Guest Blog Post: Gratitude about the Imperfect

by Suzy Lolley

Social media can really skew our view of ourselves. I don’t know about you, but the more I see people’s perfect families, perfect houses, and perfect lives, it makes me feel like there’s something wrong with me. It can make my gratitude meter run a little low. However, in this month of gratitude, I want to be very intentional to be thankful for the imperfect.

Thankful for Imperfect

Three Ways I’m Still Grateful for the Imperfect

Specifically in teaching, when you have a whirling dervish of thirty students or more, there will be imperfect moments. Plenty of them. It’s time, as we celebrate Thanksgiving, to be thankful for those classroom days that don’t always work out as they should. Or the things that seem to be imperfect expectations placed upon us. The tasks that we vow we wouldn’t put on people if we were in charge. If we take time to be conscious of what the blessings behind the imperfections are, we won’t have to yearn for someone else’s happy social media life; we might just have a happier life ourselves.

Imperfection #1: Others’ Expectations

It wasn’t the worst part of teaching, but having to write lesson plans wasn’t the best part either. When I taught at my most recent high school, we had to write very detailed lesson plans. I could get so stressed out trying to write exactly the perfect plan in case of observation and adding all the ways I was going to differentiate or substitute or color code. You get the drift.

But here’s the deal and the blessings in that imperfect expectation. Now I can teach anywhere. Ask me to go to a conference and I can quickly write at least a rough draft of my plan in no time. Ask me even to teach at church, and my lesson is ready to go. I now can form an outline in my head, and lesson planning for any situation is much quicker. As a tech coach, I’m able to quickly direct teachers in their own lesson planning to add the right technology application or lesson hook or check for understanding to their lessons. If I hadn’t worked so hard in my own lesson planning, which was definitely imperfect, I would never have been able to do any of what I can do now.

To Continue Reading go to Suzy Lolley – Gratitude about the Imperfect

Guest Blog: Grateful to Hit the Reset Button

By Adam Powley (@MrPowley)

In the B.C. years of my marriage (that is Before Children) my wife and I rocked Guitar Hero. Neither of us play guitar but ability to pretend to be rockers, enjoy the music, and just be goofy with each other got us through some tough times. We were in the B.C. era because of infertility issues and jamming on together on a fake plastic guitar was one way for us to have what game designer Nicole Lazzaro called “Serious Fun”, or mind altering play. This silly game, with its cartoonish rockers and its Superstar Mode Power Up, was a way for us to escape and find a meaningful connection with each other.

During one of our jam sessions one of our guests noticed that I picked up on new game mechanics pretty quickly and told me it was “evidence of a misspent youth”. I took this to mean that I had spent a lot of time playing video games in my childhood. There was a negative connotation to this but I wasn’t upset because I did play a lot of video games but I did a lot of other things too. Flash forward to marriage AD (Achieved Descendants)* and my new job as an 11th grade US History teacher and that misspent youth began to pay off when I joked with a colleague during lunch duty that school should be more like a role-playing game. This discussion led me on a journey towards gamification and game-inspired classroom designs and has radically improved both me and my students’ classroom experience. There are so many game inspired concepts that I am grateful for but I am extremely thankful for the notion of a reset button.

If you like what you have been reading Click here to continue reading Adam’s post!

Who is your guide when things are tough?

Every year hundreds of people attempt to climb 29,035 feet to the highest point in the world, the summit of Mt. Everest and every year hundreds of sherpa guides, porters and yaks make sacrifices to get them there. Without their help, most wouldn’t make it to the top alive, and many of them don’t come back. The life of a sherpa and porter comes with great risks. Most climb to provide for their families.

Image result for peak by roland smith

My classes talk about all of this while we read the novel Peak by Roland Smith. At one point in the book the main character, Peak is being filmed for a documentary and the film crew doesn’t want the sherpas, porters and yaks interrupting the shot. Peak yells at the film crew. He explains that without those sherpas, porters and yaks, none of them would be able to climb Mt. Everest. They help carry the needed supplies up the mountain and help guide the climbers when things get tough.

The sherpa guides help lessen the load of the climbers. After we discussed this point in the book, I asked the students: Who are your porters? Who can you not survive without? Who helps carry the burden when things get tough?

They came up with a list of people (mom, dad, teachers, etc.). Then I asked them to dive even deeper: Did you enjoy lunch today? How did you get your lunch today? Do you enjoy going to a clean school? Who do you think cleans it each day? We brainstormed even more people who help out throughout the school day. It was a great moment. They reflected on a lot of people who work behind the scenes to make what we do possible. At the end of the hour I challenged them to find a way to thank those people for making the school day great.

In the future I’m hoping to have them write thank you cards to all of those people who don’t normally get recognized for helping out.

This time of year I’m always reflecting on my own life. Who are my guides up the Mt. Everest of life? Who helps lift my burdens when things are tough?



Each day I’m blessed to have a co-teacher or paraeducator in my room for 4 out of my 5 teaching hours. I know what a privilege that is and I don’t take it for granted. I’m grateful for everything they provide my students. A lot of the students have already shown huge transformations thanks to their guidance and support.

I work with a front office staff that is constantly striving to help teachers get the materials they need, help correctly enter receipts (which deserves a medal), and help get students where they need to go at the right time. They are the hardest working office staff anywhere. They rock.

I work in a clean facility thanks to the hard work of our amazing custodial staff. Our cafeteria staff works hard to make sure that students get the food they need, even if they don’t have the funds to pay for it, sometimes paying for it out of their own pockets.

My wife supports all of my crazy ideas for the classroom. She helps out at home during the robotics season and is my sounding board for all of my ideas. She gives me critical feedback when I need it, encouragement when that’s what I need to hear most, but most importantly she’s willing to listen any time I need it.

Take some time this month to find those people who help you when the burden seems too much to bear and thank them!

GUEST POST: Yes, I’m Telling You to Be Grateful for Stress

by Melissa Pilakowski

It’s been a stressful past two weeks. I was senior sponsor for Homecoming. We’ve had daily rehearsals for our one-act play. I’ve had observations by our local service unit and the department chair of our local college (and as much as I’d like to say that doesn’t make me nervous, it’s still an energy zapper).

I may or may not have eaten an entire bag of cheese popcorn and a bag of dark chocolate chips this weekend.

This was the first time this school year when I felt myself slipping under the water, where every time I crossed something off my to-do list, two more things popped up. I was simply surviving the days, dragging myself home, and procrastinating my ever-growing list. I was missing the proverbial forest for the trees–focusing only on what I had to do and forgetting about my long-term goals, my vision to help others, my commitment to my blog.

Then I ran across this Facebook post:


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Thankful November…

It’s that time of year again. The dreaded Halloween sugar coma is starting to wear off, the kids are finally turning back into the humans I know and love, and the leaves are starting to change colors.

I love the fall. I love hooded sweatshirts and the firepit in the backyard. I love cool evening walks and playing in leaf piles with my kids. Most of all I love hot coffee on cool mornings sitting on the back patio while my kids enjoy some fresh air.

We’ve finished up the first quarter, so November is a great time to reflect on the things in my life that I’m grateful for. I’ve been blessed with a great family, friends and career. This month I’ll be expressing my gratitude in a couple of ways:

  1. This will be my 2nd year participating in #gratitudesnaps. Each day I take a picture of something I’m grateful for, along with an explanation of why I’m grateful. I love that it forces me to stop my hectic schedule and notice those little moments going on around me. Sometimes it’s something as simple as noticing something special one of my kids does around the house. Other times I take a moment to appreciate one of the little things that makes my life easier.
  2. This year I’m honored/thrilled to participate in a blog exchange. Each day I’ll be posting guest blogs around the theme of Gratitude. I’m truly honored to be included on the list and can’t wait to help share others’ writing with new audiences. It’ll be a fun way to collaborate and connect.
  3. For the third year in a row I’m kicking off Tweet Ups.  TweetUps are little slips of blue paper meant to look like a Tweet that students use to write positive messages to each other. They are a chance for students to put some positivity in the world, tell their classmates why they rock, and tell them they aren’t going unnoticed. For more info on Tweet Ups check out my blog post:

It’s going to be a great November. I’m grateful for all of you!

Another Trip Up Everest

Today was one of my favorite activities we do in my class all year. We took my 4th annual trek up Mt. Everest, and it was epic!

The Setup:

It all started with the setup yesterday. I had a few kids tell me it must take me a long time to set up, and I told them it did. Then I told them that they are worth it, and they definitely are worth every minute I spent cutting out paper mountains and yaks, shopping for tea supplies and reorganizing my room. But it is definitely a lot of work.

For the setup I drew a mountain scene on the chalkboard cabinets (which is one of my all-time favorite ways to relax). Then I created mountains out of construction paper and covered my windows with them. I also had to move all of the desks off to one side of the room and attempt to hide it with green and white paper representing more mountains (it didn’t work, so I just told the students the desks were a rock slide).

I also set up a tent in one corner of the room and made six other campsites. Two were round tables, one was my comfy chair section in the free reading corner, one consisted of the two wooden benches I made this summer, one was a set of floor chairs and one was just a spot on the floor. Then I set up the tea station. By the time I left the room was almost ready to go.

This morning I added a few finishing touches, created some rules signs and it was ready to roll.

The Climb:

I always start the climb the same way. I stop them at the door and ask if they have their climbing permits. Today I was wearing a heavy coat, gloves, a hat and sunglasses. I told a few students they were going to freeze to death because they had on shorts. Then I pass out their climbing permits and go over the rules for Mt. Everest. The rules are framed like climbing rules but they are reiterations of regular classroom rules. I emphasized that they shouldn’t pick up the snow (which I learned from prior experiences to tell them not to do).

Then I start letting groups go in to set up their campsites. I base the order they get to choose their campsites based on their current team rankings in my gamified class. First place got first pick which was always the tent. Then the rest of the groups filled in.

Once everyone was situated they designed banners for their camps. They had a blast coming up with new names for their teams that combined their current names with snow/mountain terms. It also gave them a chance to be social at the beginning which I knew would be important later on. After about 10 minutes we shared names and then I explained the plan for the rest of the day.

For about 30 minutes they read their novel, Peak by Roland Smith by following along on an EdPuzzle video of me reading the chapters with them. While they were reading I called groups up to get a cup of hot tea with honey. A lot of the kids said they had never tried tea before.

After about 30 minutes of reading and enjoying their tea we had an epic dice battle. Camps went head to head rolling the dice to see which team would come out victorious. The winning team earned 100 points for their team. The losing team had to wait until the end of the hour to find out their consequence. The dice battles were a great break in the block and then they read for the last 20 minutes of class.

At the end of the hour I broke the bad news to the class. I had every team that lost the dice battle raise their hand. I said, “bad news. Unfortunately you all got frostbite.” Then I rolled the dice. Whatever the dice landed on they lost that many fingers for the rest of the day. There was a huge wave of laughter and groans. I found out from students after school that most of them stuck with it. They told me stories about trying eat lunch with only one hand or trying to figure out how walk their bikes down the sidewalk with those “missing fingers.”

It was such a fun day, and here’s the reality. The bulk of my lesson plan today was reading comprehension. I got kids to read for almost an hour and covered all of the same things I would have normally covered. The climb up Everest and the game elements were just added layers on top of my existing content. And since it’s a block day I get to do it all tomorrow!

What stories do the numbers tell?

I love statistics. I love numbers. I love all of the interesting stories numbers can tell, and I love trying to interpret what causes peaks and values in any data set. I have spreadsheets full of student data that I’ve started analyzing for my new students, everything from previous reading scores and math scores to the correlations between birthdays and peak scoring. I love the challenge of figuring out what all of this could mean.

However, I know that this is an incomplete data set. It isn’t a complete representation of who these scholars are and who they can become. It isn’t even the most important piece of information. If I picked a point from one of the valleys on a students data line, I’m seeing the moment they may have struggled with the content, or the day their dog died, or the moment they got stuck with that one teacher who smelled funny and smacked their gum while they were trying to focus. Or what if that was the moment a student decided to try something different, or take a different approach to a challenge?

When I look at a data set I look at trends, but I also look at ranges of possibilities. I used to focus on an average accumulation of a student’s scores. I looked at the average of a given data set and used that as a baseline for what the student was capable of, but the more I think about it, the less sure I am that it’s the right way to look at it. I don’t want to look at averages, because I don’t want average kids. I want to look at the peaks of a students performance and celebrate those accomplishments, use that as the baseline for a student’s potential. I want to look at the valleys and have the students understand why their scores dipped. I want to celebrate risk taking that led to failure and recognize students who are challenging the mediocrity.

I love the story that numbers tell, and I want to sit side by side with my students and help them determine what the numbers mean to them and how they can use the numbers to exceed their own expectations.

Having a growth mindset when things don’t go according to plan

I’m an overplanner. When it comes to anything, I overresearch, overplan, cross reference and overall look way too deep into anything I do. Before I came to the ISTE conference this year I had a color coded spreadsheet with listings of the first and second choice of sessions I wanted to attend. I had a list of my favorite presenters and had scoped out all of the poster sessions and playground activities I wanted to explore. Then I got in line for my first session on Sunday…and it was full. Then I went to my second session choice…also full. By the 4th attempt I gave up and went back to the hotel to check in.

Today (Monday) was going to be a new day. I would go to some awesome sessions and learn some amazing things to bring back to my colleagues. My color coded spreadsheet would work like a charm…and then I saw the line for the shuttle. Then I got to the conference and the lines were also crazy long…everywhere. It was bad when the line was too long to get my coffee, but the last straw was a line for the men’s bathroom.

It was an overreaction. I was frustrated and undercaffeinated and knew I needed a break. I decided to walk away for a little bit, walk to Dunkin’ Donuts and get some coffee to get my day on the right track.

On my walk something came to me. Every day I encourage my students to have a growth mindset, to not let setbacks keep you from accomplishing great things. I tell them to find ways to overcome obstacles, and yet here I was faced with an obstacle and I was doing exactly what some of my students do. I was pouting about how annoying lines are and missing out on the bigger picture.

There are thousands of people around the country right now who would LOVE the opportunity to wait in line to see some great speakers. There is a conference center full of opportunities just waiting to happen. There are thousands of people to network with, vendors to learn from and awesomeness around every corner. Sometimes I get stuck on my plan that I forget that amazing things can happen in spite of all my planning.

After my walk to get coffee and a little reflection and perspective, I went to a series of poster sessions that were fantastic. I explored the Expo hall and found some amazing tools I want to bring back to my classroom. Ultimately, I explored some things that I would have missed out on if things had gone according to plan.

Sometimes we need to practice what we preach and be as adaptive as we ask our students to be.

Enjoy the rest of the conference if you’re at #ISTE18, and if you’re #NotatISTE18 I’ll try to share out some of the awesome things you should check out.

P.S. If you see me at ISTE stop by and say hi. You’ll recognize me, because I’ll be the one in the bow-tie for #bowtietuesday!


Waiting for Permission

Today I boxed up 691 books to send off to elementary schools in our district. This is the 4th year in a row I’ve organized the Books for Backpacks program. The goal is to get books into the hands of kids who might not 

have access to getting a brand new book on their own. I love having a small part in providing these resources to kids. But nobody told me to start this program.

One day at church I was thinking about ways I could help improve students’ reading abilities. I was thinking about how much I love getting new books and how sad it was that some of my students probably never had 

the chance to get a brand new book of their own. But I wasn’t sure if this was true, so I asked them. Over half the students that year said they had never received a brand new book. They’d received used books and library books but not brand new ones.

I started thinking about how I could get good books into kids hands, so I collected books and wrote applications for grants to purchase new books. I found ways to buy books that would earn points to get more books for free.

Nobody said, “hey you should go start a book drive.” Nobody told me this was an important thing to do. Instead I saw a need and filled it.

There are a lot of people out there who talk about things that would be great like “Wouldn’t it be great if…” or “Can you imagine how great it would be if…” and yet they never take the next step to make it a reality. They worry so much about what might go wrong or reasons why their idea won’t work that it stays relegated to the great idea column.

Since that first year of collecting books, I’ve given away over 1500 brand new books to kids all over the district. I’ve also started collecting and giving away used books within my school and we’ve given away another 2500 used books. None of that would have been possible without taking a risk and trying something new.

If you have a great idea, try to make it work. Figure out what is one small step toward making it a possibility. You never know what might happen. You might be right. It might epically fail, and then you can try again. Or it might be a huge success and make a difference in people’s’ lives.