, creative, and caring minds of the #compelledtribe have put together. Here is a collaborative post from fellow tribe members. As always I am honored to be part of such an authentic group of educators who make a difference for our nation’s children each and every day!


building relationships

It all goes back to relationships!

Relationships are the essential element in our schools. The old adage, “Kids don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,” is true especially in today’s society when kids are used to so much choice in their world. Also, in today’s busy world, it’s important for teachers and school staff to make positive connections with students. We must be intentional and taking time with these relationships must be purposeful.

Members of the Compelled Tribe have teamed up to share practical ways for educators to build relationships with students. As connected educators we also embrace the notion that it is the power of the team that drives much of what we do. How do you build relationships with those that you serve? See the list below for ideas to add to what you may be already doing in the buildings and districts in which you work.

  1. Greet students at the door. Smile and call them by name. Tell them you are glad to see them.
  2. Ask your students to share three things about themselves. Let them choose what they share. Keep them on index cards to help make connections throughout the year.
  3. Know your students families. As important as it is to know the students, make the connection to home. Great relationships with your kids starts where they kick off their day. As the year continues and both the good and bad arise, having that connection will be crucial to getting the results you are seeking.
  4. Journal writing is an activity to get to know your students well and give students a voice in the classroom.
  5. Make positive phone calls home especially within the first two weeks of the school year.
  6. Genius Hour/Passion Projects really give teachers an opportunity to learn about student passions.
  7. Have kids make something that represents them out of Play-dough and share.
  8. In the first couple of days of school, learn the first name of every student in your first class of the day, and something personal and unique about them that has nothing to do with your first class of the day.
  9. Be vulnerable!  Let your guard down and show your students that you are a learner, you make mistakes, and persevere.  They will see you as a person, opening the door for a relationship built on trust. Share stories about yourself as a learner or challenges you’ve faced when you were there age and help them see what it took to overcome it. It’s easy to forget how much a simple connection can make the difference.
  10. Eat together.  Have breakfast with a small group of kids or join them at the lunch table.  Gathering around meal time provides an informal way to have conversations and get to know your students.
  11. Hold Monday morning meetings (We call them “Weekend News Updates”).  Ask each student to share about their weekend – good or bad.  Ask questions.  Be sure to share about your weekend too!  Occasionally bring in breakfast or make hot chocolate.
  12. Laugh with them. Frequently. Show them that school, and your class, is just not about learning stuff. It is about sharing an experience. Tell them you missed them if they were out.
  13. Keep in touch with past students.  Show past students that you do not have a 1 year contract with them.  The ongoing relationship will also model to your current students the value of a positive classroom community.
  14. At the elementary level — hold morning meeting everyday as a class and stick to the routine of greeting, sharing, team building activity, and morning message.  This is a sacred time to build and maintain a culture of risk tasking and building relationships.
  15. Send positive postcards home to every child. Have them address it on the first day of the quarter, keep them and challenge yourself to find at least one thing each quarter to celebrate about your students, let them and their parents know.
  16. Find their interests and what motivates them! Sometimes it may take a bit to break down barriers and build trust, but through being genuine and authentic with them this will happen in no time.
  17. Make personal phone calls to parents. Find one good thing to say about the children in your class.  It can be how they contributed to a class discussion or how well mannered they are in class or in the halls. For older students it can be how diligent a student is at learning challenging content.
  18. Share something about yourself that they will find relevant or interesting to extend your relationships with students.
  19. Tell a story from a time you were their age. This approach allows students to see teachers as they once were and make connections easier to establish and maintain.
  20. Create a unique handshake or symbol for each of your students.  Use it when you greet them at the door or say goodbye.
  21. Eat lunch with a group of kids throughout the week. They will enjoy a time dedicated just to them. (And you will enjoy a peaceful lunch!)
  22. As a school, hold monthly celebrations to recognize students and educators their accomplishments.
  23. Take pictures with students. Print. Write a special note on the back to the student.
  24. At the end of a term or year, write a thank you to students telling them what you have learned from them. Be specific and honest – authenticity goes a long way. Try to make the note handwritten if possible, but email works well too.
  25. Each day write two students a personal  note about something that you have noticed about them.  Go into some detail and be specific. Keep track of who you reach out to over the year and try and reach as many students as you can. The time you spend doing this will deepen connections and pay off 10 fold.
  26. Have dance parties! It is so fun to let loose and get down with students. Students love seeing you have fun with them, and the saying goes, “The class that dances together, stays together”.
  27. Play with students at recess or during a free time. Climb the monkey bars, play kickball, or tag. Students will never forget you connecting with them on the playground.
  28. Hang out in the hall to give high fives or to have quick conversations with students. Relationship-building can be squeezed into any time of the day.
  29. Notice students having a bad day. Ask questions without prying. Show that you care. Follow up the next day, week, etc.
  30. When a student is having a rough day, ask if he/she has eaten. We are all more unreasonable when we are hungry. Keep a supply of snacks on hand (ex: breakfast bars, crackers, etc).
  31. Go see students at their events: sports, theater, dance, volunteering. Meet parents and families.
  32. When a student stops to say “Hello” and has a friend in tow, introduce yourself and be sure that the guest feels important.
  33. Stop class from time to time with a comment such as, “Hey, everyone, Katie just asked me a great question. I think you’ll all benefit from this. Katie, could you repeat that for everyone?”
  34. Sing “Happy Birthday” to students; send birthday emails (I use “Boomerang” to schedule my birthday emails each month).
  35. Say “I missed you yesterday” when a student has been absent. Be sincere.
  36. We have to make time to grow relationships with our students. This time can not always be in a planner or a calendar. Sometimes, this simply means just being there for your students.
  37. Mail them a postcard for their birthday. They are always amazed to receive personal mail!
  38. In a leadership position, learn as many names as you can. Greet students by their name as often as you are able.
  39. Music! Bond with your students over music. Play soft classical music while they are working. Incorporate music/songs into special events or lessons.
  40. Classroom: Start a compliment jar. Share comments at the end of class or randomly throughout the day. School: Do shout-outs during morning (or afternoon) announcements/news show.
  41. Smile and make eye contact.  “Good morning”, “Good afternoon”.  Something as simple as a greeting in the hall with smile and eye contact conveys both warmth & safety.  Try it tomorrow.  
  42. First day of math class have them choose 10 numbers that are significant to them (3 for number of cats, 1 for brothers, 20 for number of hours they work, etc.).  Everyone shares out.  You will learn lots about all your students in one day.  
  43. Cut them some slack every now and then.  “What were you doing?  What should you have been doing?  Can you do that for me next time?”  We all make mistakes.  
  44. Hold class celebrations and have students develop unique cheers for various accomplishments…these can be anything from a sports team victory, to being selected for something, to earning a grade, and they need not be school related.
  45. Allen Mendler’s 2×10 strategy for challenging students. Spend 2 minutes per day for 10 consecutive days talking to a student about something not academic.
  46. Share your own goals, successes/failures. Don’t be a mystery to your students.
  47. After morning announcements have students participate in a daily discussion question.  Have a student read the question and set a timer for two and a half minutes.  Each person turns to a partner and answers the question then volunteers share with the whole class.  Each question, in some way, will help you get to know your students.
  48. Halfway through the year, have your parents and students fill out a feedback form.  In my classroom, these forms look different.  Allow them to evaluate you so you can keep what works and change things that aren’t working.
  49. In your summer introduction letter, include a letter asking parents to write about their children in 1,000,000 words or less.  Keep the assignment voluntary and open so they tell you what is most important to them.
  50. Don’t be too busy to truly listen.  Listen to understand, not to respond.  Are you starting a lesson when a student interrupts and tells you they are moving?  Take the minute to hear them out.  That time will mean more to the student than the first minute of the lesson ever will.
  51. When students get stuck in class, teach the other students to cheer them on.  We do a simple, “Come on, [Name], you can do it,” followed by three seconds of clapping.
  52. Teach students call and responses to uplift each other.  When a student responds with something profound and someone loves it, that student gets to start the cheer.
  53. When you check in with groups to give them feedback or see how it’s going, make sure you are seeing them eye-to-eye.  If they’re sitting, don’t stand.  Pull up a chair next to them.  If they’re sitting on the floor, sit down on the floor next to them to avoid standing over them.
  54. Give honest feedback even when it may not be positive.  Your students will appreciate that you expect more out of them than they’re showing.
  55. Create a “You Matter” wall.  Take fun pictures of each of your students.  Print each photo and put each student’s photo in an 8×10 frame.  Hang them all on your wall under a “You Matter” heading.  At the end of the year, send the photos home with students.
  56. Tell them what was hard for you when you went through school and how you worked to overcome the challenges.  It shows they aren’t the only ones who struggle.
  57. Defend your students in front of other people.
  58. Take risks so students feel comfortable doing the same.  Don’t ask them to do anything you wouldn’t do.
  59. Create something that is unique to your class.  For us, it’s a house competition.  It’s something that connects my past students and current students.  It’s also a family bond that only the students who have been in my class understand.
  60. Apologize when you make a mistake.
  61. Cook together and then you can eat family style in the classroom. Some fun and easy crockpot meals: applesauce, vegetable soup, chicken and dumplings. Then, make cupcakes for dessert!
  62. Every so often, take the pulse of your building according to students. Convene a volunteer roundtable with student reps from various groups (athletes, scholars, quiet, loud) and ask them for critical feedback about topics you are working on. Some ideas I’ve seen discussed in this format include schoolwide incentives (assemblies, sledding event, etc.), dress code, and discussing recess options for winter.
  63. During your informal walk throughs, saddle up right next to students and ask them the purpose of the lesson they are involved in. Why do you think the teacher is asking you to work on this? You’ll be more than surprised with the honest feedback.
  64. Bring board games back! Add a few games like Checkers, Uno or Chess to your lunch table options. See if any students are willing to play a game or two with you and others.
  65. Use sidewalk chalk to decorate the entry of your building with positive messages to students. Have teachers help you write and draw the notes!
  66. Leave nice notes on post-its for students on the outside of their lockers. Recruit other students to help spread the kindness throughout many lockers!
  67. Forgive them when they make mistakes. Remind them that mistakes are opportunities for learning. Don’t hold grudges against misbehavior and don’t allow other adults to hold them either.
  68. Make time for dismissal. Tell them you can’t wait to see them tomorrow and share high fives on the way out!
  69. Notice which students still don’t have money to pay for lunch. Help them out when you can. Treat them to a snack they don’t usually get to purchase at lunch time.
  70. Find special projects that need to be done around school and recruit the most unlikely helpers.
  71. Remind your students you and your staff were all kids once too. Have your team bring in pictures of themselves as children (at the ages you have in your school). Post them and have a contest allowing students to guess which teacher is which. Those 80s pictures are the most popular!
  72. My favorite question to ask my students or any student I come in contact with is what are you into lately? This opens communication with your students and let’s them know you are interested.
  73. Allow students to do a job shadow. Give them a peek into what you do and how you make daily decisions.
  74. Host an ice cream social for students that meet certain goals.

The list will grow as our experiences and our connections grow. Feel free to reach out to any of the Tribe members listed below to learn more about the power of our team and how our tribe constantly supports each other in our teaching, leading and learning.



Compelled Tribe Contributors:

Jennifer Hogan, The Compelled Educator  @Jennifer_Hogan

Jonathon Wennstrom, Spark of Learning  @jon_wennstrom

Craig Vroom, Fueling Education, @Vroom6

Allyson Apsey, Serendipity in Education, @allysonapsey

Sandy King Inspiring The Light @sandeeteach

Gary Kidd Reflections and Rants from the Asst Principal, @hinotewailer

Jacie Maslyk   http://jaciemaslyk.blogspot.com/    @DrJacieMaslyk

Jodie Pierpoint  Journey In Learning @jodiepierpoint  

Jim Cordery   Mr. Cordery’s Blog  @jcordery

Allie Bond   The Positive Teacher @Abond013

Angie Murphy ConnectED to Learning @RoyalMurph_RRMS

Karen Wood https://karenwoodedu.wordpress.com/ @karenwoodedu

Lindsey Bohler lindseybohler.com @Lindsey_Bohler

Starr Sackstein http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/work_in_progress/ @MsSackstein

Debbie Campbell The Curious Educator @DebraLCamp

Michael McDonough M Squared at the Microphone @m_squaredBHS

Barbara Kurtz bkurtzteachermentor.blogspot.com @BJKURTZ

Stephanie Jacobs www.thisblogiswhy.blogspot.com @MsClassNSession

Michael Todd Clinton Motivated teacher blog  @MotivatedThe

Cathy Jacobs https://cathyjacobs.org/ @cathyjacobs5

Reed Gillespie Mr. Gillespie’s Office @rggillespie

Molly Babcock Sweet Tea and a Live Oak Tree @MollyBabcock

Lisa Meade Reflections @LisaMeade23

Keep up the collaboration!


Competition Vs. Collaboration

Our topic for the #Compelledtribe is Competition Vs. Collaboration.  Although I am inspired by this topic, it is always challenging for me to formulate thoughts that I think the reader might connect with.

As a child, I was competitive. Not in the way you might think, though.  I did not compete against others for awards, championships, or medals.  I was not an athlete. I competed against myself. The idea of always pushing myself to improve, work harder, study more, was instilled by my mother. I think this was due to our home situation as well as cultural beliefs that surrounded my family growing up. Things like, “You are responsible for your own actions. Don’t ever bring shame upon the family. You will be judged by your actions,” were common threads of conversation heard in my home as a child. By today’s standards, these mantras may sound dated, even harsh to some, but those are the ideals I grew up with.

As a parent, I am less strict than my mother but there are still similarities in how I parent my own children and who I am now is a direct result of how I was raised. I think my competitive spirit is good because it pushes me to improve my own practice everyday.


So would we say that collaboration is the antithesis of competition? I don’t think so.

This year I run my administrative meetings differently than last year. Last year, I was using them as informational opportunities only. They were boring and lacked collaboration, competition, communication, or even conversation. The meetings were me talking and my administrative team listening (kind of). As I have grown through my PLN, regular reading, and recognizing my own competitive desire to improve myself, I began to approach my work differently.

This year, our administrative meetings are working meetings. The team receives their agenda ahead of time in a shared Google document where admin can review, reflect, and read resources before we come to the table. I always include a “problem of practice” that encourages competition and collaboration.

One example of this is my desire to improve staff attendance in our district. We need to model for our students that school is important, that we want to teach our students, and that being together matters. If teachers are not present, students will not be either.

At every monthly meeting, I share the percentage of teachers present for the month prior. This is competitive because each Principal can see who which school demonstrated the best attendance. I always acknowledge the winning Principal with a gift card for him/her and by granting a free “dress down” day for their staff.

Then the collaboration begins.


The winning Principal shares the strategies they have used to improve staff attendance.  This has resulted in buildings sharing ideas with one another and inspiring each other to do better.

Competition and collaboration CAN co-exist and can improve everything we do. This applies to education, fitness, health, parenting, and just about anything else you can think of.  I have also observed that the more open we are to collaboration, the more growth occurs for the individual and group.

I have also encouraged collaboration in the classroom, amongst teachers and students. Sometimes in education, we are still fighting an antiquated system, reflective of days gone by.

It is our responsibility as educators to maximize the potential of our talented teachers and students by embracing collaboration and creativity. It is only through these efforts will we see improvements in education that our students deserve.


It’s amazing what we find around us to inspire our thinking and our motivation to improve our life’s work.  Recently in a Voxer discussion with a Women in Educational Leadership to which I belong, we began discussion podcasting and vlogging. Both of these formats are new to me. Although I am an experienced, comfortable presenter, the thought of recording my words or videotaping myself was somewhat intimidating. However I successfully completed my first podcast.

Barnegat Pride Podcast

Here are the steps I utilized:

  1. First I downloaded the Opinion app from the app store. This was recommended to me by @AllysonApsey. She indicated it was easy to use and that I could upload music. I was excited to get started!
  2. In preparation to record, I wrote my speech first. I was nervous to “ad lib” and wanted to be sure that my word choice was varied and I could practice before recording. After writing my podcast, I was ready to record.
  3. Using the Opinion app was easy! This app allowed me to record audio directly from my phone, cut and edit clips easily, and add music! I recorded my audio twice because I wanted to make sure my vocal inflections on certain words helped convey the message I was sharing.
  4. I chose to add two different music clips. One as an introduction and one after I finished speaking. Adding clips was simple, but since I do not typically store music on my phone and I wanted certain music clips, I downloaded one additional song to add to my podcast. This step was my biggest challenge because I wanted the ability to fade music clips before I began speaking to improve transitions but was unable to do so. I am hoping to improve my podcasting, as this was my first attempt!
  5. After creating the podcast, it was easy to complete the prompts and post and share my first podcast.

The other reflection I wanted to share today is a something that I think I have known all along, not only about myself but about others as well.

Adobe Spark (8).jpg

I KNOW that when I can work with inspiration, clarity, focus, and positivity I am more productive. I inspire others and those around me feel the effects of joy and creative energy. This year I will strive each day to remain #hopeful so that I may inspire others and also that I remain open to the inspiration I receive each day from the #compelledtribe and other members of my PLN.


presenter_badge_2017This is a challenge for me. Anyone who knows me knows that brevity is not my strong point. In fact, sometimes it takes me much “talking out loud” to revise, change, or come to a final decision.

The #compelledtribe has challenged all of it’s members to find one word for 2017 that we can focus on. I need to identify the one word that will drive my actions, behaviors, decisions, and initiatives. For the last week or so, I was pretty determined that my one word would be “committment”.  I figured it fit everything that I needed in 2017.  It worked for committing to fitness, health, time with my children, time for me, my goals at work, and my other personal goals such as committing to blogging and being present on Twitter.

I feel like I was very present on Twitter from January 2016 through about May or June. Then I hit some obstacles and I was not participating in as many chats or reading blogs. But what I found was that (in early 2016) the more connected I was with my PLN, the more effective I was at work.  I was also more inspired, passionate, and positive.  Although I wear many hats at school, I truly feel that my role as “head cheerleader” is absolutely necessary.  It is imperative that teachers, aides, administrators, secretaries, custodians, and drivers know that I appreciate their efforts and that they matter to me immensely. Their efforts do not go unnoticed and I am always grateful for the people I work with.

#Committment was okay. But it didn’t speak to me.

My children have been watching this video on YouTube over and over again….

..and it’s no wonder.  With over 67 million views, it is truly inspirational. This duo appeared on Britain’s Got Talent in 2014.  As my children walked around the house singing this song over and over again….it struck me…

#OneWord2017 for me is #hopeful

Hopeful for so many reasons.  I’m thrilled that my #oneword was inspired by music and by teenagers. For me there is nothing more sacred than students who inspire and who have the strength and courage to do what they love.  Their story embodies what I truly believe education should be. We need to guide students and embrace them. We need to support teachers and encourage them. We need to be hopeful.

“A good teacher can inspire hope, ignite the imagination, and instill a love of learning.” ~Brad Henry

So as we begin 2017, let’s ignite imagination, instill a love of learning, be hopeful to achieve all we set out to accomplish, and commit to each day’s challenges with dedication and kindness. We do this because teachers and students deserve our very best!

Happy New Year!






As a member of the #compelledtribe, we were charged with a theme.  That theme was unity.  True to form, I thought and thought and thought.  I drafted, then destroyed.  Then tonight, I was inspired!

There are so many things that tear us apart: thoughts, beliefs, emotions, politics, questions, opinions, feelings.  Those same things can unite us. But I realized tonight that unity comes through many opportunities.  For me and my two children, the unity came through music.

“Mom, do we have to go?”, Katie asked.

“Yeah, Mom.  I get it’s a concert but if it’s for old people and it’s old people music, we’re not gonna like it.”, Gavin added.

“How do you know what you like unless you try it?”, I asked.

Sighing, “Mom, you’re just saying that because this is something YOU want to do, not something WE want to do,” said my son.

“Well, we do plenty of things that you enjoy that I’m not particularly fond of.  The least you can do is go in with an open mind,” I said.

To my surprise, they did.


Part of that occurred because I put my “teacher hat” on. Everything became an inquiry. Where do you think the auditorium is? What do you think “will call” means? What kinds of music do you think they’ll play? Who can find row S, seats 2, 3, and 4? Do you think they will do other things besides play instruments? What kind of music do you like? What instruments do you think they’ll play?  (Whew!  Was I working it?!)

My kids were excited and for good reason. We attended a concert at a nearby high school but the performers were professional musicians. They were the Dallas Brass. Not only were they exceptional. They were also funny, involved the audience , and invited both middle school and high school students to join them on stage as well!

It started to dawn on me partway through the concert. Unity. Right before my very eyes. Band members breathing in unison, following the tip of the conductor’s baton as if they shared just one set of eyes, instruments in beautiful intonation, rhythms in sync with each other and an audience unified by the joy of music. There were times we were sang in unity (yes, the entire audience) and other times were danced, clapped, or cheered as the bang began swinging together!

My kids tease me because I get emotional.  I used to be a music teacher and can’t wait to do it again. Once you find something you love, it is truly a part of you.

If you run, there is unity in the way your body moves – the balance of your body, the length of your stride, the evenness of your breathing.

If you cook there is unity in the kitchen – measuring ingredients, chopping with precision, and finishing with beautiful details.

If you love DIY, there is unity in symmetry of design, detailed planning, and polish in finishing touches.

Pick an analogy. UNITY is everywhere…if we allow ourselves to see it, accept it and welcome it into our lives.

Life is too challenging to worry about the negative. Don’t do it.


“So what did you think?”, I asked.

“I loved it mom! It was awesome! Juan was my favorite! When can we do this again?”, my children said.

Ahhh…the joy in the unity of my family, whom I cherish. I couldn’t be more thankful for life’s small opportunities to celebrate our unity as mom, son, and daughter.