Teaching, Running, and Chasing Greatness

The Running Begins, by Mike Roberts

The year was 2007. I was an out-of-shape and overweight thirty-three-year-old, and in an attempt to turn my health around, I decided I was going to run from my house to the local high school, run four laps around the track, then head back home. All told, this journey should have been about 1.5 miles. Having never run more than a mile in my life, and that in eighth grade PE, I wasn’t prepared for the challenge that I had laid out.

Nonetheless, I jumped into my basketball shorts (I was still a weekend warrior basketball player, despite my weight), laced up my high-tops, and headed out the door, ready to turn my life around. I didn’t even make it to the high school. Nope, before I even made it to the end of my street, I felt like my heart was going to burst out of my chest and my calves were going to explode like microwaved hot dogs.

I was sweating more than I thought was humanly possible, and being that I had never run any type of long distance in my life, I was clueless about bringing water with me to cool me down (not that I even had a water bottle at the time). Simply put, my body just wasn’t ready for what I was asking it to do, and rather than risking what I felt was certain death, I turned around and walked home.

But as I shuffled back toward my house, gasping for air, I tried to look at things from a positive perspective. I reminded myself that the quarter mile I’d just finished was still the farthest I had run during the past twenty years. Granted, it was a total disaster, but it was something. And while I didn’t know it at the time, that was the run that started my running journey.

Broken but not defeated

I decided to give running another shot a few days later. This time, based on the previous failure, I cut my goal down to only two laps around the track. I knew that if I wanted running to become a part of my daily life, I would have to be patient and let it come to me little by little, and this new goal seemed much more manageable than the previous one.

And yet again, I didn’t even make it to the high school before fatigue set in. But rather than turning around, I decided to keep going. Unable to run, I slowly crossed the street, regaining my breath little by little with each step. A few minutes later, with my breathing a bit more under control, I found myself standing on the track of the high school. And while the next ten minutes included a combination of running, walking, and resting, I was somehow able to complete two laps around the track.  It was a small victory, to say the least, but a victory nonetheless. As for the walk home, well, let’s just say I didn’t set any speed records.

Three years of commitment, screwups, and microscopic improvements. And it was worth every step!

Over the next few weeks and months, courtesy of twice-a-week training, my speed and mileage began to inch up. And while the gains were slow, I had decided that if I wanted to get into shape, running was going to play a role in my transformation. To help, I set a goal of increasing my weekly mileage by one mile per week. This not only helped me get out the door on a regular basis, but also provided me with a target that was both manageable and within reason.

While an additional mile per week might not sound like much, it definitely added up. In fact, by the end of my third month of running, I was putting in twenty-five miles per week. Twenty-five miles per week!

Take a look inside

That was well beyond anything I’d ever thought I could do when I was walking back from the school on that first day! It was also when I first gave some thought to running a marathon. But just as a reminder, a marathon is 26.2 miles—all at once!

So while I felt a sense of accomplishment about my twenty-five-mile week, I also knew there was still a lot of work to do if I hoped to cross a marathon finish line in the future.

As it turns out, a marathon, like most things worth doing, takes time and effort to prepare for, and it took me almost three years from that initial run before I toed the starting line of my first marathon.

Three years of commitment, screwups, and microscopic improvements. And it was worth every step!

The Final Kick: College and Student Teaching

For me, teaching began in much the same way as running. I was near the end of my junior year of college, and while I had officially declared myself an English major with a history minor, I still didn’t have a clue as to what I was going to do after graduation. In the back of my mind, I had always considered teaching as an option, but I wasn’t sure if I was “grown up” enough for such a serious job.

When I began my senior year, I decided to dip my foot into the teaching waters by registering for the Introduction to Education class offered at my school. I thought I could use the class as a barometer to see whether or not I should pursue teaching as a career. At best, it would light my fire and start me on my teaching journey. At worst, I would drop the class and continue trying to figure out my direction.

I also discovered that this teaching thing might be worth pursuing.

I don’t remember much about that first class, except that quite a bit of information was shared about educational theory. I remember feeling like a lot of talking was going on, without much being said. Looking back, I realize that my boredom stemmed from the fact that I didn’t care much about theorists from the past. What I wanted to talk about was the future of education, including all of the cool ways school could be used to improve society. I wanted to discuss my innovative ideas regarding how I’d run my class, and hoped to hear how other people envisioned schools of the future as well.

And while the thought of being a teacher had drawn me to the class, I was still looking for that extra push to really sell me on the idea . . . and theory from the past wasn’t doing it for me. So I walked out. Yep, I didn’t even make it through the entire class. But over the course of the next week, as I sat through my English and history classes, I couldn’t shake the idea, or more accurately the feeling, that I should at least reconsider being a teacher.

So, like on my first run, I decided that though my career in education wasn’t off to a great start, I’d give it another shot. And while the second class wasn’t what I’d call the most exhilarating educational experience of my life, I did manage to make it through the entire session. And by the time the semester was over, I had not only learned a thing or two about the history of education . . . I also discovered that this teaching thing might be worth pursuing.

There’s more to chasing greatness

For the rest of this Mile and more from Chasing Greatness, read the description and take a look inside here.

Share your own running and teaching stories with us on Twitter at #ChasingGreatness

It’s time to allow the F word in your classroom

When someone asks how your day was, do you say, “it was so satisfying?” Do you exit a roller coaster and exclaim, “That was a very satisfying ride?” When you last dined at a 5-star restaurant, did you tell the server that you just couldn’t wait for a satisfactory meal?

Hopefully, you answered no to all of these questions. Hopefully, your day, your roller coaster ride, and your fine dining experience were wonderful, amazing and, most important, involved the F word — FUN!

For most people, yearning for fun is a basic response to many situations. Shouldn’t this be true in teaching and learning?

The answer seems obvious, but I learned recently that many teachers believe that it’s more important for learning to be satisfying, rather than fun. Witness this Twitter conversation:

The article that inspired the Tweet was by a blogger, suggesting that it’s not important for learning to be fun. If you read the comments on the Tweet linked above, you’ll see that some people agree with the blogger, while others believe academics should be both meaningful and fun. Here’s one example from that Twitter conversation:

Why does school have to be “fun”? So many educators sacrifice learning for activities that are “fun” but that don’t support the instructional core. How about school should be meaningful?

Here’s another tweet from the same thread:

I definitely prefer satisfying as it connotes a long term feeling and memory. Fun is just a split second like a laugh after a joke. Satisfying feeds the soul.

I emphasized more than once that there is rarely a time that learning can’t be both meaningful and fun. Granted, it took me a long time as a classroom teacher to understand this.

When I finally learned that making lessons and assignments fun would entice even the most reluctant learner, everything changed in my classroom, and the F word became the standard in my classroom.

Bring on the F word

Mike Roberts, author of Hacking Classroom Management, is a big fan of the F word. Here’s what he writes about it in his book:

At South Bonneville Jr. High in the mid 1980s, Mrs. Rowberry’s room was the place to be! In the mornings, she would open her classroom early so we could hang out. At lunch, after chowing down our food, we would head to her room and draw pictures on her chalkboard. And during class, well, that’s when things really got interesting.

I remember her telling us stories about her childhood. She also gave us a few minutes each week to share the latest (appropriate) joke we had heard. I think of the times she had her husband come to class and play songs for us on his guitar, and us making up geography lyrics based on some of the most popular songs of the time.

Click cover image and look inside now

And more than anything else, I remember wanting to impress her, because I didn’t want to be the reason that the fun would end. So while it was fun that drew me in, it was my respect for her that kept me in check.

Current high school junior Sydney Young understands the connection that Mrs. Rowberry made with her students, and she sees the benefits that come from weaving fun into the daily curriculum. “Fun related to the material, such as watching a video, hearing jokes, or getting on a tangent all feel like off-task fun, but actually lead me to make new connections, enjoy the material, and spend time processing the information.

“The best classes I’ve had blended the curriculum with a perfect combination of fun and mini-celebrations, and it’s that combination that led me to be successful that class,” Young says. She adds that the value that comes from these experiences runs much deeper than simply gaining a better understanding of the content.

“During these activities and celebrations, I connect with students I might not normally speak with, which increases my confidence about participating in discussions or presenting because I feel as though I am amongst a large group of friends.”

Mrs. Rowberry knew how to use the “F” word in her class, and Sydney sees its benefit from the student perspective as well. Are you willing to add the “F” word to your class?

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How Finding Balance Can Make You an uNforgettable Teacher

Listen to “126: How Teachers Can Find Balance” on Spreaker.

Consider for a moment your responsibilities as a teacher. Now, ask yourself how many of those are real necessities.

Find Balance

Veteran teacher, author, and presenter Chuck Poole believes that one of the keys to becoming an unforgettable teacher is to find your balance. In his book, uNforgettable: Your Roadmap to Being the Teacher They Never Forget, Poole says that balance “frees us from unnecessary responsibilities.” 

But how can busy teachers find balance? Poole explains it this way:

from uNforgettable

Finding balance is not easy, but it is worth it. Professional surfers have balance. They have the remarkable ability to stand on a board without falling off while powerful waves continually attempt to knock them down.

They understand that in order to stay upright, they have to control their own actions, rather than letting the waves beneath them control the situation. They learn to respect the power of the ocean and just enjoy the ride.

If, though, we figure out when our energy is at its highest point, and budget our time with that in mind, we can increase our effectiveness and efficiency.

As teachers, our work can sometimes feel like a wave crashing beneath our feet and trying to knock us off balance. We become so overwhelmed with lesson plans, expectations, and initiatives that we have little time to enjoy anything else at all, and our job becomes more of a burden than a labor of love.

We feel as though we are surfers who just can’t stay upright, and we find ourselves falling into the ocean time and time again. Finding a way to balance is the only way to keep from drowning. When we find balance, our vision becomes clear and we are able to rise above the waves and make an even greater impact.

Don’t drown; find balance

uNforgettable teachers understand the importance of balance. Although we find ourselves falling from time to time, we follow a plan and maintain a set of boundaries that show us the line between our surfboard and the raging ocean around us.

The plan and the boundaries give us a path to follow, even when things become a struggle. It’s easy to get consumed by what’s going on in the moment, but a plan keeps us on the path toward success, and the grander scheme of things.

Manage your energy

Identify your peak time to help you start to build balance in your life and teaching. When you consider your usual day, when is it easiest for you to work, and when do you feel most efficient? On average, people have three to five peak hours in a day, so pay attention to the tasks that require the most energy, and accomplish those during your peak hours.

Use your not-so-peak hours to accomplish the tasks that take less concentration or motivation. Doing these important—and perhaps most difficult—tasks during these hours will guarantee that you get them done, and leave the rest of the day for lesser tasks that take less energy and focus.

uNforgettable author Chuck Poole talks about finding balance

You will find that your days are more organized and that you end up getting more done. We often spend too much time trying to figure out how to fit everything into the limited amount of time we have each day, and end up failing at many of our goals.

If, though, we figure out when our energy is at its highest point, and budget our time with that in mind, we can increase our effectiveness and efficiency.

Here’s an example of how I work to manage my energy throughout the day:

High-energy time (5–8 a.m., 3–5 p.m.): Spend time with family, write podcast episodes and blog posts, brainstorm ideas for the uNseries.

Mid-energy time (11 a.m.–1 p.m.): Plan lessons, grade papers, collaborate with colleagues.

Low-energy time (6–9 p.m.): Work out, read/answer email, watch TV, check social media.

Follow these simple steps to help you match your energy level with the proper task:

Step One: Consider which tasks take up most of your energy. If you’re struggling, try creating a list or chart and classifying your tasks in regard to how difficult they are.

Step Two: Determine when you are at your best during the day; when you have the most energy. For some teachers, this will be in the morning or during a prep period. For others, it may come at the end of a school day, after the students have left the building.

Click here and learn how to be uNforgettable

Step Three: Plan to complete your high-energy tasks during your peak hours.

Step Four: Complete your mid-energy tasks during other times of the day, when you still have energy, but are outside or at the edges of your peak time. These tasks might include things like grading papers, completing paperwork, or planning units with colleagues.

Step Five: Leave your low-energy tasks for the time of day when you have the least energy. These are the things that take the least mental work and can be left for times when you have the least mental energy. Include things like checking email, social media, or working out.

Sign a boundary contract

Finding balance is not only about time. We might budget our time perfectly . . . and still find that there aren’t enough hours in the day to complete everything we have to do.

Making that decision, and avoiding the overwhelm that comes with overpromising, will help you achieve better balance.

Becoming overwhelmed and stressed about a lack of time is not the way to become an uNforgettable teacher. Instead, you’ll be going through the motions and treating your students as afterthoughts. So how do we avoid the problem?

Click here to learn how to find balance

Many of us have trouble saying no because it is in our nature to help others. We end up taking on more than we can handle, which causes stress and resentment. Instead of teaching, which we love, we get busy doing favors that we never wanted to do. Our life begins to spiral out of control—all because we never set boundaries, and therefore we said yes to too many things.

Ultimately, our passion takes a back seat to stress—and our students notice. Combat this problem by creating a contract with yourself. When we sign a teaching contract, we are saying we will abide by what’s in it, and meet the expectations we’ve just signed on for.

If we do not follow through with that, we can be fired or sued. They are powerful pieces of paper that bring joy to those who receive them and pain to those who break them.

The same concept works with a boundary contract. This contract is one you design and outlines what you’re willing to take on outside of your normal teaching responsibilities—and what you are not.

Click image to look inside

Here are some examples. If you enjoy heading up committees to help develop the school, include it in the contract as one of your outside activities. If you do not, include it in the contract as a responsibility that is not acceptable to you.

If you are willing to take on a coaching responsibility or an after-school club, include it in the contract. If not, make sure to list that as something you are not willing to take on during the year.

Put these things down in writing and then sign it, and you’ll have a document to review down the line when you’re faced with a decision. Making that decision, and avoiding the overwhelm that comes with overpromising, will help you achieve better balance.

Finding balance in our lives will benefit everyone we come into contact with, and by implementing a few strategies, we can change our lives for the better.

How to transform your library into a real learning community

Is your school library mostly a place to store books? Is it empty and silent? What if you could transform your library into a dynamic learning hub?

Award-winning school librarians Kristina Holzweiss and Stony Evans are on a mission to incorporate library media centers into your learning community. In this excerpt from their new book, Hacking School Libraries, you learn how to transform your library tomorrow, with three quick tips from the authors.

How to Transform the Space

Weed.

Why are you holding onto books that are outdated, inappropriate, or damaged? This sticks you right into that old-fashioned, no-longer-relevant teaching column. Upload your collection and analyze it through your circulation software to determine the average age of the entire collection and the average age of each section.

Then start to figure out how you can change it up. Focus on the areas that are the oldest first, as those are the ones that need the most attention.

We all hope that we will fit into our old clothes at the back of the closet, but do you really need a book about space written before the astronauts landed on the moon? You are a school librarian, not an archivist.

Declutter.

Do your patrons suffer from sensory overload when they enter the library? Clean it up and simplify to immediately and easily update the space. Remove or modify signs and displays. Create a short list of positive expectations, rather than the list of “do-nots.”

Inspire reading with a reading lounge. Click image to learn more.

Ditch your desk, which is old-fashioned and taking up valuable floor space that could be used for a reading nook or collaborative workspace. Attach anti-slip tape to the bottoms of bookends to keep books in place, use paint stirrers as shelf markers, and place baskets on the floor for students to return books that need to be reshelved.

Rubber refrigerator door liners will keep books from slipping on carts. All of this will clean up the space and make it easier and more pleasant for students.

Organize.

Many of the following suggestions are based on libraries for the younger grades but can be adapted for the ages of your learners. Create a cubby system where students can store their belongings so they don’t have to worry about keeping track of things while they’re browsing or working.

Learn how to make students makers–not consumers

Scrapbooking storage boxes are the perfect size for makerspace or literacy kits.

Hang curtains from spring tension rods to hide supplies, and use hanging shoe organizers for pens, highlighters, markers, scissors, and crayons. Numbered and color-coded baskets make it easy to distribute supplies.

Utilize mobile, lockable charging carts to keep track of and organize any technological devices you have in the space. Use clothing racks to hang posters and charts so they remain straight and protected, and use PVC pipe to create a storage system for headphones.

Learn to engage with EdTech in your library

Purchase a personal laminator to create long-lasting, color-coded labels. Create signage that is visually appealing and clear, and use both text and images to make it easier for all students, especially English language learners and special education students, to understand what you’re asking of them.

Learn more

For all 10 ways to incorporate library media centers into your learning community, look inside Hacking School Libraries today.

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Changing the Conversation with Parents

Is it time to reconsider parents’ role in teaching and learning in

your space? Parent and family involvement in education can now be

so much more than a phone call, open house, or parent-teacher conference.

In her new book, Hacking Early Learning, Principal of the Year Jessica Cabeen

shares some practical strategies for engaging parents in daily teaching and

learning, using 21-century technology.

See how you can bring parents along for the entire journey in every school

year.

THE HACK: CHANGE THE

CONVERSATION WITH PARENTS

Having your first (or second, or third) child enter the K–12 system

can be a milestone in many ways for families . . . and for teachers

and leaders. Setting the tone for when and how you communicate

and build a mutual relationship goes a long way toward establishing

trust with the stakeholders you will be serving on the journey.

Authentic family engagement is more than a parent night, more

than Dads and Donuts, and if you do it well, it will start well before

students enter the classroom, and leave a lasting memory well after

they leave your school.

How we welcome and end every day with students can also be a

great starting point in building relationships with families. In what

ways are you intentionally taking time to show care, concern, and

empathy for the students in your class? How often are you checking

Click image to look inside

in with families after a difficult time? When do you recognize that

student who just seems to be doing the right thing every time you

turn around? How do you celebrate every child during the school

year—and make sure that the family hears about it as well?

If you have an opportunity to live where you lead, you have the

bonus of engaging with future, current, and previous families in

your community every day. This is a chance for parents to see that

you are more than a principal, and for you to see how much they

love being parents. Building relationships with families can occur

on Saturdays at the swimming pool during a swim meet, Sundays

at church, or at the library when you check out new books after

school and see former students studying.

WHAT YOU CAN DO TOMORROW

Find the right platform(s). Families these days

receive information in more ways than ever before.

As educators, we must work to find the right fit

for each family, to make sure they are receiving

information in a timely manner. Our school community

recognized early on that parents were

Starting tomorrow, figure out your own process for positive communication.

engaging more with their phones than the school

folder. Armed with that information, we created a

blog that links directly to our Facebook page. That

way, families can see an intro to a subject and click

to go right out to the blog for further information.

We also post pictures of the school day, host

Facebook Live events, and push out reminders on

this social platform. I used Twitter … so

parents can see inside their child’s day. YouTube

has been a great vehicle for pushing out monthly

your stakeholders so that you are choosing

the right tools to reach families, and recognize that

there may be more than one right answer.

Jessica Cabeen, Minnesota Principal of the Year, author of Hacking Early Learning

Make sure to teach the tool, and then use it!

Teachers use tools like Seesaw, Remind, Facebook,

and Twitter to communicate with their families.

Before posting, they spend time at back-to-school

conferences, demonstrating the tool and helping

families get signed up and logged in. We want to

make communication between home and school

easy, accessible, and supportive for families. I have

even seen teachers highlight the tool during subsequent

parent nights and conferences. But once

families are signed up, use the tool to communicate

early and often. The more you post, the more families

practice using it, and the stronger the bridge

between home and school will become.

What are some communication tools you

can use to communicate? Jot them down—

and then start to figure out how you’ll pull

them into your daily, weekly, and monthly

communications.

Reach out the old-fashioned way. One expectation

to maintain is that families receive positive communication

about their child within the first month of

school. Starting the second week of school, armed

with addressed postcards and classroom lists, I sit

in classrooms and look for the good in everyone.

Once I have observed a class, I take the time to

write three to five postcards to specific students

engaged in learning and positive social behaviors,

and/or contributing to class in a specific manner. I

use the class list to keep track of who I sent

cards to, and then move to the next room.

This process takes almost a full thirty days,

but is incredibly worth it! Parents and students are

proud to receive mail from the principal, and it helps

me shift the defined role of what a principal is “supposed”

to do to what our vision of school leadership

is. Plus I get to contribute to the success of our

learners every day!

Starting tomorrow, figure out your own process

for positive communication. Make your way into at

least one class, observe, and decide how

you’re going to give the students—and their

families—positive reinforcement.

This excerpt from Hacking Early Learning is shared with permission

from Times 10 Publications.

For more episodes of the Hack Learning Podcast, hosted by Mark Barnes,

visit the archive at HackLearningPodcast.com and subscribe to the show.