Power Up and Personalize Your Own PD

As part of a school improvement day to kick off the New Year, I presented the session: “Power Up and Personalize Your Own PD“. I enjoyed the opportunity to share with K-12 district staff about the power of connected learning with like-minded educators. We discussed the power of using twitter to build relationships, expand professional learning, and seek resources. We also validated the importance of professional organizations, meaningful professional conversations during efficiently used PLC opportunities, and informal conversations with colleagues. Great conversations were spurred as teachers shared out their favorite resources, book titles, and ideas.
After attending IETC16 and a session on professional development by Kim Darche, I felt compelled to ensure elements of my professional learning session modeled best practices for engaging adults. This included snacks at the front of the entrance that were purchased as a result of a pre-workshop survey about teacher preferences. Favorite songs were amplified for staff as they entered that were also collected prior to the session. Small, but deliberate and intentional acts such as these, build relationships, but also model for teachers ways in which they can engage learners with personalized teaching in the classroom. Because I am an avid reader and strongly believe that educators should model reading for their students (and thus principals should model for the their staff) I also brought a pile of my favorite education related books for staff to peruse as they came in. Teachers also received a quote and small drum on their table/desk space to remind them of an important message that I read from Dave Burgess to encourage staff to “find their drum and beat it!”
The first, but quick activity, we completed was “Heads or Tails.” Using the website “Flip a Coin” staff were directed to place their hands on either their heads or their ‘tails.’ This continued until only one person was standing. For an element of fun and humor, they were awarded a green “you rock” trophy. This only takes 2-3 minutes.
One of my favorite strategies to start the conversation going was one I learned from Kim Darche. In the snowball activity, questions are compiled one within another to form a snowball. They are passed around the room. Each participant takes the first layer off and answers it before passing it to another person. The questions can be differentiated for the audience, but it also has great application in the classroom with kids as well!
The bulk of the presentation focused on the importance of being a connected educator and finding your own tribe to connect with. Some of the highlights of resources shared included the following:
Twitter Accounts:
  • Matt Miller @jmattmiller
  • Dave Burgess @burgessdave
  • George Couros @gcouros
  • Eric Scheninger @e_sheninger
  • Tomas Murray @thomascmurray
  • Jimmy Cases @casas_Jimmy
  • Teach Like a Pirate, Dave Burgess
  • Ditch that Textbook, Matt Miller
  • The Innovator’s Mindset, George Couros
  • The Book Whisperer, Donalyn Miller
  • What Connected Educators Do Differently, Todd Whittaker
  • Whole Brain Teaching, Chris Biffle
  • Kids Deserve It, Adam Welcome
  • Your School Rocks, Ryan McClane
  • 50 Things to Do with Google Classroom, Alice Keeler
You can view the presentation and all the resources that were embedded HERE

Dunlap Technology Summit 2017 Review and Storify

The Dunlap School District #323 staff kicked off the new year with a full day of technology training in an effort to learn new strategies and tools to engage and connect learners in meaningful ways with and without technology. You can read the storify of all the tweets that were captured in the STORIFY below.

Ditch that Textbook Book Study Review

I read “Ditch that Textbook” by Matt Miller early in 2016. It was among several of the “Dave Burgess Consulting” titles that I had on my nightstand. It only took me a short time to finish the book, mark up the pages with post-its and notes and knew I had to share this book with my staff.

With our professional learning days accounted for and the end of the year approaching, I decided to launch a twitter based summer book study that teachers participated in on a voluntary basis. I sent out an email and was floored that the majority of my staff wanted in! We extended the invite to several other teachers and before we knew it we had our staff collaborating with teachers across the country on the topic of revolutionizing their classrooms!

The first week was simply introductions. Teachers shared their position and a selfie of themselves with the book. It was an easy way to get acquainted with the hashtag, meet the educators participating, and dip our toes into the twitter book study waters. The teachers below are just some of those that participated!

The remaining weeks of the book study focused on each chapter of the book. There were opportunities for goal setting, resource sharing, and celebration of success. Teachers shared their favorite educational book titles, hashtags, digital resources, and more. Staff set goals for integrating technology in meaningful ways in the fall. Mystery Skype Sessions, Twitter Chats with authors, Hyperdocs and digital badges were all shared as goals for teachers. It was uplifting to see many ‘likes’ and “retweets” of their posts as others validated their tweets and learned from their posts!

I embedded some digital badges in the study to recognize those that participated as well. A the conclusion of the study, they were awarded a participation certificate (linked below).

It was empowering to see how many educators sought to be connected and learn through the summer months. In Matt’s book he indicates the importance of being connected for so many positive reasons: inspiration, motivation, challenge, camaraderie, apps, humor, and collaboration (pages 97-98). Each of those elements was evident during the book study. As teachers used their time on vacation to learn and grow, they were filling their teacher tool belts and making their classrooms better places to teach and learn!

Tools to Spice Up your School Social Media Posts

Social Media analytic results would suggest that posts that are graphically appealing lead to more engagement, shares, and follows. I’ve compiled a simple list of my favorite tools that are easy to use to create graphics to tell your school’s story in an easy and effective way!


Canva is a graphic design suite that allows users to create and customize images for use on blogs, twitter, facebook, and more. I’ve used it to create custom fliers and social media posts to announce early release days, upcoming events, or special news! Images have always gotten more views and social media engagement on our school page, so I make the effort to ensure the posts are visually appealing and easy  Canva allows you to save your images. There are many free backgrounds and layouts as well as a library of paid content, but I’ve not had to use that. The graphics below were created in Canva.



Adobe Spark

Adobe Spark is similar to Canva in the functionalities and provides another platform for one to explore. I’ve used it to highlight my favorite hashtags, upcoming events at school, and event our school facebook page header. It’s easy to manipulate and create custom images using stock graphics or your own images.


Word Swag

A text editing tool, word swag allows you to take any text and make it into a visual display complete with backgrounds and stock templates. Available on Apple and Google Play, I use this mostly for curating text into graphic images and sharing them out. Some ideas may include posting a favorite educational quote, a unique quote by a student, or for summarizing a short thought in a graphic image. Use word swag to capture what students and teachers say and share them out on a school facebook or instagram page! Take your favorite quote from an author or colleague and create an image with those words to post!

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Instaquote is similar to Word Swag and allows you to put text into a form, select background and layout, and generate graphic images to post on your social media pages to tell your schools’ story.


Hyperlapse is limited to Apple products, but is a fun resource to create quick videos in a time lapsed format. HyperLapse allows you to take video of any activity and speed it up. Imagine what you can when you video a classroom activity from start to finish, a PE lesson, or an art project. The possibilities are endless. I posted a HyperLapse that included a tour of our entire school in under 1 minute. You can check that out HERE

I also used HyperLapse to showcase our school-wide writing project on Instagram HERE


Boomerang takes a short 3 second video and loops it continuously. I learned about it when my 2nd grade teacher shot a video of the custodian and me installing some nature timber outside her classroom. It brought a smile to my face and was funny to watch. You can view that HERE. I’ve since used Boomerang to highlight students celebrating an accomplishment, PE activities, and meeting behavior goals.

Each of these elements can be posted to facebook, twitter, instagram, Pinterest and More! I challenge you to find a tool and share your school’s story! Feel free to share what you create! I’d love to see them!

Professional Learning in a Ball Pit

Inspired by the video created by Soul Pancake, I wanted to translate the effects of the experience in the ball pit to the staff in my building. In the video, two strangers sit and discuss question prompts written on various balls. Through the experience they come to common group, develop relationships, and communicate on a deeper level. Plus, sitting in a ball pit is fun, unique and out of the norm for most adults!


So, with a baby pool and plastic balls already in our storage room from our school carnival, I set to replicate the experience as an ice breaker to our staff meeting. The ball pit wasn’t as big as the one from my inspiration and the staff weren’t strangers to each other, but we did learn a lot about each other!

15284016_1339918552706662_706842125235464285_n 15284069_1339918596039991_6162684776448783187_n 15326470_1339918546039996_8691936351617556857_nAs teachers or staff members sat in the ball pit, they pulled questions and prompted answers from their partners. Questions included light-hearted questions to get-to-know each other and education related topics focused on sharing strategies and best practices. Some questions included:

  • What’s your proudest moment as a teacher?
  • Why did you become a teacher?
  • How do you de-stress after a challenging day?
  • What are you most passionate about?
  • What content area, skill, or concept do you enjoy teaching the most?
  • What is your favorite technology tool to use in the classroom?
  • How do you connect your students to others outside the walls of your classroom?
  • If money were no object, what would you want to add to your classroom to improve student learning and engagement?
  • What’s your favorite read aloud?
  • What website do you visit most frequently?
  • Use only one word to describe your classroom.
  • What is one thing you would wan the public to know about teaching?

Some questions were also just plain silly to bring some laughter and levity to our experience:

  • Would you rather be hairy or bald?
  • What would you name your yacht if you had one?
  • What’s the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning?
  • What would the title of the book based on your life be?
  • If your personality was an animal, what would it be?


The ball pit ice breaker was a perfect introduction to our staff meeting. With a little humor and fun, we learned about the teaching practices and lives of our staff.

#IETC2016 Conference Review

I attended the Illinois Education and Technology Conference in Springfield, Illinois on November 17 and 18 as part of our district’s 1:1 initiative. With the expectation to learn about practical and meaningful ways to incorporate technology across learning environments, I was not disappointed. I only wish I could have personally attended more sessions! The storify below includes twitter resources that were shared throughout the conference!

DGS Royal Playscape and Science Learning Center

After being inspired by the beautiful Outdoor Nature Explore Classroom at Northminster Learning Center, I wanted to bring elements of a nature based play area at Dunlap Grade School. We’ve started phase one of our project by adding the Royal River Bed Playscape. This area allows students to jump, crawl, and hop from stump to stump through a stream of wooden stumps. The project started out with a donation of time from our wonderful Village Maintenance staff and included a weekend of work time by myself and my evening custodian.








Additions to the playscape include three nature explore tables that will allow students to create, investigate and observe materials in their natural world.


The fifth graders also built and are using a microinverebrate manor to observe the world of insects and plant life around them. They carefully monitor the variables that sustain life and make scientific hypotheses about the impact the environment has on the species in the manor. This is correlated to the Next Generation Science Standards and provides meaningful opportunities for observation, investigation, and writing.


Our third graders wrote a grant and planted a beautiful native plant butterfly garden. Our 2nd grade classes use it annually to release their butterflies. It is a gorgeous addition to the play scape that continually changes throughout the season.


Tires were placed around a mature tree in the play scape. Seemingly unimportant at first glance, they serve as “Little World” play areas for our younger students. Our children that prefer quiet or independent play activities can use the materials in the tires to immerse themselves in imaginative play. Each tire is filled with different materials and supplies for children to play with: trucks, dinosaurs, insects, shells, and people.


Finally, we installed a Free Little Library in the front of the school this summer. We are adding a second library to the rear of the building to provide students the opportunity to read during their independent play time. Benches and seating areas are embedded around the area for students to access.


These materials do not replace the typical playground equipment that our students also have access to, rather they supplement it and provide students additional outlets for play and exploration.

3 Steps to Thankfulness: A Principal’s Gratitude Challenge

Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays. Between the beautiful colors in the season and sense of gratitude at the forefront of the holiday, it’s hard not to show your appreciation! I find it important to be deliberate and strategic in offering my support and gratitude. I also find it important to demonstrate my thankfulness to not only my staff, but my students and families as well. Whether you are a teacher, administrator, parent or student, I urge you to reach out this Thanksgiving holiday and show your gratitude with simple gestures.

My personal gratitude challenge is three-fold:

  1. I made it a personal goal to write a note to each of my students; 254 in all, with specific notes of encouragement and gratitude for the simple ways they bring joy. This simple act, although time consuming, ensures that I am seeking to celebrate the positive attributes and successes of my students. It ensures, that despite any challenges, I recognize that all students have unique qualities that make them special and worthy of my appreciation and support.


2. Staff need to hear they’re appreciated and their hard work is validated. Who doesn’t like to get a handwritten note showcasing their talents and recognizing their skills. Along with notes for each of my students, I am working to ensure each staff member gets a handwritten note that honors them and their work with our students. I’ve already seen an impact of this as teachers proudly hang their notes in their classrooms or add them to their social media accounts.


3. Finally, the day before Thanksgiving Break, I have made it a tradition to do a “Donut Drop” at morning drop off. With donations from a local bakery or grocery store, I personally greet each car at drop off with a donut and sweet note thanking them for their support of their students, my staff, and our school. It’s amazing how a simple gesture brings joy to the families and promotes a positive school culture. Not only does the breakfast treat start their day off on a positive note, but the personal interactions and greetings build rapport and relationships with the parents and families of your students.


A staff member of mine initiated a school-wide gratitude challenge as well. Thankfulness is contagious!


I’ve included copies of the forms below and welcome you to use them or edit them to suit your needs. Be mindful that a simple gesture goes a long way and it doesn’t need to be elaborate. The time the you invest in demonstrating your gratitude will support your attempts to promote and develop a positive school culture.





DGS Establishes a “Little Free Library”

I’ve been heavily influenced by many readers in my life, but none more than Regie Routman and Donalyn Miller. These two women have shaped and modeled my philosophy of reading instruction and I’ve been empowered by their insights and foresight into developing a love of reading in our students. As I participated in some intense professional learning centered on the beliefs of Regie Routman, one question was posed in her text, “Does your learning environment mirror your instructional philosophy and beliefs about literacy instruction?”

You will hear many educators tell you about the importance of reading and literacy, but it is important that the environment and the culture support that. It is the adage, “Put your money where your mouth is.” That being said, I have been intentional about creating an environment that supports literacy. It is not a surprise to see teachers post and update signs by their doors sharing what they’re reading, small little library bins hanging among the hallway walls, bookshelves of books in the cafeteria for students to access after they eat, bookshelves in the foyer for children to access at dismissal time while they wait for their rides, or reading nooks in the hallways at DGS. The focus is to provide students easy access to books with no strings attached.

Lining the building with books in nooks, cracks, and corners specifically communicates that reading IS important and that we VALUE it in all areas of our lives. As a main goal in our strategic plan, we strive to “develop a culture of readers.” Test scores are important and indicative of our successes as educators, but what I strive to see more is a student pick up a book without prompting or light up at the release of a new title or share a book recommendation with a classmate, not because they are required to, but because they are developing a love of reading.

That being said, our duties as educators aren’t to only educate and promote our love of reading within our school walls, but extend it outside our school walls. Introducing, the DGS Free Little Library! Developing readers at DGS is just part of the mission of public education. We also want to do our part to foster literacy in our neighborhoods and community. As of June 2016, there are nearly 40,000 registered Little Free Libraries in all 50 states and 70 countries. Please see the map for more information! Our Little Free Library is a destination for our students and community members to stop, browse, and borrow a book! It’s a destination that promotes our philosophy of reading instruction and spreads our culture of reading outside our school walls.



If you are a parent or community member, We hope you visit our Little Free Library and choose a book to curl up with our share with a friend or child. If you are an administrator or educator reading this, please consider asking yourself the question, “does your learning environment truly promote your reading philosophy?” When you look around your school building, what artifacts do you see that support your claims or intentions? Are there areas that you can bolster to build stronger readers that not only excel on assessments, but truly love reading? Students and children need to see adults as readers in their lives. So share books. Share your love of reading and spread the love with your studentsPrint!

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