The Note in the Lunchbox

Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash

Ten months ago I found a note in my daughter’s lunch box that she wrote.

The note read, “Have a great day at school Rachel” love, Mom, Dad, Nathan, Luke and Prince.

While this note is harmless, and even a note that almost any kid would love to have in a lunchbox, this particular bright pink sticky note penned in gold sharpie brought me to tears. I had written many notes over the years, but it had been a while since I had put one in the lunchbox.

It is easy to get caught up in the busy parts of life, and forget about doing the little things that make a difference overtime.

It was a low point for me as a mom. I felt like I had failed her. I never said anything about it to her. I took the note out, folded it up, and vowed I would do better. While I was crushed, somehow I was able to take a step back and realize that she was not telling me I was a horrible mom, just that she had a need she would like to have met.

I was still a great mom, and I was getting feedback.

It was exciting in a way, because my daughter was telling me exactly what she wanted. She was gently saying, “Please write me a note that I can open at lunch.” The next day I put a note in her lunch, and did the same for everyone else in the family.

Writing notes to my boys and my husband has been an amazing way to express love. My oldest son didn’t necessarily crave the note, but instead really enjoyed a trivia question. I can honestly say that the note in the lunchbox also improved our marriage. There is something about the surprise of a handwritten note filled with a quote, trivia question as well as warm words that can make anyone’s day better.

My middle son and husband always seem to say thank you for the notes. The other two might verbally express gratitude, I know that everyone appreciates the moment of connection.  And  I love the opportunity to write the notes.  I even bought a few already made ones from Amazon, that I could write a personalized note on the other side of a cute quote. She does not talk a lot about the notes, but I can tell that it is important because she saves each one of them. God seems to always have a way of recycling a bad moment for Good.

I love that no matter how difficult the morning is, each person in my family opens his or her lunch to a note that reminds him or her that they matter.

Present and Preparing for the Future

FullSizeRender.jpg (2)Summer is amazing!  As a teacher and a mom, I love the opportunity to decompress and slowdown in order to enjoy a good book, a long run without time constraints, long days at the beach.  The summer provides a chance for educators to have experiences, and tap into their passions so that the education they are able to provide is even more rich for students.  It is a privilege to forget which day of the week it is, and feel the endless summer night.

Summer is a gift; and a season to not compromise. Being present and enjoying the time is critical to our success for the coming nine months.  

As we enjoy the current season we are in, the question becomes, how can we transition gradually, so that we can glide into the next season, rather than abruptly come to a crash landing?  What if there was a way to soak up the sun while gradually starting our arrival into fall? What if we could do two things at once?

The 90/10 Rule allows for us to enjoy the last seconds of summer while gradually preparing for fall.  

photo-1488722796624-0aa6f1bb6399We prioritize transitions for kids.  It is okay to also prioritize building opportunities for teens and adults to adjust to a new season.  Before this year, I would have waited until the last minute, possibly a day or two before work began to start getting organized.  I used to think I was giving myself the gift, but in reality I have realized that I have “enjoyed” extra time at the expense of an incredibly stressful start to the fall. I am realizing that I don’t have to wait for someone to say, “Go”, before I can get started. 

What if I started now, during the middle of August, and found a way to organize and then chop away at my list of things to do well before the first day of school rolls around?  

I am realizing that 90 percent of my time can still be focused on enjoying summer.   But, after making an organized list, I can start using 10 percent of my time to work towards taking something off the list each day.  Each day taking action on one small thing will alleviate future stress when the school year begins.

lazy geniusKendra, from  The Lazy Genius advises her listeners to create a list that will ease stress in the fall.  She suggests taking really small bites.  I decided to divide this list into three categories (Family, Personal and Work), so that I would make sure I was attending to each area of my life.  I am excited to know that I can free my mind to be present and enjoy the rest of the summer, because I have started to take care of little things that would begin cluttering my mind at this point in August.  By writing things down, I am freeing up my mind to be more efficient and creative in accomplishing what I need to do without taking a lot of energy to keep task reminders circling inside my head.

The neat thing is that once a “To Do List” is written down, the mind starts working on ways to complete the list.

Here is a portion of the list I put together to prepare for the fall. 

Family Personal  Work
Inventory of lunchboxes and backpacks Request personal day for Marathon weekend.  Organize 2 weeks of lesson plans.  
Record soccer schedules the calendar in the kitchen.   Request a few library books to read to read in the fall.  Look up culture building activities for the first week. 
Buy a months worth of non-perishable snacks and lunch items.  Clean out closet determine items to get rid of and ones to purchase.   Organize invitations for student leaders

Taking the time to organize a list that I can add to as needed, has drastically improved my outlook on how organized I already am.  By making the commitment to do one thing each day, I am honestly not putting more than ten percent of my time towards preparing for the future; but yet at the same time, I am taking an active role in pursuing what I need to accomplish by the start of the year.  

So maybe I can do two things at once.  One of the best ways to reduce stress and anxiety is to be prepared for the future. 

Being present is a fantastic way to reduce future stress. 

Imagine the magic when we can be present and prepared at the same time.  

What if You Were Really Honest?


I remember running my 14th Marathon in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  I finished, but it was one of my worst experiences running.

There was nothing out of the ordinary that happened that day, and honestly, I cannot blame too many things on the race. 

I thought about quitting a few times. Even though I had run more than a dozen marathons, I got lazy and did not respect the distance.   I did not correctly plan, was not strategic, nor intentional, and I did not consider what I had learned from previous experiences

I made several mental and physical errors.  Looking back at my race performance from that day, I am able to see several things I could have done better.   

The exciting thing about not accomplishing a goal is that there is opportunity for debrief and reflection on what went well, and what could be improved.  The tough part comes when you have to eliminate the excuses, be honest and face yourself in the mirror.

You have to have the courage to be raw and honest asking yourself where you fell short.  In David Goggins book, Can’t Hurt Me,  David talks about how he went from failing at completing a pull-up record he attempted two different times.  After failing at the challenge, he decided to fill out an AAR Report (After Action Review) about his experience.  

In the military after every mission, filling out an AAR Report is required. AAR Reports or live autopsies, are critical to the success of future mission.  

The idea of using an AAR Report intrigued me so much so that I did a bit of research.  I found an article on Linkedin, Why Is US Army’s AAR Such a Powerful Leadership Tool, written by Tom Deierlein, Co-Founder and CEO as well as former West Pointer and Airborne Ranger.  Deierlein emphasized five questions in his article on AAR Reports. 

It is Deierlein’s five questions perfectly frame an evaluation for a  teaching unit, family vacation, business analysis, weekly budget, or performance in a training run or race.  

The Five Questions in an AAR Report:

  1. What was supposed to happen?
  2. What did happen?
  3. What are some improves?
  4. What are some sustains? 
  5. What can be done to improve next time?

 During the first week of August, I decided to sit down and examine a few of the races that stand out in my career.

I decided that I could be even more specific about how to improve by labeling specific areas with, “M” for mental, and “P” for physical. 

After I looked at past failures and successes with my sport, I took a look at my professional career as a teacher. As a 17th year teacher, it would be hard to remember each year, so I decided to focus on the most recent one. This coming year, I plan to use AAR Reports weekly to get a good sense of where I am at as a teacher and adviser.  I love the idea of using them at the end of the week with students. I think this format of evaluating a project would be perfect for any of the activities that our student leaders tackle in the areas of journalism and student council. It is simple, objective, requires honesty and allows for growth.  

Self evaluation is like putting the pieces of the puzzle together. Or, looking for clues to solve a mystery.  Each performance is packed with several clues about what could be kept or changed for future experiences.

As Goggins says, “You can’t prepare for all of the unknown factors.  But, if you have better pre-game focus, you will likely only have to deal with one or two rather than ten.”  I am finding that when I do sit down and respect (plan, be strategic, be intentional, and consider what I have learned from previous experiences) the distance, job, vacation, budget, or whatever it is that I am dealing with will have a better chance of success.  

Finding Confidence in the Cookie Jar

Confidence comes from doing the Tough


Ahhh, the moment when you reach in the jar, and pull out a freshly baked, chocolate chip cookie. 

The cookie jar is an iconic item that sits on the kitchen counter in several homes. Often times, kids cannot wait to be given the opportunity to be able to eat one of the delicious treats inside.  I love filling the cookie jar. My family gets really excited to see cookies crammed into a space, knowing that there will be moments of savoring the peanut butter, chocolate chips and oatmeal tastes ahead.   It feels like something special. Cookies represent experiences that can be savored as well as opportunities to enjoy a moment. The variety of different cookies that line the ceramic container make this jar magical.  


What if confidence could be pulled out of a jar, just like a cookie?

Confidence is gained from doing tough things where testing limits is essential.  It is when we are in tough situations that growth happens.  Before reading, Can’t Hurt Me, by Navy Seal, David Goggins, I used to try and avoid difficult things when it was possible.  Yes, I have always been a person who does not give up, and will finish what I start. But choosing to run head first into something tough has not always been something I would have done.  In his book Goggins explains that filling the cookie jar can serve you in life by giving you a container of confidence when you need it most.  

Whenever you overcome an obstacle, face something difficult, or decide to try something that requires a lot of effort and a growth mindset, “You put a cookie in the jar”. 

 It is during the toughest part of a run, when I feel like slowing down or walking I can visualize the cookie jar, take one out and get the greatest satisfaction as I tap into the emotional experience of a past success. According to Goggins, we keep pulling cookies out until we have made it across the difficult part, or are back into a rhythm again.  

When I think about “cookies”, or challenges I have overcome, I see a difficult conversation with my kids, tough moments in the classroom, exhaustion near the end of a particular marathon, embracing the struggle to master proofs in geometry class, finding patience after trying to sell a house for several months, leaning into my faith as my son had shoulder surgery, handling rejection and finding a way to complete back to back marathons. 

Taking cookies out of the jar during a run really helps to take the focus off the struggle and re-frame thinking so that gives your body evidence that you have handled tough thing before, and can also finish what you are working on.

It is during the really tough moments where we lean into the difficulty and find a way to overcome a challenge, that we gain confidence. In order to create more cookies, I have recently found myself excited rather than afraid of new opportunities.  I replace the feeling of dread and fear with new feelings of excitement that I will be able to call upon in the future.  

51BkQPIE6WL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_Confidence building is a common theme among several athletes. Kara Gaucher in her book Strong, talks about using a confidence journal during her training.  She keeps a journal for the specifics of her training, one that it is very objective.  However, she maintains the importance of keeping another journal strictly to remember the things she has done really well.  Throughout the book, Gaucher talks about writing down only positive things. If part of the run was difficult, the focus is shifted to writing about how the challenge is overcome, and what steps were taken to get through it. 

There is something good to embrace about every run. 

Last summer I tried this.  I was at a low point as a runner.  I had gradually gotten slower, and struggled to run distances that had not been a problem in the past.  I was not motivated to run.  I needed to try something different. So I leaned into writing a confidence journal  before and after each run.  Before tough runs, races and difficult moments, I looked back through my journal and would reminisce about how far I had come. img_5801 I identified traits from our school’s Positivity Project that captured the type of mindset I wanted to work on as an athelete. 

I used to dislike going to the track to do speed work (a big part of most marathon plans), but wrote one morning about how I could be open-minded in how I approached the 800’s I had to do.  Sure enough, I ended up having a fantastic workout and was so excited about a new mindset that I actually ran double what I needed to. During the middle of a  20 mile run, I looked for positive words to describe myself.  I told myself that I was persistent, dedicated, enthusiastic, had self-control as well s integrity.  

The coolest thing about focusing on the positive, and keeping a journal that reflected it, was that I had evidence that I was a really good runner. 

Slowly, my times got faster, but even more importantly; I couldn’t wait to run. I loved the experience of flipping through a journal and discovering why the hours I spent training were worth it.  

So, whether  you create a graphic of a cookie jar (I am going to do this with my kids and in my classroom), or start a journal that can only be filled with positivity: find some way to capture the amazing things you have done!  Overtime you will train your brain to look for more opportunities, as well as re-frame your thoughts to remind you about how talented you really are.  You will crave opportunities to challenge yourself and fill your cookie jar.  

Running is a metaphor for life.  I have not limited using a confidence journal to running.   Throughout the day, I log what I have done well, how I have overcome challenges, as well as the positive things about the relationships I am in with friends and family members. 

I like the quote from Charles R Swindoll, “ Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it. I realize I have a lot of space in my life to do the hard things and use each of those experiences to build my confidence.  


7 Ways to Get Kids Reading

A look at What Actually Worked for Me


Reading is one of those things that I go to the wall on.  Growing up, reading was something I struggled with. As a teacher, I see how critical it is to overall success as a student.  Today, one of the reasons my life is so incredibly rich has to do with the books I read. As a parent, I am determined to give my kids opportunities to find success with reading. As with everything in life, some days everything comes together, connects and makes a beautiful picture.  However, there are other weeks, or years where the struggle is real, and seems like it is never going to end. 

It doesn’t matter where my kids are starting from (I can still remember checking out different copies of the Dick and Jane anthology because it worked, and my middle son needed repetition.  While all three of my kids have grown up in the same environment, they have all been unique in regards to what works best for each of them as readers.  Overall the key is persistence, and never giving up no matter how challenging it might seem. I I have found success as a parent by visiting the library often, allowing them to change their minds about what they like, becoming their personal assistant, reading and talking about books in front of them, using audio books, hosting  a book tasting and celebrating accomplishments.

  1. Visit the Library Often.

jaredd-craig-HH4WBGNyltc-unsplashLibraries might seem dated, but they are in fact one of the best kept secrets.  We got library cards for our kids as soon as they could write their names. Today, cards can be used to check out everything from audio books to new release movies.   Apps like Hoopla and Overdrive are amazing. With a library card, these two sites offer thousands of books, movies and music. Giving kids the opportunity to borrow a stack of books without any cost is ideal for many families.  Taking advantage of MEL, the state’s inter-library loan program, allows people to request books from all over the state of Michigan and have them sent right to your local library. Showing someone how to use the library unlocks a world of possibility.  Anything can be learned by using the public library. And, using the library saves a lot of money. Surrounding kids with books is one of the best things you can do to get them reading. The library makes reading an inexpensive activity. I am not alone when it comes to using the library.  Several financial enthusiasts highly recommend it. 

2.  Allow them to Change Their Mind Often. 

When my middle son was in first grade, he loved the Nate the Great series. The books were right at his reading level, and I thought I had struck gold since there were several of them in the library.  I requested every copy I could find. After reading about 10 of the books, one day he said, “I don’t really want to read Nate the Great anymore.”  At first I was a little sad, since there were still books to be read, but after thinking about it, I was excited that he was willing to be honest about what he wanted to read.  Minutes later, I realized had a new challenge. I had to help him find his next book, and do it quickly so that he did not lose momentum to continue reading. Humans are always evolving.

matthew-fournier-G971e4EFKtA-unsplashA few years ago one of my boys really got into hockey. We found all of the Matt Christopher books about hockey in the library, and he eagerly read each one cover to cover. Last summer my daughter was obsessed with learning about swimming.  We raided the library for any non fiction book we could find on the topic. During the winter it was graphic novels, and today she loves to dive into anything related to fairy tales. Even though I have a pretty good idea about what each of my kids likes to read, I had experiences where I selected a book or two I thought might be perfect, only to have them not show an interest in what I picked out.  I do not take it personally, since there is no cost associated with it, and know that as a reader I don’t read every book I take home from the library.

3. Be their Personal Assistant.  

Kids need to be taught skills to thrive on their own. However, when they are starting out, they need someone to guide them:  like a coach, or a personal assistant.  The personal assistant does not do the work, but instead sets a person up for success.  

If we want to raise a reader, the more times children can be successful will improve the overall possibility of them sticking with reading early on, and then eventually becoming an adults who are drawn to books. 

Personally assisting a child, looks like helping him or her find books, help them find books that are just right for their level, challenging them, suggesting new authors, reading a chapter aloud, placing books in their path, and helping them organize their schedule to support reading time. As an adult, I have read a lot of books, and heard hundreds of titles and authors, and because of it I am in a great position to offer guidance.  Scrolling through Bestseller Lists helps me to find current and high interest reading material.  As my kids get older, I have started to transfer this responsibility. However, it is still important for young adults to have help selecting books. My husband even enjoys it when I pick out a book for him tailored to his interests. 

Reading aloud the first chapter of a book can help a child get into a story.  I knew my middle son would love the John Grisham’s Theodore Boone Kid Lawyer books.  I was also aware that some of the terminology, setting, and background given in the first chapter could be very new, and confusing.  So I offered to read the first chapter to him. After hearing and then talking about the chapter, he was hooked and settled in for a great series of books.

4.  Read in Front of Them.  And Talk about Your Books.

dan-dumitriu-3w1XBUGj4ds-unsplash.jpgWhen I first started teaching, I would ask the parents of my really motivated readers who seemed to always be reading, “Tell me how you did it?  What do you think has made the difference in getting your child excited about reading?” Almost every time I was given the same answer, “I suppose he just sees me reading all the time, and it just seemed like the thing to do.  My nose is always in a book”. 

 If you expect your kids to read, you have to also be a reader.  You gain credibility when you pick up a book on a regular basis.

It is also important to be a “Real reader”, and model what it is like to struggle with something in a book, fall in love with a new series, or make the choice to abandon a book because you cannot get into it.  It is helpful for kids to know that they are not alone in how they think about books.

5.  Use Audio Books

When my kids were really little, I would get audio CD’s with the corresponding picture book from the library.  It helped me to team parent with myself, as I could catch a break where my kids could listen to a story and follow along with the words.  As my kids have grown older, they continue to enjoy audio books. We listen to them on vacation in the car, and two of my three kids absolutely love hanging out in their room listening to a book while putting together Legos or doing chores.  We have found that they are awesome for the kids to fall asleep listening to.

Lastly, as a Spanish student I remember being able to listen at a higher level than I could read or speak.  One of the coolest things about audio books, is that students can comprehend at higher levels than they can speak or read.  Plus, audio books give kids practice listening to correctly pronounced words, perfected grammar, and give them the opportunity to work on fluency as a reader.

6. Do a Book Tasting.

hannah-busing-0BhSKStVtdM-unsplashExposure to good literature and authors is one of the best gifts we can give our readers.  I absolutely love sharing some of my favorites with kids. Just as we could taste cheese, wine, sauces, deserts, or other menu items, book tastings are a great way to try new things.  I typically put a book in front of each place setting. Each child will get a chart to list the title he or she tasted along with the author, genre, and the likelihood that he or she might read the book.  The tasting is timed to keep it moving. And so after a total of several , ninety second tastings, kids are able to walk away with several new titles that could be considerations for future reading. This activity can be adapted to any size (I have had great success with it in the classroom).  

7.  Celebrate Success as a Family.

daniel-olah-VUGAcY35Ubw-unsplashThere are times that I find my kids book hopping, and not finishing titles.  I have also seen my kids plateau as readers. It is fun when we all work together and focus on completing a challenge that encourages reading and celebrating the success of others.  It works well for us to keep a running list of books read on the refrigerator. We set a goal for a number of books to be read and immediately start brainstorming how to we will celebrate our success.  It is nice to focus on working together, and cheering each other on.  

Maybe some of these ideas will work for you. What works well one day to encourage reading, might not work as well the next.  Plus, reading is personal. Everyone is motivated differently. But, the important thing is as a parent or teacher, you never stop trying.  Persistence is so important. Sometimes it is really tough to find the perfect author or series for a child. But, there is always one more book, genre, author, or method to try.  It won’t necessarily be easy, but it will be worth it.


Space for Joy

ankush-minda-VcD5OD2jDGA-unsplashHave you ever laughed so hard you cried? Can you remember the last time your eyes were soaked with tears because you were in a conversation that brought you so much joy?  I am not sure I can remember what I was talking about each of these times, but what I can remember is how I felt and who I was with. These are the moments that remind us how good life is.  One of our secretaries has a sign by her desk that reads,

“At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.”Maya Angelou

How do we bring joy, happiness and fun to our  jobs?  

Start With Gratitude

Each morning, part of my routine before jotting down goals is to list a few things that I am grateful for.  It is important to recognize how “Lucky” I am by considering how many things work out in life. Looking through a lens of gratitude definitely improves my outlook for the day. 

Notice the Things and People Around You

When you pay attention to life, it is actually quite interesting.  Paying attention to the interesting things people do and say adds depths to the moments in life.  Creating an environment that sparks joy is particularly important. I plan to continue adding quotes, pictures, and items that inspire me, and drive my energy level up.  Happiness can also be found when we observe kindness and creativity. It is incredibly fulfilling to celebrate the good other people are doing.

Remember:  Other People Matter

Living with an Other People Matter Mindset, challenges us to bring our best self to work.  Thinking of others gives us the opportunity to share kindness and be generous with our zest for life.  One of the most important things we can do is to grow our students into people that the world wants to be around.  It is our duty to make things a little better than we found them. That means, even when the days are long, we need to find a way to make the day more fun and inspire those around us.   

Ask Yourself the Tough Questions

Sometimes I like the answers, and sometimes I am embarrassed.  Recently, I have started asking myself,

Are you a person who people will choose to spend time with?

What about your personality is interesting and inspiring?

Are you fun to be around?

I am learning that it takes just as much energy to be grumpy as it does happy. 

Use Music

Music is awesome!  It raises my energy level, and makes me feel happy and empowered! Adding music when students enter the classroom, or are working on something makes the hour more enjoyable.  Our principal will also send out an email with a link to a song asking other people to share music that inspires them. This gesture certainly adds an element of fun to the day. 

Smile When You Don’t Feel Like It

It is important to smile and laugh a lot.  Recently I have found that the more I smile when I am running, the easier it gets to hold a pace. When I think about smiling, I am reminded of a quote from the movie Family Man, where Nicholas Cage looks at an old photograph of himself and says, “What are you smiling about?”  It is hard to hold onto negativity while you are smiling.  When I act like I want to feel, eventually the feeling comes.  I think it is good for our students to see us having fun at work.  It sets an example. Even if students don’t have aspirations to become future educators, it is important that they have an example of someone who is able to generate feelings of joy in any situation. 

Find the Pockets

While it is true that the job can certainly be stressful, it is our responsibility to find a way to have fun and enjoy the big moments, little moments, and all of the in between moments.  Time between classes and at lunch fill us up. Laughing and telling stories reminds us that we can have fun at work, and enjoy the people we spend so many hours with. It also gives us an opportunity for a brain break, and allows us to be in the moment.

Build Relationships With Everyone

Getting to know the staff on an individual level works.  Just as we want to find out things to talk to our students about, it is important to know a few specific things about the people you work with.  Follow up while standing at the copy machine, in the parking lot, or with a quick email about a future vacation, favorite football team, crazy little league schedule,  new puppy or TV show you both watch.   I have the most fun and feel the most connected when I have inside jokes, and shared experiences and conversations with each staff member. When I go through the staff list and realize that there are people whom I don’t have much in common with, or hardly know, I realize it is time to find a way to improve the relationship and get to know that person.

There is Space for Joy

peter-conlan-LEgwEaBVGMo-unsplashExcellence at work includes fun, happiness and joy.  There is space on even the craziest days for joy. In the end it won’t matter how many papers were graded, assessments tracked, and moments spent planning lessons.  What will matter is the space we made for joy and how we treated other people. When we can be a part of helping other people feel happiness, joy and experience fun on a regular basis, we will have done our part in making the world a little better than we found it. 

The Epic Summer Bucket List

How Setting Short Term Goals Motivate Me To Achieve More

photo-1473496169904-658ba7c44d8aOne of the important things you can discover about yourself is how you learn, and what motivates you. I can still remember a powerful conversation as I sat in anatomy and physiology class after I had been teaching a number of years. 

The student  next to me found out that I was a teacher and said, “It’s not fair,  you already know how to learn. And, are motivated to do it.  Tell me the secret.” 

I thought about this for a moment, and realized that it doesn’t feel fair or inspiring when you don’t understand what works for you. It was interesting to have the opportunity to explain to a new college student , that learning is personal, and she would need to find out what worked for her.  I explained that after experimenting with a number of different methods (giving suggestions like flashcards, re-writing notes, graphic organizers, watching videos online, drawing pictures, using mnemonic devices;  would allow her to find what would help information stick. photo-1481627834876-b7833e8f5570

Once her best method of processing information was identified, she should use it every time she needed to learn something. Little by little, she would see success, and that would motivate her to do more.  

For me, writing and rewriting with pencil and paper works. I remember rewriting my notes several times and then requiring myself to repeat the words without looking at the paper.  As far as motivation, for me it happens when I hear people talk about things that excite them (in particular travel, books or ideas they want to share, races and fitness plans).  I get really excited scrolling through Instagram  or Twitter, and seeing what people are interested in.  Usually my mind ends up exploding with ideas!

Surrounding myself with high energy people propels me forward.   I have also realized the name that I choose for something is really important.  When I use the words, “To Do List”, I am bored. But, it feels exciting, almost like an epic quest when I use the phrases, “Extreme Challenge, or Bucket List”.  In the end, is the energy that attracts me.  I don’t care what someone is excited about; if he or she enjoys talking about it, and really cares about it, I cant’t help but get excited as well. 

photo-1524850011238-e3d235c7d4c9My lifetime bucket list has over 100 things on it.  Everything from: Travel to Spain, run a half marathon with each of my kids, touch an elephant, watch a Cubs game at Wrigley Field, learn French, write a book, go white water rafting, complete a mud run, work at a bookstore or library, and run the Boston Marathon finds a line on the list of what I would like to experience during my lifetime.  

I have always been interested when people talk about bucket lists.  In 2008, I watched, “The Bucket List, where two terminally ill men escape from a cancer ward and head off on a road trip with a wish list of to-dos before they die.”  Seeing Morgan Freeman pull a list of things out of his pocket peaked my curiosity. It was at that point, when I decided I wanted to have a bucket list.  I have stored ideas in my head for several years, but last year decided I should write everything down so that I could start crossing things off. 

Long term goals are certainly admirable.  But, goals that can be accomplished in less time can inspire a person to grow more than he or she imagined. 

photo-1484480974693-6ca0a78fb36bA few days ago, I read something from personal growth expert and author, Mel Robbins. She suggested doing a Summer Bucket List.  My first thought was to create a simple Summer Bucket List that included things like jump off a pier at the beach, visit downtown Lexington, build an epic sand castle, watch the fireworks, go strawberry picking, as well as anything else I want to make sure we did over the summer. 

While I plan to fulfill a Summer Bucket list, after a run one morning, I had a whole new perspective on how I could use the concept of a short term bucket list to motivate me. Cue The Survivor Music,  light the torches on the wall and let the excitement begin.  The Epic 2019 Summer Fitness Bucket List is here. 

Epic 2019 Summer Fitness Bucket List

  • Follow Hansen’s Marathon Plan 
  • Run a 70 mile week
  • Do a plank for 3 minutes
  • Do 30 consecutive push-ups 
  • Do one pull-up 
  • Break 50 minutes in a 10K
  • Break 23:30 in a 5k 
  • Run a 6:55 mile
  • Break 1:23 in a 10 mile run

Summer is the perfect time frame (60-90 days) to see progress on goals.  Sometimes breaking goals down into smaller pieces helps a person to gain momentum.  It works well for my own kids over the summer when I ask them to set a reading goal for the next 24 hours. 

I find that they are excited to tell me about how they crushed their goal with hours to spare. With a goal that has been immediately accomplished, they are okay setting a new one right away.

Before creating a bucket list, the most important thing is to be honest about where you are starting from. If goals are set based on where a person wishes he or she was, progress might be seen for a really long time, and at the same time motivation might be lost.  There is a sweet spot with setting goals. They need to be out of reach enough so that we feel accomplished when it is complete, but yet not too hard that they feel so distant from where we are. 

I like to start with a small goal, or one that might be the easiest to accomplish.  Once it is checked off, then that goal is modified to make it a little more difficult, while starting to chip away at the other goals.  The 2019 Epic Summer Bucket List will continue to evolve until school starts.  In addition to fitness, I am considering using the short term bucket list method for my role as a mom, teacher and writer. I wonder what would happen if I created a weekly bucket list when I go back to school.  Or, tried out a monthly bucket list with each one of my kids over the summer.

Maybe another reason the bucket list works for me, is that it is specific and intentional planning attached to timeline that forces me to be accountable.  There is no grey area.  

Do you have a  bucket list? What’s on it?  Do long term or short term goals motivate you? I would love to hear what works for other people.   

The No Matter Whats in my Family Classroom and School

Looking at the Non-Negotiables Inspired me to Reach for More

Last week Jennifer Hogan wrote a post about Non-negotiables for schools and challenged readers to articulate non-negotiables for their schools. The more I thought about it, I was eager to look at non-negotiables for several areas.

I started out by brainstorming  a list of non-negotiables for my home, my classroom, our yearbook  and student council.  I started thinking about what our school might consider to be no matter whats. I like the idea of creating four main categories of non-negotiables within each area.  I decided to look at my home, classroom and school, while giving next year’s leaders the opportunity to brainstorm non-negotiables for the yearbook and student council in September.  Creating non-negotiables reminds me of drafting a mission statement or a philosophy.

In Our Family

In our Family we will share our story, encourage growth, support each other and strive for excellence.  

IMG_2598Share our Story.  We have a legacy to continue.  We need to learn our family’s history, pass down our faith, positive outlook, love for reading and work ethic.  It means honoring future generations by putting our family in a good financial position and encouraging opportunities and education.  It means leaning into new adventures.  

Encourage Growth  Focusing on a growth mindset means looking for ways to be challenged.  It means doing the hard thing, and stepping out of your comfort zone. It means being the nice kid or adult, it means focusing on kindness, it means treating all people with dignity and respect regardless of whether or not their decisions are different from ours.  It also means It means trying new things, and really digging deep to help bring out the best version of each person the family. IMG_1918

Support one another. Our family includes 5 incredibly active and involved individuals.  If someone has a game, race, or is being awarded for an honor; we go and support that person.  It means providing food, transportation, education, clothing and other basic necessities. It means providing support when members of the family act like they want it the least; such as ways to keep them safe.  Sometimes people who need the most support ask for it in the most unloving ways.  If someone is struggling, we find a way to encourage him or her by being present.  We never turn our backs on our family members no matter what. 

Strive for Excellence.  Excellence involves being intentional with time, showing appreciation, respecting a person’s environment, listening to each other, encouraging curiosity, working to an individual’s potential at work, school, in a sport, club, or whenever it applies.  It means not accepting excuses and requiring that we finish what we start.

In the Classroom    


In the Classroom we will tell a story, support one another, facilitate growth, and require excellence. 

Tell a story. I love the idea of using a story to engage students.  Stories have a way of capturing our interest and teaching us valuable lessons.  The story of our experience in a class is worth being told. It is also interesting to use the sequence of order (beginning, middle and end) to organize my class.  There are several other story elements like foreshadowing, symbolism, setting and flashback for example that can increase the success of my lessons and activities.  I also want students to be able to explain what they are learning, and seek a depth of understanding beyond the basic level.   

Support one another.  Some days are easier than others, but everyone deserves to be treated well.  Supporting each other means respecting each person’s opinions, aspirations, time and space.  It means lifting each other up every single day. Supporting one another means giving grace when you don’t feel like it.  Supporting one another means helping each other find resources to accomplish goals. Just as I am supported by  administrators, I want to also support my students in any way that I can.  

Look for Growth Opportunities.  We need to take charge of our own learning.  Sometimes the content in a classroom, or the dynamics of a particular group of students does not require growth in order to be successful. However, the challenge is to be curious and not furious. It is both of our responsibilities as the teacher and students, to seek out opportunities to further a depth of knowledge as well as investigate ways to learn something new.  Opportunity for growth also looks like having a growth mindset where you encourage others silently and verbally.  

Require Excellence.  Excellence does not happen by chance.  Excellence happens after hard work, dedication and grit.  As I expect the best my students have to offer, I too need to bring my best.  It means not turning in work unless it is something that he or she can be proud of.  A person’s best is his or her energy. This summer I am learning a lot from John Meehan’s book Edrenaline Rush.  Meehan’s book does an amazing job showing educators how to bring game-changing student engagement that is inspired by theme parks, mud runs and escape rooms.  It is a book that shows me where I want to be as an educator.  Lastly, a person’s best includes being intentional with time.  A person’s best is a willingness to be accountable to the teacher, other students, and most importantly, him or herself. There is a lot of space for excellence in my classroom.  Every single person can achieve it every single day.  

In our School


In our School we will have a warm and welcoming environment.  We will develop students as good people and learners.  Staff will serve as a model for students.  And, we will support and not extinguish curiosity.  

I decided to do a little research on this one, and ask our principal, since I knew he would have high standards for this topic.  He pointed me to George Couros’ book The Innovator’s Mindset. and the 4 Non-Neogtiables that Couros talks about for schools.  He said that he is very passionate about our school focusing on these four areas as well.  I don’t think any school will ever be able to master the four completely, but it is the effort towards focusing on these key areas that will make  difference over time.

IMG_3688Our schools must be a warm and welcoming environment.  This is created by the details in the physical look of the school, the way the office presents itself and the overall feel of the classrooms.  Within a few minutes an impression is made. This also includes calling people by name, acknowledging them in the hallways, and being intentional about interactions with students, staff and visitors.

Schools have to develop students as good PEOPLE and LEARNERS! Schools not only teach this through a well put together curriculum, but they use resources like the Positivity Project, empathy inspired projects, positive behavior systems, developing individual plans with parents and staff, and provide opportunities to enrich and help our students grow. Parents send us the best they have.  We commit to doing whatever it takes to take them from where they are to what is possible.

Schools model the learning they expect from their students.  We can help students grow by modeling and sharing examples from our own lives that relate to hard work, generosity, empathy, kindness, gratitude, being on time, and dressing appropriately.  Actions always seem to speak louder than words.  When students have a chance to see what it looks to be grateful, or respectful for example; there is a much greater chance that overtime, he or she will develop those same skills.  Or, at the least have a point of reference from where they can be developed from in the future.

We have to support curiosity, not extinguish it. I think these things go for staff and students.  Our goal in education is to drive students and staff to be hungry for more knowledge.  We want the individuals in our school to ultimately seek out knowledge on his or her own. We want to encourage people to challenge ideas, push problem solving, create, and be innovative.  I like how Couros talks about school being the beginning of learning, and not the end.  He also mentions that curiosity is closely linked to intelligence.  Supporting constant curiosity is something we are striving to do.  It is not easy, and definitely requires courage and bravery; since there is unknown.  But, in the end it will be worth it.



Give the Compliment

nong-vang-577609-unsplashWords Matter. They become part of our story.

There was a time when I was afraid to give a compliment.  I was uncertain about how it would be received, and I wasn’t sure what would happen if I gave someone else (who at many times was my competition), words of encouragement.

There are too many times in my life that I have not said anything.   I used to think that by pointing out what someone else did well, would take away from what I had accomplished. I also wondered if it was really necessary.

When I first started teaching, the number of years spent in a district was virtually the only thing that determined whether or not a teacher would have a job.  In those early years, I saw a lot of amazing teachers.  I saw beautiful classrooms, well put together lessons, and coaches as well advisers who were down right amazing!  But, I was not intentional about speaking up to recognize the good in others.  I did not know if my words really mattered.

It wasn’t until I was I was a fourth year teacher in my fourth school, that I really saw someone who was focused on building others up  and being generous with compliments.   Our media center specialist Rachelle, showed me what it looked like to let other people shine.  If she realized that someone was doing something well, she told that person, and she told other people what a good job this person had done.

Her praise was always authentic and specific.  She spoke well of so many people (fortunately I got to be one of those people).  Rachelle never worried that it would make her look like less of an educator if she talked highly of someone else’s ability.  She was truly a dot connector.  When she found a resource that would help someone out; she would share it.  Her goal was to bring people along with her.

At the end of my year working with Rachelle, I was called back to my home district to work in our alternative school.  One of the best gifts I was given during my four years at Riverview East High School was a close staff that really worked together.  For the first time in my career I did not feel competitive among other staff members.  For the most part, besides a class or two others taught;  I was the English teacher.  I was my own department, and everyone else was his or her own department.  As a result of these dynamics, I was able to really get to know other staff members and be excited about what they were doing.

The school culture was one where everyone had your back, you mattered, and everyone was in together. This went for the students and the staff.  When we focused on school improvement, we set goals and accomplished things by looking at teacher’s strengths. The conversations were always directed in a non competitive, but rather collaborative way.

We focused on which students did well with which teachers.  It was exciting when we sketched out which teachers were exceptional mentors to certain kids.  Because we focused on the good,  these meetings were full of energy.  We made sure that each kid was covered, and nobody was going to fall through the cracks.

Compliments among staff were constant, and I think our students could tell that we really liked working together as a staff.

I left Riverview for a Dream Job working at my local middle school.  While the staff is much bigger, I have an opportunity to work with an amazing and fun group of people of whom I am able to connect with on so many unique levels.

 As a result of teaching each grade level, and moving rooms multiple times, I have been able to really get to know many staff members over the last nine years.

When I first started at the middle school, I was still concerned about my job security, and overwhelmed when I had to teach something new.  Instead of being my own department, I was one of many English teachers.  At times, I reverted back to not focusing on other people’s strengths. My goal was to try and be the best at my craft; and as a result of my limiting beliefs I did not bring anyone along with me.  My mindset was safe and comfortable. Capture

Recently, I have started taking more risks and am becoming more generous with my words. I realize more than ever that choosing words to build people up really does matter. The Positivity Project our school participates in has definitely made an impression on me. If I am asking my students to highlight the good in others and cheer them on, I need to make sure that I am willing to step outside my comfort zone, and take a moment to applaud the good in others. Our administrators do a nice job with hand written notes to tell us that we are appreciated. I have started writing more notes, and am so excited about the opportunities I have to empower others with encouraging words.  I recently read a tweet from Dr. Brad Johnson who said,

“Some may think constant praise, compliments, and appreciation is not necessary for adults.  But, remember its not just that you are praising your staff, but you’re also saying I am present, I’m paying attention, and I am in this with you.  Can this really be said too often?”

CaptureI am also reminded of Lea Water’s book, The Strength Switch Lea does a fantastic job illustrating the message that we should approach everything from a point of strength.  By starting from a place where someone is successful, it is a lot more effective to inspire someone to push him or herself. I know I respond better after a compliment rather than criticism.  

Being a parent has definitely made me a better educator.  Having a 7th grader at the middle school gave me new insight into some of the amazing things that teachers were doing.  When I listen to my son practice his trumpet at home, and then surpass my wildest expectations at a band concert; I have to make sure I tell our band director how in awe I am of his work and dedication. When my son tells me he is learning more in his math class then he has ever learned in a year; that is a compliment I need to make sure a teacher hears.  And, when I see one of our history teachers dressed up in costume leading her class outside to reenact historical events, it is important to highlight the strength of that teacher.  

Focusing on the strengths of teachers I work with has given me more energy.  I don’t necessarily want to conform to the style of each teacher I work with.  But, I can always find something good to notice about what a staff member is doing.  It certainly makes work more fun.  I love it when I have the opportunity to praise another teacher during a conversation with a student.  And I know my eyes light up when I take the time to compliment a student.

Compliments are not just for the classroom.  When I pass a fellow runner that I know during a morning workout, I find that I automatically slap hands with him or her, or  if it is someone I have not gotten to know, a nod is given.  There is an automatic sense of respect and joy for the person being passed.  A high five or a fist bump is a compliment.  It is really exciting to see someone else in his or her element.

Imagine a school where everyone we passed in the halls was given a “high five” out of respect for the journey that we know he or she is on.  Imagine hallways exploding with smiles, high fives, and  compliments. Capture

Sometimes one compliment can be enough to transform your world.  A week ago I received what might be one of the best compliments I have received in a really long time.  It was exactly the right combination of words from a source that I valued and trusted.   A runner that I have a lot of respect for, asked me about what I eat before running in the morning.   He said that he was interested in hearing my answer since I was a, “Badass Morning Runner”.  While I am internally motivated as a runner, and do not need a lot of praise for my favorite hobby; a perfectly timed complement certainly rocked my world.  These three words have become part of my story.  

For the remainder of the day, each time I looked at that those three words in print, I could not help but get excited. I was inspired as a runner in a whole new way.

Those three words continue to stay with me.  When I struggle during a run, I visualize, a “Badass Morning Runner”, and ask myself what she would do at this point in the run.  Now that I realize how much a well timed, authentic, personalized compliment can matter:  I am even more inspired to be generous with the compliments I give.  I am realizing it is a lot more fun to bring out the best of the people around me.  I can still focus on being the best wife, mom, teacher and runner that I have within me, and yet bring out the best in others at the same time.  The world has a lot of space for excellence.



Watching Grey’s Anatomy Made Me A Better Teacher


Sometimes life surprises you. Two weeks before the end of the school year, as busy and chaotic as it was, I felt like I needed to add something to my life.  My mind was overflowing.  I needed to use my brain in another way, and I was looking for something that would not require me to drive anywhere, spend  money, or take away time from my already busy schedule.  I was looking for a way to decompress, and escape.  And after asking around, I decided to give watching Grey’s Anatomy a try.

Even though it has been a popular show for several years, and I am about 16 years too late,  I finally decided it was time to try and watch it.  I remember watching ER in college, and enjoyed the exposure to the medical field as well as the ongoing story line.  It is interesting how quickly you can get hooked on something.  After a few episodes, I was already predicting where the story would go.   As I would do household chores, or have minutes of in between time, I could sneak time to watch my show.  At first, my goal was an escape, a way to use my brain differently, something to look forward to after work, but as I neared the end of the first season, “Teacher Mode” clicked into gear, and I realized that there were a lot of ways I could use this the series to make me a better teacher. Sometimes stepping away from content directly correlated with your career allows you to see the big picture and gives you feedback about how you can be better.

Teamwork.  Watching the doctors work together during surgery has given me a whole new appreciation for how important it is to have a team you can count on.

12After viewing about 5 surgeries, I realized that I could improve my craft by leaning more into the team I work with. While the projects we are working on are not intricate medical procedures; they are important parts of education and life.  It is our goal as a school, as a team to take our students from  one level and get them the ready for the next.  Just like in the operating room, there are unforeseen challenges, and difficult moments.  Watching the doctors consult with each other before, during and after the surgery reminds me of how important our Professional Learning Networks are. 

The interns (I am only in season 3), stand together.  They support each other, they have each others back, and their friendship really helps to make the tough parts of the job possible.  I work with some of the best people around.  Lunchtime is amazing.  A number of the 8th grade teachers gather together, and we really enjoy spending time together.  Our school is going through several changes for the coming school year, and there has been a lot of movement throughout the building.  One of the best parts of the last week was when we talked about where we would eat lunch next year.  It meant a lot to me that I was included in plans to make sure that we all found a way to still connect and stay together.  Feeling like you belong is one of the coolest things! 

Organization. One of the things that instantly grabbed my attention was the board that explains which patients are in which rooms with which conditions. “The Board” is critical to the operating room, and therefore has made me think a lot about how I organize information about students, what is happening in my class,  yearbook and student council related things,  as well as conversations with parents and staff.

One of my goals for the 2019-20 school year is to take the methods I am currently using to organize information and bring them to a higher level that allows me to be more effective.

Attention to Details.  I cannot help but be fascinated with the way surgeons work.  A quarter of an inch is a big deal.  The details are important.

Often it is to the advantage of the educator to look at the big picture, and not get consumed with the details.  However, the little things do matter.  Visualize a surgeon demanding perfection.  It is a good reminder to pause, work slowly, accurately and value precision.  It is important to make up what you lack in natural talent by discipline and practice.

Bedside Manner.  Everyone has his or her own style.  But, most people would agree that how you talk to students, parents, and colleagues really matters.

One of the things that stands out, is the way in which the surgeons talk to patients and family members about really tough medical issues.  Never have I been more aware of the impact that can be made by taking the extra effort to be generous with my words and attitude.  I work across the hall from a colleague who excels at this.  She is honestly one of the warmest people I know, and feels like the sun.  Students and staff are drawn to her; and she models the kindness and compassion I strive to have as a teacher.  It is a gift to see her in action.

Accepting Feedback.  If you are in the medical field, you have to be willing to objectively listen to what someone else tells you about a case, or about the work that you are doing. It does not mean that you are not good at what you do; it means that there is something for you to learn. It means that someone thinks you are worth it.

Sometimes it is really hard to hear words of advice and not take them personally.  Many times I have struggled hear what I need to work on. When I watch the interns on Grey’s Anatomy receive feedback, they might be frustrated temporarily, but they lean into the feedback and realize that it is a necessary part of getting better.  It does not mean that they are not good at what they do. It means that they need to compartmentalize the advice and hear only what someone is saying.  

Sometimes You Get to Scrub In on Something Really Cool.  It is pretty awesome when you get an opportunity  to do something out of the ordinary.

In Grey’s Anatomy the surgical interns thrive on the opportunity to be part of an advanced,  or unique surgery that they have not  been a part of before.  A week ago, I had the coolest opportunity.  I was asked to photograph our 5th Grade Orientation.  For a few hours I was able to see a completely different side of education.  I got to see a team of administrators working together, 8th graders we could count on, and experience coming to a new school through the eyes of the students.  The event left me with an adrenaline rush!  The energy from the event and the pictures made a lasting impact on me.  It was then, that I decided I wanted to focus on being a source of energy among our students and staff.

Celebrate Success.  There are high points and low points in every field.  It is important to cheer each other on, and celebrate every success.

When surgeons achieve their goal after an operation or figure out something that has been puzzling them; they cannot help but be overcome with joy! This will continue to be one of my goals! One of the best parts of success is having someone to share it with.  I work with some incredibly successful teachers, and it is awesome to share in the excitement of their success.

photo-1463334535327-f9009ae62bf7The 2019-20 school year is going to be amazing.  When it begins at the end of the summer, I know I will be ready!  For some reason, I have a feeling something pretty amazing is in store for our school. And, I will get to be a part of it.