Professional Learning: It’s a Family Thing!


For your listening pleasure as you read…

As mentioned in a previous blog entry, I think often about my “dream school”, where ideas based on no box thinking are implemented in order to strengthen school culture. The following is a continuation of my dreams…professional learning/development that goes beyond the traditional “old school” workshop or training session. Thank you in advance for indulging me, and allowing me to share my vision of professional learning with you. 

Teachers in workships that are not geared to our needs  be like...

Teachers in workshops that are not geared to their needs be like…

I was first introduced to the term “professional learning community” (PLC) when I read Rick Defour’s Whatever it Takes (a must read for educators). Reading this book helped me realize how important it is for a faculty to learn and grow together. Kids watch our every move…whether it is a good one or a bad one! Modeling habits of a professional learning community allows kids and families to witness how we value learning. Great schools have a high level of professionalism where learning is a priority, but they are also viewed as what I like to call a “family learning group” (FLG). Families love and respect one another. They know each other’s personalities and moods. FLGs are professional learning communities that go beyond business to the heart of each individual, recognizing needs and areas of support. Families know how to challenge, support, and validate. They also know when to back off and let someone fly!  FLGs can be honest and forthcoming with feedback and suggestions while growing relationships built on respect, empathy, and love. In my experience, it is more powerful to have a truly authentic and productive PLC that has the foundation of a FLG.

Professional Learning Community + Family Learning Group = Culture of Learning and Loving!

Traits of “Family” to consider in PLCs:

  • Strong relationships
  • Acceptance of each learner’s status
  • Appreciation of personalities and how each contributes
  • Empathy
  • Awareness of when a member is struggling
  • Identifying social/emotional needs of a member
  • Supporting failure
  • Celebrating success
  • Investment in individuals as people FIRST
  • LOVE

Traditional PD for teachers at the building level normally causes teachers to leave their buildings to be in attendance. Many opportunities are sessions held during the summer months and may consist of half day, whole day, or multiple day sessions. I often wonder how effective this setup truly is, and if we are missing the REAL professional learning boat! Students in classrooms all learn at various levels, and it would be unethical for teachers to expect all children to move along at the same pace and need the same things. We must honor personalized learning with adults, allowing their needs to be met through authentic learning experiences. A culture that values learning places this as top priority, honoring ALL members of the PLC/FLG  by providing opportunities for learning and growth. Is this an easy task? Absolutely not! Many factors can present challenges, such as time, scheduling, resources, expertise of facilitators, willingness to be vulnerable, etc. The list of possible excuses could go for miles, so we might as well use it to help us better prepare professional learning to meet the needs of all adults.

I know, I know…we do not need another acronym in the education world! I couldn’t help but share the FLG idea because it is close to my heart. If we think outside the box, we can find ways to create meaningful learning experiences for teachers. Consider Twitter and its impact on the education world. I access Twitter multiple times a day and gain a wealth of knowledge each time. The resources are unlimited! Twitter is a sharing site for people to swap ideas and knowledge…wouldn’t it be incredible to have this same exchange within our schools? My goal as a lead learner is to be an instructional leader who is viewed as a coach, mentor, supporter, accountability partner, and resource to others around me. I can embed professional learning that is personalized and targeted toward individual needs, as well as teams and the building. After all, we are a family of professionals, and I owe it to them. We all owe it to each other to be a provider of professional learning!

Our culture needs professional development embedded throughout it, not confined only to sessions outside our building. We need both types in order for our students to truly benefit. Let’s go beyond the required hours of credit and reflect on what needs are within each individual and within the school as a PLC/FLG. Start dreaming!


How can you embed professional learning into the daily school culture? The possibilities are ENDLESS! We will be discussing this next Sunday, May 4 during No Box Thinking Chat. Visit us on Twitter and contribute your thoughts! Search for @nbtchat and  #nbtchat to view previous discussions. This is a professional learning opportunity you do not want to miss! Join us each Sunday and leave your box behind!


Thinking out of the Box on “Old School” Ways

Standard                              (feel free to listen while you read!)

Dream School Series!

Side note: I am blogging outside of the box! The following are my reflections on a few old school ways. I have no solutions, no scientific research, and no set plans. I only have my reflections and possibilities of my dream school, which evolves daily. You will read lots of “woulds, coulds, and ifs” because I am dreaming as a write. Some of you may have my dream school ideas in place, and if so…please share with me! 


fearsanddreamsThat dreaded phrase, “We have always done it this way” can be very dangerous for educators. When facing a challenge, reacting the way you have always reacted will very likely give you the same results again and again. So why do we continue to keep some traditions in education? Routine? Habit? Lack of funds? Staffing? We could name hundreds of reasons why…but are these REAL reasons, or are they excuses that build roadblocks to our ability to think outside the box? Are they keeping us from dreaming? Are they keeping us from our vision of what is best for kids?

As an educator and lead learner, one of my most important roles is to think beyond what is in front of me. This requires getting out of my comfort zone and into a new area where dreams are birthed. I have a “dream school”, and every day I think of more ways to make that school better. It is impossible to dream inside the box! Kids are counting on US to think BIG, to dream BIG, and to make decisions that will increase their chances of success. This is a responsibility beyond measure, and one that I take very seriously. Parents are sending us their very best, and trusting us to give them every opportunity to learn and be successful. We owe it to kids and their families to jump out of our box and stay out! Are you ready?

Learning Space

The one room school house had some great things going! The teacher of the school was a differentiation specialist, teaching students of various ages. She taught with limited resources, and had to consider developmentally appropriate lessons and assignments for all ages represented. Students sat at desks and faced the front of the room where the teacher stood to deliver her lessons. Let’s consider the irony in this picture…differentiation for every student is often challenged by some teachers because of the amount of planning time required, yet in our world today we have an incredible amount of resources to support instruction that is tailored to student needs. We have classrooms for different grade levels, and the majority of them have “school furniture” such as the traditional desks, chairs, and tables. If we surveyed students, we would likely find that most do not feel comfortable working in a chair pushed up to a table or desk. In my dream school I would have classrooms with varied learning spaces so kids could have a choice of where to learn and work. If beanbags, couches, carpet areas, and different sized chairs and tables were available, it would provide a more comfortable environment for learning and working! It sure is fun to dream!

Sensory Break Room

Each year I see an increase in student behavior tied to hyperactivity and sensory processing. We must hold all students accountable for their behavior and keep expectations high while being sensitive to students who exhibit behaviors beyond their immediate control. Students with sensory processing disorders, sensory integration, and hyperactivity are often labeled as “discipline problems” when in fact they are unable to control many of their behaviors. Providing quick sensory breaks in the classroom can support teachers with classroom management, and most consider this a best practice to use throughout the school day. The fact is that some kids just need more! A sensory break room would provide students with sensory processing issues a balance. Sensory seeking kids would have access to mini-trampolines, mats for push ups and somersaults, and a wall with various textures. Students who tend to get into sensory overload would have access to weighted blankets and vests, calming music, dimmed lights, rocking chairs, and stress balls. Options for sensory diets would be available for kids who need a list of activities. Have I mentioned how fun it is to dream?


Homework is a long time tradition in all levels of school. It is something we have always done (there’s that phrase again!) and expected. Thinking out of the box has allowed me to see that most traditional homework assignments do not fit our kids. What if a child doesn’t have an environment conducive to completing homework? Some homes are rather hectic, and some children do not have homes. How can we expect students in these situations to return homework? Ethically we cannot. In my dream school, we would not assign homework. Instead, we would assign GOALwork (Thank you, Jonathan Kegler for sharing this term with me). GOALwork is…

  •  never graded
  • based on individual student goals
  • has no consequences for lack of completion
  • assigned with intentions of providing timely feedback
  • practice of a previously learned skill
  •  reading for enjoyment
  • short and not time consuming
  • NOT assigned daily, only as needed

GOALwork is a part of my dream school because the focus is not on teaching responsibility or getting grades for the grade book. It does not cause added stress for families or keep children from being KIDS! They need time to play and be involved in extra curricular activities. No student should have hours of homework…EVER. Boy, is it fun to dream!

No box thinking is required in order for us to make the best decisions for kids. Doing what we have always done is simply not acceptable. Yes, there are some “old school” ways that will always be considered best practice, but we need to consider thinking more flexibly with others. My dream school is made up of hundreds of small dreams, three of which I have shared with you here. This is merely a glimpse into the school I envision, where all students are on a level playing field in spite of their ability level, home life, or impairment. I plan to make my dreams a reality! What are your dreams? Let’s all jump out of our comfortable boxes and start thinking BIG! I use my Personal Learning Network to foster my dreams…join me and let’s dream together! Get out of your box, get connected and start dreaming!





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Who Says God Can’t Be in Our Schools?


ImageAlmost everyone has their own opinion about religion and the role it plays in schools. Often opinions are strong and on the extreme edges of the subject. I happen to live in the Bible Belt, where many people complain about God not being allowed in our schools. I wish we had the freedom to pray with students and remind them to seek God when they are troubled. It would be incredible to have the opportunity to lead a student to Christ. Those are things that simply cannot happen in our public schools. I disagree with people who say that God has been taken out of the public school setting, because I believe God is present. He can be present through YOU.

Think of how much power you have as an educator. Each day approximately 440 students and many of their families see me. This is an incredible opportunity for me to model my faith without having to mention Christianity! I can model patience, empathy, love, friendship, discipline, and so much more each and every day. I have the opportunity to show people my faith by the way I interact with others. I can keep the Bible on my desk or a scripture to remind me of my strength and what drives my soul. I can pray for specific students and their families. I can pray for teachers and staff. I can do this during the day, even if I retreat to my office to do it. God is present in my school. I can talk to my staff about my faith, and share inspiration with them. Some of them even have a prayer group that meets each week. God IS in my school.

ImageSo…we can complain about how public education isn’t the way it used to be, or we can embrace new doors that have opened for us to be examples for our students and their families. They need us more than ever. They need God more than ever. We all do. My goal is for students and families to know I am a Christian and have blind faith without ever expressing it through scripture or the words, “I believe in God”. I want them to know by what they see. I want them to see a kind, caring educator who loves relationships and thrives on knowing people…not just the good, but the bad and the ugly about people.

Last summer before school started, I chose an evening to stay until the building was empty. No students, because they were still enjoying summer. No teachers, for they had been working through the day to prepare their classrooms, no custodians…just bare hallways and classrooms. I went on a gratitude walk through the entire building, and counted my blessings. I entered each classroom and looked at names on desks, and the classroom environments teachers had worked so hard to create. I prayed for each teacher, and each class, then left the teacher an uplifting message on a sticky note. It took a couple of hours, but it was well worth my time. God was there. He was in my heart, and his presence was all over the building.

God doesn’t have to be exempt from schools. We can model our faith and core beliefs through our actions and how we treat others. He can be present. He is present. I use my relationship with Him each day to become a stronger leader and a person who can make a positive impact on the people around me. It is a work in progress, and I will never arrive! I can, however, make a difference through my faith and attitude of gratitude.

God lives in my school. He never leaves. What a blessing. Image