Thursday, December 29, 2016

It Takes a Village

It Takes  a Village

It was a crazy couple of weeks….both in school and at home.  A sinus infection pretty much rendered me useless. My wife picked up the slack on the homefront and the team at the ILC was all in to make great experiences happen for our students. I just want to say THANK YOU because it truly takes a village.  We've all heard that phrase before and if you are a parent I'm sure you agree. If you're a teacher I'm sure you're nodding yes. If you are successful in life I'm sure you've realized this as well. We can not do it alone. Behind every great idea...event….person….is a support system that often goes unnoticed.  This post is about recognizing those that did some great things around my life.  First…..the better half.... Amber Riley. For real ya’ll she is killing it.  Not only does she put up with me but she makes sure the needs of our children are met before her own. She continuously serves others not because we have so much to give but because she understands what it means to be in their shoes.

Second, the team at the ILC stepped up and planned activities for Elite Week while I was down and out.  They successfully planned activities for 300 students to make an impact.  One of our EDU students set up a Bundles of Joy clothes drives and adopted 55 students at an at risk inner city preschool. Before it was all said and done students and staff in our district funneled some 55 coats, gloves, hats, scarfs, and blankets for the preschool. Not too mention they also raised close to $300 for miscellaneous items. A Project HERO student raised close to a $1000 after starting her own nonprofit bake sale and GoFundMe page to support the loving memory of her grandmother.

Third, the local coffee shop (Coffee Connections), Corrie's Confections, a small group, and numerous friends for making the first Night of Joy a huge success. They helped recognize students that typically do not get recognized. Students that hold full time jobs to support their families through tough times. Students affected by adverse situations that many adults would buckle under. It amazes me how many students continue to succeed in school or even come to school when everything else in their life is complete chaos. They have true GRIT!

Fourth, to the many friends and family members that stepped up and helped out when we welcomed Baby G to our family. Yes...we are crazy. When most parents have 9 months to plan for a baby we literally had 9 hours.  A simple message to friends and by the time we came home from the hospital we had a house full of baby supplies and needs for us to make the transition a success. Little G is a miracle. Not sure how he made it the last nine months but we are grateful that God watched over him. As a family we all said YES to foster life. God placed that WHY on our hearts and it is a fire that burns like no other.  The need is great. We are all meant to serve a greater purpose.  Recognizing that is the hard part. He doesn't call the qualified but he qualifies the called.  As Mahatma Gandhi says, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” Getting lost is scary.  Not having all the answers is frightening. Not being in control is humbling. All signs tell you to NOT go. But by FAITH in the unseen we navigate the stormy seas. After all...if this 4.5 lb baby can overcome darkness then what excuse do we have. Let's all do our part to make an IMPACT and give praise to the One that makes the unimaginable reality.

It takes a village to make life meaningful. Find your tribe. Build each other up. Support each other in life and in achieving goals.

I Can Do Things You Cannot, You Can Do Things I Cannot; Together We Can Do Great Things.- Mother Teresa


Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Overcoming Obstacles

Listen,  I'm 285lbs and have no business attempting to run any race. I'm so big that when I sign up for a race I'm labeled as a Clydesdale. Thus my #TeamsClydesdale anytime I post a picture of me attempting to look like I enjoy running. This past fall I embarked on 3 races. An obstacle course race, a half-marathon, and a 5k Reindeer Dash. I shouldn’t even think about running races with obstacles. Obstacles that take you over ravines,  20 ft walls,  giant slip-n-slide, 40ft towers,  100 ft cliff, monkey bars, rope climbs, and absolute insane terrain.  That is the joy of Mud Guts and Glory. A 10K beast and one of the best obstacle course races in the Midwest. One that have ran 5 times now. A few years back I stumbled upon this race and found out that it helps support at risk youth.  What better way to give back and help others than putting yourself through so much pain.  Sounds like fun? Right!

While I have ran this race before this is the first time I've written about it.  Why now? Because I've been reflecting on all the experiences and realized I need to share them. This is a total team effort. Each year I send out a mass email to family, friends, and colleagues. It’s more of a Bat Signal for someone to be cray-cray enough with me so I won’t kill myself. You see it’s better to get hurt when you have someone to share the pain with. The usual suspects jumped on board and they are about as crazy as I am. We hit the starting line around 10AM and at the sound of the gun we were off. The race was set a little different this time as we ran the course in reverse compared to previous attempts. Noticed I said attempts. Many start the race but a few of us fall victim to injury...exhaustion...cramping...and fear of heights. If you do not complete an obstacle you get to do some penalty burpees. Yes...we pay for this torture. If you decide you are not in any shape to do the penalty burpees you lose your wristband which then forfeits your Gatorade beverage when you cross the finish line. It is by far the best tasting Gatorade EVER! This was the first time I had ever completed all the obstacles….well except for the high rope climb. Simply because 285 and gravity are not friends when it comes to a muddy covered rope. One of my best friends blew out his ankle as we passed through a ravine. He had to be escorted off the course via a 4x4 Gator. That kind of sucks the wind out of you when one of your teammates go down. After all, who is going to help a Clydesdale get over the 12 ft walls. As we progressed through the course we were feeling pitiful about ourselves and linked up with some other runners that had smiles on their faces. Clearly there was something wrong with these people. Who enjoys that torture enough to smile? They were great to run with as they kept it light hearted and told us stories that helped us forget about the pain.

One part of the race is called the gauntlet. It’s a relatively flat stretch that has the biggest structured obstacles back to back. It can be brutal! Now pay attention because this is where the magic happens in this race. This is where the life lesson comes into play. This is where a Servant's Heart was ultimately displayed and one of the greatest acts of leadership I have ever witnessed. As we traversed over the 40ft tower and climbed our way through 4 bacterial infested mud pits we hit the dreaded Monkey Business.  A picture is included for your viewing pleasure or click here for a quick video.
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We had about two miles to go until the finish and I was feeling every bit of it. This obstacle had knocked me off three previous races and I had to settle for penalty burpees. Muddy and tired we climbed the first side and noticed a bit of a hiccup at the top where some kids were waiting to cross. As we waited we struck up a quick convo and found out they were from Lord’s Gym in Cincy,  which is a non-profit organization that reaches out to at risk youth in the area. These are the kids this race supports and it was the first time we got to enjoy the course with them. One of their peers was stuck halfway up the other side. The young man was clearly struggling with how to overcome this obstacle. He was in tears, his grip was weak, and he was completely exhausted. He had two options….figure it out or fall in the pit taking the penalty burpees. He simply kept saying “I can’t….I can’ it. Help!” His peers were somewhat laughing at him and others understood his pain as they were on the ground failing to complete the obstacle. About that time a young man that we had connected with (I still can’t recall his name) decided to jump into action. He climbed over and positioned himself beside the teenager. I could hear him coaching this kid up to gather the strength to finish. After about five minutes of hanging upside down the kid was able to maneuver to the next rung...and then the next one…. until he had completed the obstacle. Meanwhile, as I waited for his lane to clear up I noticed the kid had no shoes on. I thought that maybe he had kicked them off. That was not the case. When I reached the other side of the obstacle I gave him a big High Five and his new coach was kneeling down beside him. When I asked about his shoes he simply said… “I took them off in the van because I didn’t want to get my only pair dirty.” Say what!!! That’s right. He had been running the course with no shoes on. I’m not even sure how that is possible. This was not easy terrain. With shoes on it kills your feet. Then it happened. A simple conversation that lead to me writing this post.

What size shoe do you wear?
I think a 10.
Here take my shoes so you can finish the race.

His new coach/mentor, that helped him get through the obstacle, was literally taking the shoes off his feet and offering them to the kid. A kid he did not know. A kid that if passed on the street would probably be completely overlooked. This simple act defines what I believe to be the greatest act of leadership. To simply serve others before yourself. Put the needs of others first and push them to accomplish things they believe they can not. When you are willing to forgo your own comforts so that others may succeed….that is Leadership!

For the next two miles we ran as a pack. A man with no shoes continued to encourage a kid he did not know to finish the race. Numerous time the kid would say….I need to quit and each time the man would inspire to keep going. Statements like….”The pain you're experiencing now are nothing compared to the JOY of finishing...KEEP GOING! Your struggles in this race will make you a better person when hard times come in the future….When you think you can’t in the future you will remember this moment and realize you can!”

We still had numerous obstacles to complete and several times we found ourselves helping this kid over walls and obstacles he never would have completed without shoes, without support, and without people believing in him. As Victor Rios implies, the greatest teacher (coach) believes in their kids so much that they trick them into believing in themselves!


It’s not about the goal….it’s about who you become in the process! Obstacles are blessings in disguise. It’s how we navigate them in our daily lives that truly defines who we are. We can’t go around them. We can’t take the easy way out. The best way to tackle them is to overcome them head on. Don't treat them as a roadblock to your path but as part of the path.  

Find your pack and run your race! So, who in your life needs your shoes? How can you step up to be the one that places the needs of others first? Such a simple yet profound way to live life!

Time to get to work!

#HappyToHelp #TeamClydesdale

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Why I Drive.....

This post has nothing to do with education....or does it? More about personal betterment and the purpose of your DRIVE. I had no intentions of getting up this morning and working out. If anything, I actually thought Saturday would be a great morning to sleep in. After all, I was given a mission today from the wifey to hit up Sam's club by 7am for some special Christmas deals. Typically, a very low item on my list to do but turned out it was a worthwhile trip. I was tired from the week and my body was ready for bed early Friday night. I crashed without setting my alarm. I woke up at 3:15 am and couldn't fall back asleep. The only thought I had was get up and head to the gym. What gym is opened that early you ask? The Midwest Mecca.....Old School Gym (OSG). This is not your run of the mill typical box gym.

I've been looking for a gym that could meet my needs of pushing past my comfort zone. As a family we attend the Y and it is great for maintaining but lacks an environment of GRIT. Lacks a schedule that fits the need of my family's crazy schedule. OSG is a place of serious business and it's a 30 minute drive from my house. So, why do I drive? Why do I drive to a gym that is on the opposite side of town? Why do I drive to a gym that feels like you may just need a tetanus shot when you live? Why....because it breeds success! It's simple really, OSG  pushes me completely outside my comfort zone. There I am inexperienced. There I am the old guy trying to learn from young men that understand what it takes to grind it out and physically push the limits. The first step in leadership is learning how to follow. I learned how to do this years ago but I have never taken this approach with my physical health. Yes, I could hire a trainer but I am not willing to pay per session what I pay a month at OSG. After all, I shouldn't have to pay someone to kick my butt. Instead ,I will surround myself with guys that do this everyday. The crew at OSG gets started at 4am every day. The means I need to leave my house around 3:30am if I want to roll with them. I've only been making the drive about 3-4 times a week over the last 3 weeks. It can be a miserable and lonely drive at that hour! However, I have found that just in this short amount of time I have become stronger both physically and mentally. Sure, I could sit here and throw out numbers about how much more I am already lifting than I was a few months ago. But, a few months ago I was training for obstacle course races and a half marathon. That in itself is completely different. Strength training takes a whole different mindset. My drive there and back is a time for self improvement. It's my time to reflect or get in a devotion. Sure, I could listen to some 90's gangsta rap to get me in the mood but I find that listening to audio books and podcasts tend to suit me best. If I follow Darren Hardy's  the Compound Effect....50 minutes of audio learning each trip gives me roughly 11 hours of learning a month. Not a bad way to start the day and become better than yesterday.

Why Drive? Because it's not about the goal. It's not about a certain number I want to hit. It's all about becoming better. As Robbins states... it's all about becoming the person that can accomplish the goal. In the process of getting better I find myself failing. Just last week I attempted lifts that I had never done before. Multiple times I found myself stuck under the bar. The weight bearing down on me and reminding me I'm not there YET. That is part of the process. Pushing my limits to failure and trusting that the guys at OSG will help get the weight off of me. The cool part is that typically after a failed lift comes an immediate time of reflection. Someone will tell me how my form looked and how I could make it better. I listen before speaking. I identify ways to adjust and shift my mindset from failure to application.   

Your body will quit every time you give it permission to! The trick is to learn to speak to yourself in such a way that you will not quit. In such a way that ignores the pain and the fear. Embracing this type of mindset early in the morning sets the tone for the rest of my day. It also helps alleviate stress. As my man Coyte Cooper  likes to say......

I leave you with one final thought about the DRIVE. What drives me is personal. It doesn't matter what you think about it or how it makes you feel. It's my DRIVE. I recently read Chase the Lion book and devotion. I pasted the Manifesto that Mark Batterson penned in his book. This has truly helped shape my outlook on life for myself and for how I want to lead my family. I am typically a very reactive person. One that believes we live in the moments and not worry about our futures because it robs of joy today. This has given me a different perspective on where I am and where I need to go. I hope you read it and find your DRIVE! It may seem awkward at best. Batterson believes that breakthroughs happen as a result of awkwardness. We should always CRAVE....CREATE....CULTIVATE awkwardness. Lord knows I do at 3:30am. 

I  would love for you to share your thoughts and tell me what DRIVES you. Leave a comment and let's chase the life we want!



Thursday, October 27, 2016

Put Your Name On It


You can't be afraid to put your name on your work. Take pride in what you do. Teach students to do the same. Don't take off points for “No Name”. Have you ever thought that maybe it is not forgetfulness? Maybe it is lack of connection and boredom. Maybe  their assignments mean nothing to them. Create assignments that are meaningful and ones that students will take pride in doing. They will want to put their name on it because they are proud of what they have created. Take a moment before your next assignment and think… this worthy of someone's name?
1539041564-quote-George-Foreman-put-your-name-on-something-it-better-86023.pngBecause that name special. It was deliberated on and thought about by their parents, a symbol of who they are, and something they carry great pride in. Discuss with your students the importance of owning their work. Too many are afraid of failure and feel that if they attach their name to something and it fails they will look bad. I would rather be associated with effort than nothing at all. So,  take pride in what you do. Put your name on it and share it for all to see your masterpieces. Think of all the major brands that are in the world today. We know many of them based on their logo...their name. They take great pride in their work and they created a logo that acts as their signature to tell the world who they are. As a society we buy based on quality and we buy because the logo equates to quality.

Teachers, we need to lead by example. Step up! Own our work, our craftsmanship, and own our moments of impact. As a profession we need to be putting ourselves out their as game changers. So, what will be the next thing you put your name on?



Saturday, August 13, 2016

6 Steps to Becoming an Encore Educator

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To change your outcome change your practices, not your principles. Southwest

Mark Sanborn, the author of The Fred Factor, opens up his book, The Encore Effect, with this quote discussing the positive growth of Southwest Airlines. It was one of those days this summer where I was in the car way too much and passed the time by listening to this book. While the premise for this book is directed to public speakers the correlation for teachers was easily made. I sent Mark a quick message and asked if I could write a blog using the principles he outlined in the book and adjusting them a bit for teachers starting a new year. He sadi yes and can't wait to read it. Be sure to check out his work and follow him on twitter @Mark_Sanborn.

Think about this question…..What does it take to get an encore? One of my favorite bands of all time has got to be The Dave Matthews Band. I’ve seen them numerous times and it never fails that at the end of the show they are cheered back on the stage to play one final set. To deliver their encore. The encore almost always seems to be the most memorable moment of the concert. You can’t get enough of their music and musicianship. What if you delviered this type of performance with your students? That simple thought is the basis of this blog.

Next week a new school year starts here in Central Ohio and I want to issue a challenge. That’s right I bought the challenge in early to make you think. Hopefully make you get a little #UNCOMFORTABLE! Ready? If giving the chance would your students or staff give you an encore? Would they want to return to your room or building just to give you the chance to influence them one more time? I bet you are questioning yourself right now. What I've done next is list six takeaways on how to become an Encore Educator. With each I am also giving some more challenge questions to help drive your efforts.

Becoming an Encore Educator

1. Performance Matters
Every day is a chance to make an impact. Every day is game day.You can’t waste it!
Love what you do and let that be seen by your students.All too often teachers are heard complaining in the lounge or looking forward to the weekend. If we are looking forward to getting out of the classroom then our students are too.

How do you perform every day? Every Class? Are you in the hallways giving high fives?

2. Define your Brand 

How will students define you?

That is your Brand! To build your brand you have to hone in on your craft. Sitting idle and living in a monotonous growth phase does not leave an impact. You have to dive in and take chances. Students remember GAME CHANGERS, not in the stand teachers. In Rising Strong Brene Brown uses Theodore Roosevelt's Man in the Arena quote as a driving force for her research and I find it inspiring to make us all strive to be DARING GREATLY!


How are you being a game changer?
Have an IMPACT...BE MORE worried about your Student's education and success than they are.
Sanborn states that in the hands of a professional customers relax because they know they are in good hands.  So will students.  Giving them space, where they feel they can push themselves is vital. Our performance is more than what we know.  It's about what we do with what we know.

Use Sanborn’s PDA formula

Passion + Discipline + Action = Remarkable Performance

3. What's your record?

If you wish to be out front act as if you're behind. Back in my coaching days, I would always tell my teams we need to practice like we’re in second. Never allow your record to hold you back. At the same time, your record is an indication as to how well you are doing. I’m sure we have all seen the recent historic moments of Michael Phelps in the Summer Olympics.
The fact that Phelps let his record speak for itself and become the most decorated Olympian in all of history is simply mind blowing. We don’t teach for applause or for rewards. But being honored for what you do in the classroom should be celebrated. Students react to your recognition and gain a sense of pride for their teacher. Again, I’m not saying that winning awards like Teacher/Administrator of the Year is a bad thing because it definitely helps you stand out. What I am saying is simply focus on winning in the classroom. Winning with your students. Now, most importantly what is the record you hold with your students, parents, or peers? These are the most telling of your impact. The simple notes left after class from a student that says thank you. When your peers seek you out for advice. When parents praise you in the community and tell others to be sure their child has you in class. These are the records that mean the most and where you should place your stock in. These are the ones that indicate your are doing something right. Now ask yourself this question…..When was the last time I received this kind of recognition? If you can’t think of that answer then do some soul searching and figure out what is going on. It comes down to simply serving others. When you act out of service it never goes unnoticed. My wife shared a digital post it note with me this week and simply stated….If Service is Below You, Leadership is Beyond You.

4. What are your students doing in class?

As educators, we have to practice what we teach. Start by setting goals with your students. Yes, you should have some personal goals but setting goals with your students allows them to have ownership in your class. Ownership leads to engagement and motivation. Every day do these things:

Engage your students. Be sure to use hands-on activities and real world experiences. Engage every bit of their senses.
  • Connect with your students. Not just in class but on an emotional level. The more they know you care the more they will show they care.
  • Compete with your students.  Not just compete through play but you must compete for their attention. Students today come to class with their minds already preoccupied. The best way to gain their attention is to make sure you are giving them yours.  
  • Give your students Voice and Choice in every single aspect of their learning. This is a journey for them and you are their guide. You can’t always be leading from the front.
  • Your vibe attracts your tribe. You must have a contagious and attractive vibe if you want to receive an encore.
  • Understand that  your students have unlimited potential.  Don't stifle it.

5. Polish up

As educators we can easily find ourselves going through the motions. During the summers I often find myself looking forward to school starting because I need the routine. We have to be willing to fight mediocrity. The best way to do this is to polish up on your skills. Think of the smooth rocks along the shore of lake. They weren’t just placed there in the condition. They were constantly being shaped by the elements until all the rough edges were gone. We all have rough edges in our game. Quit teaching the same lesson year in and year out. Change up your game to enhance where you currently are. Constantly self assess what you are doing and ask for feedback from everyone in your sphere of influence.

6. Bad Days Happen

Stop comparing yourself to other teachers or other schools.  While social media can be a great tool to learn from I often find myself comparing what others have that I don’t. We like to play the comparison game and say things like….. “If only our district had the money, I could never do that in my school, I’m just not that creative, or It’s not covered on the test.” These are all self induced obstacles that we set in our minds so we don’t have to go above and beyond. When you get the chance to go above and beyond know this, bad days will happen. The new technology will crash. The wifi will go down. A student will not pay attention. These are not moments of failure.  Failure is to be embraced so that we may learn from it. Yes, you will need embrace all of failure. With that I mean the emotions that come along with it. Brene Brown likes to say that we gold plate Grit and Failure when we simply try to make it cool. The ones who truly shine admit their feelings and their faults in the midst of bad days. They learn to handle these moments like champions by wearing their hearts on theirs sleeves. Build on your strengths and help students build on theirs.

I did my best to tie in some of Sanborn’s principles and tweak them for our educational purposes. The thought of receiving a standing ovation at the end of each class would be phenomenal. Will it happen every day? Probably not. But, you only need one encounter to make an impact and leave a lasting impression. The big question is what will be your lasting impression on your students? Could you teach them to become the encore generators of the future? Would love to hear your thoughts and if you feel something needs to be added to the list.


John Riley

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Eat MyBubbles! Lessons From the Pool

Ahhhhhh Summertime! Hopefully, you heard that being said in my best Will Smith and DJ Jazzy Jeff voice. It's a time for relaxing.  A time for reflection. A time for family.  A time for professional development.  A time to build.  In our house, it's been a time to move and a time to grow our family as we prepare to adopt our little Scout. Over the last 6 years, our summers have consisted of swim practice and meets as our daughter swims competitively. The pool has become our stomping grounds. With this being an Olympic summer a lot of attention gets shifted to those sports that we all watch and go back to our childhood memories and dreams.  My daughter Ava shares those same dreams as she watches Missy Franklin compete. I don't squash her dreams with statistics but merely encourage her to chase after them. After all, what do you say to an 11-year-old that wants you to write on her shoulders Eat My Bubbles....Wake Zone....Oxygen is Overrated.

You see....I know absolutely nothing about swim.  My daughter can easily beat me in a race but I can still beat her in the biggest splash contest. Watching her year in and year out one learns a lot about the sport. One can't help but see the similarities between lessons in the pool and lessons in life.

1. LOVE- It takes a special kind of LOVE to wake up every morning during your summer break and want to hit the water. The first week of June the air temp was in the mid-50s and these kids were in the outdoor pool giving it all they had and getting blue lips from the cool air. Look at that smile on her face. This is after being at the pool for 4 hours. She absolutely loves the water and loves to compete. If you want to be successful you have to LOVE what you do and be willing to chase after it no matter what. LOVE should be what anchors your dreams.

2. START- This is the moment in the race that swimmers truly zone in. She rises up on the starting block and has to mentally block out all the noise. She doesn't start by sight but by sound. A simple beep is her trigger to hit the water head first. The water is relentless. It's cold. It can cause you pain if you hit it at the wrong angle. For no fear exists in her mind as years of practice have taught her how to hit the water at just the right angle and glide as far as she can with limited friction. It's almost poetic as she meets the water and begins her kicks to propel down the lane. If we want to make it in life we have to be willing to START. Embrace the #UNCOMFORTABLE You can't tip your toes in the water to see if it's cold you have to go all in. You may experience a false start but you get a do-over. 

3. BTY- Yes, swimming is a team sport but it is a team made of individuals. One where some swim better long distances or sprints. One where some are better at different strokes over others. Most importantly one that stresses the importance of personal bests. A great swim meet isn't always about winning your heats as much as it is about getting your personal best times. My daughter understands the saying...Better Than Yesterday. That's her goal. Always swim better than you did yesterday. Even if the difference is by a hundredth of a second it's still better. What if you lived your life this way? Making each day better than the one before. Imagine what you could accomplish with this mindset! 

4.DETAILS- She has executed her best start and finds herself in the water. This is not a friendly place, The water is not your friend. It's very nature is too slow you down and drag you under. This is where executing all the details of practice come into play. The moments of her first years of swimming and laying on the dry ground practicing hand movements begin to pay off. The perfect stroke. The powerful kicks. The side breathing. All must become synchronized for optimal performance if you wish to overcome the grip of the water. Every DETAIL has been rehearsed to the point that they have become instinct. Pay attention to the DETAILS in life not because they add up but because they design your life. If you want to have a life you love, a life worth living, then fill it with DETAILS of greatness. Along the way don't forget to breathe. Unplug for a bit and reflect on the DETAILS. Focus on what got you to this point and what will get where you need to go. 

5. TRUST- Usually at the beginning or end of a meet you will find relays. A four-person unit will represent the team to compete against others. Here TRUST is built as each member is relied upon  to do their best. After all, each relay team is only as fast as their weakest swimmer. This TRUST is built from time in the pool together. These girls go to battle together and seize the moment to lift one another up. They cheer so loud you can hear their screams across the pool and it penetrates the water to deliver encouragement. Here comebacks are mounted and sometimes failure is handed out. But as a team the TRUST that has been built overcomes. It shines through like a beacon of hope. We are meant to do life with others. We must embrace differences and place our TRUST in them if we want to bring out the best in each other. Your vibe attracts your tribe! Build your relationships on TRUST and common goals. Without TRUST in your life, you would live in a state of worry. If you are a person that struggles with this then what are you waiting for? TRUST starts today!

6. FINISH STRONG- As she makes her final flip turn off the wall you can see the exhaustion kicking in. Her feet aren't motoring as fresh and her breathing has become labored. But in this moment a simple prompt from the coach can be heard....FINISH STRONG. A spark is created. Her kicks come alive and determination to finish propels her faster to the wall. Swimming is a sport of mere seconds. In Olympic races competitors literally finish within tenths and hundredths of a second from one another. Just think of the Michael Phelps miracle finish in Beijing where he simply outreached his opponent with a final lunge at the end! It's important to FINISH what you have started. Don't give up so easily on yourself. Never give in because you become tired. You've already endured the pain and the end is near. FINISH STRONG! Believe in yourself and help others find their belief. 

I look forward to watching my daughter swim for years to come. More importantly, I look forward to watching her do what she loves. I won't push her to win the Olympics but I will support her dreams. See ya poolside and Eat My Bubbles!

I would love to hear what you think. Leave some feedback in the comments and share the lessons from the pool with others. Big shout out to my daughter who actually helped with the content of this blog. 



Friday, May 27, 2016

Holding Me B.A.C.

A simple challenge. A reflection at the end of the year. An honest moment from your building director that makes you think. We've celebrated success at the ILC over the first years. We are embarking on our largest enrollment year ahead. Students join us everyday to do education differently. Our culture is one of trust, play, failure acceptance out of risk, collaboration, and BFK (Best For Kids). We GET to impact lives daily...not HAVE to go to work. Yet... there exists a sense of complacency. We are not there YET. We have more to give and bigger SPLASHES to make. How do we get B.A.C. on track? How do we Battle Against Complacency? You see complacency sets in when you experience some success. I admit it. I personally settled in this year allowing things to fall in place. I wasn't pushing new boundaries or necessarily chasing greatness. Why not? I got comfortable. I allowed my comfort zone to be embraced and not challenged. A few years back I used #UNCOMFORTABLE as my one word and it truly challenged me. Maybe I need to go back to it. 

As a staff we made SPLASH goals that we got all excited about in the fall. We went after them like crazy but then slowly the excitement faded. We needed a few reminders to continue to make waves. We decided to host the first ever Great Shake event. Where seniors from each Academy were encouraged to compete in an interview competition. They weren't necessarily judged on their skills as much as they were on being able to tell their story, making eye contact, shaking hands, and making a SPLASH. These students interviewed better than most adults and surprisingly all 16 competitors scored within 5 pts of each other with the winner winning by less than a point.  We decided to do more as a building instead of individual Academies. We hosted our first Student ILC Olympics. Not your normal field day. What made these moments special....the students. Watching them interact and making an impact. Watching them take a chance and having a smile on their face as they did it. Another win was team collaboration on behalf of the teachers and staff. It was never a solo act but more importantly a compilation of ideas that just came together. As a matter of fact the first thought was let's wait until next year to do this. Why? So we can perfect it. Boring. We went all in and made it happen now. Reflecting along the way on how to make it better next year.

Where is the complacency in this? It sometimes becomes very personal and we have to really look a ourselves to find that answer. Is it possible that as a building our culture is amazing? YES! Is it possible that were are doing amazing work? YES! Is it possible that education is happening in a dramatically different way then in other buildings? YES! Is it possible that we are far away from the ultimate goal of offering revolutionary experiences? YES! It's possible we have a ways to go and need to make sure we are not settling. ABSOLUTELY. These tend to be individual battles that we need to be made aware of. After all if your Vibe attracts your Tribe then you will start to rub off on others. Good or bad.

Battling Against Complacency looks like this:

  1. Be FLEXIBLE! Quit being stuck in the mud. At least try. Yes, Yoda told us there is no try. But take a risk and fail rather than just sitting back and doing nothing. A decision to do nothing is still a decision. 
  2. CARPE DIEM. Quit waiting for the perfect moment and the right time. Make each time the right time. Create your own vision and share it with others. Keep each other accountable. 
  3. Find the ONE THING. Complacency does not involve the whole. Find out where you are complacent and work on that. Find out where you are succeeding and build on that. "Do ONE THING everyday that scares you" E. Roosevelt That is one of my favorite quotes and I think one that stretches us out of our comfort zone. 
  4. THE SKY IS NOT THE LIMIT. IT'S JUST THE BEGINNING. Love this line from a spoken word artist at Harvard (See video clip). Set your bar higher. If you are not feeling stretched then get after it. Make yourself uncomfortable and keep pushing boundaries. Create your crater and leave your mark.
What will next year hold? It will not hold me. I'm battling B.A.C.


Tuesday, April 26, 2016


The power of social media is priceless. It’ a crazy piece of the puzzle that can connect two educators in completely different states and inspire them to collaborate on a blog. What you are about to read is just that. Bethany will share some background about how we got connected and introduce the concept of placing content second. I (John) will finish up with some scenarios and how to in order to help implement this challenge.

Becoming a connected educator is one of the most important decisions I have ever made. Three summers ago, I decided to enter the Twitter world in order to keep up with my son’s activity. Little did I know that a whole new world of professional learning was waiting on me. One of the first people I connected with that fall was John Riley, an educator from Ohio. We connected in No Box Thinking Chat, and I quickly knew we were like-minded. Since then we have learned from each other and grown in our profession. I consider him a friend even though we have never had the honor of meeting face to face.I cherish the relationships I have formed and the empowerment I have gained from my connections.


There are so many aspects of education that spark my passion, but the most important belief I possess is the fact that we must love kids first and foremost. The very first meeting between myself and a child is one of my most cherished moments, for it is the moment when I “get” to make that individual a priority. I have an opportunity to show appreciation for who that child is, which is not a “student”, but a real person who deserves to be noticed. Kids have to feel that initial connection early because they don’t have time to waste. The sense of urgency is imperative--we must form relationships with authenticity early in order to reach them. Our ability to teach them will be enhanced tremendously by our ability to connect with them first. There is simply no other priority that trumps this one! All educators should have this as their number one objective each and every day. Connect, care, and collect information about them. Use this to inspire and empower kids with confidence, knowledge, and life skills. These are the traits that will give them the ability to tackle content.

As an adult, I can quickly think back on my student life of 19 years (from kindergarten through graduate school) and my mind immediately separates my teachers into two categories: those who connected with me, and those who did not. When I first began my career in Cabot, Arkansas as a first-grade teacher, I made myself a promise to work diligently at the task of being a teacher that kids would remember in the “connected category”. I have never wanted to be anything less! What if all educators felt this charge each and every moment they spend with kids? I can honestly say that I have not taken advantage of every single opportunity, and I deeply regret those moments where I missed out on a chance to make a strong connection with a child. I am proud to say that those moments are few and far between, but they do hold a mass of regret in my heart. I challenge you to have little or no regrets when it comes to chances with kids. Take every opportunity, and seize every moment. Don’t get lost in the content you teach. Get lost in who you teach each and every school day. Get personal. Get connected. Get attached. It will be worth every moment of time you spend.

Bethany, what a great way to start thinking differently about how we approach teaching from a different lens. Have you ever heard the story of the circus elephant? From the time it is born it is tied to a stake with a heavy chain. No matter how hard it pulls it can not get free. The older it gets the bigger the chain. It struggles to get free but no matter what it does it can not. By the time it is full size it has been conditioned to the chain. It is mentally beat and accepts the fact it can not get free. It could simply break the chain as an adult but because of years of being exposed to negative results it simply gives up and gives into the chain. The elephant limits itself and no longer takes a chance on getting free. By heavily relying on content and placing priority on it, we are basically chaining our students and not allowing them the freedom to express creativity, perseverance, originality, or the ability to real world problem solving. We are creating carbon copies in a world that needs individuality.

Now, we are not saying that content is bad.  We are educators, we are to help our students make sense of the curriculum. What we are saying is that content should be a second thought. Let's start with the foundation. Relationships! In working with the Focus 3 organization this school year and learning about the R-Factor, they stress the importance of owning your 20 square feet. Because if we own our classroom and build relationships with our students we start the process of TRUST. If we were to rewrite the Teddy Roosevelt quote for the classroom it would read...Kids don't care how much you know until they know how much you care. 

One of the greatest privileges as a teacher is to serve our students. If they don't need service then we need to teach them how to serve others. This should happen before content. We should be building culture in the classroom. Not one centered around content but one centered around the potential of each student. How do we do this?  First, you need to buy in. We can all talk about it but you must do it. It could be a change for you and yes that could be uncomfortable. We all know that personal growth begins outside your comfort zone. A colleague of mine likes to say….If it’s not in you it can’t be used through you. Second, it needs to come from your heart. If I asked what is the most electric producing organ in your body, what would you say? Most answer the brain. But it's actually the heart. Some quick facts about the heart from

  • The heart begins to form in the fetus before the brain.
  • The average heart beats 110,000 times a day, 40 million times a year, 3.5 billion times in a lifetime.
  • Your heart produces enough power in 1 hour to lift 2,000 pounds 3 feet off the ground. In one hour and 15 minutes the heart could lift a Toyota Prius!
  • The source of the heartbeat is in the heart, not the brain. When they do a heart transplant ,they cannot reconnect the heart and brain. The heart beats on its own.
  • The electrical impulse of each heart beat can be measured 3 to 4 feet from the body.
  • The electrical impulse of the heart is 40 - 60 times stronger than the brain. It is many more times stronger than any other electrical impulse in the body.
  • The heart sends more information to the brain, than the brain does to the heart.
  • The heart's vascular system is 60,000 miles long and can wrap around the earth twice.
  • Different people's (or even animal's) heart cells, will all beat in unison in a petrie dish. Different people's brain cells in a petrie dish will not communicate with each other and die.
  • The electricity generated by the heart can be detected and measured in the brain patterns of another person nearby.
  • The heart works without interruption for 70-80 years, without care or cleaning, usually without repair or replacement. Do you need energy or stamina? Access the heart!

So, why all this data on the heart. Because the heart is what connects you to others and they can detect you heart energy. Our hearts will naturally sync with others when they are in our presence and the opposite is true. Think about it. Have you ever been in a room with someone and you thought...their energy is contagious. I feel energized just being around them. Then there is that instance where you left a room feeling drained because an individual was so negative.  If we bring into our classroom positive energy from the heart we will transform the relationships we have with our students and they will, in turn, learn more from you. Again, content second. Last, we must multiply our efforts and influence others. Your VIBE attracts your TRIBE!
If you have bought in then I dare you to not teach anything for the first three days of school. Don't touch the syllabus for the first week of school. Work on heart level engaging activities. Build relationships and show students that they can trust you. Grow in understanding every aspect of what makes each student special. Start today! Don't wait for the start of a new year. What can you do now to focus on what is best for kids? Think of the 3M approach. Model...what you want to see. others begin their journey from watching what you are doing. Multiply… sharing your contagious energy and empowering others to embrace the #CARinitiative.  

CHALLENGE: We wanted to end this blog a little differently. We want to challenge you to try this for a day or start doing it as much as you can. Generate some buzz by sharing what you are doing using #CARinitiative. Tag us in your post so we can share what you are doing with our PLNs. We can’t wait to see your posts! Let’s inspire others as we challenge ourselves.

Thanks for reading!

Bethany and John

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