What’s the connection between my blog name, Carpe Diem, and what you will find here?

Intentional thinking and leading.

I will seize a thought in its infancy stages and develop it here with you. learn with you. and from you. I encourage you to leave me comments that will add and propel our thoughts forward. I don’t really know what topics will start to unravel on these pages but I will stick with topics I am passionate about, things that matter and impact change. I am in the education field and naturally you can assume that teaching and learning will be central to most of my posts.

I look forward to the relationships that will form here as we engage, encourage, and stretch each others ideas, visions, and perspectives.

Like all high functioning groups, we have some norms here to ensure it is a safe environment in which to learn from each other.

Read with an open mind to learn, Respect the gift of others views, Remember it’s not about you, so don’t take it personally.

Come, let’s seize the day!

I’m Average and PROUD!


I’m average and proud of it! In fact, I’ve always been average and I’m ok with it; as a matter of fact, I want to celebrate it! I wish I could shout it from rooftops so all the children in America along with their parents and teachers can hear my message:

Average is OK!

It’s more then ok…it’s the norm. Average covers a wide range of abilities and talents. When did we turn it into something negative and mediocre? We need to stop inflating egos, trying to avoid failures, and keeping up with the Joneses, all of which serve only to create unhealthy social and emotional development–which, by the way, is one sure-fire method to prevent one from ever becoming “above average.”

Where is this rant about being “average” coming from? I was inspired during a livestream broadcast recently from Stanford University, hosted by Challenge Success and moderated by Tony Wagner, author of Creating Innovators; Madeline Levine, author of Price of Privilege; and Denise Pope, Stanford University senior lecturer and author of Doing School. The topic was “Sparking Creativity” but, then again, it wasn’t. The conversation turned at some point to what defines healthy children, which they coin “PDF”: Playtime, Downtime, Familytime, three essentials necessary for healthy balanced children. There was much talk among the panel about whether/how schools foster creativity, the choices children make, and whether parents and educators  allow, agree, or support these choices. There were also two college students on the panel who provided deep, meaningful insight with their comments, which only confirmed that we need to do more of this: ask the children/students we serve when we are trying to determine how best to serve them. During the conversation, Dr. Levine said something that struck me: “Average is OK!” This triggered a reflection of my own and a simple plea for all: support your child, accept your child, be honest and open, help them embrace who they are, celebrate that with them, adopt a growth mindset of infinite success, teach them to work hard, and LOVE them!

I’d like to share my story and why I’m proud to be “average,” and why we need to embrace “average” as an opportunity for greatness. See if you recognize pieces of yourself in my humble history.

I am a first generation born American. My parents came to this country with the hope, like many others, that their future would be different and better than the country from which they left. My father had a 4th grade education and my mother finished her associate’s degree after many life interruptions. Our home was supported by an “average” blue collar family income. My first language was from my parents’ homeland so the start of school was my first formal exposure to the English language. My start in kindergarten was very average. I had fun, I played, and then came home and napped. I learned my letters and sounds at school and then went home to continue speaking in my home language because my father was proud of his heritage and wanted us to keep the language. When I started first grade, the course of my academic and social/emotional life changed. That year, the school was piloting a “new” phonetic alphabet for kids to learn. It was called Initial Teaching Alphabet (ITA).


I learned my letters and sounds the previous kindergarten year and now was learning a “new” alphabet on top of my bilingual background and the letters and sounds I already knew. The rest is history as they say and part of who I am today. The school only ran the pilot that one year and never again, so my class was the only one taught with this new phonetic alphabet. Second grade brought much frustration as I had to relearn the original alphabet again and make progress learning to read. I was in remedial reading all through elementary school trying to unlearn what I had learned. I received low grades in reading and was provided tutors for many years. Writing was difficult and my father made sure I practiced it unforgivingly. I knew I was behind my sister and my peers so I adopted the role of the “funny” one, always quick with a joke.

High school was another “average” experience, not only academically, but also socially, since my family’s values didn’t allow me to date or participate in school dances. Post secondary education brought on even more “average”; because of my mediocre grades in high school my parents had me commute my first year to give me the opportunity to organize myself and start upon a more serious path. The deal was, if I made good grades I could live on campus my sophomore year. Guess who made straight ‘A’s’ my whole first year of college? That’s right; average, struggling ME! Fast forward 25 years and here I am…proud, successful, happy, and….still “average,” writing to let others know that “average” can actually be pretty great! I am married with three wonderfully intelligent and social children, I finished college with a double major in education and psychology and earned two master’s degrees, one in reading and another in administrative leadership. I worked in many capacities in schools and am now loving my role as an elementary school assistant principal. And I’m not done yet. I do not know what is ahead for this average woman in her career, but I do know what I need to do to get there: be ok with me, work hard, uphold my values, and support others’ journeys–especially those of the children who attend our school.

What I do know that matters in my whole story, is that I had a family that embraced my struggles and challenges and taught me they were not to be used as excuses. I learned to accept my weaknesses, that they were a part of who I was, but did not limit who I could be. I was also supported by enjoying plenty of PDF; Playtime, Downtime, and Familytime. So, even today, I read slower than my colleagues, my spelling is still awful (thank God for spell check!), and writing of any kind, including this blog post, remains challenging for this “average” educator. But….I DO IT! I’m average in many ways and I suspect you are, too, as are the majority of the children we serve. I’m OK with that and we need to ensure our kids are OK with it, too. WE are successful and life has a plan for all of us! It’s OK for a child to be “average” and don’t worry that it defines their future. What will define their future more will be the way we accept them and celebrate them for who they are today and what they can become in the future.

Average is not a bad word for children to hear; it is merely a starting point on a journey to greatness.

Testing Time vs LEARNING Time


As if the frenzy of the beginning of the year isn’t enough, we add in student assessments for the fall to get benchmarks of where our students are and how much learning was lost over the summer. I’m in full support of testing and benchmarking! It is a very integral part of teaching and learning. What I am in more support of is every day learning between testing.  

Here are a few things we are busy doing and focus on prior to and during testing:

  • refresh/reboot student devices and test for tech capacity,
  • open optimal assessment windows,
  • communicate to parents that testing is coming up and kids need good night sleep and breakfast, and perfect attendance is encouraged
  • set testing schedule for classes,
  • identify alternate locations in the school to best assess certain groups,
  • pull all available hands on deck to support students with accommodations and modifications,
  • rework precious learning time around testing block,
  • remind/review with teachers how best to use the data we will receive,
  • deal with technical hiccups that disturb the testing process,
  • practice the use of mice and drag & drop strategies with our youngest learners,
  • field phone calls from parents eager to find out scores and enter their students into any gifted opportunities
  • communicate with parents again and remind/review how to interpret data and that this is only a small snapshot of their child’s ability used to gather benchmarks and set growth objectives
  • complete testing, reward students with recess, sigh of relief, and return to teaching as usual

Immediately after students take the test we rush to see how they did in this one moment in time.

This rush of urgency, pressure to perform, extreme collaboration with colleagues to help and cover each other and students, urgency to motivate and pump kids assurance that they will do and can do a great job, constant maintenance of technology to perform, transparent communication with parents about expectations, should be the norm every day IN-BETWEEN testing days. I contend that if we approached everyday LEARNING with this same intensity and send the same message of its importance; the day of testing would look and feel very different for our students.

Can we imagine, that one day students would walk into their classroom, look at the day’s schedule, see the words “Formative Assessment’ (nationally normed or good old fashion check for understanding), grab their device, sit down anywhere of comfort in the room, put their headphones on whether to listen to music or just create more quiet, and start the test. No fuss, no stress, fully confident, and excited for the challenge to beat their previous score knowing that they are active engaged learners everyday! What if we could get kids to approach a test like they approach playing video games against each other and encourage each other?

It’s time to shift the focus. Off of testing day, to ALL the other days of learning. What needs to change in our teaching, classroom culture, evaluations to make this happen for our kids so we can finally get the REAL information we need to change instruction? I’d love to hear your ideas! I have a few of my own.

The average # of school days in Illinois is 176 X 5 hrs a day = 880 hours of learning.

Let’s just say (I’m inflating) that PARCC (ELA & Math) will take the average student 12 hours and NWEA (ELA & Math)  3 X a year will take another 18hrs total = 850 precious engaging LEARNING hours in a school year are left to US! How will we use them?

(Even if my math is totally off, I hope you get my point)

This is what we should be focusing on and having an urgency to utilize to the best of our ability to ensure our students DO learn and grow.

Advocacy: Is it a choice?


“Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion against injustice and lying and greed. If people all over the world…would do this, it would change the earth.”

William Faulkner

As a parent and an educator, I have always considered my primary role to be an advocate for children, mine and others… ALL!. Recently, I had an experience that caused me to pause and reflect on what advocacy for children really means. Take a moment to think about the last time you advocated for your own child or someone else’s. It was likely at a time when the child either did something wrong or something wrong was happening to the child. Whatever the situation, it is always at a crossroad of decision making. We, as advocates, have a choice to make. Do we step up and have a hard conversation or do we walk away assuming others will take care of it? What advocacy really is, is a choice and willingness to have a hard conversation on behalf of a child or adult in an unjust or learning moment.

There are many real situations where walking away is the right thing to do, and many times in which walking away is a critical teaching moment missed. “John” Quiñones is an ABC News correspondent, and currently the host of Primetime: What Would You Do?,  who’s show highlights situations where people are faced with a choice to advocate when they witness something unfair or unjust happening. Many times they use situations where a child is involved. We need to ask ourselves one critical question before making the choice to walk away…”Am I certain that someone else other than myself will do what this child needs them to do?”  I’m not so sure many people are comfortable or feel it’s their business to step in and be a voice for a child and turn that situation into a teaching moment.

Let me add some context. Who will have the conversation with/or on behalf of a child or your child: when they are caught in a fight on the playground, bullying another child, ‘accidentally’ stealing a pack of gum from the grocery line, when a parent insists their child has a disability and having difficulty embracing their child as they are, finding out your child is sexually active or using drugs. OUR children are learning beings who don’t YET know right from wrong. They are SUPPOSED to make mistakes and fail. It’s a necessary step in learning. BUT they can’t do this alone. They need advocates who are willing to make the choice to have a difficult, and likely, awkward conversation with the child or their parent or a complete stranger. An advocate faces the situation no matter the person because a child NEEDS us to. If we don’t, then how certain are we that someone else will.

As parents, we often play the game of “Just wait until your father/mother finds out!” As an educator we fall back on, “It’s the parents problem not mine.” As a bystander we often just don’t want to get involved. What I’m suggesting is that children don’t care WHO will be their advocate…they just need someone, anyone to help them have a voice and learn how to be their own advocate one day. Advocacy is a short lived moment that just serves the purpose of voicing another side to the situation, a learning moment, an explicit teaching of what just happened so a child can understand the importance and learn that others care, they matter, and that they too can have a voice and can be empowered.

I am not suggesting that it’s appropriate to stick our nose in matters that truly don’t concern us but I am suggesting that our children need us more than we are sometimes are willing to acknowledge. I’m asking all of us, when faced with a situation of advocacy, to make the choice to have the hard, awkward conversation and teach.

Growing in a Least Restrictive Environment


Are your teachers teaching from within a submarine or are they freely jumping overboard and teaching in the wide open sea? This picture is a great example of the definition of least restrictive learning environment; an environment that provides the optimal setting for an individual to grow and learn with appropriate supports. In the world of education, we often only hear this phrase used in special education when determining the best educational placement for a student who qualifies for an Individual Education Plan (IEP). In fact, it is one of the more important responsibilities the team has when considering placement and planning for a students learning design and supports. The team ensures that the placement is in the least restrictive learning environment giving ample time spent in general education. The law provides the student with the supports necessary to access the curriculum for optimal learning opportunities. It is crucial for a student to still be able to benefit and grow from the experiences and opportunities the general education class has to offer. Too restrictive of an environment may actually prove harmful in the long term for several reasons, one of which is the learning gap becomes wider between the student and his grade level peers. The goal of special education is to close that gap and promote all students in their learning by holding them up to equally high standards.

Do we have IPLPs (Individual Professional Learning Plans) for teachers? It came to me to think about our teachers environments this way and I wondered if as a system we were remembering to advocate for them and guard against too restrictive of an environment for them to teach and learn in. Do we offer our teachers just the right amount of support for them to thrive and venture out to explore and experiment or are we too stuck on protocols and processes, micro managing and overseeing? We need to remember that in order for our students to grow they need to know it’s ok to take risks and try to fail in order for them to experience new learning. The same concept applies to teachers and how we approach supporting their professional growth. Education has been hit hard in the past 8-10 years with wide sweeping policy reform, standards, technology demands, assessment changes, early literacy, and the continual threat of inadequate funding for critical programming. Our only hope to survive these waves and ride them out to new shores lies in our teachers capacity to learn and grow in as least restrictive working environment as possible. The good ole climate and culture strikes again. It matters and as leaders we should always be staunch advocates for preserving our teachers right to autonomy while fiercely providing the supports, accommodations and modifications to their learning so they can experience the level of learning needed to show growth in this tenacious education reform era. By the way, who are the case managers or resource providers for our teachers? We are! The servant leaders! The multipliers of intelligence as Liz Wiseman would put it in her book the Multipliers. How do we as a system measure the restrictiveness of our environment, of our leadership, and know if it is just right for our teachers to grow in?

So now lets ask ourselves, if we were going to write goals/benchmarks/accommodations for this IPLP for teachers, what would that look like? Sound like? How often would it be communicated? Progress monitored? Let’s not ask any more of our students then we are ready to do ourselves and remember that we are ALL learners and thrive best in a least restrictive learning environment! As a great mentor of mine says often, “less is more” and more only means more restrictions not necessarily more learning.

Our commitment should be to shift this cultural paradigm in our schools and districts and not be afraid to come to the surface and open the hatch to allow us all to breath/ feel / explore learning. The truth is that if we can trust others and provide them these least restrictive environments along with our support then when the time comes to ‘dive’ to the depths and take on heavy attacks from the outside we will be stronger, more unified, and clearer in our purpose, our mission!


Run Silent, Run Deep

Burt Lancaster & Clark Gable

I encourage you to reply and add to my learning! Can you tell I spent some time watching war movies with my dad :-) Every experience had in life is a learning experience!



“We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.”

Abraham Lincoln

After sitting in a meeting recently, I came away with one word. PERSPECTIVE. It’s amazing what you see and hear when you actively watch, listen, and collect information. It’s beautiful! Let me start with some reasons for ‘why’ we have meetings. The simple answer is that they serve as a forum to bring diverse groups together to share knowledge, problem solve, make decisions, foster relationships, and build a culture of learning in order to move systems forward. PERSPECTIVE is the ‘what’ we get that makes meetings valuable and productive. When we set our norms for ‘how’ we will meet, what we are doing is ensuring that we create a safe environment where we can all come to the table ready to share our PERSPECTIVES and learn. It struck me today that ‘perspective’ is the step necessary before ‘vision’. There is also a difference between having a perspective and having an opinion. In my mind, perspective informs an opinion. LEADERS at all levels are charged with inspiring a shared vision and in order to do this we need to understand what informs our perspective and others.

PERSPECTIVE – “the state of one’s ideas, the facts known to one, etc., in having a meaningful interrelationship” dictionary.com 

If one component of leadership is inspiring a shared vision then another is the ability to infuse PERSPECTIVE into every situation. Here are a few reasons I can think of why perspective leads to a shared vision…

PERSPECTIVE causes others to look at a situation through another lens previously not considered and critique or judge its validity. According to Bloom’s taxonomy, this level of cognitive thinking would fall under ‘evaluating’ and leads to ‘creating’ which is when our meetings become productive. LEADERS intentionally design situations where different perspectives can be heard. Twitter, EdCamps, gallery walks, learning rounds, mini conferences, PLCs…the list goes on. Opening the windows to let some fresh air in.

PERSPECTIVE is the value we all carry within us. We need to remember that we are all shaped by our experiences, knowledge, and culture. We need to honor that when a person speaks we listen past their opinion and understand the perspective that informs it.  LEADERS that place value on others perspectives start to tap into a deep collective resource that is needed to formulate a shared vision. We start to identify our collective moral purpose.

PERSPECTIVE informs change. Change can not occur in isolation or be informed by one perspective. We know this type of change is not systemic or systematic. If we change perspectives, we can change opinions.  LEADERS that are change agents understand how peoples perspectives inform the process of change and how to leverage those perspectives to activate change.

Because we all have a PERSPECTIVE, we all have an obligation to share it, to inform, to teach, to show evidence of  it to others. LEADERS are privileged with a unique perspective because they observe the whole system.  A leader’s perspective needs to be shared and communicated so all are empowered by their perspective. I liken it to the critical communication between a seeing eye dog and their blind master. “I entrust my life to my seeing eye dog. He has never failed me. Neither has the seeing eye.” (seeingeye.org)

One final reflection…sharing your perspective is also an opportunity to celebrate, uplift, inject humor, lighten the spirit, build trust and relationships. Nothing is ever as dire as we perceive it to be…thanks to others experiences, knowledge, and culture.


“It may mean everything or it may mean nothing. You’ll never know until you decide to look at it from a different perspective.”

It’s all in the DESIGN!


Have you ever caught yourself wondering why a staff meeting, institute day, student assembly, or any lesson for that matter didn’t go quite as planned? In each of these scenarios the common thread is the intended learning that was planned for the group. Planning for learning has many components but I find the one with the greatest impact on a successful outcome is what learning design was chosen to facilitate.

It’s funny how when we observe a learning session, we first see the behaviors that the participants are manifesting and quickly conclude that they are at fault if they are disengaged, talkative, disruptive, or unruly. We quickly blame them for not following the ‘norms’. The truth of the matter is that most of the time it has to do with poor LEARNING DESIGN. We fail to be creative and align participant interests with desired outcomes. The standards for professional learning, as outlined by LearningForward.org, state that learning designs have many features in common: “active engagement, modeling, reflection, metacognition, application, feedback, ongoing support, and formative and summative assessment.” The purpose for choosing a learning design is to enhance the learning by changing participants knowledge, skills, attitudes, and performance. Examples of familiar learning designs experienced are Gallery Walks, Chalk Talk, 3-2-1, Tuning Protocols, Data Teams, Action Research, Learning Rounds, Peer Mentoring, Video Reflection, and many more. Please refer to this link for further references and a complete explanation of the Learning Design Standard. Here is a website I use that houses many different designs to choose from when planning learning session. Finding a design is not as difficult as promoting participants engagement in the learning. Without their engagement, the likelihood of transference to our students learning is low. The KEY to promoting the level of engagement you are looking for is to POSSES the level of energy and passion required.  You have to BELIEVE in them and the learning!

Now imagine a room full of adults or children actively engaged in conversations, freely sharing ideas, questioning and challenging what they are learning from others… while you walk the room listening, learning, and collecting ideas from the discussions you are hearing. Remember that the learning needs to be owned by the participants and your role is not to deliver it but to design the environment that will promote this learning culture.

We are videos for our students

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In this digital world of STEM, 1:1, coding, SAMAR, Interactive Whiteboards, and 300 new apps being created daily (US News), as educators we have an abundance of resources to choose from and from which to engage our students in learning. Never before have we had such a supply of teaching resources and devices from which our students can use to learn. We are even moving one whole integral part of education to the web as we prepare for Smarter Balance or PARCC assessments next year. As educators try their best to keep up with ‘what’s new’, it is important that we become educated consumers of all this new technology and learn best how to integrate it into our classrooms or staff meetings. We know that without proper professional development to support educators around how to use technology to impact student learning, none of it will stay much less be used for what it’s intended…facilitating student learning and providing them exposure to the world they will work in. How much money has been spent on Interactive Whiteboards and how many are still used as big screen projectors for PowerPoint presentations?

This months #blogamonth is sharing favorite videos and how we use videos in education. I immediately thought of my favorite one to share and the message that it sends to all of us. My next thought was the realization that each and every day we are a video clip for our students, colleagues, and parents! When we stop to think why videos are a powerful learning tool in classrooms or staff meetings, I’d venture to say that it provides us with the realization that something we never did is possible, just by watching others do it first. We internalize the ‘yes we can’ mantra that got President Obama elected. All people love and need inspiration and to see the possibilities open to them, so what better way to demonstrate that then in videos of others performing the new task. As an instructional leader (which we all need to realize we are no matter your title), I am my colleagues and students video each time I model a lesson, share a thoughts and insights in a lit circle with students,  present at district institutes, meetings, teacher classes, lead a close reading of a difficult text, co-plan lessons with teachers, design PD. Why is coaching the most effective job imbedded professional develop there is…because its live and in action…because it demonstrates and inspires others so they can say “yes I can”.

What I’d like you to notice from the video clip I’m choosing to share and that I’ve used with staff is what is being modeled…how to facilitate learning so we can all say “yes we can”.

Until just recently Maurice (Mo) Cheeks was the head coach for the Detroit Pistons and previously a retired professional basketball player himself. The video is with a girl, Natalie Gilbert, who won the opportunity to sing the national anthem at one of the Pistons games and the even that followed. Please watch and then we can reflect. Video

This clip demonstrates perfectly what facilitating learning looks like and how a learning community works. Here is what I’m sure you noticed:

  • Coach stepped up to her gently from behind, placing a gentle hand on her shoulder and raised the microphone back up to HER, indicating it’s ok, I’m here but you can do this.
  • He never took the mic away for him to finish the song but raised it back to her twice showing her positive reinforcement and the confidence he had in her that she can and will finish the task successfully.
  • He never stepped out in front of her taking away her moment to shine.
  • He spoke the words into her ear from where she left off, not making her start over.
  • The crowd cheered her mistake and urged her on to finish, showing they understood the pressure and possibility of failure.
  • Everyone in the stadium shared the responsibility for her ultimate success by joining in and singing with her.
  • He never left her side showing unwavering support for her until she didn’t need it any longer.
  • He encouraged everyone to share in her success and strength by motioning his hands for them to join in and help. Knowing when to call in back ups is important, resourceful.
  • Everyone accepted the moment of failure as an opportunity for support her success and ultimately theirs.
  • The event didn’t stop but continued on through the mistake modeling that its normal to make mistakes and that we all should share the responsibility for each others success.

After it was all over, they exchanged hugs of support and thanks and Mo Cheeks walked away happy to have facilitated her success but never taking her dignity away. The truth is she was very prepared for her task as evidenced by her beautiful voice and the practice of high notes and long breaths. She was prepared, she came ready to give it her all, she put in her time of practice, and then nerves probably got the best of her. That happens everyday with our students, teachers, and parents and instead of presuming the negative…we MUST presume the positive and join in and facilitate them to success. What Coach Cheeks did in this video and that we play out everyday in our own live performances in the world of education is how through our learning communities we need to facilitate learning and model each day what the possibilities are and that ‘yes we can” do it…together.

 I hope you use the video and I would love to hear your experience.