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Five Characteristics of the Divergent Teacher


The idea of divergence is occasionally envisioned as two paths diverging in the wood, perhaps thanks to our friend Robert Frost. However, the idea of divergent teaching is much more than choosing the road less traveled. To clearly define what a divergent teacher is, I (Mandy) adapted the psychological definition of divergent: (of thought) using a variety of premises, especially unfamiliar premises, as bases for inference, and avoiding common limiting assumptions in making deductions. Therefore, the definition I’ve developed for divergent teaching is:

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Education Empower Learning featured Inspiration Luminous Culture

Connecting With Learners: The Power Behind Cultivating Strengths and Interests

School is in full swing, and enthusiasm continues to soar as learners create, make, and learn through exploring their curiosities. All the while, we dedicate time to cultivating authentic relationships with each and every child entrusted in our care to support them in their journey toward personal excellence. In anticipation of all that will unfold this school year as my learners develop greater autonomy, I continue to revel in my experiences this past summer that contributed to my personal and professional growth, and created some of the very best memories.


My summer kicked off with a bang as I collaborated with educators at the PBS Digital Innovator Summit in Chicago, made a quick turn around to present at Model Schools in Orlando, and then connected with nine highly respected friends and passionate educators back in Chicago to co-author Volume II of Education Write Now, Top Strategies for Improving Relationships and Culture. Together, we learned about the Will To Live Foundation, in which all of our proceeds will go towards, to awareness and increase education to prevent teen suicide.


Interestingly, I had only met one person, Jeff Zoul, face-to-face before our collaborative project. Jeff is someone who I view as not only a friend, but mentor in my journey who I deeply respect. As for the other educators present, we had connected via social media for a number of years, and some I’ve collaborated with on various projects from miles away. I was thrilled to finally meet everyone face-to-face! Being together felt like being with family, and I’m still in awe of the entire experience. Additionally, I had the opportunity to get to know Lauren Davis from Routledge who provided immense support in the writing process along with Jeff and Sanee Bell. During our time, I was amazed at how quickly we all connected through fostering relationships, which developed into the overarching theme of our book. In just 48 hours we all contributed a chapter, and our work was brought together as Volume II, set to be released in December 2018. If you haven’t had the opportunity to read Volume 1 of Education Write Now, I highly recommend checking it out. It was released in December 2017, and focuses on Change in education. 


Each week, authors of Education Write Now Volume II, have been sharing insights into the experience as well as a glimpse into their chapter. Last week Rosa Isiah shared nuggets from her powerful chapter, Connecting with Every Student: Creating a Culture of Equity and Access encouraging us to reflect on the steps we’re taking to provide every children with the very best opportunities. Isiah reminds us,“it’s our moral imperative to positively influence, nurture, guide and empower our students.”


The topic of relationships is not new in education. However, I believe we can make more meaningful and authentic connections with our learners, influencing their lives. My hope is to challenge our thinking to go deeper by connecting with learners through cultivating their strengths and interests, thus nurturing a culture that embraces all individuals for who they are as opposed to shaping our youth to fit within our vision of who they should be.


Our Youth’s Perception of Themselves Effects Their Learning

At the conclusion of the first week of school this year, I had my learners write one goal for the upcoming week. A 9-year old girl in my class wrote, my goal is to not be bad this year.


Seeing this written crushed me. I subtly pulled her aside to figure out what was behind her comment to understand why she felt the way she did. She explained, “last year I was bad. I blurted out, didn’t follow directions like the other kids, and annoyed everyone.” I looked her square in the eyes and said, “when I saw you on my class list, I was beyond excited!” I continued, “you are needed here, and I can’t wait to see what you contribute to our class this year, you have so much to offer!” Following that, I listed some of the strengths I readily saw in her such as leadership, persistence, and creative thinking. Now, just imagine for a moment that instead I responded by stating, “that’s a great goal to have.” What message would that have sent?


Every single child deserves to feel wanted and appreciated in our classrooms. Our youth needs to be seen for the good they bring and provided support in areas they’re growing in. Every child brings their own originality, and I’m genuinely excited to see the learners in my class blossom as we explore their strengths and interests this school year in a culture rooted in the foundation of relationships. Sure, challenges will arise, but we need to provide unwavering support and foster resilience in our learners that carry with them long after their time with us.


By honoring the originality of each child and connecting with their unique interests, we cultivate deeper relationships where everyone feels genuinely valued and is embraced by the group; fostering intrinsic motivation and greater autonomy.


In Education Write Now, Volume II, I elaborate on this topic. Here is an excerpt from my chapter, Connecting With Learners: The Power Behind Cultivating Strengths and Interests that will encourage you to consider why this is essential in our schools.


Relationships are essential to developing a culture where individuals feel supported as risk-takers, creative thinkers, and to leverage their strengths and interests to enhance learning. However, according to one study, research reveals that, “The least favorite students were the non-conformists who made up their own rules. Teachers tend to discriminate against highly creative students, labeling them as troublemakers.”1 Reflecting on the research, imagine how we may be negatively shaping learners or influencing the path they take in life by communicating in subtle ways that they’re troublemakers. It’s concerning that our labeling and communication could create a self-fulfilling prophecy for some. Perhaps as educators, we could reframe our thinking and view non-conformists, or highly creative learners as individuals who can spark immense change if supported to navigate their journey through identifying and cultivating their unique strengths. Let’s be cognizant to seek out the strengths of every individual intentionally.


Interestingly, in comparison, compliant learners who seek to appease their parents and teachers by passively following routines, are more favorable to have in class.2 Plain and simple, teaching learners who are compliant, is significantly more manageable. However, compliance rarely shakes up the way we do things. Cultivating an environment where every learner wholeheartedly believes they’re of value unleashes untapped potential, particularly as they discover their strengths and interests and grasp that they have a place and purpose.


Fostering agency within a student-centered environment, rather than teacher centered, communicates that every learner profoundly matters. Unfortunately, traditionally speaking, schools have followed a more compliance-based model of teaching and learning where students spend their time focusing on what’s directed by their teacher. Our creative thinkers should be perceived as a gift to be discovered rather than a problem to be solved.


In today’s world, with technology rapidly accelerating the way we do things, and the economy shifting, we need to empower learners through fostering agency and connect them with their strengths and interests to enhance learning. There is no good reason to why many educators are still dangling carrots in front of students to learn. What benefit does it yield? If students are only learning to appease adults or earn rewards, we’ve got it wrong. In fact, Alfie Kohn shares, “The more that people are rewarded for doing something, the more likely they are to lose interest in whatever they had to do to get the reward.” Creating opportunities for learners to develop agency is a non-negotiable in today’s classroom. Whether you have a set curriculum, mandated programs or learning standards to utilize, there are always a variety of ways to infuse learners’ strengths and interests to create relevancy and increase learner agency. When students are motivated, learning becomes more productive, leading to richer results. We need to cultivate the disruptor and bust the compliance paradigm.


As for the girl in my class who has a goal to, “not be bad,” I cannot wait for her to realize her value as the year continues. She too, has gifts to be discovered and I vow to be the person who helps her reveal them.


Upon the release of Education Write Now, Volume II, you’ll have tips and strategies accessible for how you can connect with learners by cultivating their strengths and interests so that every learner can blossom. Our role in education goes far beyond preparing learners to simply be successful in the next grade level, move on to college or become employed. While we can acknowledge that each is important, it doesn’t necessarily transfer to creating a lasting impact on learners. We need to ensure that we’re not just moving our youth along a track. Join me as we ditch the compliance-based paradigm of learning by connecting through deep relationships, and cultivating students’ strengths and interests to foster agency. Together we can take steps forward to transform learning experiences, inspiring students to develop the drive to learn. Let’s open the gateway to unlimited possibilities where every individual is encouraged to flourish.


We are the difference makers, and it’s essential we take the leap.


Next week, look for Parentcamp: Fill the Relationship Gap Between Schools and Families by Laura Gilchrist. In addition to reading Rosa Isiah’s post mentioned earlier, I encourage you to check out past posts from Jeff ZoulStrategies for Improving Relationships and Culture, and Randy Ziegenfuss: Relationships: The Foundation of Learner-Centered Innovation. In upcoming weeks, be on the lookout for posts from Sanee Bell, Onica Mayers, Winston Sakurai, Sean Gaillard, and Danny Bauer. Each post shares a glimpse into a chapter and insights from our collaborative project.






1-2 Grant, Adam. (2016) Originals. New York, NY: Penguin Books.
3 Kohn, Alfie (2005) Unconditional Parenting. New York, NY: Atria Books
Education Empower Learning featured

Maker Mornings Empower Learning

Maker Mornings Empower Learning

From the moment they enter the classroom, learners are on the go! Each day, we spend the first twenty-five minutes of class engaging in any activity of choice. A few years back, a ten-year-old girl in my class suggested that we should have maker mornings. Rather than visiting the makerspace here and there throughout the week, learners were seeking the opportunity to create, make and explore on a daily basis. Considering that it was a flexible time in our day since learners could arrive at 8:00 am, but the class didn’t officially start until 8:25, how could I say no? After all, there are incredible benefits to maker education!


Reap the Many Benefits of Maker Education

Fosters Autonomy

Exploring with Sam Labs and other materials

Learners have the freedom to decide what items and materials they want accessible in our classroom makerspace to utilize during maker mornings. That first year, we reorganized a shelving unit in our room along with a cabinet together so that learners were capable of retrieving what they required. Using multiple bins, we were able to identify ways to store materials to avoid our space becoming cluttered. Although truth be told, there are certainly times in which projects take up more space than we anticipate!

Learners are empowered to select any activity of their choice  each morning and often choose to continue working on projects started days prior. With that said, they also have reasonable time constraints (that they assist in creating) for wrapping up projects.


Cultivates Divergent Thinking

Maker education promotes divergent thinking; the ability to generate creative ideas and explore multiple solutions. Learners explore new ways to code Sphero, Ozobot, Dash and Dot, or create music and even game controllers (that really work) using Makey Makey. Additionally, they enjoy making new creations that serve various purposes with everything from SAM LabsLittle Bits, LEGOS, Qubits, Tinkertoys, and the like. With basic materials such as cardboard, tape, foil, and glue, learners have created everything from a foosball table, marble run, marble mazes, and replicas of games commonly found at school carnivals over the years. Following a cardboard box challenge, we then took our projects and shared them at our local Barnes and Noble Mini Maker Faire so that members of the community could interact with our creations and learn from students.

Coding Dash and Dot from Wonder Workshop

  As a class, we also engaged in a wearable technology design challenge using Design Thinking. Learners were empowered to ideate endless ways to create forms of wearable technology to either innovate what currently exists or to make something new based on the needs/wants in our society. I observed learners grapple with how to prototype and retool when their design failed to work as they envisioned, thus further cultivating divergent thinking.


Develops Growth Mindset

While we integrate literature, team-building activities, and also embed the language that encourages learners to persevere through challenges throughout daily learning to cultivate a growth mindset in learners, maker mornings have allowed me to watch learners blossom through the development of a growth mindset over the course of the school year. Learners went from wanting to give up on projects and demonstrating frustration to saying, “I might not have this yet, but I’ll get it eventually!” There’s a lot of power that exists behind the word yet. I’ve also observed learners laugh when a structure broke to turn around and then to retool their work to meet success.

Learners became more reflective and understanding of their own needs, along with their peers’, too.  When a friend struggled to grasp how to code Dash to complete the next mission, individuals demonstrated patience and listened with understanding, showing empathy. During this process, learners would clarify and ask questions to promote the thinking of others rather than merely telling the solution. Within maker education, learners are better able to develop the ability to examine why something works the way it does or problem solve how to create a better way, thus fostering resiliency.


Empowers Communication and Creative Expression

We utilize accountable talk structures in our classroom to promote all learners to engage in meaningful conversations focused on their thoughts and learning. Maker mornings encouraged even deeper communication and creative expression as learners collaborated on what they wanted to create, how to design, and the ways they tried to recreate it if so desired. I recognized that learners were interacting with all of their peers based on similar interests as opposed to regularly seeking out those whom they were already close friends with.

Drawing their Prototype using Paper by 53

Additionally, learners felt empowered to creatively express themselves as they developed everything from newscasts to skits and included voice-over in mini-tutorials of what they were making or exploring to share with an authentic audience through our website or YouTube Channel. Throughout each activity, learners communicated with each other by providing their unique input, seeking help, asking clarifying questions, wondering, “what if,” and reflecting on their work.



Sparks Motivation

Learners are eager to arrive at school and express that they want to come even on the weekends!Attendance has increased as a result and those who once faced difficulty to come to school regularly communicated that they now want to be at school to continue working on a project of their choice and to be with their peers. Kicking off the day with maker mornings excites learners and cultivates a warm atmosphere where all are eager to share their ideas.

As a perk, when it’s time to transition to other subject areas, learners demonstrate greater motivation to get started, as their brain is activated and ready! If you currently have a worksheet waiting for learners each morning, I encourage you to experiment with providing choice to start the day. If you opt to explore maker mornings, we are all innovators and can craft opportunities to be unique to the needs of our learners and I always enjoy connecting with educators to brainstorm ideas and provide suggestions.


Learning on the Go!

Our maker mornings empower learners to move where they need to create, make and explore. Learners are driven to capture their making experiences using our classroom iPads and apps including (but not limited to) Book Creator, Explain Everything, and Seesaw. They enjoy app smashing to create a final product by posting on Flipgrid for peers to comment on, or our YouTube page to share with a broader audience. They absolutely love it when past students from other years return to our channel to comment on their videos!

Exploring with Little Bits

Since I have learners who prefer to film in the hallway, another classroom, and even outside with supervision, it’s crucial to ensure that iPads can go anywhere! While we initially had protective cases, I noticed students struggling to hold the iPad steady while recording. Additionally, the back stand would pop off causing the iPads to lay flat. Due to the constant inefficiency, we were open to exploring alternative iPad cases that would improve the learning experience for all.

Rug-Ed ProLOCK iPad cases have revolutionized how learners pilot their learning throughout the day. Learners are better able to capture their experiences with ease, due to the innovative design of the case featuring a curved handle. No longer are students covering the microphone or camera, but they’re equipped to record without unnecessary hassle. Their secure and removable stand remains steady on tables as they demonstrate understanding, provide feedback to peers, and showcase their learning. We found that their cases are one size fits most, meaning that they fit iPad air and on. Furthermore, my mind is at ease as Rug-Ed designs their cases to empower learners to be on the go, and offer optional device repair coverage if preferred


A Culture of Innovation

With a focus on igniting a culture of innovation, we intentionally strive to foster autonomy, divergent thinking, growth mindset, effective communication and creative expression. Our learners are equipped to take their learning on the go and are empowered as co-pilots of their learning. With the new year around the corner, I’m eager to see what next year will bring as each group of learners is unique, bringing innovative ideas to the forefront of the classroom. Join us in the maker morning movement, and share what your learners create using the hashtags of #makermorning and #LEAPeffect!



Education Empower Learning featured

Empowering Learning Through Science Exploration

This study was commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education’s Ready To Learn Initiative, led by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and PBS. It was conducted by EDC and SRI International, long-standing evaluation partners for the Ready To Learn Initiative.

Empowering Learning Through Science Exploration: Educators Inspire Families to Develop Science Skills in Young Children

Whether it was observing the sway of leaves and branches due to the wind or mixing paint to create new colors, my two sons were deeply curious about the world around them, particularly when they were young. At age 4, I recall my son Julian asking, “When we drive through fog, are we driving through a cloud?” Young children persistently ask questions. In response to this question from my son, I responded, “What do you think?” I wanted him to continue thinking, questioning and articulating his thoughts. Parents play a pivotal role in their child’s education from early bonding interactions in infancy through helping them navigate the waters of growing into adulthood.

A study conducted by EDC/SRI and funded by the Ready To Learn Initiative found that 99% of parents want to be involved in their children’s education. The first-of-its-kind study entitled What Parents Talk About When They Talk About Learning: A National Survey About Young Children and Science claims that ‘the early years in a child’s life are the most transformative and essential to laying the groundwork for later success in life.”

Spark Curiosity

Parents care deeply about their children and want to play an active role in their child’s education. Considering that the early years are critical to later success, we have to explore how we can ensure all parents feel supported in providing their children with rich learning experiences. As a parent and educator, it has always been a priority to spark curiosity and foster creative and critical thinking in my children and students. Fortunately, every child is naturally curious! However, curiosity decreases the older they become if they’re not encouraged to continue asking questions or exploring natural phenomena. The problem is that our children are growing up in a world that is continually shifting, and we need to consider the success skills our children require today and in the future.

Consider the jobs and businesses today that didn’t exist in the past. Companies such as Uber, Netflix, Amazon, and Airbnb have disrupted how we travel, shop, and engage with entertainment. The entrepreneurs who launched these businesses were curious about how they could re-think existing product offerings and embrace innovative, outside-the-box thinking to stand out and be successful. Our world will continue to evolve, primarily due to the advancement of technologies. We need to fan the flame to keep curiosity alive in our children and support them to be adaptable to our ever-changing world by fostering the development of critical thinking and creative problem-solving skills. Science is an excellent avenue to empower learning from a young age and foster divergent thinking.

Tapping into curiosity by empowering children to ask questions about the world around them supports the development of essential success skills. The research study further explains, “When parents support their children’s science exploration, they are helping children develop language, literacy, and critical thinking skills necessary for them to become adults who can reason logically and problem-solve creatively.” While we can create meaningful learning opportunities through science in school,  parents should understand why science exploration at home is critical and encourage families to feel confident in engaging their children in science enhances their growth.

Addressing the Learning at Home Science Gap

According to the study, parents have greater confidence in supporting their children’s skill development in reading and writing, math, and behavioral, social, and emotional needs. Only 54% of parents responded that they felt confident supporting the development of their child’s science skills. Interestingly, 7 out of 10 parents reported that having ideas to engage children in science using everyday materials would help them to facilitate science more often at home.

Family and Teacher Partnerships

Educators can help bridge this gap by empowering parents to take an active role in immersing their children in science exploration through a variety of ways. For starters, many schools host STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) nights which encourage families to explore interconnected science topics together. When families actively engage in learning science alongside their children, they recognize that science is all around us. From talking about solids, liquids, and gases to the life cycle of animals, science doesn’t have to be overly complicated. The goal is to inspire wonder and awe since sparking curiosity leads to children asking questions that foster critical and divergent thinking.

Additionally, engaging in conversations strengthens communication and language skills in children. Both parents and educators may feel intimidated not knowing the answers to some of our children’s questions. However, I assure you that it’s okay to say, “I’m not sure, let’s think about it or explore more.” Fortunately, with all the advancements in technology, we can use a laptop or smartphone to research answers to complex questions once thinking and exploration have been exhausted – or to confirm our ideas.

Engage, Interact, and Share

PBS KIDS is my go-to source considering they offer an expansive variety of resources to support both educators and families! With my children and students, we use Design Squad Global to promote creative and critical thinking through engineering, a component of science. When my children were younger, they enjoyed learning science concepts with Sid The Science KidPBS KIDS For Parents offers ideas for hands-on activities using materials found around the home, games that foster critical thinking skills and deepen the understanding of science-related skills and topics, apps and videos! Visit PBS LearningMedia for classroom-ready resources that further enhance learning.

As educators, we can easily share these resources with families through newsletters. However, face-to-face interactions are always more meaningful. In addition to STEAM nights, educators also may invite families in to explore science during the school day to support parents in developing a better understanding of how they can facilitate science learning at home. Sending home follow-up activities and resources that connect to the science exploration in school, help encourage parents to build on their child’s learning of science.

Lead by Communicating WHY Science

Most importantly, families need to understand why exploring science alongside their child is critical to their success. Returning to the Ready to Learn-funded research, science exploration helps children to develop more than an understanding of science. It enhances the development of language, literacy, and critical thinking skills that lead to the ability to reason logically and problem-solve creatively. Science also sparks curiosity, and our world needs individuals who ask questions that lead to creative problem-solving, for individuals to take on new challenges and create unique, innovative solutions. Together, educators and families can elevate education by working together to empower learning through science and crafting endless possibilities for learners to imagine, inquire, discover, and create!

Looking to empower families to feel confident learning science alongside their child? Check out the wide variety of PBS KIDS resources for families and educators:


Family Activities

  • Build a Better Birdhouse
  • Ruff Plushie & Game
  • Ruff and Smooth Scavenger Hunt
  • Ruffet Recipe Card


  • Ruff’s Cookie Creator
  • Fish Force
  • Hamster Run
  • Dress That Rhino
Computer Science (Coding For Children): ScratchJr. Family Activities
  • Play & Learn Science!
  • Cat in the Hat Builds That! (coming in soon)
Digital Content: What’s Good videos
Shows Featuring New Science and Literacy Content

Explore more resources available on PBS KIDS and PBS LearningMedia

Elisabeth Bostwick is proud to drive the “maker movement” at her school and has worked diligently to bring project-based learning and coding opportunities to students. She is an elementary school teacher and the 2017 PBS Digital Innovator from New York.  Follow Elisabeth on Twitter and Instagram, @ElisaBostwick.

This study was commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education’s Ready To Learn Initiative, led by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and PBS. It was conducted by EDC and SRI International, long-standing evaluation partners for the Ready To Learn Initiative.

Education featured Inspiration Leadership Luminous Culture

Embrace Your Inner Leader


Countless educators aim to inspire, be the change and exude positivity. I’m grateful for my connection to educators who exhibit this as it’s what encourages others to persevere in the face of adversity. As someone who has always embraced this concept myself, I tend to find it challenging to know how to share my voice on wrongdoings best. Afterall, positive people stick to positive messages, right? However, we cannot stand to glaze over apparent dysfunction or bow in fear to hierarchical models of leadership when we know something is blatantly wrong and ultimately hurting individuals. I believe that we can discuss semi-controversial topics while identifying creative ways to address them. Exuding positivity, as well as demonstrating professionalism is essential to me as an educator. Due to my deep sense of integrity, I’m also driven to be an agent of change, and my integrity makes it nearly impossible to ignore that there’s an enormous elephant in the room that exists for many educators.

Blogging and being connected as an educator has provided an avenue for us all to share our voice. Too many opt to talk behind closed doors while keeping their heads down instead of stepping out and addressing the elephant. Together we can creatively seek solutions to move forward or ways to change the course of our ship when we realize the time has come.

For countless years I have identified numerous avenues to reach all kids and foster curiosity, creativity, critical thinking and joy in learning. I believe in this wholeheartedly, and my commitment is unwavering. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have the support of many administrators, teammates, colleagues, and my professional learning network. These individuals have carried me through difficult times without necessarily realizing that they have. We’ve celebrated highlights and encouraged one another more times than I can count.

To be transparent, I’ve also experienced my fair share of mistrust. As someone who always seeks to give the benefit of the doubt and aspires to see the good in every situation, truth be told, some individuals allow their ego or personal agendas to dictate the course our ship sails. Egos and personal agendas cause the ride to feel rough and unsettling. In turn, it leaves others scrambling to figure out how to guide the ship best. Historically, I’m a ‘sail adjuster.’ When the wind blows in an unexpected direction or hits without warning, I merely adapt and move on, without missing a beat to provide students with the best learning opportunities. If by chance the wind batters the sail causing rips and tears, I not only adjust but make necessary repairs to remain on course. I’ve repaired my sail more times than I can count, and each time it seems to become stronger and more vibrant than before. After all, each gust is an opportunity to learn that encourages growth.

Situations exist where educators have exhausted every option to continue moving forward even in the most challenging situations. If the damaging effects of the wind grow so strong that the sail is irreparable, it may be time to either navigate a different course by joining another crew or even sailing on your own. Whether you’re adjusting, repairing, or replacing your sail, I hope you employ strategies that act as flint to ignite passion and exuberance to sail further than you ever have before.

Anyone of us can step up and lead to cultivate a healthy culture. Perhaps we don’t have complete control over every decision we’d like, but that’s not to say that we lack impact. Leadership is a title that can be held by anyone who has influence. Being a leader is not solely meant for those with an administration degree. Jimmy Casas, author of Culturize, writes,

“You don’t have to have a leadership title to be a leader. You just have to lead. When you have a disposition about you that others immediately recognize and sometimes want to emulate, you are a leader. When you draw people in and make them want to be around you, you are a leader. Maybe you have a unique skill set that people quickly notice and appreciate, or maybe it’s your words or tendency to notice the best in others that inspires the people around you to want to be better.”

While some individuals seek to foster leadership skills to develop capacity in others, I tend to think that there are instances where some people are threatened by those who demonstrate leadership without the ranks of title or degree. In some cases, it appears more comfortable to hold individuals at arm’s length to silence their efforts and even attempt to belittle through comments spewn to foster a sense of insecurity. Fortunately, we own our emotions, and while mistrust may develop, how we choose to feel is ultimately up to us. Some may think it’s crazy, but I’m grateful for the opportunity to stand staring in the eyes of the elephant in the room while the wind tears at my sail. Both have taught me countless lessons that serve as real-life experience. From these experiences, I’ve developed more profound empathy and compassion for others. While there are numerous leadership books out there such as Culturize, Lead Like a Pirate, and Start Right Now that provide phenomenal tips and in-depth strategies, here are just a handful of the leadership tips I’ve learned firsthand.

Embrace your inner leader by:

  • Committing to relationships first, next, and always
  • Nurturing a culture of yes
  • Adding-value to those you work alongside by frequently recognizing their efforts
  • Seeking ways to give back in an effort to show appreciation for the contributions made by individuals
  • Celebrating! Celebrate accomplishments, persevering through failures, risk-taking, awards or recognitions as a school and district to demonstrate appreciation
  • Spending time in classrooms with learners (as an administrator) serving alongside teachers when possible
  • Employing the use of Pineapple Charts so that teachers can visit and learn from colleagues
  • Tearing down fortress walls to allow for open conversations between teachers, administrators and the Board of Education
  • Trusting that individuals have the best intentions, this fosters deeper levels of trust
  • Empowering teacher voice… Scratch that… Developing shared OWNERSHIP amongst all stakeholders
  • Being transparent and authentic by walking the talk
  • Simply apologizing for wrongdoings even if unintentional

I know this list could continue and I’m happy to add on over time. In closing, it’s vital that we ALL embrace our inner leader. Every person is facing some kind of battle; you may be the difference maker that rekindles passion within an individual who has lost their why, or eases the feeling of pressure when the going gets tough. With teacher shortages in addition to fewer students enrolling in teacher preparatory programs, collectively we need to cultivate a school culture that retains quality teachers. As leaders, let’s respectfully address elephants and create sustainable change. Together we can collaboratively navigate the waters to support one another along the journey.

Education Empower Learning Inspiration

Catalyze Empowerment Through Problem Seeking

Empower Learners as Problem Seekers

In talking with one of my best friends, Beth Gibson, who is the Worldwide Product Engineering Director of Corning Incorporated, she shared that reverse innovation is shifting the way companies approach and view innovative solutions. The term reverse innovation stirred curiosity in me. I’ve always considered innovation as the process of building or improving upon something to adapt and evolve to meet the needs of individuals. Reverse innovation, on the other hand, is the practice of taking a current product and making necessary adjustments that make it more marketable to developing economies that cannot afford the models designed for the western world. I never gave it much thought before, but numerous products we utilize don’t necessarily meet the needs of those in other parts of the world. To reverse innovations, individuals have engaged as problem seekers to succeed as a multinational company.

So, you may wonder, why is this of importance to us as educators?

The concept of reverse innovation is vital to us because it shifts how we approach facilitating learning experiences with kids. Even though the word ‘reverse’ is included, it still requires us to employ the process of innovative design thinking. With the focus on fostering divergent thinking as Empower co-author John Spencer’s recent post highlights in 7 Ways Foster Divergent Thinking in the Classroom (also discussed here) and the process of innovation, learners can be empowered as problem seekers. Our brains are naturally curious! When we envelop learning within problems or scenarios, it catalyzes empowerment that leads to the deepest form of learning. Intrinsic motivation and synergy develop amongst learners. One activity I use that embodies this is when learners are tasked to create a new kind of wearable technology. Through inquiry, students explore the progression of wearable technology over the course of time. Learners assume the role of engineer designers with the goal being to consider current problems that exist in our everyday life, and how wearable technology can either alleviate the problem or meet the needs of individuals. By leveraging a variety of texts, videos, and engaging in in-depth conversations that support understanding, students use the design process to craft either a new or improved version of the wearable technology. Learners then participate in the process of redesigning when constrained by limited materials. This is when creative, divergent thinking takes flight!

Challenging Traditions

While learners are empowered through problem seeking, in reflection, I’m not sure that the problems we are identifying are often genuine “problems,” but rather inconveniences that are being made more convenient based on our western world perspective. However, this serves as a means to unleash innovative thinking that pushes our creative limits by inventing new or improved ideas for products. While this concept certainly cultivates divergent thinking skills, catalyzes empowerment and is an excellent approach to developing success skills, I challenge us to incorporate the notion of reverse innovation.

In Learner Centered Innovation, Dr. Katie Martin challenges us to rethink traditions. Traditionally speaking, we engage in STEM challenges or exploring problem and project-based learning that focuses on topics that are relevant to our learners. Now, I’m not saying that we move away from these as they’re incredibly valuable approaches to learning, which I embrace. I’m fortunate to have been coached to teach project-based learning through the Buck Institute for Education (BIE), and PBL in particular, provides our learners with extremely significant and purposeful learning opportunities that foster learner agency. What I am suggesting is that we broaden our approach to include the concept of reverse innovation. Not only does reverse innovation foster the skill of identifying problems and creating innovative solutions, but it promotes empathy by exposing learners to the unique needs of individuals living in developing countries. Our learners benefit from gaining the perspective of those who face vastly different challenges than what we are accustomed to hearing or experiencing.

Reverse Innovation Promotes Problem Seeking Through a New Lens

Let’s explore the concept of reverse innovation to develop a better understanding. One example involves a team of designers from MIT. Individuals from MIT were charged with the task to create a wheelchair that would perform well on rough terrain in East Africa. The wheelchairs that we are familiar with weren’t a viable option for individuals in East Africa. While MIT successfully designed a prototype to conquer the rough terrain, they had to retool their design as the wheelchair was unable to be maneuvered through a doorway. Designers stressed the importance of not merely creating a model that solved one existing problem but considering all of the possible issues that may exist with each redesign. MIT approached this by testing the product in the field with individuals who may potentially use the product. By doing this, it allowed them to look at the effectiveness of their design and continually seek potential problems that influenced their final design. In the classroom, we need to support learners to embrace the understanding that, “design is iterative; you can’t get it right the first time, so be prepared to test many prototypes.”

Learning experiences within STEAM challenges or problem and project-based learning, often provide students with constraints to work within. Constraints can lead to more significant creative thinking, as learners are encouraged to identify ways to innovate inside the box as George Couros has discussed in his blog and book, Innovator’s Mindset. Considering that design is meant to be iterative, we want our learners to be exposed to multiple problems in addition to constraints to create a vibrant learning process leading to testing and retooling a variety of prototypes. I employ each of these throughout the school year to expose learners to a wide range of learning experiences. To catalyze empowerment through problem seeking, we can blend in the practice of reverse innovation, too.

Sample questions we can pose to foster divergent thinking and catalyze empowerment:

  • What are you wondering?
  • What more do we need to know?
  • How will we locate the information?
  • What materials do we require?
  • How can we best improve our designs?
  • How do you want to monitor, track, and demonstrate your learning journey?
  • What does success look like to you?

In our classrooms, scenarios can be created to empower learners to examine specific products that they’re accustomed to seeing, and explore if they would be of value in a third world country. Within learning, we can layer new information about the product, clients, or the environment in which they live. The idea that one product may be conducive with the terrain (as in the example from MIT), but now won’t suffice in the home, encourages learners to look at a design from all angles and gather more information to drive the learning process. Furthermore, learners would have to consider if the product would even be affordable, and if not, they would have to contemplate how we could market the product through reversing the innovation to decrease the cost.

Brief Detour

Let me pause here, and go off track for a moment. In my experiences working with educators, and as a classroom teacher myself, I know that we agonize over the amount of time we have and how we will possibly cover all of the standards and content we’re expected to teach. I validate your feelings when it comes to these pressures. As educators, these constraints will always exist. While we cannot create more time in our day, I am confident that by embedding learning standards into the experience we facilitate, we will create the time needed while also catalyzing empowerment. Learning must be meaningful and impactful. When we craft learning experiences that are interdisciplinary, we can incorporate numerous standards. In the sample I provided above, we could easily integrate english language arts, science, technology, engineering, math, social studies, and art. It’s essential that we carve out time to foster future success skills by creating opportunities for learners to develop the ability to seek problems and create unique solutions while embedding standards to ensure optimum learning for all.

Tips and Takeaways

  • Empower learners to ask questions and write down as many wonderings as they can.
  • Encourage learners to consider all the possibilities by facilitating inquiry-based learning.
  • Provide opportunities for learners to think innovatively about how we can seek problems in the western world and developing countries.
  • Create authentic, meaningful experiences by incorporating interdisciplinary learning that integrates multiple learning standards and fosters success skills.

PBS Announces Educators Selected For Inaugural Digital Innovator All-Star Program

PBS Press Release: Program recognizes 30 teachers nominated by their local PBS stations as leaders in their education communities

Arlington, VA, March 14, 2018 – Today, PBS announced the educators selected for the first PBS Digital Innovator All-Star Program. Nominated by their local PBS stations, 30 educators were chosen from across the country, representing 28 states and Puerto Rico. Each of the Digital Innovator All-Stars was selected from a cohort of extraordinary educators who are doing innovative work in their schools and districts, and were previously recognized as part of the PBS Digital Innovator Program, which began in 2013.

The PBS Digital Innovator All-Star program expands on this influential work, deepening these educators’ roles as leaders in integrating technology and digital media into the classroom —supporting students’ learning through increasingly important media literacy skills.

“PBS is committed to recognizing and celebrating educators for the immeasurable work they do in their communities,” said Sara Schapiro, Vice President of Education, PBS. “We have been continually impressed with our PBS Digital Innovators and were truly in awe of the nominations we received for this All-Star program — so much so that we expanded the number of awardees. We’re excited to see the new and inventive ways these educators will support students’ learning through this program.”

PBS Digital Innovator All-Stars will spend the 2018-2019 school year deepening engagement among students, families, educators, schools and their local PBS stations. As an exclusive part of the program, they will have access to virtual and in-person events, including the PBS Digital Innovator All-Star Summit, to connect and learn with their peers and station representatives from across the country.

The PBS Digital Innovator All-Stars were chosen based on a variety of criteria, including passion for their role as an educator, outcomes from their time as PBS Digital Innovators, connections to their communities and service to under-resourced families.

Below is a list of the 2018 PBS Digital Innovator All-Stars and their local PBS stations; their profiles and photographs can be found here.

  • Leah Aiwohi, Lihue, HI (PBS Hawaii)
  • Kristin Appiah-Word, Chicago, IL (WTTW)
  • Steve Auslander, Indianapolis, IN (WFYI)
  • Elisabeth Bostwick, Horseheads, NY (WSKG)
  • Laura Bradley, Petaluma, CA (KQED)
  • Sebastian Byers, Monroe, NC (WTVI)
  • Vinny Chiaramonte, Hoover, AL (Alabama Public Television)
  • Sharon Clark, Brownsville, TN (WLJT)
  • Kayla Delzer, Mapleton, ND (Prairie Public)
  • Michelle Garmon, Rio Rancho, NM (New Mexico PBS)
  • Heather Gauck, Grand Rapids, MI (WGVU)
  • Leigh Herman, Atlanta, GA (GPB)
  • Shawn Patrick Higgins, Portland, OR (SOPTV)
  • Julie Hildebrand, Austin, TX (KLRU)
  • Joquetta Johnson, Randallstown, MD (MPT)
  • Ashley Judd, Tyner, KY (KET)
  • Mike Lang, Las Vegas, NV (Vegas PBS)
  • Glenda Lozada, Naranjito, PR (WMTJ)
  • Chantell Mason, St. Louis, MO (Nine Network)
  • Aaron Maurer, Bettendorf, IA (Iowa Public Television)
  • Mallory Mbalia, Raleigh, NC (UNC-TV)
  • Jared Morgan, Sand Springs, OK (OETA)
  • David Olson, Madison, WI (Wisconsin PTV)
  • Regina Schaffer, Farmingdale, NY (WNET/WLIW)
  • Paige Somoza, Boise, ID (Idaho Public Television)
  • Shelly Stanton, Billings, MT (Montana PBS)
  • Roberta Starling, Land O Lakes, FL, (WEDU)
  • Debra Turchetti-Ramm, Johnston, RI (Rhode Island PBS)
  • Kara Wilkins, Lowell, MA (WGBH)
  • Larissa Wright, Anchorage, AK (Alaska Public Media)

About PBS
PBS, with nearly 350 member stations, offers all Americans the opportunity to explore new ideas and new worlds through television and digital content. Each month, PBS reaches nearly 100 million people through television and nearly 28 million people online, inviting them to experience the worlds of science, history, nature and public affairs; to hear diverse viewpoints; and to take front row seats to world-class drama and performances. PBS’ broad array of programs has been consistently honored by the industry’s most coveted award competitions. Teachers of children from pre-K through 12th grade turn to PBS for digital content and services that help bring classroom lessons to life. Decades of research confirms that PBS’ premier children’s media service, PBS KIDS, helps children build critical literacy, math and social-emotional skills, enabling them to find success in school and life. Delivered through member stations, PBS KIDS offers high-quality educational content on TV – including a new 24/7 channel, online at, via an array of mobile apps and in communities across America. More information about PBS is available at, one of the leading dot-org websites on the internet, or by following PBS on TwitterFacebook or through our apps for mobile and connected devices. Specific program information and updates for press are available at or by following PBS Pressroom on Twitter.

Media Contacts:
PBS | Lubna Abuulbah | | 703-739-8463
Allison+Partners | Sarah Morgan | | 202-591-1126

Education Empower Learning featured Inspiration

Spark Curiosity, Create Learning That Is Irresistible


At age three, my son was intensely curious about the world around him. He was particularly interested in flowers and the names of the parts. Walking around our yard, he’d see flower after flower and run to each of them and exclaim with glee, “Pistil, momma! This one has it too!” He was also fascinated with where the wind was coming from and asked more questions than I could respond to at once. Throughout the years, his curiosity has shifted to new wonders. However, it’s evident that curiosity has lessened the older he has become. Many of us can relate personally to this from our own experiences or those of our children.


While he still enjoys aspects of learning, my hope is that curiosity reignites within him. I believe that curiosity is what drives us as humans to ask better questions and pursue new avenues that lead us to places we may not have ever expected.


Author and principal, David Geurin, hits on the topic of making learning irresistible in his book, Future Driven. Geurin’s book speaks to my heart as he and I have very similar views on education and how we can support learners to thrive in an unpredictable world. In writing about making learning irresistible, Geurin shares:


“There are too many students who find school boring. You see them at your school too, maybe even in your classroom. They are slumped back or propped up. Tired eyes. They are physically living and breathing but little else reveals thinking not to mention brilliance. But we know it’s there.

Every child has genius.

These children weren’t always this way. In each student who has given up on learning, there was once a kid filled with curiosity, wonder, and awe.”  


Learning through authentic experiences that are infused with the learner’s passions fosters the feeling of irresistible learning. Recently my learners and I launched a STEM challenge with two classes from New Mexico. I was fortunate to meet Rachel Lamb and Steven Thomas @collabgenius at the 2017 PBS Digital Innovator Summit who frequently engage learners in virtual collaboration. Our STEM challenge from Design Squad Global incorporates the learning of how NASA successfully landed rovers on Mars after failed attempts. Learners utilized design thinking to develop prototypes of rovers being lowered to Mars to simulate the process. In our classrooms, we are using an egg to represent the rover. Our classes continue to meet back to share designs, thought processes, and to provide feedback to one another. Having an authentic audience has catalyzed the experience as there is relevancy to their work, making it more meaningful. While learners are engaged and empowered as creative thinkings, problem solvers, and designers, throughout this process, what impressed me the most was how many questions they crafted following the launch of this challenge.


Learning that is irresistible increases engagement and can lead to empowered learning. In all honesty, I didn’t anticipate the number of questions learners generated. I had plans for the next steps of our STEM challenge but seized the opportunity for learners to pose questions about what they wondered. Around our room, I put up chart paper, and teams of learners continued to generate questions based on their curiosities. In project-based learning, this is how we begin to identify our driving questions.


One question spawned another and every child eagerly contributed questions such as:

  • How fast do rockets go exactly?
  • How long have rovers been on Mars?
  • What are they finding, have they found signs of life?
  • How much faster is a rover than a car?
  • How large is Mars compared to Earth?


Rather than remaining confined to the virtual STEM challenge, I chose to navigate off the map and empower learners to select a question they felt passionately curious about and am now coaching them through developing passion projects that focus on their topic. Of course, I too have mandates and curriculum to follow. However, I always seek to identify ways to incorporate our standards in learning. Drawing on curiosity and passions makes learning irresistible, and as educators, we have to recognize ways to innovate inside the box as author George Couros writes about in The Innovator’s Mindset. We can’t ignore mandates and curriculum, but we can undoubtedly empower learners to co-design learning experiences with standards embedded. Through this, I’ve had the opportunity to see learners excitedly arrive at school to continue their working on their passion projects and share their learning with others. I see them independently working on shared Google Slides from home with peers who they’re collaborating with online. And no, it was not assigned as homework. They have ownership and want to learn and create.


In Future Driven, Geurin lists 9 valuable ways to make learning irresistible. Included are choice, creativity, discovery, challenge, involving the community, student conversations, real audiences, play, and having the opportunity to make a difference. In his book, he goes more in depth as he shares tips and strategies for educators to support learners to thrive in an unpredictable world. 



Let’s continue the conversation about how we can support learners to remain passionately curious and how as educators, we can make learning irresistible.

In the meantime, I have a signed copy of Future Driven that I’ll be giving away to a randomly selected individual! Simply post a picture of irresistible learning that sparks curiosity or write a blog post reflecting on this topic. Tag @DavidGeurin and @ElisaBostwick along with the hashtags of #FutureDriven and #LEAPeffect with your post to be selected. I look forward to sharing this book with you, and am excited to see examples of irresistible learning in your school or classroom! Connect and continue learning with David via his website, too. 


Education Empower Learning Inspiration

Taking Steps Toward Fostering Ownership

Obstacle after obstacle at the 2016 Western New York Tough Mudder, I channeled my inner warrior. When I say I had to dig down deep, I mean it. A year prior, my husband Michael and I, along with several friends, signed up to take on the Tough Mudder. With the understanding that it was a 10-mile course with 20+ obstacles, we knew we had to prepare both physically and mentally.

On their website, it states, “every journey starts with a single step. Start yours here, then see how far you can take it. Whether a fun 5K or a 10-mile chance to push your limits, we’ve got the challenge for you. Our courses are engineered so that teamwork isn’t just encouraged; it’s required. With the help of your fellow Mudders, you’ll overcome best-in-class obstacles and adrenaline-packed challenges. You’ll find out what you’re really made of, while having the most fun you’ve had in recent memory.”

As a crazily passionate educator, of course, I found a connection to this experience and education. In education, we’re on an ongoing journey that continuously evolves. Teamwork makes us stronger, and infusing passions is what inspires us to continue forward. You see, no one forced me to sign-up for the Tough Mudder as it was a challenge I aspired to conquer. Recently, I spoke with David Conley, Ph.D., professor of educational policy and leadership at the University of Oregon’s College of Education and founder of EdImagine. He and I discussed the future of education and shifts that are occurring such as developing student ownership over learning.

Dr. Conley explained, “students need to have high aspirations, it’s really a problem when you’re asking kids to do stuff that they don’t care about or feel they’re not particularly good at. To own learning, students have to develop clear goals and have self-direction because anything you own has to be connected to your internal motivation structure. Goals then convert motivations and aspirations into behavior targets. When things don’t go well, you have to be able to demonstrate perseverance and grit.” We have all faced failure and will continue to experience it in life. We need to persevere through failure, reflect, and retool to move forward in our journey toward growth.

Ownership Versus Compliance

In speaking of goals and high aspirations, imagine how I would have approached the Tough Mudder in contrast if it was something I didn’t care to do but was being told to complete. I don’t think I would put in the high level of effort that I did. If entirely uncomfortable or feeling ill-prepared, I may have even demonstrated resistance. Or, perhaps out of compliance I would have drudged through it if a repercussion was connected to not completing the course.

Fortunately, I’m passionate about facing new challenges and pushing myself toward growth in a variety of ways. We have to remember that every individual has a passion, and by infusing passions and the insights shared by Dr. Conley to develop student ownership, we can transform the learning environment to empower learning. Let’s explore using the experience of the Tough Mudder.

Developing Clear Goals

Throughout the months that led up to us stepping on the starting line, we prepared our bodies through training. Developing clear goals in preparation was critical for us to conquer the course. We wanted to head into the Tough Mudder with confidence and knew that our confidence would grow by feeling physically and mentally prepared. As we recognized progress toward our goals, it motivated us to continue pushing further. We were driven to continuously work toward our goals as we had ownership over them and aspired to do our best at the Tough Mudder.

As educators are we developing goals and carving out time for our learners to as well?

High Aspirations

The night before the event, I began to read through the waiver that I had signed months in advance. You see, I was leaving our two boys for the day and thoughts of uncertainty started to run through my head as I read the levels of possible injuries that range from minor, serious, to catastrophic. The reality of what I was risking… even death. The wording on the waiver hit me like a ton of bricks. I had to focus on my aspirations to overcome fear and to push my body beyond its comfort zone. I persisted through the feelings of doubt and focused on all that I’d done to prepare myself. Without high aspirations to complete the Tough Mudder, I would have stepped back into comfort. We cannot allow fear to suppress our aspirations, and we need to leverage passions to inspire learning.

What are your aspirations? How do they connect to your passions? Are we supporting learners to identify their passions which lead to aspirations?

The Vibe Connects The Tribe, Creates Motivation

The morning of the event, we stepped onsite ready to take on the obstacles! There’s nothing like being present at a Tough Mudder event. Music pumped from speakers, and everyone was giving high-fives, the vibe is more about camaraderie compared to similar events such as races. What I appreciate most about Tough Mudder is that they place a significant emphasis on teamwork and bonding as a tribe. It doesn’t matter if you know the person or not, help out each when you see someone needs help.

What steps are you taking to create a vibe that connects and inspires a tribe to move toward the shared vision? How does the energy in your school or classroom inspire learning?


Perseverance and Grit

At the Tough Mudder, it was the Lock Ness Monster that grabbed ahold of my fears. I stood on the brink of jumping into the depth of the murky water and just observed. I knew the water would be over my head and that I’d have nothing to step on to lift my body up and over the revolving metal obstacle. Waves of people kept passing by (except for my encouraging teammates), and I noticed how quickly individuals knocked into others, forcing them underwater. While I successfully conquered this obstacle through perseverance and grit, it was messy; both literally and metaphorically. Muddy water filled my nostrils and individuals collided into me.

Reflecting on this serves as a reminder that when we see individuals who are more hesitant about shifts, it doesn’t mean that they’re defenders of the status quo. I think that risks require us to calculate the benefits, and consider implications of our actions. The same goes for our learners. They may be cautious to transition to developing ownership over their learning, especially if they’re accustomed to compliance based learning. It was the encouragement of others that supported me to step forward through every challenge throughout the Tough Mudder course.

What holds you back from embracing shifts? Whether it’s infusing moving from teacher to coach or empowering learning, take time to reflect on what you require to move forward. How are we supporting our learners to develop perseverance and grit?


Reflecting on that day, we laughed, cried, and there were times I flat out wanted to quit. But, I never did. As educators, we’ve all had days like this in the classroom. Throughout the experience, I was never pressured to engage in an obstacle that made me feel uncomfortable. It’s incredible how the Tough Mudder environment provokes your inner warrior while also creating systems of support. When confronted with new challenges in education, I think back to my Tough Mudder experience. There were obstacles that I thought I’d completely skip, but I ended up taking on. It was all about having ownership over my goals/, high aspirations that connected to a passion of mine, a supportive environment that energized, and the ability to demonstrate grit.

How do we approach shifts as individuals? Are we teaming up with others to make more significant strides, scaffolding our efforts to gain confidence, or are we trying to entirely avoid the apparent obstacles that are staring back at us?

Education Empower Learning featured Inspiration

Imagine the Possibilities

By nature, kids are curious. They’re explorers, makers, and doers. As educators, do we see this side of our students? Are we providing opportunities for students to explore? Do we acknowledge the deep thinkers who ponder life’s mysteries and carve out time for them to dig deeper? In our schools, are we empowering learners or expecting compliance? Author, teacher and speaker, Pernille Ripp states that “for too long we have ignored the voices of our students and we are now paying the price. We have created schools that children no longer want to be a part of, so it’s time for us to break some rules.” Pernille speaks to my heart, and I stand with her; it’s time for us to break some rules, particularly those that are embedded in traditional education. We must craft authentic learning opportunities for learners to explore, dream and discover. Our learners each have unique strengths and talents; I wonder how well we’re tapping into them?


While conversing with a teacher, she shared with me that there are so many things that she’d love to change about teaching and her classroom, but gets nervous. I couldn’t help but ask, “what makes you so nervous?” She explained, “I don’t like to rock the boat.” Educators, I’m here to say that it’s time we rock the boat. Right now is a fantastic time to be in education. There are endless possibilities for us to unleash creativity and empower learning in our schools. I too, feel the pressure. Time is always of the essence, as teachers we often have programs to remain on pace with, or think that we can’t veer too far from where our teammates are regarding teaching content. Constraints and obstacles will always exist, and we must identify strategies to tunnel over, under or through them. Whether real or perceived, parameters indeed exist.


I continue to explore these questions:

How do we go about innovating inside the box and break free from the mold?

How do we shift mindsets from feeling that one-dimensional approaches are best?

With grading practices reflecting an “average” or even a standards-based grade, how can we possibly be getting an accurate read on the growth of the whole child as learners?


I recently read The End of Average, by Todd Rose. According to Rose, there is no such thing as an average student. He argues that the longstanding practice of drawing conclusions about individuals using statistical averages is flawed and damaging, especially in education. Our schools often operate on the premise that ignores the complexity and potential of individual students. Evidence of this lies in our one-dimensional assessments and scripted curriculums that schools often employ.


Teachers across our country examine data that connects to standardized assessments that supposedly demonstrate student growth. As a teacher, I see that my students have made excellent gains each year, but what exactly does it mean? Yes, they grew within that standard or even as critical thinkers who can discern correct answers. I embrace impactful instructional strategies and value the foundations of learning, and they’re a must. But after reading, The End of Average, I just can’t help but wonder what we’re missing with our students when we don’t explore innovative approaches that ignite curiosity or draw on our student’s strengths. Personally, I could write a full-narrative for each of my students, and that narrative wouldn’t necessarily be backed by their grades or standardized assessments.


It’s fascinating to me that my youngest child can solve math problems off the top of his head that most people would have to write down to answer. He’s an avid reader, who is labeled “above average” on screenings, yet his state assessments don’t necessarily match up. As teachers, do we know who our kids really are beyond the data points? Based on his state test data he could be identified as requiring support, but he apparently doesn’t need it. Knowing my child for who he is, he just doesn’t care to take the time on a long standardized test. Despite encouragement and prompting from teachers, he cannot identify value in the assessment. In my classroom, I’ve seen kids who are incredibly conscientious about pleasing myself and their parents. Without the constraint of time on our standardized assessments, some students will work the length of the school day to complete it. Unlike my son who would prefer to buck the system, these kids are genuinely intent on achieving what they feel is perfect.


My youngest is an avid LEGO creator, reader, and an idea creator, but has been described to me as “bossy” and “overly busy.” Respectfully, I prefer to define him as an individual who is creative, tenacious, personable, charismatic, and has natural leadership ability. These are strengths for him to harness as he develops. From the parent perspective, I see that when teachers support him by navigating his strengths, he flourishes.


I’ve seen the beauty of infusing authentic and dynamic experiences that integrate students’ strengths and passions to elevate learning opportunities and invigorate a true love of learning within students. My goal is to support students to be invested in their unique learning journey, and grasp they can never accurately compare their journey to someone else’s. By cultivating ownership over learning, students develop a sense of empowerment and begin to truly soar. Someday our students will need to make a living, and I hope that the learners who I touch will identify their passions and create a path that leads them to their calling, not just another job.


I’m curious how the concept of school would shift if we embraced the idea that “average” doesn’t really exist. How would the role of learners change? As continuous learners, let’s embrace that our journey in education is ongoing and continually evolving. For many of us, our goal is to leave a lasting legacy on one another, our school community, and ultimately our most precious commodity, our students. I hope that you’ll join me in this conversation and share your ideas. In my opinion, no idea is too big or too crazy. Let’s imagine all the possibilities of school!