freshly sharpened pencils

One of my favorite movies is a fun romantic comedy called “You’ve Got Mail.” It is chock full of quotables but “I would send you a bouquet of freshly sharpened pencils, if I knew your name and address.”, is one of my favorites. The start of school is such a wonderful and frenetic time. We scurry to prepare backpacks, uniforms, schedules, and permission forms as we start to renew morning routines and get back into the swing of school. We look with anticipation of the first day wondering who we will sit with at lunch and will the teachers be fair, funny, or firm? (Hopefully all three!) It is a fantastic time of year.

As I start my 14th school year, this time as an administrator, I still feel all of those anticipatory things. I love getting back together with teachers and setting our goals for the year. I love seeing students with new shoes on and a look on their face that says, “I’m not sure how I feel about this yet, but I’m excited.” I love seeing the wide eyes of a 5th grader walking into the Middle School for the first time and the sleepy eyes of an 8th grader for whom this is old hat. It signals that it is time for us to begin anew.

While we have traded freshly sharpened pencils for iPads and styli, paper books for e-books, and the monthly newsletter for the monthly email, the start of school continues a timeless rite of passage for children. We “do school” differently than in ages past. School becomes a place to learn so much more than facts and figures. Our schooling now includes lessons on how to learn so much more than what to learn. We realize, in the 21st Century, that much of what we may have been taught in school is accessible at our fingertips from the device in our pocket. So we, the teachers, have a great opportunity to learn for ourselves how we can innovate our classrooms to reach the kids we have now and prepare them for their future. This process of renewing our professional practice is a model for our children on how to continually grow throughout a lifetime.

So we begin our year with great excitement and anticipation as we begin to map our 2015-2016 journey. Perhaps a nice, fresh, Dixon-Ticonderoga #2 will find it’s way into a backpack somewhere. To remind us from where we have come.

fail better.


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I am absolutely obsessed with Jessica Lahey‘s new book, The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed.  I am only half way through and I’ve decided this is a must read for all big humans who love and/or work with small humans. She knocks it immediately out of the park in her first paragraph:

“today’s overprotective, failure-avoidant parenting styles has undermined the competence, independence and academic potential of an entire generation.” p.xi

She goes on to talk about her own realizations as a parent and teacher and how she feels as if she was doing them a dis-service by promoting success and preventing failure. It is through her own stories that she takes the blame off of parents and teachers who have promoted a success-driven environment.

What I love the most about this book, so far, is her focus on the work of Carol Dweck and Edward Deci. She validates my views as a teacher-leader in my beliefs about growth mindset and Self-Determination Theory. When we provide opportunities for our children to struggle and/or fail, we are providing the greatest possibility for them to grow into resilient, competent adults. She also validates my belief in encouraging intrinsic motivation. Sticker charts, money for grades, or any form of food motivation do not equate to student success. I’m look at you, Class Dojo. (So much research on this, I don’t even know where to begin.)

I’m about to delve into Part II and III and can’t wait to share more…stop everything you’re doing and go get this book!

ask the questions


image credit.

The best gift of coming in to a place as a fresh set of eyes is the ability or permission to ask questions. Even if I don’t necessarily have permission, I am taking the liberty. This time is such a gift. It is a time to open one’s mind and ears and listen with a full heart. To take in as much information as possible, synthesize it, analyze it, and determine the good, the bad, and the ugly, so to speak. Or in my case, the awesome, the ok, and the “let’s take a look at that” (no bad, no ugly, of course!)

This makes me think of the journey our children take each day as they go through 4-7 classes, practices, clubs, rehearsals, meetings, and meals. They have abundant interactions with peers and adults each day that present them with the opportunity to accept what they see and hear, or ask questions. Now obviously, we don’t want to develop a generation of pesterers. (Yes, I think I made that word up.) However, we do want our children to think deeply and critically. Some answers are easy. Do you want Chipotle for lunch? Yes, always yes. Some are hard. Should I give pocket change to that homeless person? For me, still yes, but for many a very hard answer.

Are we giving our students the permission to ask questions? Are we encouraging them to weave their journey by grappling with tough questions where yes and no are not so easy? In order for them to do this, we need to provide them with trusted adults-teachers, mentors, parents, and coaches-who build relationships first. A child who knows an adult trusts, loves, and believes in them is a child who will ask the questions. Then we provide them the space to ask and the tools to ask.

How? Why? I Wonder? Are all simple words and phrases that open our children to deep and critical thinking. We are in an era where we are reconsidering, rethinking the work we do in schools. We are asking ourselves tough questions. One thing will certainly remain, we must encourage our children to ask them, too.

beginning a new journey

Like many Americans, I have been overcome in the last few weeks by the Women’s World Cup. Following the story of these incredible women as they re-captured soccer’s top prize for the US was an inspiration. Last weekend, there was an incredible documentary on ESPN called Abby Head On. It weaved the story of Abby Wambach from her childhood in Rochester, NY to national stardom. The stories told tell a tale of success, goals (pun intended), frustration, mentoring, hard work, family, and love. All the elements of a hero’s journey if there ever was one.

While Abby didn’t play the World Cup of her life, she LED the World Cup of her life. Her pre-cup reflection was a stunning portrayal of maturity, humility, and sacrifice. If you didn’t see it, pause for a moment and watch:

These events in our national sports life come at simply the perfect time. As I embark on my new adventure in school leadership, I am reflecting frequently on the journey that has brought me to this place in time. From the Vice-Principal’s office at Longfellow Elementary to Mrs. Sobel (Goodloe)’s US History class to Doc’s stage to a consolidated school in Iowa to the opera houses of North America, to the classrooms of Johns Hopkins and Harvard, and back into my own–each of these moments has helped weave my own journey as an educator. Each of these moments, some big and some small, have left indelible marks to make me who I am today.

The Oxford Dictionary has one definition of journey as: A long and often difficult process of personal change and development. This next portion of my journey is simultaneously the end of a long process of change and development as well as a new beginning.  A dream fulfilled with fresh dreams ready to take flight. I hope and pray that I might find the same maturity, humility, dedication, preparation, and leadership that I have witnessed these last weeks in some of our nation’s top athletes.

While I don’t have a documentary or a World Cup trophy to my name, I do have an amazing journey. And it has just begun again.*


*this is the first in a series…stay tuned*

Puppeh Problem Solving.

We are at a crazy time of year where time seems to move at light speed and molasses all at the same time. In the midst of the crazy comes this amazing metaphor for problem solving via the facebook page of Sonic1029:

This adorable dog is the perfect metaphor for persistence and problem solving. Good ole’ fashioned, grit, as they say in eduspeak. I hope you enjoyed your two minutes with him as much as I did. Keep at it friends, until the very end.


As if leading Christian formation wasn’t challenging enough, today’s ordained and lay formation ministers face the extra challenge of navigating the digital world with their youth. Is there a place for Jesus on Instagram? How do I (as a formation practitioner) help kids build positive Christian identity in a digital world that doesn’t share their values? Where are the limits? What does the law say? Please Lord, how do I get them to put down their phones?

I’m excited to talk about these questions and more when I present and facilitate a discussion at the e-Formation conference at Virginia Theological Seminary in June. This conference is jam packed with amazing speakers and sessions to guide those who work in the church to harness the power of the digital world to communicate, collaborate, and shape our hearts and minds as the body of Christ.

I am beyond honored to be on the docket to present workshops on Wednesday, June 3rd. (Picture me as Wayne and Garth in full on “We’re Not Worthy” mode.)   

I pray that my experience as a teacher and student of all things digital and adolescent will allow me to impart practical and inspiring info and resources for the conference attendees. YOU should come to e-Formation 2015!! (See below!) 

e-Formation full banner temp

Q: What is e-Formation?

A: A learning community for ministry in a digital world, convened by the Center for the Ministry of Teachingat Virginia Theological Seminary.

Q: Why should technology matter to churches?

A: Because digital media are helping churches reach out to their neighborhoods and strengthen the ties among their members. Because technology is helping individual Christians explore and deepen their faith outside of Sunday morning. Because the Spirit of God is with us wherever we go (Psalm 139). Because Christ has no online presence but yours.

Q: What is e-Formation 2015?

A: This year’s big e-Formation gathering—150 or so ministry practitioners sharing hands-on training and big-picture inspiration. You can check out this year’s program here.

Speakers include author Keith Anderson, Augsburg Fortress CEO Beth LewisScott Gunn of Forward Movement, Anthony Guillén and Jake Dell from the Episcopal Church Center staff, and so many more.

Q: Tell me about the cost, location, etc.

A: The event takes place June 1-3 on the campus of Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, just a few miles from Washington DC’s Reagan National Airport. Limited on-campus housing is still available for the evenings of May 31 through June 3. The cost of attending the full conference is $279, and online registration is available here.

Q: Is there somewhere I can get a taste of last year’s event?

A: Absolutely. Our #eform14 Pinterest board contains links to workshop materials and recordings from last year, and there are photos on RebelMouse and Flickr. You can also read our summary here, or check out blog posts from participants Chris Yaw and Nurya Love Parish.

Q: What if I can’t afford the time and expense of attending?

A: For just $79, you can purchase webinar access to the conference for simultaneous participation with a lively online audience and/or later streaming of recorded workshops and plenaries. For $99, you can purchase a single-day pass. And students can take advantage of our discounted registration price of $167. Find more information on the registration and webinar accesspages.

Q: Are there opportunities for training in Spanish?

A: Yes, absolutely. In partnership with the Episcopal Church Latino/Hispanic Ministries office, we are thrilled to offer an evening program in Spanish corresponding to each day’s conference theme (Monday: congregational growth and development; Tuesday: tools/skills bootcamp; Wednesday: faith formation and learning).

Participants can attend in person or online via Zoom at prices designed to be affordable for everyone. Simultaneous interpretation will also be available at the conference for the plenaries and a small selection of workshops. Learn more about e-Formation en español here.

Q: OK, so why should I come to e-Formation?

A: Come learn how to harness the power of digital media for good not evil! Gain insight on the realities of kids online life. Plus, I tell funny stories and even sometimes break into song. 

listen and tell your story

My soon-to-be colleagues are doing an aMAzing thing today. They are listening to and telling stories. I don’t know the details as I did not set up or plan their PLC time, but I understand from my soon-to-be mentor and boss that they are watching this inspiring talk by TED prize winner and StoryCorps founder, Dave Isay and then creating telling their own stories as they relate to the mission of MA. What an awesome use of faculty development time!

First, watch it:

And then, consider:

What story do you have to tell about your life’s journey? More importantly, what story do you need to hear? Each of us has a unique story to tell. And so do our children. They can enlighten us with stories of laughter, adventure, and family–sports, animals, and camp. And they can also enlighten us with stories of fear, shame, doubt, and pain. When we listen to the stories, really listen, we gain have the opportunity to develop our sense of empathy and build connections to one another on a concretely human level.

This song keeps running through my head today and while unrelated, hopefully it will inspire you too:

Your story matters. If you need an ear to listen, I’m here.