The Outlier

Today’s keynote at #SASinstitute2018 was dynamite!  Dr. Tony Wagner, author of “Creating Innovators”,  left me in awe as he connected data to the burning topics of education.  It is powerful to hear others speak of their passions and what resonates with them, but something bigger started to formulate in my mind as I soaked in the experience and research that was connected to his words.  He took us on a journey of curiosity, problem solving, the assembly line approach to teaching, connecting innovation to team sports, referencing the silos that should no longer exist in learning, extrinsic and intrinsic rewards, mindfulness and accountability.  Yet the simplest share out, possibly a side thought or reflective moment, of remembering “the outlier” is what left me nodding my head in full agreement.  He mentioned that if you ask a child who their favorite teacher was… or even their favorite year of school, the answer fell with the outlier… the one flying solo… the “different one”.  Yep, no doubt… every time!

The outlier!  Beyond a statistics class, I am not sure that I really thought about it, but that is exactly where the innovation in education is taking place.  That teacher that students remember…

the one that was different

not status quo

a disruptor

a risk taker

the playful


student centered

and full of driving purpose.

A teacher of impact!

It leaves me thinking… when did such impact become the outlier in learning?  How did creativity, failing, imagining,  perseverance, empathy, and passion get so far out of reach from the norm that comes with developing as a child?  It truly amazes me the amount of conferences, blogs, books, and professional development on a whole that is needed to create change so that students are not left with a silo experience of one teacher making a difference.  When did the average experience become acceptable for our children?  When did conformity become so comfortable?

When will you… become the outlier?

Thank you Dr. Wagner for never losing sight of our most precious part of the future, our children.  Thank you for continuing your journey with education to allow others the opportunity to question our practices, as I have done today.  May we all come down from our “ivory towers” and allow for experiences that pave the way for our young people that are ready to change the world! 




Tis’ the Season to Create Opportunity

Tis’ the season…

for true insanity!  The kind that comes in the form of 

gift brainstorming



shopping til’ I drop

(let me toss in the excitement of presenting at my first conference)

and…. oh, yes…

planning engaging lessons that supersede that of the jolly ol’ man himself!

Now that last one is a dooooozy!  So how on earth can we as educators keep learning at the forefront of the holiday season.  Quite simple… just ask our students!

What would you like to do in math for the next couple of weeks? Their eyes were wide open to match their little voices that were going nonstop as they talked over one another to get their idea out.

We had just finished up celebrating our Chick-fil-A luncheon reward for embracing flexible seating in the classroom.  Our local Chick-fil-A in Robinson Twp. had closed one store to build a new and better establishment across town.  In turn, they offered out their used furniture to anyone interested.   My fellow colleague Olivia, who formally worked at their business, called me up to see if I was interested.

Interested? Ummmm… YES!  I brought home tables, chairs and stools that have added more awesome options to our already flexible classroom.  But the one thing that I felt would take our learning right over the edge was the ENTIRE LIGHT UP MENU BOARD!  You heard me!  Yes, I’m the one that looked over at the heap of metal stacked up, ready for the dumpster and said, “Any chance I could have those too?”  I remember the look on the manager’s face as if that was far from something that she envisioned we would desire.  “SURE!”, she said.  Oh yes, this was the game changer I was looking for… math would never be the same in the most exciting way possible!

Rewind… If I am being totally honest, the menus sat in a stack for almost 3 months.  They were huge and heavy.  The idea had gone from complete excitement to… what was I thinking?  Then the day came.  The reward luncheon was about to unfold and what better “decoration” to have than the menu boards, right?  I brought each one in with the intention of having a simple “REAL-WORLD” math lesson and then off to the stack they would go again.  I mean, come on… where on earth was I really going to put all of them?

But when the hype of Christmas came barreling in, and I found myself questioning my plan to move into a new unit so I had to ask the experts… the students themselves!

“Let’s run our own restaurant!”, one said.  WHAT? HOW? WHEN?  We haven’t even learned decimals yet… or money.  Wait, we don’t even know the first thing about running a business.  How will this take shape?  All these questions whirled though MY mind.


Crazy how I thought this was a PROBLEM that had too many hurdles to make happen.  In reality, it was an INCREDIBLE OPPORTUNITY with a personal invitation to authentic learning at its finest!  Even crazier to think I felt it was MY problem and not an opportunity to problem solve in the most authentic way possible.  A restaurant… WOW!

A new space was created for the menu boards

Well my friends, that is exactly what we will do for the next 2 weeks of school.  I smiled and said, “Let’s get this plan in place.  Remember, we have to connect it to our learning goals… whose in?”

“WE ARE!”  And off they went.  The research began instantly.  They began talking about managers, shift managers, cost, employee responsibilities, resumes, interviews, and so much more.  We have reached out for a little more support from Chick-fil-A to donate bags and paper products to give our “business” life!  Students are ready to bring in their kid friendly cash registers, along with additional play-dough and other materials they have listed.  Over the next week, my students will be creating their own math journey.  One that I know will leave a lasting mark.  All of this excitement has unfolded because I simply asked one question.


Tis’ the Season!

Student Mantra: Crushing Goals

CRUSHING GOALS has become our daily mantra in The Ingenious Lab.  When you walk in on any given day you will here the sounds of…

“YES, I did it!”

“Ahhhh, sooooo close”

“Look Mrs. Nan, I made it to the next level!”


“Can I have just another minute… I know I can do it?!”.

This is incredibly rewarding for me, but it didn’t happen over night.  These are the same students who despised math fluency in August and barely completed a set amount of math facts in under an hour.  These are the same students who found little to no value in the NWEA assessment and whizzed through it just to put their heads down.  These are the students who groaned at working on phonics when they felt they were past that skill even with gaps in their foundation.  They honed in on what came easy for them and snubbed the challenge of other skills and subjects.

Does this sound familiar?  Do you find that children have already predetermined what they are good at or not before you even get the chance to show them otherwise?  Do they simply push aside areas that require critical thinking, perseverance, or maybe a fresh mindset?

My students needed a fire lit under them and I was determined to do it!  They needed a purpose to tie into their learning.  They needed to be passionate about their learning.  They needed to take pride in their work and the journey they would go on to achieve success.   I was committed to making that happen and you can too!

Ways To Make Goal Crushing Achievement Happen:

  1. Kids need to have fun… it makes them tick!  Find their joy and tie it in to the purpose of what they need to learn.  For my students their joy stemmed around creating and making, spending time with friends, and having options to choose from that would fit into their current world of interests.
  2. Find out what they want to be or what they enjoy outside of school that could connect to a profession.  They are never too young to visualize their future.  This may be a moment of hope for a child.  Hope that they can be what they want through determination and hard work.  That their future does not have to be defined by their current situation.  This is about building a relationship with them beyond the skill, yet listening to their passions to bring relevance to what they are learning.
  3. Give options for seating.  How they learn is a major factor in how much they learn.  Flexible seating has been at the forefront of education for a few years and we as educators owe it to every child to jump on board.  No two students are alike and we need to help them learn their strengths and weaknesses and then empower them to know what they need to succeed.  Do they need to stand?  Do they need an outlet for their fidgeting?  Do they need to bounce?  Do they need to stretch out and put on music?  Most do not know.  Most students have been told how to learn and now they simply want to sit by a friend to get through the day.  Is this really how we want to define learning for them?
  4. Celebrate their successes… you may be the only one who does!  No “buts” involved.  They don’t need to hear “you did great, but…” what they did wrong or that they could have done even better.  They need to wrap themselves in that moment and celebrate!  HUG them, high-five them, do a dance, shout it from the desktop, just make that child relish the moment of success.  Believe it or not once they become self-motivated they will no longer hinge their successes on your personal feelings, but instead on their own!
  5. Have student conferences!  These can be as little as 2-3 minutes in length.  You must take the time to speak with love and care for their well-being and growth.  They are not able to create goals if they do not know where they are at in their learning.  They need concrete examples and then an opportunity to create a plan with you.  Make this happen for every child!

Be a GOAL CRUSHER for and with every child!  Their learning depends on it!


L.E.G.I.T. Summer- Together

The T in L.E.G.I.T. is what I needed to bring my summer to a close and transition back into what I love professionally and personally.  The T stands for Together.  When it comes down to it, we are all better together.  Time to revisit trust!  To create opportunities.  To feel confident.  To own my summer.  To be the best version of my vision.  To open my eyes, my arms, and my heart… to find that place that I strive to be.  To Be ME!  But this could not be done alone… I needed my people and together we built a better me for a greater tomorrow!   

I find that when I am on a specific journey in life that I have a tendency to walk alone.  Not because others are not there for me.  It is more like me being me… I go back to my childhood instincts.  My survival mode.  My way of fixing things… on my own.  I admit, this is not the best laid plan.  But that is an issue in itself.  When was the last time I created a plan for me?  Not me the teacher.  Not me the wife or the mother.  Not me that others need in their world.  Me.  Simply Me.

It’s not easy to do… to take time for yourself.  We often tell ourselves that there is “No I in TEAM” and when do we really allow ourselves to be anything but a team player?  I am built to take care of myself so that I can serve others.  I just forget along the way that I need others too.  Others help to create a better me.  Others push back on my ideas and help to grow them into something larger than I could have dreamed.  Others add their perspective to remind me that mine is simply that… mine.  My guard goes up… my heart tends to fight the sensible understanding that I can lean on others, but then comes the jolt…

The jolt of reality that I can be me, broken me, put together me, flawed, imperfect, risk-taker, and at times too much me and yet I will always be better when I am TOGETHER with others.

To be a better me definitely means being with others.  Crazy, but true.  Being with others that pour goodness into my life the way I try to do to theirs.  Here are 4 ways that I made sure I was intentional about putting myself out there with others when my instinct said otherwise.  

  1. Put it on the calendar! There is something about putting a date on a calendar that tells the brain don’t you dare break that plan.  I was raised that when you make a commitment you fulfill it.  End of story.  So I did just that.  Bike ride with my son… on calendar.  Lunch with good friends… on calendar.  Read a book that I had been waiting for the release date for over a year… put it on calendar.  Stop into a friend’s office to see what his new job is about…  calendar.  Jump into a teacher Twitter chat that threw unfamiliar questions at me… calendar.  Dinner with hubby… calendar.  This is how I became intentional about being with others that filled my heart, fueled my soul, and rekindled the fire that burns inside me.
  2. Say yes! Often I tell myself to say no in order to not add too much to my world that I continuously strive to balance.  But this summer I wanted to say yes.  Not the easy yes, when my make-up is on and I am feeling fabulous.  I am talking about the times I am being reclusive, not feeling like getting ready, or do not want others to see inside my heart when I am not completely put together.  The times that I may not be able to help them or be my bubbly self.  So I did just that… yes, I will go to the museum even though my heart is beating out of my chest and I feel like I am going to cry.  Yes, I will meet you at the pool even though I don’t know if I am ready to be seen by others who will ask me if I am okay yet with the passing of mom.  Yes, I will leave my house a mess so that I can grab a few hours of catch up with a colleague.  Yes… the kind you say when it is not comfortable.  The kind that puts you together with others and sends you home a better you.
  3.  Sit On Your Thoughts!  I use this with my students and my own children, but somehow it slipped my brain to use myself.  I could be surrounded by 50 people, but when I was too busy chatting up a storm it felt like I was alone.  One isolated point of view… one long winded rambling sentence.   Then I would walk away no better than when I entered the conversation.  Now, I am intentional about sitting on my thoughts so that I can hear those of others.  Together we create a vision of what life really looks like from different perspectives.  When you have a spunky, outgoing spirit it takes some getting used to… not only for yourself, but for others.  We all become accustomed to what we know.  Others were used to me being a chatterbox (and still am, ha!) so at times I would get the question of,  “Are you okay? or is something wrong?”  Nope… I am just realizing I talk too much!  haha!   I look at it like I am passionate and it exudes from my being.  Yes, that is true, but others are passionate too and if I don’t stop and let them in I will be alone…. alone in my own thoughts.  I prefer together.

Here I am ready for the new school year.  I am filled with hope, love, excitement, joy, curiosity, and so much more.  I have a support system of pure goodness around me on every side.  I am loved, supported, pushed, and believed in.  I have my family, my friends, my faith, my colleagues and my #PLN (that is growing by the day) that are in this with me… the kind of support circle that only happens together.  #BetterTogether


L.E.G.I.T. Summer- IMAGINE

Imagine all the possibilities.  Imagine what could come from your dreams… a chance to create new opportunities.  Go ahead, visualize pure goodness!  What an awesome vision, right?  The I in L.E.G.I.T.  stands for IMAGINE… something we never want to lose hold of in life.  So what are you doing to get there… to get to the better you?  I hope you are dreaming.  I hope you have set goals.  This is your masterpiece… IMAGINE and BELIEVE!  

Imagine a Better YOU!

When I was a little girl I used to walk down my road to a little one lane bridge.  I would boost myself on top of the cobblestone wall and look down at the stream below… and dream.  I saw my future in the ripples of water that flowed.  I would toss in small stones and watch them make their impact on the world below.  Sometimes they hit into other rocks and other times they sank straight to the bottom, but the one thing they always did was make ripples.  Those ripples mesmerized me. They spoke to me. They made my imagination wander.  I could sit there for hours and at times I did just that.  It was my getaway.  My place… a place that I could block out all obstacles in my path and simply imagine.  I would imagine a better me.

At the time a better me would look more compliant… more like my peers that were able to focus on all information that was being poured into their minds.  I was different…. for me it was more like the information was being poured over mine at a rapid pace.  So rapid that only little droplets were being absorbed.  In place of a sponge of a brain like my peers, mine was more like a sieve or it would simply runoff leaving me in the deficit… dried up and always a step behind. Why was this?  Well for starters, I am a passionate person that thrives on my interests and what I was learning on a regular basis didn’t come close to them.  My imagination was always wandering… imagining the better me!

I never lost myself in my learning the way I did in those quiet moments sitting by the water.  I wanted to, but I didn’t. I was the kid who learned the game of school and tried to play it the best that I could.  I didn’t go to school ready to give my best every day and I didn’t even try to pretend that I did… so sad for this passionate educator to think back on.  Instead I did what I had to do to get by because what I wanted to do was never an option in the traditional mindset of teaching that I had experienced. I wanted to wish it all gone so that I could live in my passions… that’s what made me tick!   

The crazy thing is that was not the impression I got of learning when I was 4 years old.  At 4, I was begging my mom to send me to preschool so that I could do all the great things that school had to offer.  I was begging for books to “read”. I was inventing a world of learning in my backyard and giving myself homework that I found relevant to my 4 year old self.  

Preschool was spectacular!  I was submerged in wonder!  Every day was new and exciting.  I was an explorer, doctor, inventor, and teacher.  I was an artist and gymnast.  I conquered the highest mountain and roamed the grassy plains.  I saw magenta if that was the color I chose to see.  I had the world at my fingertips and it was all surrounded by LOVE!  It was truly magical!  Each day was set for play… what little kid didn’t like to play  Well, there was one girl and her name was Alison.  It wasn’t so much that she didn’t like to play as it was that she was shy.  She needed a spirited, fun-loving friend like me… I just knew it.  So I sat down next to her and introduced myself.  We became best friends all in a matter of seconds.  Alison was tiny and truth be told her family nickname was Peanut. Only her closest friends called her that though and I was one of them!   Yes me… the girl who was ready to conquer the world.   The one that was set to be a teacher or a nurse or maybe even the first woman on the moon!  I was the spunk in spunky… the fire in firecracker and the joy in joyful!  I was the best friend.  WOW, preschool was AMAZING!

This summer I did a lot of reflecting.  I took time to think back on what sparked my love for learning.  I also took note of what created sparks for my students over the course of my career.  I sat by the water and tossed a few rocks in… actually tried to skip a few while I was at it, but my knack for that needs a little more attention these days.  I took in beautiful walks in the calm of the morning.  I sat fireside and stared into the flames.  All this was done while imagining.  I imagined…


a better me,

a better school year,

a better way of creating sparks in learning,

a way of making every day like preschool… submerged in wonder.   

Imagine the possibilities!

imagine 2
-John Lennon

L.E.G.I.T. Summer: GOALS

“Week 3ish” is a Kristen Nan way of saying I was caught up in the joys of my L.E.G.I.T. Summer and the days got away from me!  Can you say the same?  If so, we are both on the right path.  It’s kind of crazy when you stop and think about how much joy comes from the summer when you stop and take it in.  I have been embracing…

the sun,

more time in the day (okay, at least we get more daylight in our days),

the more relaxed vibe of having time to stop or pick up and go,

the scent of something yummy cooking on the grill,

the sounds of laughter as the kids are running around playing freely,

and the opportunity to write a bucket list!

At the start of summer, I headed to Bakersfield, one of my favorite places in downtown Pittsburgh’s Cultural District.  The street tacos are amazing and the organic Margaritas are truly refreshing.  I always feel alive as I walk in… the upbeat vibe puts a smile right on my face and the friendly service keeps me coming back for more.  Even better is the company I take with me.  This particular adventure was with my dear friend Tammy.  We sat and laughed and talked about the months ahead.  We both agreed that a bucket list of joys was a call to action moment for each of us.

Oh yes, the G in L.E.G.I.T. is for Goals.  This summer I decided mine would come in the form of buckets, just likes the ones a mentor of mine challenged me to fill during the school year.  So we made our lists and off we went.  At times we flew solo on our own journeys and at times we conquered the list together.  Either way, the goal was to not just look for joy, but to create it.  My list started something like this:

  1. When a friend calls, drop the laundry and go!
  2. Head to Pittsburgh as much as possible
  3. Summer Concert
  4. Bike ride on the Montour Trail
  5. Time by the water
  6. Meet up with my friends I haven’t seen in awhile
  7. Go to Phipps Conservatory to view the beautiful flowers
  8. Work out
  9. Eat breakfast at Waffles Incaffeinated
  10. Make time to write my book

Well, the list is coming along great!  I have accomplished a lot of other things too like cleaning out the top and bottom of the garage (WOWZERS).  The reality is, if I wouldn’t have intentionally made time for this simple list of obtainable goals, I may have let the summer slip right through my fingers.

My summer isn’t the only area of my life that I have created goals.  I have a list that I am generating for the fall when I return to my other family… my school family.  I cannot wait to try new things that I have learned this summer and I look forward to filling buckets with my students.  It is moments like this that always remind me that in order to dream big, I must be willing to take action.  The simplest dreams are only that if we do not take time to bring them to fruition.

Set goals

Fill those buckets… mine’s half full, what about you?


The EDURelevance In Social Media

Two, maybe three years ago now, I opened my first social media account.  Not because I wanted to, but because I was challenged to do it by my then new assistant superintendent Jacie Maslyk.  She had a reason.  A purpose.  Relevance!  Behind her challenge was… GET CONNECTED!  Connect to other educators.  See what the world is doing WITHOUT you!  The relevance behind that one simple challenge gifted me a new life in education.  A new life for me.  A new life for my students.

Opening my Twitter account was not an easy task for me.  I seriously had no clue what I was doing.  However, my teenage son did and after chuckling a few times that his mom was about to “connect” with the world he was living in, he gave me a hand.  From that point forward, Trent and I had a new connection too.  My purpose may have been slightly different than his, but we had common ground to share in conversation.  This one platform led to every single opportunity that has unfolded for me to date.

Every part of my PLN.

Every conference I have attended.

Most every idea that I have taken into my classroom.

Every single book I have read, starting with my first… Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros.  That one book has led to over 30.  That one book has led me to connect with educators all over the world through IMMOOC.  That one book set me on fire and gave me purpose to find conferences connected to this network of incredible educators.  That one connection pushed me to…

be a better me.

offer a first ever book study in my district for fellow teachers.

build relationships and value their importance.

take risks.


Yet, the naysayers still pushed back on teachers putting themselves out there on social media.  So, I felt as long as I stayed on Twitter and journeyed as an educator, I could at least defend myself.

What to the what?  Defend myself?  Defend relevance to my growth?

My family kept asking when I would jump on Facebook so I plunged right in… relevance.  Family ties, enough said.

Then I started to blog.  Oh wow, was this relevant to my world.  I have always loved to write, but lost the time to do so when juggling mom, wife, and teacher.  Not to mention all the other relationships I attempted to hold on to… but in order to share my blog I needed social media connections.  Perfect, I got this!  I was already on Twitter with other educators.  Facebook connected me with family, but why not educators too?  So I went on the search for my global network of #eduawesomeness.   Wow, another moment forward for me.

You are not on Instagram?  Friends asked me this often, but I felt I had enough to juggle and already had great connections so I was okay without.  Then came George’s newest adventure… A Book Study on Instagram!  What?  Come on George… I’ve been in the last 3 with you on Twitter and Facebook… can’t we just use those platforms?  Ummmmm… NO!


Relationships (L.E.G.I.T. Relationships)


Triple Threat… jump in or be left behind!


I logged onto Instagram 2 days ago.  Created an account.  Asked my son Trent AGAIN, to give me a hand.  This time he didn’t chuckle.  He smiled.  Then he said mom, that’s cool… now follow me!

#relevance #growth #gift