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This past week, I joined my school’s leadership team in learning how to row as a crew. We are building on the philosophy of being one crew.  We learned so much on our adventure about working as a team, and how each person carries an important role. There was a lot of chatter we had to sift through in order to hear the words of our coxswain. As the New York Times’ Juliet Macur wrote in 2012, a coxswain “is like a coach in the boat, steering, executing race strategy, keeping a crew synchronized and motivating rowers to pull harder on their oars.” He was guiding us through the strokes, giving us feedback on how to improve our crew together.

Each seat was a number, and in that seat, each person held certain powers for the team, whether it was leading the strokes from the stern – knowing those behind you were keeping up with your pace; or in the bow – guiding the boat, turning us around. The middle seats became part of a four man team, or a six man team, transitioning power to others as we rowed across the Cherry Creek Reservoir. By doing the work of the crew on our boat, we could see that we needed each other in order for our crew to succeed.

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There was so much to take away, and see how it relates to our own classroom crew. One thing I took away from this experience is that we need our crew -our support system, our team – to advance on our journey. We depended on each other to carry our crew together across the water. If one mate “hits a crab” ( which means their oar gets stuck), we carry them along while they adjust and get back in the rhythm on the boat. Some maintain the balance of the boat while others in a four man or six man continue with the rowing. Every seat, every job has an important role in maintaining the movement of the boat.  The workload ebbs and flows, just like the water around the boat.

In my classroom, we are building our own crew. We are learning how we can do our work and contribute to the growth of our classrooms. Acting like the coxswain, it is my job to guide the team on our course. I must be aware of who needs to pull more weight and who needs to coast. My crew needs to know the direction they are going and trust in the process. At times, we will need to make adjustments to maintain the balance of our boat. By working together as a crew, we are a team – focusing on one common goal: becoming better.

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Finding your “WHY”


Every year, after Spring break hits, the atmosphere in school seems to change. Teachers are trying to make sure they have hit all of their standards and checkpoints, students are ready for summer ( since they had a glimpse of a break), and schools are getting ready for the final countdown. It’s usually at this time of year that I re-evaluate my “why”. I ask myself questions like,

Why do you choose the things you do?

Why do you choose to teach everyday?

Every teacher has an individual WHY – a purpose for what they do; and that purpose often changes over time. When I first began teaching, I wanted to help those students who were struggling with learning, and find ways to help them become their best.  I was told by people who believed in me that I was good with kids. Now, my purpose is still to find ways to help all children grow as individuals, but now, it has evolved, into how I can empower them to follow their own purpose and their own passions.  I teach some of the younger students in our world. I believe its my job to encourage them to follow their passions, and believe they can do anything they put their mind and their heart into. If I start empowering them to ask questions and wonder why, and investigate things they want to know more about, they will have those skills in the future to help them on their quest for learning.

I’ve watched Simon Sinek’s Ted talk about Finding your Why   a few times, and it has been a way to help me clarify why I teach, and why I do the things I do. He says, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” We are finding out why we want to become better learners, and sharing things we wonder about, and these curiosities are helping to shape us as learners.  So, everyday, in our classroom, we are on a quest to do our best and learn from our mistakes along the way. Some days, it takes us to new places, and other days we reflect on what went well, and what we can  improve next time.

Here is the Golden circle – Start with your why, then tell how you will get there, an what you will do.


Start by finding your why.


Celebrate the Journey #IMMOOC4


Everyone is on a journey… the great journey of life. We are off the great places every day, and we all have a different path that we follow. Some of it depends on where we begin and what we experience the first few years of life.  Every experience we have along our path make an impact on us. All of those moments shape us, and begin to create who we are.

When we go to school, we learn how to read and write, and  how to solve math problems. We test things out in science and learn about our history in social studies. Most importantly, we learn how to work well with others and be a team. We learn how to share our ideas and what we are thinking. We find out what we like to do  and what we need to do to succeed. In many classrooms today, students come up with creative solutions to problems they find. Everyone brings their own experiences and knowledge to the group to help problem solve. Yet, every journey is different.

When I was in elementary school, the things I remember are the special events: playing Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz ( and the munchkins were taller than me), have a cheese party to taste cheeses from around the world, and my 6th grade teacher bringing in apples for the whole class when she went apple picking. The day to day routine of school has shaped me by providing me with the foundation of learning with lots of structure. In Junior High and High School, I had more choice in my learning – choosing courses to prepare me for my future in college and beyond. But looking back, most were just pre-requisites for college. ( three years of a language, SAT prep courses, 4 years of English, etc.) I did take a creative writing course that I enjoyed, and took journalism so I could be on our school’s TV news show!

As a teacher today, that structure is still very important for students. But it is also important to find the passion in our kids. Yes, they need to find out how they learn best, and we still need to provide the foundation in elementary school. Now, that platform has to expand to include collaboration, creativity, communication, critical thinking, and resiliency – our 21st century skills. We need to create moments for students to explore an area of interest, to learn how to research a topic, and how to share it with the world.  That means that as a teacher, I need to be providing these experiences for my students.

In Katie Martin’s book, Learner-Centered Innovation, she states, “The goal of professional learning and development shouldn’t be to just get better at what has always been done; it should be to better meet the needs of learners in your classrooms and move forward.

How do I do that?

How do I ensure I am meeting the needs of all of my learners, and what are their needs?

My first graders began the year at their own starting point. My job as a teacher is to grow them as learners. We start where they are, and move them forward. Some take giant leaps and move forward quickly. Others move at a different pace, working hard each step of the way until it all becomes clear. Then they soar! In our classroom, I have to build the capacity for learning. I help them to see that I believe in them, and they believe in themselves. We expand on our belief that we can grow our brains, and that everyone is smart about something. We use Bena Kallik and Art Costa’s Habits of Mind, introducing them one at a time, and we reflect on how we are using them in the classroom.  They help us to focus on how we learn, and how we can grow our brains and adjust our path. HabitsofTheMindChart

Everyone is on their own journey with a goal of being successful and being happy.  Success looks different for different people. I am one part of their journey, and while we are together, my plan is to make a positive impact on my students; encourage them to wonder and to investigate.  It is my job to create a classroom culture that grows us all as learners and move us all forward on our path.

Where will your journey take you?


Choosing kindness

Building a positive classroom culture and a school culture depends on the relationships you establish with each other. When you take an interest in others, they blossom, and you “fill their bucket.” My students have been focusing on  being Niceness Ninjas, and dong things for others to spread happiness. We began by looking at ideas in this book by Bernadette Russell. download-2

We are trying to build up our capacity for doing nice things for others. We are learning that by being kind to each other, we can all grow.  I have had more door holders in the past few weeks, and there are many notes given by students to other students. I hear kind, encouraging words shared since we began looking at how we can be kind … and have courage in our classroom. We started a kindness chain where anyone can write down when they saw kindness in and out of the classroom and add it to our paper chain. (It stretches across two full walls of our classroom! ) As a result, I have also seen a lot of risk-taking in the classroom. The students are willing to try something new ( In first grade, there is a lot of new stuff, too).  By offering even a smile to someone on a tough day, you may change their mood. Its time that we all celebrate the work, celebrate the effort, and celebrate the learning.


More importantly, we need to work to establish those relationships among ourselves as educators. Honor each other’s strengths and celebrate each other when something is working. As educators, we need to work on building each other up and celebrate each other’s expertise.   Everyone has talents and passions, and as educators, we need to build upon those talents, share our passions in the classroom, and work together to achieve more.

Know your Learners #IMMOOC4

“As teachers, your greatest power comes from knowing your learners”.Katie Martin  in Learner-Centered Innovation. 

How well do you know your learners? Do you know what they are doing after school? What do they really like to do at school? What do they struggle with?   The first thing you need to do is get to know your learners. And that begins with building a relationship with each of your students. When students know you care about them and are interested in them, they will work harder. A fellow educator, Jed Dearybury says : 


When your students know that you love them, care for them, and are proud of them, then they will give you their best.  This is very important at any age. And all it takes is a small amount of time.


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Shifting Our Thinking

As the role of the educator evolves, the human connection and guidance will become increasingly more—not less—important. Katie M Martin in Learner Centered Innovation

Teachers are traditionally put into a role of being the expert. As primary teachers, we know how reading happens, and how to begin to write . And we teach that process to our students step by step. We show them how to add and subtract, and how to solve mathematical problems. We share our knowledge of the world with them. But in reality, there is so much more in the world we don’t know. Yet, our job is to teach. So, we teach our students to ask questions, and find solutions: we teach them to work together and listen to others because two brains are smarter than one. We teach them how to think about their learning and how to share what they know with others . However, recognizing that we don’t have all the answers is the first step for teachers towards growing as learners.

As teachers, we need to shift from being the only expert in the classroom to recognizing the strengths and expertise in others . One thing I adore about first graders is their willingness to take a risk. If they fail, most often they dust themselves off and try again. Some students “get it“ the first time they try, while others need several tries, and still others need more guidance. It’s time we make that shift in teaching and learning, challenge our perceptions of what a classroom should look like, and focus on our learners. Give them what they need and allow them some voice in how they work toward their goals.

“Our methods can and should move flexibly from direct teaching to collaborative …approaches based on the needs of the learners and the desired goals. -KatieM Martin

#Oneword for 2018

# Oneword


This has been a popular tweet and mantra this month. As we look toward new year, I am reminded of new beginnings and fresh starts This #oneword got me thinking , “How do I capture a year in one word? “, “What do I want to focus on this year?”(without sounding hokey).  I was stumped …for a while.

A friend, who is an inspiration to me, asked a few of us to video tape ourselves sharing our word from 2017. Now, I do not like hearing my voice recorded, it sounds so high pitched. But, he got me thinking about being vulnerable, and putting my ideas out onto the world, which is something I continue to work on. I thought, “Challenge accepted!”

There are so many words out there, so many people with so many great words to share , to inspire, to move us forward, to make us think.  What would my word be?

I wrote down words that inspire me, and thought about inspire as my word, but I needed something more for me. Last year, my word was believe. And this carried through to my classroom with our mantra “Believe in you.”  we listen to Shawn Mendes every morning singing “I Believe” as we gather for our CREW meeting. That word captured my year, believing in myself and my students to achieve more, to do more, to change our world. I changed jobs, began presenting innovative ideas to other teachers at local and regional conferences, and followed some amazing educators on twitter for my inspiration.

So, what word would capture 2018? What do I expect of myself this year?

And then it came to me…


Imagine the possibilities.

Imagine what we can do together.


This is the year to imagine what I can do with the power of #oneword. The word to inspire me to challenge myself and take some risks.

When I shared this with my class, they came up with words of their own, which will inspire all of us to imagine what we can do together.

What We Measure Matters #IMMOOC3



I am listening to a podcast with Kayla Delzer the inventor of “Starbucks seating”, or what we now call a flexible learning environment. She said  “What we measure matters.” Are we measuring growth from point A to point B, or are we looking at what most kids can do at this time? Are we looking at how well they ask questions? Or have a conversation with other students? Are we looking at perseverance, and how they stick to a task and try it again, and again, to get it right?

Are we only measuring academic growth in reading, math and writing? Or, are we looking at the whole learner, and evaluating how the shy kid who never shares during morning crew finally greets us all! That to me, is success! When I look at how my kids are doing on a daily basis, i am looking for relationships, and collaboration. I am looking for how well they communicate what they are thinking with others. I look at their creativity in finding solutions to problems – (even small ones, like “I need to find headphones”). i look for how they give each other feedback. Is it kind? Helpful? Specific?

I am so lucky to teach first grade because my kids don’t know what they don’t know. They are learning how to learn along with me. They do not have preconceived ideas on how learning should look. I’m guiding them to learn what works best for them.

We reflect daily during our Shout Outs at the end of the day. I love hearing what students see happening in our classroom, and how they encourage each other by calling out the great things I don’t often get to see.

It is so important to celebrate the small things that each child is achieving daily! Look beyond the reading score, beyond that math test, and beyond the spelling errors for what is written – because hidden in that writing sample is a lot of great thoughts and ideas trying to come out! Measure the baby steps, the progress toward becoming brave and having the courage to try something new. Measure the small moments shared in conversations around the room. And most of all, measure the kindness they share when they are helping others to do their best. That is what creates a positive, encouraging world. And that is what we all need.


Less is More #IMMOOC3

I am reading The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros.  In the book,  he talks about being intentional in our planning, and working toward achieving a common goal. One thing he said that resonated with me is Less is more

There is so much available to teachers today – resources,  apps, websites – a lot of information about making learning easier.  It when you start with just one thing, #onesmallthing, and go deep, that you make the greatest impact. 

In first grade, we have a lot of brand new learning. This is the year we see a lot of growth  in our learners. They learn how to become  better readers, writers, and mathematicians. They learn to get along with others. They learn how to make mistakes and try again.  They learn about first attempts, and second attempts, improving their learning each time.  We started to work with a new app each week, spending time on just one- exploring the app testing it out, using it for learning, working with others , and finding out what it can do.  One of the first websites or apps I share is Seesaw. It’s a digital portfolio used to share the learning. My students can upload their literacy activities so I have evidence of what they accomplish each day. I love it because it allows me to take the time to see what they are practicing while I am working with guided groups.  We are still learning to do new things on Seesaw. 

Using that less is more  mindset, I cut back on the number of apps we use, causing us to  become more intentional with the apps we are using.  It is important to give them time to become experts with a tool, so that they can teach it to others .  First we are learners, then we become teachers. 


Why is Innovation in Education so Important today? #IMMOOC


“Innovation is the process by which we change the world. Its about making things better in new and meaningful ways. It’s the practical application of ideas and technologies to make new and better things,” Carl Bass, CEO of Autodesk, from The New rules of education TEdTalk

I recently joined the IMMOOC – a massive online community of learners, innovators, and creators who want to make changes in their world. We were challenged to blog about why innovation is so crucial in todays’ classrooms. Through their thoughts and ideas, I am growing as an educator, and feeling empowered to try new ideas in my classroom.

Working with first graders, I often struggle with laying the groundwork versus trying something new.  I know that my kids need to learn how to read – but more importantly, how to find the information they need for the task at hand, and understand it. My students need to know how to write – but more specifically, how to communicate their ideas with others. My students need to know basic math facts and concepts, by more importantly, they need to know how they relate to their world. I need to provide that instruction through differentiated instruction, conferencing with students and giving feedback, and providing them with a safe-to -explore learning environment to show their learning. I need to teach these children that are growing up in the 21st century, in our changing world, so that they will be empowered to follow their passions.


After spending time listening to Simon Sinek’s Ted Talk on Starting with your Why? I have discovered that I want to provide a learning environment that is best for kids today. I want my students to have the best opportunities to follow their passions and dreams.

All kids walk into school curious and creative. We need to weave a path to accentuate the creativity in our kids.  George Couros

So, why is innovation important today? We need to reach all students, to spark their creativity, and encourage them follow their passions and empower them to ask questions and find their own learning path. As an educator, I need to try new things, challenge old ways of thinking, and take risks.  I need to be modeling that for my curious, creative students who come to me every day eager to learn.

“Innovation is a way of thinking. It is a way of considering concepts, processes, and potential outcomes; it is not a thing, task, or even technology.” George Couros, from his book, The Innovator’s Mindset