As an educator I know first hand what an art it is to teach, and I know first hand how important and powerful it is to launch learning and to foster a learning community right from the start of the school year or start of a new semester. You don’t need me to tell you that this year is a unique one, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t make space for that reality. Students and educators alike have been through some extremely difficult times, and of course we are still in the middle of a global pandemic. 

Inside our free guide ‘The Art of the Start’ you’ll find seven different sections, each one with ready to roll out resources. These seven sections have been designed based on emails we’ve received from educators like you. Today I want to specifically talk about the seventh section which places an emphasis on the power of play. In her Edutopia article, Sarah LaHayne writes the following about play :

“Play is not only foundational for child development but can also help children process and heal from the impact of living through stress, trauma, or grief, including a global pandemic.”

Sarah LaHayne

I think as adult learners we also need to remember how powerful play can be for us. In an NPR interview, Dr. Stuart Brown, head of a nonprofit called the National Institute for Play. gives us a definition of play:

“Play is something done for its own sake,” he explains. “It’s voluntary, it’s pleasurable, it offers a sense of engagement, it takes you out of time. And the act itself is more important than the outcome.”

Dr. Stuart Brown

This is why I set my alarm early a few days of the week to do a little yoga. For me, yoga has been a wonderful way to play and stay playful. I might not get every pose exactly right, and I may not always be aspiring to become an expert, and that’s completely ok. As a matter of fact, it is probably because I don’t have a strict goal with my yoga that I’m able to focus on just enjoying it for the sake of enjoying it. They call it the yoga practice…you never really master yoga, you constantly are just practicing. I often say the same thing to educators about teaching. They call it the teaching practice…there is no mastery of teaching. We are constantly practicing, finding that balance between the art of teaching and the science of teaching. If we can get into a mindset that this is all just practice, then we allow ourselves to try new things, push ourselves in new ways, and become better at our practice one day at a time, in that mindset we find joy. 

In the academic week, where are we holding space for enjoyment for enjoyment sake? This might be drop everything and read time, it might be a spontaneous game of tag, a student sharing their photos of their new kitten, or an impromptu chat in the hallway.  We have to care about what our students enjoy about being at school, and we have to nurture those moments. School has always been more than about getting from point A to point B in the curriculum. Tell me about some of your strongest memories of being at school, and I bet those moments will have something to do with how a peer or an educator or a subject helped you connect with yourself or others. It has been my experience that students are best able to connect with others when playfulness is valued. And I’m talking about learners of all ages. 

I work with school leadership teams all the time, and I’ve noticed a correlation: the teams that aren’t afraid to be playful, the teams that laugh together are the very same teams who are more productive and are more collaborative. I did a little digging around to see if my lived experience is mirrored in any research, and I found out that in fact it is. Tracy Bower is a contributing author for Forbes, and here’s what her research tells us: 

“Company cultures that allow for play are better able to tap into the best in their employees, and employees themselves can bring more effectiveness into their work.”

Tracy Bower

The Art of the Start guide has a few of our favorite ways to encourage playfulness with learners. As always, we are curious to hear what has worked for you. 

I want to take some time to talk about a recent free guide we created called Finding Your Metaphor for the Moment. When I provide coaching for school leaders, we often spend a lot of time thinking and discussing metaphors as a communication tool. 

Now I didn’t invent the idea of leaders using metaphors to galvanize teams. There has been a lot written about how this matters and ways to experiment with it. I want to read you a quick quote from one of my favorite pieces from Forbes that explores this idea:

Metaphors and analogies  are exceptionally efficient ways to accelerate insight.  If you see recurring points of friction, think about the best metaphor or analogy for your system and communicate it explicitly. One team used the analogy of a hybrid car to explain how their hybrid structure would work: We’re one car, headed to one destination. We have two engines, a gas engine and an electric one that propels us forward. Both are necessary and equal.  In any given situation, we use the one best suited to the conditions.”

What I love about that example is how simple it is. So, if you were to think about your school’s library system, is it more like a hybrid car or a jet ski? If you reflect on the orientation schedule for your school, is it more like a roller coaster or a bridge? What about the communication system you’ve established with parents and care-takers in years past, would they describe it to be a water fountain or a water park?

When we reframe systems we engage with in a creative way, I think it makes us pay more attention to some of the details we may overlook. In our free guide ‘Finding Your Metaphor For the Moment’ you will find yet another example. The guide walks you through a few pages on how Baseball might be an interesting metaphor for classroom culture (I know me using baseball metaphors is a shock to many of  you, right?). In what ways do students have ‘batting practice’ where they can take swing after swing and devote time to one specific skill at a time? Fellow baseball fans will know the term ‘battery,’ this refers to a really tight knit bond between the catcher and the pitcher. So I would ask myself how my classroom culture is inspiring and providing space for each learner to co-create a new battery. 

The point of this thought experiment is to provide space to envision what we want to do, and how we want to think about our goals. We invited a few educators to share their metaphor for the year ahead. We will hear first from Angeline Aow, who is a pedagogical leader and consultant. Join me in listening what she has to say about the mighty onion:

What a great example–which fruit or vegetable is YOUR curriculum framework most like and why? 

Let’s dig into another example, this time from a Head of Community Relations:

Nancy thank you for demonstrating how our thinking around metaphors can be scaffolded with questions. If I were to go back to my baseball example, and I wanted to use it with a department or a grade level group I might ask them to share a story that was one of our ‘double play moments,’ or to tell me what activity they have in their batting rotation in the cleanup position. 

Let’s turn to one more example, this time courtesy of a Head of School, Kathleen Naglee

Thank you Kathleen for sharing that personal story. Her example reminds me that when we share our metaphor, we have an opportunity to share our stories and that cultivates stronger relationships. 

Ok, ready for our final example? Here we go:

I really appreciate what Dr. Waid says there about radically reimagining our education systems and ways of learning together.

So hopefully they have inspired you to think more about finding a metaphor for the moment, or perhaps for thinking about inviting learners to co-create one for the start of the your next unit.  If you are looking for more resources to help you do that, head over to shiftingschools.com.

Today, I want to explore the power of making collaborative learning transparent.

What do I mean by that? Well for any of you who have ever been partnered with others on a project, think about that experience and reflect on the following questions:

  1. What structures or supports were in place for you to be able to seek out thought partners on your project team?
  2. What frameworks helped you calibrate your working pace?
  3. What prompted others to come and seek out your perspective?

When I talk about making collaborative learning transparent, that’s what I’m talking about: setting up scaffolding that helps all learners network and learn from one another.

The resource from the free guide that correlates with this theme is our KANBAN templates. If you’ve never used the Kanban method before, essentially it is a system that helps a team visualize where each other are at, on a given project. It often has the following columns: “to do”  “in progress”  “testing” “done”

If students were co-authoring a podcast script they might divide and conquer a to do list: some students might be researching online, others might be interviewing other students, others might be writing to the local library as part of the ‘to do.’ When each member of the team has updated their progress, they update the Kanban board so they know where each other is at. What does this do for teams? Well, the first thing that might come to mind is accountability–and yes, this is great for each member to stay accountable to their team’s goals. But in my experience the truly big win by using this system is that it starts conversations during the collaborative process. One of the biggest pitfalls for students working on a team is that we don’t intentionally make time and space for regular check-ins. I’ve made this mistake as a teacher–and the stakes are high, when we don’t help teach the skills and structures of collaboration, students end up seeing collaboration as an obstacle for learning when we want them to see it as a catalyst.

I even have a few teacher parent friends who have adopted this method for their household set of chores. Why? They tell me it creates a better sense of how their kids can jump in and help out when they have extra time, and it also models to them how much is involved in keeping the house clean, the fridge stocked, and the family taken care of. 

For me, when my team uses the Kanban method it also helps us make sure we really think through our priorities first. When you co-author a to-do list, you get the collective wisdom of others. For young learners this is huge. Even for an essay, asking students to all share their ‘to do’ starting place this will look different student to student, and when we invite them to learn from one another’s different starting places, they gain new entry points into that task. I think one of the most overlooked questions we need to remind students to ask each other more regularly is this one: “How do you get started?”

When I was a young learner, whenever I had a research assignment, I didn’t always know how to get started. And you know what? When that first step is cloudy, motivation drops. I had no idea how much time my classmates spent on their research or how they went about doing it. That’s a barrier for learning. The more we can make the learning process transparent, the more welcoming the process becomes.

I use a lot of sports metaphors. Here’s why I think they work for our educational context: athletes are so used to the idea of slowing down their technique. As a baseball player, my hitting coach would have me take hundreds of practice swings–and these were without a pitcher, sometimes with a bat, sometimes without it. My hitting coach wanted me to be able to memorize the motion, and really understand the exact position my elbow needed to be in, to feel the proper pivot on your back foot. We need to give students learning to collaborate more opportunities to slow down and isolate the moves needed inside of collaborative teams. When we do this right, we help lessen the anxiety about working together, we help students build their confidence, and we help build a sense of belonging.

Last Saturday we had a thunderstorm move through Seattle…we don’t get them very often around here so a storm with over 2200 lightning strikes is pretty crazy and awesome….but more than that…it was Mother Natures way of calling in Fall. Since then the temp as barley hit 70 degrees if we’re lucky and the low slow clouds with off and on rain tell us that Fall is here. That and the squirrels…there are squirrels everywhere all of a sudden…oye.

Anyway, this week I want to thank Katy McKee for sharing an article with me titled What is engagement in a learning experience?

It was put out by GoGuardian a software company that helps filter and monitor student devices. I know school districts that use it and it is a product I have recommended in the past to schools that I’m supporting. 

However, in this case, I’m interested in this article and research these authors did. I’ve linked the article in the show notes and it’s well worth 10 minutes of your time. Especially if you are a coach like Katy or in an administrative position. 

I love how they try and define “engagement” and what it really comes down to is we know it when we see it and we hear it from our students. 

In trainings we continue talking about student engagement in school with technology. Of course, technology isn’t going to do it but it is a huge part of the recipe for this generation. What we know about this generation and engagement. 

1:  It MUST be meaningful to my life today. 

Question to ask yourself: Can I frame today’s lesson/learning in a way that students can relate to it in their own lives? 

2.  It MUST be purposeful. 

Question to ask yourself: How do I frame today’s lesson/learning to be purposeful to students?

3.  It MUST be engaging (fun). 

Question to ask yourself: Do I think this activity is fun?

I find that if teachers can answer those three questions about any lesson then the lesson will be engaging. I can’t tell you how many times I have talked to teachers and asked them “Do you think doing this worksheet is fun?” and they say “No, but…….” and then comes the “I have to do it” or “they must learn it” or …….

I love that the research they did shows this as well….if you the teacher know this is not an engaging activity, if it doesn’t really have purpose in their lives and it’s not fun….then it’s not engaging and YES…this means you the teacher are going to have to rework, rethink, and recreate learning activities that meet these three questions. 

It all starts with the questions we are asking students. Are we asking big essential questions that allow them to dig in? Questions we maybe could never ask before because we didn’t have access to the information to find an answer…and now we do. 

Here’s something you can do to start gathering data yourself. As you are talking with students through the day ask them these three questions. 

– What did you learn today that you can see applies to life outside of school?

– Why do you think you need to learn this?

– What was the best/most fun part of your day? 

You’ll get a feel for engagement by asking students and reflecting on our own teaching. I truly believe we don’t ask students enough at the end of every lesson “How was this today for you?” because more times then not…we know what the answer is going to be. 

Thanks again to Katy for bringing this article to my attention.  

What are your thoughts on engagement? How do you know if your students are actively engaged in learning? I’d love to hear from you and for you to share your thoughts on student engagement in the comments below.

Sometimes we need a little nudge to do the things we know are good for us. Like blogging…I know it’s good for me, I always mean to do it, but doing it…that’s the hard part. I think that’s in part why at Eduro Learning we decided to do a 21-day challenge to start the school year off with. Not only to challenge others, but ourselves to be more reflective as this new school year gets under way here in America. So now that this is my job it means I’ll actually make time for it. You can join us for the challenge on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram by using the hashtag #edurochallenge.

Teachers from Marysville School District pitching their unit ideas

It is actually the day before school starts for most students here in the Seattle area. My wife, a school counselor, is back today preparing for her 15th year as a School Counselor. This first #EduroChallenge is about our students and as the school year gets under way I think of my students as well. My students are a bit older, then the K-5 students my wife will have. She’ll be the counselor for roughly 520 students, while I’ll in some way get to impact the lives of 800 educators with our work in Marysville and Everett School Districts and that doesn’t count the number of educators who will join me for a workshop in Chelan, Washington or those that I will have the pleasure to learn with during our 1:1 Micro-Credential this year. Then there are the teachers in Auburn’s ATLA program (roughly 90) and Enumclaw’s Connected Classroom Cohorts (roughly 30). You get the picture….there are a lot of students to think about this school year.

As my wife talks about all the things she hopes to accomplish this year with her students I can’t help but think of all the things we have been working hard to put in place to help our students as well. Students come in all ages…and it just so happens that I have chosen to work with those that work with kids. So my #edurochallenge is to remind myself that when we use the word “students” we mean all of those we teach, regardless of age.

What’s your reflection on students as the school year begins?

On Monday the MLB (Baseball) draft started and one of the Mariner Bloggers that I follow Jeff Sullivan had this to say about the draft:

This afternoon or evening, the names of several future disappointments will be announced. Zero or one or two or three of the players will develop fully. Many more will develop partially, and the rest will develop not at all. It sounds so grim and makes it all seem like a complete waste of time, but the math isn’t really different in other professional fields. Most of us are destined to disappoint. High baseball draft picks just get more publicity than most of us do.

That sounds down right depressing but it is so accurate and I think you could apply it to hiring anyone for any company, organization or school. You hire on potential, hopes and dreams. Much like companies baseball teams take risks on young potential players hoping they will work out. Some do, others don’t, while still some who are drafted at the very end of the day make the biggest impact for a team or company. 

I think about education and students. We don’t get to hand pick our students, we’re given a class list in August/September and we’re told to develop them and help them reach their full potential. We’re not allowed half way through the season to say “Look kid you’re not cutting it here, we’re going to send you back down for more work in the minors.” We’re told to help the student reach their full potential no matter what. 

I think of coaches who know they don’t have the best team, but they do the best with what they have. Helping everyone develop, staying positive, and providing support where needed. They dream of days when they’ll have that ultimate state winning team. But until then they battle through the hard years doing what they can to develop players. 

Baseball General Managers get paid a lot of money to pick potential players……and fail most of the time. 

Educators get paid much less are given a bunch of players and are successful most of the time. 


Not sure if any of this makes sense…but that paragraph has been running through my head since I read it a couple days ago and I needed to write some of these random thoughts down.

dan pink drive book

I’ve been reflecting a lot on Dan Pink’s new book Drive and thinking about how this applies to education and the work we ask students to do. My wife recently took 10 Middle School students on an Operation Smile trip into the mountains of Thailand near the Burma boarder. The Middle Schoolers spent their time playing the kids who came there to get surgery done. It’s a moving experience…the kind that shapes you as a person. When the students get back they are given one assignment…..reflect on your experience.

Autonomy: Take as long as you need, and use the media that you want. Purpose: Share your experience with others. MasteryYou can reflect anyway you want: Essay, blog post, video, presentation, etc.

One student decided to write an essay that I hope she decides to publish on her blog….it will bring a tear to any eye. And then there is Brian. The lone 8th grader on the trip who decided to express his emotions and reflection using video. I get asked by teachers how do you have students use media and make it a reflection not just a retelling of what happened? The answer, I believe, is in giving students a purpose. A meaningful purpose to reflect that is bigger than a grade, or an individual assignment. Yes…I’m going to make you go to Brian’s Blog to view the video in hopes that you too will be so moved by his creativity and message that you leave him a comment or pass along the message of Operation Smile to others.  

The last couple of working days and the rest of this week I’ve been talking with high school students about why we (ISB) have given them a blog to start building their ‘Professional You‘.

When I put it in terms of Facebook is the ‘Social You’…the you with your friends, and the you while hanging out. Then your blog is and should become the ‘Professional You’. The place you mold who you are, what you are interested in, and where you want to go. The you you want colleges and universities to know about, that you want your employers to know about. The you that is preparing for life after school.

I get a lot of head nods when I explain it this way. They also appreciate that the blog is theirs. They have full admin rights, they control it, design it, layout it out, organize it. They are building their professional self…..and they get it. They get how important it is, they get that it’s something they need to be doing, and they’re excited to get started.

Of course the Professional You can and sometimes overlaps with the Social You, and that’s OK. Your goodreads.com account can post both to your blog and to your Facebook account. You can create a Facebook Fan Page to show a more professional you to colleges and universities. I also hope that some of the things you learn in social groups transfers to your professional reflections. There’s a blurry middle where content overlaps and on the extreme left and right you have your Facebook profile and your professional profile.

But that blurry part…that’s the tough part. That’s where decisions have to be made. Where students at the age of 13 need to start making decisions that we never had to make. We never had a professional side at 13….we didn’t need one. But if you are going to have a social side on the Internet then you better also start building your professional side.

We’re starting in 4th grade with student blogging, starting to build their professional you. What we’re hoping is we’ll get ahead of the curve of the Social You. That students understand that when they start a Social You that there’s this other part that people see, read, and respect and that side is just as important, if not more, than the Social You. Making decisions in that blurry area we hope become a bit easier.

Do you have a Social You and a Professional You on the Internet? Where do you draw the line? How are you teaching students to manage both?

(Scribefire, my blogging platform finally updated to work with Firefox Beta 4 so now I’m back!)

I had the most incredible experience today. First of all I’m loving working with the high school kids. They just ‘get it’. I don’t have to explain things at a very deep level and we can just fly through the technology stuff and get down to business.

And when I mean fly….I mean…..at the speed of a click.

Today in a 45 minute session with eighteen 9th graders we:

  • Logged into or created a new blog
  • Had a refresher on how to blog and all the blog options
  • Logged into Google Docs for the first time
  • Searched for a Google Doc, made our copy, shared it with the classroom teacher, and linked it to our blog as a page
  • Created an account at goodreads.com, talked quickly about how the site works (Facebook for books) and then connected our goodreads.com account to our blog so that when we write a review of a book on goodreads.com it automatically posts that to our blog as a blog post.
  • Discussed why we want every high school student to have a blog and talked about the “Social You” of Facebook and the “Professional You” of the blog/efolio they are creating here.

Now….even for me that’s a lot of stuff to do, and a lot of clicks to get it all done in. I did two classes of 18 students each in 45 minutes. In fact, I could not have talked or clicked any faster. Not one kid could not keep up, in fact I had two students who followed along, completed everything while still reading a book. Are you kidding me? Follow all those directions, and read a book? Yes…this generation has just grown up clicking!


The best part was in 45 minutes we got the students ready to start tracking their independent reading using all the above mentioned tools (see next post for the layout). Now that they are all set up, we can get down to business of reading, reflecting, and tracking what and how much reading we’re doing.