Domain 4: Professional Responsibilities, Personal Learning

Priceless Moments of Gratitude

As I sit here in the airport, attempting to wrap my head around the last seven days of my life, I am in awe of the priceless moments of genuine gratitude I have felt within my soul.  The one thing that I know is that the kind of impact that I just embraced in Miami this past week could never have happened on its own. I have daily conversations about being intentional, finding balance, keeping self care at the forefront, contributing as much if not more than I consume, and the list goes on and on.  This week I accomplished each of these and more. Each moment counted… every single one!

When I think about the amount of opportunity I have been afforded by my administration, students, community, colleagues and yes, my incredible, selfless family I literally become overwhelmed with emotion. This is how much WE love children. This is how much WE are willing to invest in OUR future. This is the value WE place on education.

My heart beats a thousand beats a minute as I pour my passion into words attempting to type as fast as my brain is processing. It is this moment I am choosing to sit and allow each moment to wash over me so that I may feel the gratitude that humbles me to appreciate those that made this happen…

for me

for my students

for others

for the risk-taker, the dream-maker, the chance taker, the fearless and the fearful.

Yes, the fearful. That is me too. The one that just had so much new learning poured into me that I fear my brain will never remember it all or that I will forget how to execute it the way it was presented. See, I too fear, just as the amazing educators that found their way into my workshops this week bubbling over to learn something new. But that fear, the kind that gets in the way of opportunity, let it wash over you all the same… let it speak to your soul. It is that fear that reminds us that change is here. It is that fear that reminds us we have something incredibly important to embrace as our responsibility for the future we have chosen to help create. It is that fear that is yet another priceless moment of gratitude, for it is through that fear that we will embrace the best version of ourselves.

5 days of leading and learning #FETC

2 days with my god-daughter, Maddie #miamihurricanes

7 days of priceless moments of gratitude

Personal Learning

“Twas the Night Before Book Launch”

Twas the night before “book launch”, and all through my mind,

Thoughts of worry and fear were all I could find.

Everything in its place, Tweetdeck was loaded,

My heart skipped a beat and then it exploded.

I tried to lay down and snuggle my pup,

Her comfort is what always perked me up.

And Ellie in her spot, and I in mine,

We loved one another time after time.

When a thought hit me, like a snowball in the face,

I sprang from my couch and tried to find my place.

Away to the computer, I flew like a flash, 

Threw open my PC, and clicked on the trash.

It was there that I knew what had sunk in my heart,

A doc that was not finished, rather just a start.

What to my wondering eyes would appear,

To the right a picture of someone, I hold dear.

With a shrug of my shoulders, and a long deep sigh,

It hit me in the heart, my reason, my why.

More rapid than ever, my reasons did come,

And I stopped, took pause, and counted one by one: 

Now children! Now parents! Now colleagues and friends! For learning! For growth! For the whole child within.  From Bet 1 to Bet 2! From Bet 3 and 4! My reason, my purpose is to open the doors!

I want them to open, open for all, 

so that learning can happen in classrooms and halls.

Where children are thriving and leading the charge,

Where questions are welcomed and new ideas grow large.

And that’s when it hit me, my fear, where it had come,

From a place of three, not two, not one.

VULNERABILITY, RISK-TAKING and of course a CHANCE,

At rolling the dice on education at a glance.

This book has heart! The bets are daring! 

The Jackpot is a win with an abundance of sharing!

Double Downs will push you

With every turn.

You will stop and reflect,

and hopefully, learn.

The Ante Up is just brilliant as they come far and near,

The leaders within education,

That lead, learn, and share!

Jacie, my super, colleague, and friend,

Has shown me a new way from beginning to end.

Her openness to push back,

Her gift of trust,

Her unwavering ability to learn is a must.

A snapshot of what she has given won’t compare,

To the impact she has had on the one over here.

I read it again, I looked up and down,

I pushed my PC closed and my thoughts ran around.

These terms, these ideas, the pushback, they win

Because tomorrow the world gets a look at “ALL IN

Happy reading to all, and to all a good night!

To order your very own copy click here and go ALL IN


Domain 2: Classroom Environment, Domain 4: Professional Responsibilities, Personal Learning

Stepping Into the Light: OCD/Mental Health Awareness

the serious one… the humorous one

the focused… the squirrel chaser

the rule follower… the teenager

the brave 15 year old, who stepped into the light, leaving the elephant in his shadow

the one who has added awareness to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, is now 17

my incredible son, Trent

At the age of 15, Trent was just beginning to see life differently… the life he was gifted, not burdened by. The one that he shared responsibility in. The one he was able to take charge of, given the right tools. In 2017, he asked me to talk about “The Elephant in the Room.” He wanted me to share his story. The thing is, he didn’t want me to share it so that I had something to blog about. He didn’t want me to share it so that he could obtain likes and shares within social media. As a matter of fact, not once has he ever even asked me if it was even read.

He simply wanted others to know they were not alone.

Leading up to this point, he had been consumed with thoughts for so long that he had almost forgotten what life was like when he himself could turn it around. The time when he felt a sense of control. As an 8-year-old child, he was in need of skills. The kind of skills that we weren’t prepared to teach him. The kind of skills that would take years of practice. There was no “quick fix.” My teaching background urged me to dial the phone for help, while my husband’s hand wanted to hang it up. Not because he didn’t want to help, but because he only knew how to keep personal worries and concerns to himself. He knew how to push forward with a tough mindset and resiliency. He knew how to break within the privacy of his own space and forge ahead projecting strength, even when he didn’t have it. He thought that it would be the same way for Trent. He thought Trent would grow and be the man we were wanting to raise him to be or more like how we wanted to raise him. Trent would do just that, but in order to get there he needed a different upbringing, different supports.

The elephant was sitting right there, staring at us in full control. He had us running around making everything perfect so Trent wouldn’t hurt. He had us walking on eggshells, just trying to get through a dinner out with family and friends. He had us working overtime to create the “perfect scenario” in hope that Trent would survive the moment, whatever moment that was on that day. He was in charge… not us, not Trent, but the elephant in the room.

Then the day came that my husband knew it was bigger than us and my hand freely reached for the phone once again.

As Trent has aged, he has grown stronger than ever. That is not to say that his life is easy, or without the whack-a-mole effect of OCD, but “the elephant” is no longer his best friend. It is actually not even a friend at all. It is more like an acquaintance. One that passes through, but does not dictate his world. Impacts it, yes. Challenges it, most definitely. Creates walls in place of bridges, yes… but the difference is he knocks them down over and over again. He now takes full advantage of the strength within his OCD, as he knows it will always be a part of his world. Now he finds positive use for it. Obsessing over his grades so that he can maintain high scholastic standing. Obsessing over the next big catch, as fishing eases his mind. Knowing how to distract when OCD wants to gain attention. If you ask him how he got this strong, he will tell you that his family loved him like no other, but that without therapy he would not be able to answer that question to it’s entirety. Therapy has given him a new lease on life, one with conviction and strength. Reaching out to the experts was the best decision we had ever made.

Some ask me, how I handled it as a mom.  How did I “handle” watching my son painfully navigate his world of anxiety.   My reply… the best that I could. That is where I myself took pause. “The best I could!” Was my best enough?  The answer was no. My best could never have brought Trent to where he is today. Yes, I had a background that was very supportive of Trent’s needs, but to truly be the best mom I could be, I needed to see beyond my strengths and value the ones that were one phone call away.  One call away to make an appointment for therapy.  My role as his mom was to give him the opportunity.

As we talked to others about this, we felt the cringe. The secret society that we just entered. The judgement being made in place of support. I’m not sure how or when the term “therapy” became such a cringe-maker in society, but to me it was a gift that I was ready to open.

So I ask you, are you going to be the one that tries to break him by cringing over the topic of therapy? Are you going to be the one spotlighting your “perfections” so that he questions why he is incapable of such a high non-existing standard? Are you going to judge him for being brave enough to share in this very conversation?

Or are YOU going to be the one driven for a better tomorrow by walking alongside my son as he ventures into this world contributing to the society that you helped to create?

Let me ask you something. As an educator do you find yourself opening doors of possibility for others? Do you try to link passion to purpose? Do you try to teach the whole child and then tell others to do it too? Do you speak at conferences about Project Based Learning, Universal Design for Learning, Building Character, Creating Leaders and Making Changes for the Betterment of Education? Do you sit on your own thoughts to stop and listen to others speak so that you can learn more about their WHY, their purpose? Do you take time to network because relationships matter to you? Do you want to be better?

If you said yes to any one of these questions, I ask you then… do you have conversations about the gift of therapy? Do you engage in tough conversations? Do you open yourself up to vulnerability, either to allow your story out or to let someone else’s in?

As long as we lead others to believe that this is a taboo topic, a private conversation, something that we attach shame and guilt to, what good is the rest? What are we really trying to say or not say? Are we truly equipped to function in the society we have helped to build without the supports of those passionate about the whole person, the mind, the balance, the brain, mental illness, social emotional learning and so much more?

In education we do not get a free pass on our impact. We will create an impact and it is up to us if it will be positive or negative. Where do you stand on this? Are you having conversations about self-care, mindfulness, and balance? I am asking you to amplify those conversations… to be courageous. I am asking you to open your heart and mind, and use your ability to make change by having conversations about the importance of therapy. For educators looking to prepare kids for their future role in society, you must do your part to remove the judgement cast. Then and only then can we build up human growth and potential by walking in one’s shoes.

While attending #TeachBetter19 this past weekend, I continued to build my professional growth portfolio, but even more I made incredible friendships. I witnessed a truth and vulnerability like never before among educators. You could feel the sense of comfort, acceptance and care in every room that you walked through. Towards the end, I started to get pulled into private conversations revolving around this topic, the elephant, OCD, mental illness, therapy, and Trent’s bravery. Each conversation came with pain, emotion, emptiness, questioning, and a whisper. Yes, our personal lives are private and we hold these conversations close to our heart, but I am left wondering if we can turn up the volume just a little bit. How has my son found the strength to tell his friends, family, and acquaintances and we are left with a whisper?

As I left the conference I heard my name being called one last time. It was then that I knew my purpose was clearly being conveyed. It was then that I knew I was being seen for the imperfect human I am… and it filled my soul. That’s when they said, “Thank you for being vulnerable, you will never know how much I needed to hear this today.” They went on to say, “you are always smiling and so positive that I would have never known if you wouldn’t have shared. You give me hope.”

I challenge you to follow my 17-year-old son’s lead. I challenge you to share vulnerability. I challenge you to better yourself and others by spotlighting the whole child.

Let’s give HOPE

Domain 1: Planning and Preparation, Domain 2: Classroom Environment, Domain 3: Instruction, Domain 4: Professional Responsibilities

Self Awareness-Mastering One’s Self

It started off as a typical day. I was ready to take on the world and create moments for every child along the way. Groups were being made. Goals were being set. Then came the hesitation. I started to question if they were “ready” for the experience with a new app, a class challenge, or the choice to delve into a passion project of their own. Were they ready to level up their learning and open the class restaurant on a weekly basis? Were they ready? Was I ready? My hesitation was my answer, but I just couldn’t leave it at that. Why weren’t they ready? Was it me? Was it them? What was it that stuck in my gut as a red flag, if you will. That was when it hit me… their lack of self-awareness was invading our learning space and I needed to shed light on a topic foreign to the list of 3rd grade standards written out in my daily lesson plan.

We set daily goals, but are my students clear on their strengths and weaknesses? Are they sensitive to how they project themselves on others or take away from one’s focus and ability to learn? Are they aware of how their actions and choices are pieces to their very own puzzle? If I had to answer that honestly, my answer would be no. It was then that I thought of a method that I used to use with my son, Trent when his OCD would rear its ugly head and trigger rituals that needed his awareness to help fight for himself. We would have him use a post-it-note to track each time he gave in to the ritual by making tallies. After adding several tallies to the note, it would create an awareness of the issue at hand and help him recognize that change was needed to forge ahead. Somehow this simple method built a foundation of self-awareness that in turn opened doors of opportunity to build confidence and pride in one’s own actions. This is what my students were in need of… starting today!

Post-it-notes were handed out and a line was drawn through the middle of each. We were ready to begin. “Today we are going to take the time to give ourselves credit for all the things we must hold ourselves accountable for to be empowered and productive learners,” I said with an upbeat tone. Ears were open and eyes were wide. I went on to ask simple questions like…

Has anyone ever felt a step behind because they were having a sidebar conversation or may have even drifted into thought? many hands were raised

Has anyone ever felt like there should be more time in their day or simply wonder where the moments went? many hands were raised

Has anyone ever wondered what their parents would think of the decisions that were made without them to guide or instruct? many hands were raised

Have any of you ever had your parents get frustrated because you didn’t “hear” them or acknowledge them the first time spoken to? eyes shifted to friends sitting nearby and hands went up at a rapid pace

Has anyone visualized their future self? What are you willing to do to make that vision a reality? Was that a light-bulb moment I just witnessed?

I then said, “With each directive that I give over the course of the next 40 minutes, I want you to give yourself a tally above the line if you follow the directive without redirection or restating. If I redirect or restate, place a tally below. Remember, this is not what is good vs bad, but what we are honing in on as our strengths vs what we are in need of making stronger. “

“But what if someone sees our tallies?,” one asked. “That is a fabulous question, I replied. I speak of respect every day and how we show that by keeping conversations between us, but I must tell you that your peers already see your tallies each and every day through your own choices and actions that you so freely give.” a quizzical look settled over their faces

Let’s begin!

I watched their eyes go straight for me as I began to speak. I watched their pencils go down when I gave directions. Tallies were being placed above the line and the momentum of goodness was on fire inside each one of them. Moments were rolling by, and I watched as many of them responded with a tally below the line when they found themselves off task or not engaged in their own learning. It was working. Self-awareness was coming to life right in front of my eyes.

As we headed to special, I told them that this new “thing” we are working on is our own little tool and we were about to test it out without the post-it nearby to give us our visual reminder. The beauty was in their faces when I picked them up and heard the raving of goodness shared on their behalf.

“This is amazing,” one said.

“This is showing me a lot about myself,” said another.

“I have so much choice,” stated with such conviction from yet another.

Yes, boys and girls. With each moment of self-awareness, we build confidence.

We build PRIDE!

We continued on with our tallies towards a new and better self. The kind we visualize for our future!

We are ready… bring on the next challenge!

Domain 1: Planning and Preparation, Domain 2: Classroom Environment, Domain 3: Instruction, Domain 4: Professional Responsibilities

Small Town Vibe

You know the small-town vibe that you get when you are passing through… if you blink you will miss it.

One restaurant

One traffic light… no, make that one stop sign

One grocery store

One way

I am currently in a book study hosted by #2menandabook on “Relentless: Changing Lives by Disrupting the Educational Norm” by Hamish Brewer. Recently, my dear friend Jennifer Ledford shared her small town experience in her reflection regarding her purpose. For as many positives as she has experienced, she went on to say,

The problem with living in a small town, especially when you don’t have the best childhood experience, is that everyone knows. My purpose was a little clouded because of what was going on with my family.

Jennifer Ledford

WOW! This reflection truly resonated with me. It made me think of how small our classrooms can be if we don’t recognize the whole child and how lost they may feel in finding their purpose. We may not be able to control outside factors for every child like Jennifer or my own childhood self, but we have full control over ourselves and the way we help to build a positive experience each day for each student that we are privileged to work with.

Big City Impact With A Small Town Vibe

If we really want to create impact, the big city kind with choices around every bend, we must allow room for life experiences that come packaged in the size of a child. Imagine if our room felt like that small town, where everyone knows you and your story… not the kind that builds relationships, but rather the judgmental kind that adds roadblocks in place of detours. There is a simple way to shine the spotlight on every child so that their small town classroom experience is loving, supportive, and full of understanding that allows for a new day and a new choice around every bend.

Building the Right Reputation

As the adult in charge, helping a child build a reputation is not only a privilege but a professional responsibility. This is a deal-breaker on how a child views themselves, reacts and lives up to their potential by thriving on their purpose that they are most likely still searching for in their world. The question is, how do we handle behavior so that we can cultivate a positive reputation for each child with their peers, staff members, and for themselves? A positive reputation builds confidence and helps a child recognize that poor choices are lessons in life, not defining. Have we forgotten that is how we too have learned (and still do). These very lessons help to build resilience and the potential for goal setting that leads to growth.

We need to ask ourselves how we handle this very delicate matter. Do we treat it like a coat that can be switched out in a minute’s notice or a layer of skin that becomes a part of who they are? A child’s behavior should be personal… a one to one conversation wrapped up in care, love, and respect. The behavior itself is their story… a road map if you will, to what that child needs. It is a way for them to express themselves and often times it comes out poorly when they do not feel valued and invested in with a strong relationship that will love them through unconditionally. In the end, we share in the responsibility of how that child’s reputation builds up from day one, as we are the adult in charge with an opportunity at hand. Let’s not forget, a child’s reputation is not the only one being shaped when we choose how to respond. Let’s create a big city impact with a small, positive vibe!

Let me leave you with my childhood hero’s words. Mr. Rogers, a Pittsburgh native and role model for all parents, always invited me into his small town neighborhood where he created a big city impact on my world. This was my safe place, where he reminded me that he loved me “just the way I was”.

Our job in life is to help people realize how rare and valuable EACH ONE OF US REALLY IS, that each of us has something that no one else has – or ever will have – something inside that is unique to all time. It’s our job to encourage each other to discover that uniqueness and to provide ways of developing its expression.

MISTER Rogers
Personal Learning

Truly Listening

There are times that I am left in complete awe of the words my children share with me when I am truly listening. Their willingness to be so transparent is remarkable and the way they speak with such conviction most often stops me in my tracks. Trent will soon be 17, so I suppose I have grown to expect it from him at his age. Jack, my youngest, not so much. Although, I have to say that when I stopped and truly listened I learned more than I ever imagined.

This past weekend I learned he has quite an outlook on life for a 13-year-old boy. One that gave me pause. One that spoke directly to my heart. When I was his age I simply kept most of my thoughts to myself or stored them up for conversations with my friends, but not him… or at least not this past weekend. His words were for me. #GratefulMomMoment

We were packed and ready to head to camp. A place that has become our summer sanctuary… a place of rest, relaxation and rejuvenation. We listened to a variety of music on the way up and then once we arrived we nestled into our spots in the warm sun. For many reasons, including the music, the warm breeze, and the peace surrounding us, we were reminded of my late mother-in-law, most lovingly known as Nana. We fell right into a conversation about

all the times

all the memories

the laughter

the love

We were truly listening to one another… in tune with the same heart. Maybe it was the music that took us on our journey or maybe it was just our time to connect (Jack’s song pick was”Faithfully” by Journey). It didn’t matter, we were both embracing it as if we had never known such a bond and understanding. We were truly listening to one another. I asked him what he missed most about her and he quickly replied just having her here with us. I knew exactly what he meant and he seemed to trust that I was speaking his language. As our conversation came to a close, I said to Jack, “we thought we would have her for a lifetime, huh buddy?” To which he replied,

In a way we did, it was just hers.

I’m not sure why I always equated a large number to a lifetime, but Jack, at the young age of 13, seemed to get it completely. A lifetime… the duration of one’s life. Not a number, just a span of unknown time to us.

I looked at him a bit differently that day. I saw my husband differently, too. I went for as many walks as anyone wanted to and never once took out my computer. I plugged my phone in and walked away. I was truly listening. Such a gift! It was then, that I knew I create my own choices… “my lifetime”.

How will you live YOUR lifetime? #ProfoundWordsOfA13YearOld


Domain 1: Planning and Preparation, Domain 2: Classroom Environment, Domain 4: Professional Responsibilities, Personal Learning

Creating A Culture of Impact

Most recently, I returned from a cruise that was not only refreshing for my mind, body, and soul, but it also reaffirmed how the simple things mean the most. Don’t get me wrong, I was pampered beyond belief and never wanted for anything, yet it was the small gestures that truly created the largest impact on me. It wasn’t an isolated occurrence, it was a culture. That my friends cost absolutely nothing and left me with the affirmation that we make choices every day that will impact… it is up to us whether it is positive or negative.

A Smile Speaks A Thousand Words

If ever there was a truer image of happiness I don’t seem to recall one that impacts greater than a smile. It is like picking out a new pair of glasses when you know that they will be your statement piece. You search and search for the perfect look so that when people see you coming they get the exact impression that you are trying to project. Search no further, as your smile is free and yet it gives to others something that is absolutely priceless and easy to obtain.

The minute I walked out of my stateroom each day, I was greeted with a smile at every turn. The smiles that I was seeing were not limited to the guest relations desk, it was the mantra for all that worked and inhabited the ship. Whether I was heading to the staircase or the elevator, someone was right there smiling and saying hello. Whether I was passing through the sun-filled pool area or sliding into quiet space for shade, there was someone’s smile greeting me that said, “all is good in the world today”.

You can just imagine, my thoughts connected with every child that we are privileged to create this same environment for… one of impact. See, that is the key… those working on the ship never underestimated their impact and the privilege of creating an opportunity of happiness for every single person aboard. As educators, we have that very same privilege. One that extends more than 7 hours every day of a child’s life. Beyond anything else, the one thing that we can single handily do without permission, without connecting to a standard, without hesitation, and with incredible impact is SMILE! It is a welcoming gesture that invites others in. It speaks a universal language of love. It exudes tenderness. It cares. It says, “YOU are important!”

It really is that simple.

Called By Name Makes the Invisible Visible

I don’t know how they do it, but if they can we all can! Yes, I was visible. Yes, I was important. Yes, I was cared for in abundance. How did I feel that every single moment of the day? It all came down to my name. Whether it was the cruise director, a deckhand, a fitness instructor (yes, I found the gym for the first time on my vacation), the stateroom steward, gift shop attendant, iLounge representative, shore excursion staff, youth counselor, photographer, or entertainer, the head of a department or the assistance’s assistant (and I could go on and on), they valued me enough to learn my name.

Miss Kristen, may I help you?

Hello, Miss Kristen, have a beautiful day!

Good morning, Miss Kristen!

When was the last time you heard your name being called out in abundance and it wasn’t because someone needed you, but because they cared for you? When was the last time a child felt that type of acceptance and belonging the minute they walked into your school? Your hallway? The lunchroom? Recess?

Do we make the invisible, visible?

Do we make every child feel important?

Do we smile

Do we call every single one of them by name?

“Impact” is what that creates and it all happens with a smile and a name. That is what we as educators get to do every single day… create impact. The question is, do we create the right one?

A culture of impact is what our children need!