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, 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.

Choice and School Culture


“Universal achievement remains a pipe dream until we take an honest look at our beliefs, practices, behaviors, and norms of our organization. These elements make up a very sensitive system known as a school’s culture. This is where many school officials and reformers fear to tread, but it is this place that holds the biggest keys to unlocking the potential of our public schools.”

Anthony Muhammad, Transforming School Culture


      This months #blogamonth topic was ‘Creating a Culture’ and as it is the last week of February, I’m just getting to writing this now. I have been thinking about how to approach such a large multifaceted and illusive topic. Questions in my head that I tried to answer were…what is culture, can we see evidence of it or is it something we feel, is it meant to be diverse or the same, how can one thing have such impact and hold on a school community?   

     What I have noticed is simple…one important component of creating a healthy school culture is Choice. Choice as defined by  Merriam-Webster is “the act of choosing : the act of picking or deciding between two or more possibilities: the opportunity or power to choose between two or more possibilities : the opportunity or power to make a decision”. Although choice is a verb, an act, in relation to its impact on culture it is the perception it gives of the ‘opportunity’ to have control over your environment. What I have observed and witnessed first hand, like so many of you, it is that the choices we make define our experiences, motivation, and success. Choice is one way we empower a powerful shift in our culture. Here are some examples of conscious choices leaders make that model the type of school culture they seek to attain:

  • choosing to make phone calls or face-to-face communication instead of email or mass mailing to inform people on sensitive school related issues

  • choosing to explicitly seek input using questionnaires/surveys/ focus groups to investigate and learn what the concerns are of the community; identifying common direction

  • choosing to be responsive and open to making changes in routine

  • choosing to share/ promote/ celebrate leadership from within and provide opportunities to communicate

  • choosing to trust professional judgment and support skills/tools necessary for continued growth and learning

  • choosing to be innovative in the ways we deliver professional learning that encompasses all learners preferences


       When a school explicitly makes choices that positively create a culture best fit for learning,  it manifests and translates “the attitudes and behavior characteristic of a particular social group” which is Websters definition of culture. Something so simple as providing the opportunity or power to choose is a step toward creating a school culture in which we all learn and grow together. The answers to some of my questions, and please add your own; culture can be seen and felt; it should be diverse and the same; it does have the greatest impact and hold on the school environment and because it does we have no choice other than to create healthy cultures in which our students and community can flourish and learn.

The Curveball Round

It’s such a thrill for me to present my sons first blog!! Children really do learn by example from the adults around them especially their parents. Mine have been watching me learn and grow as a parent and in my profession…they are a huge part of my accountability team. Counting my blessing as I reblog this great piece of writing from a man with great character.

Hitting From the Rough

There you are, standing on the elevated tee box of the par 4 11th with a wide open fairway in front of you just waiting for you to stripe one down the middle cut line. You get to the ball and put a great swing on it; the loud “ping” of your driver erupts as you follow through and watch your little white speck of urethane cruise up and out towards the fairway. The feeling of confidence fills your head and chest and you start strolling to your ball thinking, “Well now this just got a whole lot easier”. You finally get up to the estimated resting point of the ball and its not in the short stuff, you stand slouched over and confused, then your buddy (who is three holes up and is soon to be fifty bucks richer) says from the rough with a smirk, “Hey! You’re playing…

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Sound bites from a day with Dr. Tom Guskey

Dr Guskey

Recently our district had the honor of hosting Dr. Tom Guskey from the University of Kentucky, College of Education. His presentation to our district faculty and staff was on the topic of Standards Based Grading and Reporting. As I sat in the auditorium, as close as I could get to the front…I listened intently to deepen my understanding of this practice and also to have my own thoughts validated! I took notes during the presentation in hopes of later rereading and synthesizing all of the important points of Standards Based Grading & Reporting.

Here are some of the sound bites from my day listening to Dr. Guskey:

“We don’t agree on the purpose of WHY we grade and report.”

“We also disagree on what counts for a grade as well.”

“Let’s bring this (disagreements) out in the open and deal with them first.”

“Checking is NOT grading.” Learning still in progress

“It’s what you do with the evidence that makes it formative; and what you do must be different then what you did before.”

“Method follows purpose.” Determine the purpose of a grade and then the best method of reporting.

“The more grading options (ie. A-F or 100-0) the greater subjectivity rate. No chance of teachers coming to the same grade on one students work.”

“Choose 4-6 standards to report. More is not needed. Break down standards and report by strand.”

“Mathematical precision does NOT yield fairer or more objective grades!”

“If you want to show what a student knows and can do, you won’t find out through mathematical precision.”

“Kids have figured out percentages before we have.”

“If you aced all the tests and quizzes and didn’t do any homework, would you not still deserve an ‘A’?”

“Professional judgment has greater impact on measuring true student proficiency.”

“Grading Criteria: Product, Process, Progress. Problem if they are all lumped together.” Pull them apart to measure each area separately.

“All parents want to know is, ‘Is my kid on track?’ and don’t wait until May to tell me he’s not.”

So what have I learned…like in everything else we do…

  • We need to understand the WHY…FIRST!!
  • We need to put our parents and students understanding first!
  • We are in the business of learning so we need to start measuring it.
  • We are professionals and need to start trusting ourselves, not publishers, for what is best to teach students.
  • We won’t get any further down this road unless we rely on and trust each other!! Notice each sentence starts with WE!

So what thoughts did I have validated…all this is possible with the courage to lead!

Disclaimer: I tried my best to capture his every word and quote accurately but in some cases I came very close 🙂

Don’t just be on a PLC team…BE THE PLC TRIBE!

the element“Finding your tribe can have transformative effects on your sense of identity and purpose. This is because of three powerful tribal dynamics: validation, inspiration, and what we’ll call here the “alchemy of synergy.” Sir Ken Robinson, The Element

 I’m in the process of reading Sir Ken Robinson’s book, The Element, and find his common sense, straight forward, logical thinking a breath of fresh air. The book is primarily about how to find your “Element”, the place in which you are your best self and feel passion and purpose in what you are naturally meant to do. The book outlines several ways in which people have gone about fining their element. Of particular interest to me, was this notion Robinson calls ‘finding your tribe.’ I immediately started to think about the connection a ‘tribe’ has with a ‘PLC’. He says that a crucial component to finding your element, is finding your tribe. What I find so interesting is that he says that it’s not essential for members of a tribe to share the same vision and can either be collaborative or competitive. He explains that what connects a tribe is the ‘common commitment’ they have to doing what they feel they were born to do. Like in the quote above, what a tribe does is validates your belonging to that commitment, inspires you to “raise the bar” of that commitment, and synergy to elevate that commitment together as a tribe to attain what is not otherwise possible alone.

I would absolutely say that finding your PLC ‘tribe’ would have “transformative effects on your sense of identity and purpose” both as an individual and as an educational system, if that is what you come looking for. If you find this tribe, Robinson assures us we will also more likely find our “element” where we are creative, dynamic, passionate, and do our most brilliant work. We need to stop looking at a PLC as simply a team we belong to but rather a place we come to be in our “Element’; a tribe where we validate and inspire each other and bring our individual passions and abilities to create a collaborative synergy that elevates the whole tribes work, and each individuals passion, higher then could be achieved alone. This is the type of PLC tribe that impacts student achievement and promotes quality teachers who continually grow and learn out of a desire and drive they feel…because they have found their “Element”!

Observe a PLC team next time through the lens of whether they are a tribe or just a team? If your wondering what to look for, here’s a start…they drive their own agendas, push themselves, always question to learn, and put words and thoughts into action to see students growing and learning. They look like a beehive at the height of the honey season…all a buzz, each working seamlessly for the good of the hive and their future potential to be great!

If you are part of a PLC team, ask yourself why you are there? Like in the quote above, are you there to validate your belonging to your common commitment? Are you there to inspire each other to “raise the bar” of that commitment? Are you there to be part of the synergy to elevate that commitment together as a tribe to attain what is not otherwise possible alone?

My wish for all of you is to find your tribe, be a part of a tribe, and allow your identity and purpose to be transformed. Don’t just be on a PLC team…BE THE PLC TRIBE!

Are we there yet?


When the kids were little, we use to drive the 21 hours from Chicago to Florida for our family vacation. Not an hour into the drive would one of the kids start with the oh-so-familiar phrase, “Are we there yet?” that would then be repeated for the remainder of the trip. My responses would begin with something mild and motherly like, “no honey, not yet, it’s going to take a long time” to a more impatient, “no, please stop asking, you’ll know when you see the beach”. Now the kids are grown and in our recent trip to visit my husband in Abu Dhabi, it struck me that not one of them ever asked the question! Not that I missed it, but it made me stop and reflect on why that might be and I made a connection to how people view a journey.

Personally, I feel there is great value in the process of a journey rather then the actual destination. When the kids were small and had little understanding of the process of taking a trip, they were not interested in how we get there but just that we get there. The importance was in the end product; beach, pool, and playing in the sand. I would have to say that working in education, many educators hold this same focus on the end result, rather then the journey we take together. The journey process holds the greatest capacity for learning; take for example a family vacation with little kids. Remember all that you learned about packing, mapping out the best route, the ideal time of day to leave so the kids would sleep most of the way, places to stop along the way to break up the trip, states to watch your speed (NEVER speed through Georgia!), car games to teach and play with the kids! Countless opportunities to learn, understand, and appreciate the journey.

If I viewed the adoption of the Common Core with the same regard, I could say as well that the journey to adopt and implement is full of learning! Teachers involved in every step of the process of unpacking and understanding a standards-based education, powering the standards with colleagues, rich conversations to prioritize the learning outcomes, articulating standards between grades to ensure fluid learning for students, mapping the power standards into quarters, using standards to design pre and post assessments to measure student learning, and reporting out to parents using a standards based report card. How rich are all of these opportunities for a system of educators to experience together. How often do we still hear the cry, “Are we there yet?” I’d like to presuppose why this phrase is used; the learning journey is hard! From sitting in a car as a child, for 21 hours not really knowing where it is you are going; to educators spending a substantial amount of time changing their mindset and practice to meet the new standards. It’s not easy…it’s hard…and worth it!

Why have my grown children now stopped asking the question? I would say it is because of all they learned about the process of a journey. They have an appreciation for and trust in the process enough to know that there is great value in how you get there, as in arriving! Just in this one trip alone we have met dynamic people from all walks of life that we will remember forever, who have confirmed in all of us how truly amazing peoples stories can be and how rich a journey is when we take time to notice and learn. Some examples; a 27 year old man who sat next to my son who was flying for the first time in a plane back home to New York for Christmas; the cab driver, Faisal, drove us from LaGuardia to JFK, one of 22 brothers and sisters native to North Sudan, who entertained my simple Arabic phrases and shared his view of the dyer situation currently gripping his nation (I could write a whole blog just on our conversation alone); the three Serbian (my national background) flight attendants on Emirates and the young man Amir, also Croatian, who all made the 12 hour flight more bearable by sharing in speaking (and me practicing) Serbian. Was the trip hard….YES…exhausting, frustrating, uncomfortable… but we are profoundly changed because of it!

I would encourage my colleagues to not be so concerned and quick to come to the end of their journey of just saying they have adopted the Common Core but rather to allow the uncomfortable, exhausting, and sometimes frustrating work to profoundly change how we teach! My hope for all of us would be to grow up, like my children, having an appreciation for and trust in the process of the journey…the reality is, if you’re too focused on just getting there, you miss many opportunities to venture off the path and deepen your learning as you go.

Bon Voyage!

I’m a teacher…I’m a leader…I’m a student

Golden Apples

The original name of this post was ” What do all high performing students around the world have?” I wrote the blog back in October after my very first #EdCamp experience. This weekend #EdcampChicago will be at Paletine HS.  I will not be a newbie, but I am just as excited to go and learn again. I thought you might enjoy reading this blog again or maybe for the first time. My hope is that it inspires you to always be a student!

 I attended an Ed Camp here in Chicago. I had heard many great things from my PLN  (Professional Learning Network: Twitter) community about these events. A sucker for PD, I signed up right away with fervor and eagerness to experience what others had said was life changing. I had the honor of interacting with and listening to many passionate teachers/leaders from all content areas. Some were first year teachers and some with many years under their belt; a plethora of knowledge and expertise surrounded me. If you have the opportunity to attend one, do yourself a favor and go! It is food for the learning soul!

As I attended each “organic” session topic, (formative assessment, standards based grading, quality picture books, authentic learning) and met faces I had only known from their Twitter picture (people are way more beautiful in person!), I was like a teacher with PTO money in a Lakeshore Learning store! At lunch, a new friend even noticed my wide eyes and wagging tail. My newness was exposed! The experience of owning my own learning for the day, interacting with colleagues who openly shared their knowledge, encouraged questions and clarification, openly solicited concerns and what-ifs, prompted me to reflect about the commonalities we all had today. We were all clearly highly qualified teachers with a passion and love for students and teaching!! It was one of those moments that I wished time froze for just a second so I could capture it and yell, “YES!! THIS IS WHAT IT’S ALL ABOUT!!! YES!!

We know a lot about the research that speaks to the relationship between the quality of the teacher and the impact on student growth and learning. Yet do we feel what I felt today each and every time we walk into our schools and classrooms? Isn’t that what a community of learning is supposed to feel like? Isn’t that what high quality teacher’s look and sound like? YES! It is! All of the educators that came today and many others around the world, these highly qualified teachers, possess the ability to passionately energize, engage, and share their many gifts with their colleagues and students, I believe daily!! What highly qualified teachers have in common I witnessed today…passion, love, and urgency to make a difference in their student’s lives, with no reservation for perceived obstacles!  A simple answer to a complex question. Thank you and bravo to all educators who recognize the importance of their work and contribute to their learning communities. I celebrate each and every one of you!! Honored to be an educator with you!

PS. When’s the next one?!

Are you coaching yourself out of a job? STOP!


Coaching. What is it? What does it look like and sound like?  We know what it looks like from the side lines of a sports event; Ditka, in the day, screaming at his players or Bobby Knight throwing chairs at his. Calling plays, yelling, arguing with officials. In the health profession, fitness coaches who teach us how to work our bodies to the max (can’t move next day) and tell us what to eat and what not. Counting reps, encouraging us to hold it one more second, telling us to squeeze those cheeks (ok, maybe just me). Coaches exists now in almost every profession.

When it come to the field of education, what is it? What does it look like and sound like? There are many schools of thought about kinds of coaching; cognitive coaching (A.L. Costa & R.J. Garmston), instructional coaching (Jim Knight), student centered coaching (Dianne Sweeney), heavy or light coaching (J. Killion) all of which ARE coaching. It all looks the same; primarily a content coach sitting knee to knee, side by side, having conversations about the art of teaching and their students. Thinking, talking, brainstorming, laughing, crying…changing. Together. Now that we know what it is, how it looks and sounds. What is its purpose?

Although coaching in different fields looks, sounds, is different; is the purpose different? Doug Reeves made great impact on my thinking about coaching when I heard him speak at a Learning Forward conference. From his research, he wrote a great book called, Transforming Professional Development for Student Results, that talks just about that…the purpose. Well it’s really about immediate feedback… that is our coaching purpose! Job embedded immediate feedback. The best model of professional learning there is! In any coaching model, sport, music, education, health, its about the focus of the feedback that brings about change. Coaching is focused, immediate feedback to promote change. Change to want to be and do better for the greater good; whether it’s a sports team, office team, PLCs, choir, orchestra, opera, family, you see where I’m going with this…all of us and any of us. It is coaching to change for the greater good through reflection and feedback because that is how we are programmed, by nature, to want to and need to belong to a team. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs at work.

So does it really matter in the world of educational coaching which one you are? (All due respect to Knight, Sweeney, Costa and the experts) Or is it more important to be the one your client needs you to be in order for them to meet their needs to change for the greater good? Our craft is learning about all models, building relationships based in trust and inquiry, and possessing a vision that is beyond our clients target.

Thought. What does coaching sound like to coaches? The one phrase that we need to change in the world of educational coaching is; Coaching ourselves out of a job. Really? Coaches out there, nod with me, I know you have heard this from leaders in the field, administration, conference sessions. I understand the purpose of the phrase, its meant to mean; to build autonomous teachers who can deliver best practice lessons and use strategies that provoke higher level thinking in our students and understand their students needs so they can differentiate and create formative assessments that inform their instruction and provide powerful growth producing feedback to their students and parents and work together all the while collaboratively as a team to look at data so instruction can be fluid and consistent for students. I hope you see my point.

There’s a great need for coaching during this EPIC time in education. Saying to a coach that their purpose is to work themselves out of a job, as their goal is not a good goal. How is that supposed to motivate and engage? How does that match what coaching is, supposed to look like and sound like, if that’s my goal? Of course we matter and our work is important, so please tell us that and build us in our craft. But don’t tell us to coach ourselves out of a job…its the wrong message. Tell us instead that we need to be Excellent in our content areas, Engaged in our work and others, and be Ethical in what we do by providing equity to all who want to be coached. This is how Howard Gardner (Multiple Intelligence’s) defines what good work is with his research. I would add one more that Gardner is on the fence about and that would be, Empathy for those you work with. It’s the relationship piece Maslow helps us understand.

Tell us this and how by doing this we add value and leverage to our educational systems to help our community of learners, adults and students, achieve their best!


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!