Wednesday, October 25, 2017

#D100bloggerPD Book Study on Hacking Engagement: 50 Tips and Tools to Engage Teachers and Learners Daily

Why is the name of my blog iShift? For me, thriving in the field of education and cycling have many parallels. To do well on the bike, I need to stay in condition and maintain focus. Flourishing in education has the same prerequisites.  What works in one setting may not work in another. Things change. You have to shift or you won’t make it up that hill, or get through that storm, or impact that student.

As an edu-lifer, currently on year 31 in my current district, with 3 years prior to that in another, I’ve been blessed to work with many amazing peers and students. Throughout my tenure, I’ve witnessed lots of changes; changes in families, changes in what is taught, changes in teaching approaches, changes in resources, etc.  I’ve had to shift often, but one thing that has remained constant is the fundamental need to engage students and forge relationships.

This is the focus of James Alan Sturtevant's book Hacking Engagement: 50 Tips and Tools to Engage Teachers and Learners Daily. As mentioned in previous #D100bloggerPD posts here, and here, this book offers a wealth of easily readable and applicable ideas for increasing student engagement by relating to students. IMHO the author says it best when he states,

I'm summarized Hacks #11-15 in this graphic. Note: this is just a snapshot (click on image to enlarge).

The author shares these great ideas in an easily readable (and reference-able) format. Are you passionate about connecting with your students and improving engagement? You really need to read this book! 

Up next is Tales of an iCoach by Mona Towner!

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

From Going to Showing: Start.Right.Now. #D100bloggerPD

I recently had the privilege of participating in a week-long ride in Sunny Arizona. This was a wonderful time to get some respite from both work and the midwestern weather. As I rode, I reflected on previous rides. When I first started out doing these trips, I was younger and very idealistic. A major ambition for me at that point was to be the first to arrive at the campsite. I was focused on applying everything my coaches had taught me, and considered maintaining the best possible form my main priority. I imagined I'd be viewed as a "leader". I typically did not interact much with the other cyclists on the road, nor did I slow down to take in the sights. I felt at that time that doing so would hinder me from applying what I had learned and interfere with reaching my goals of achieving fitness and building self-confidence.

While I still have a passion for long rides, I clearly can see how my priorities have changed throughout the years as a cyclist. I’m now able to focus more clearly on the ride, as opposed to the destination. I stop to help change flats. I ride along side people and we share stories. We chat about our favorite rides, our worst crashes, the best nutrition, and secrets to preventing a sore butt. I sometimes ride at a slower pace, but I’m happier. My fellow cyclists hadn’t cared about my speed or form.

The theme of this blog is all about the parallels between cycling an being an educator. I originally wrote the description several years ago, long before Start.Right.Now. (Whitaker, Zoul, & Casas, 2017) was around. The entire description (if you missed it at the top of this page) is, “The musings of a life-long educator and mileage junkie. There are many parallels between cycling and being an educator. In this blog, I'll be sharing my thoughts on embracing the positive and improving one's skill-set in order to keep moving forward.” For this particular post, I'm sharing my thoughts about the book Start.Right.Now. As indicated by the title, it's all about moving forward. Regardless of where we've come from, it's important to keep on moving. In cycling, if you don't move and you are clipped in, you will fall over. If you're just using regular pedals, you won't get anywhere. In education, we need to keep moving forward so that we don’t stagnate. I appreciate how the author's break down forward movement into the concepts of “Knowing the Way”, “Showing the Way”, “Going the Way”, and “Growing Each Day”. Here are some thoughts about the first part of how to “Show the Way” (chapter 3).

The authors begin this section by defining the standard of excellence for showing the way as,  ”Establishing a clear vision of future success and enlisting others in the vision by showing how each individual and team member can get better at what they do”. Following the list of indicators and rationale on why showing the way is so important, the chapter focuses on what it looks like. What stands out to me from the list of indicators is the one that talks about “identifying and communicating what is working and what is not”. To me, reflection is a huge piece of any kind of growth. And rationale? Why is showing the way important? Because the best leaders/teachers feel a personal conviction, a calling, to make an impact. Our colleagues, students, and families need us to be risk-takers, change-embracers, and models of having growth mindsets. This quote, “What others believe the job demands and how they see it depends on those of us teaching and leading them” is so true! In our lives, both inside and outside of school, we need to make sure we are walking the talk, and remember that we cannot, not model. The reality is, whether we know it, or even want it, leaders who teach also show the way. And the impact? Huge. In fact, an effect size of 0.84 was determined for the impact of leading teacher learning and development on student achievement (Robinson, 2011).

I love that when the authors discuss showing the way, knowledge of self is discussed first. “What matters most is what you expect of yourself, not what you expect of others”. And then the 3Ps: passion, purpose and pride. And 3 more Ps: prioritizing people over programs. The goal? Collectively moving forward to a shared vision of future success. The authors break down what it looks like to show the way with sections (in pt.1) on: 20/20 Vision, Support Innovation, Future-Focused While Attending to the Present, Communicate Early; Communicate Often, and Radio Station WIIFM.

The info for each of these sections merits a close read. I hope the word cloud piqued your interest. A part that I particularly enjoyed was the WaffleHouse paradigm. Scattered v. smothered v covered. You have to read it for yourself. Lemme just say, I’m all about #CoveredHashBrowns.

Showing the way depends on leaders helping their people to want to succeed and to believe that they can. In order to do this there must be a connection. #PeopleFirst. The challenge is to help our people find that sweet spot between anxiety and boredom. Here’s a paragraph from my blog about the being in the ultimate sweet spot :
Another name for this is Flow. The psychologist who developed this concept, Mihaly Csikszentmihaly, refers to Flow as “a mental state of operation that one enters when engaging in an activity – becoming fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, involvement and success.” He goes on to say, “The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”  So being stretched to the max can give us energy and allow us to embrace success? Yes.

Isn’t this (energy and success) what we all want for those with whom we interact? We do not have to be perfect in order to start showing others the way. “If the highest aim of a captain were to preserve his ship, he would keep it in port forever” (Saint Thomas Aquinas, c1250).  When should we start sharing our vision and helping to empower others? Start.Right.Now.

Be sure to follow #D100bloggerPD for more blogs on this inspirational book.

Thursday, March 23, 2017


During a particularly arduous section once in my cycling class, my coach offered this advice, “If you blow up in the middle of the effort, take a minute to regroup, then carry on. Get your heart rate under control, then continue the effort” (Kristen Meshberg  I did a quick self-assessment, determined that I could continue the interval, and kept going. 

This episode got me thinking about the role of rest. Sometimes when I’m on the bike, I just need a microbreak - time enough to shift to an easier gear, coast for a minute to regroup my energy, and get back at it. Other times, the best thing I can do to maximize performance is to get off the bike and rest for an hour. In addition to the breaks I need while on a ride, there is another very important rest cycle that needs to be used periodically; the recovery week. It took me a while to really understand this. My tendency had been to believe that when I had reached my fitness level goal, I could ride as hard and as often as I wanted. I’ve since learned that this is not wise. 

The parallels of this to education are pretty glaring. As we go throughout our daily activities, there are brief moments when we need to reflect, regroup and renew our focus. I worked with a teacher once who, when he got frazzled, would step into the hall for 3-5 seconds and then emerge ready to carry on.  Sometimes, our microbreaks can take the form of a deep breathing exercise or assigning a three minute free write. The point is, it allows us to “catch our breath”.  During planning periods or lunch breaks, it’s really important that at least part of the time is spent on doing something that will renew our energy;
  • Do something physical such as walking to the farthest point in the building and back (or even better, going outside)
  • Have a positive conversation with a colleague
  • Nibble on a bite of chocolate 
Activities such as these can help shift us into a better place.

I wrote recently about the February Funk. If that wasn’t enough, high-stakes testing follow soon after. Come spring, many educators are in need of a recovery week. Mental fatigue, stress, and/or physical exhaustion are all realities that many educators experience. Thank God that spring break happens when it does! Having a plan for renewal during this week is helpful for shifting us back to optimum performance. During this week, I believe it is helpful to reflect on performance and think about the following:
  • What are my priorities? 
  • What do I waste time on? 
  • What has been my greatest accomplishment? How can I build on this?
  • What am I doing to take care of myself physically? (Am I getting sufficient sleep? Practicing good nutrition? Exercising regularly?)
  • What am I doing to nurture my spirit? 
  • What am I actively doing to build my PLN?

Reflection is a good first step, but developing a plan to be intentional about change is required to make the most of a “recovery week”. The possibility of burnout occurs in education just as in cycling. It’s important to keep in mind that forward movement helps keep us fresh. Recovery weeks are meant to help us refocus on our purpose. “We don't get burned out because of what we do. We get burned out because we forget why we do it. Purpose keeps you fresh” (@JonGordon11).

Friday, February 3, 2017

The Bonk and the February Funk

There comes a point on long rides when one starts feeling exhausted. Experienced riders recognize the feeling and take precautionary measures - rest, hydration, a snack. Sometimes, however, especially on long rides when lost in the moment and divorced from the body, even the strongest riders experience the bonk. Bonking is when glycogen stores in the muscles and liver have been depleted and the body simply gives out. I’ve personally come micro-close to bonking only one time. The crackling cellophane of hundreds of twirling peppermints that invaded my senses of sound and sight [hallucinating!] snapped me into reality real fast. Bonking is frequently blamed on insufficient calorie intake, but the truth is, it is usually a result of insufficient training and lack of awareness. When it happens, there is only one result. You. Are. Done. 

In education, we call this burnout. Signs of this happening seem to most frequently occur during that dreaded period of the year know as the February Funk.  Warning signs of this looming on the horizon are many, and include physical, emotional and interpersonal struggles. The good news is, that with awareness and proper support, you can overcome these stressors. First, one needs to recognize the signs. Here is a tool that you can use for self-assessment. Next, allow yourself to feel uncomfortable. This is an important step if you are to move forward. This quote by Charles Caleb Colton sums it up best, "Times of great calamity and confusion have been productive for the greatest minds. The purest ore is produced from the hottest furnace. The brightest thunder-bolt is elicited from the darkest storm". Finally, be intentional about making changes to your thinking and practices. This article does a great job of discussing these tips, and is summed up here:
  • Ask for help - find a mentor, add to your PLN, etc.
  • Learn to not sweat the small stuff - keep student learning your focus
  • Leave work at school - don't play the teacher at home 
  • Make time for yourself - workout, eat a healthy diet, get enough rest, listen to music, engage in a hobby
  • Remember to keep the main thing the main thing 
During a particularly unpleasant drill in my cycling class, the coach urged us to remember that when the body starts feeling done, to let the brain take over (thank you Kristen Meshberg In fact, recent research suggests that the brain may actually anticipate glycogen depletion and begin slowing the body to conserve energy (Bourne & Rapoport, 2010). Somehow, just knowing this helps me keep going. Hopefully, recognizing the stressors we face as educators and purposefully engaging in positive actions will strengthen our resolve to be the best we can for our students. 

Monday, January 23, 2017

PLNs and SAGs pt. 2

Connecting with others is a prerequisite for successful learning and teaching today. As a life-long educator, I might be tempted to "coast" at times. However, in order to finish strong, I know that I need support (this)!

Roll your pointer/mouse over the graphic. Click on the icons to find resource links for ramping up your PLN. 

Thursday, December 22, 2016

PLNs and SAGs

Whether on the bike or in the educational setting, all of us can benefit from support. On large, group rides that involve distance such as a century (100 miles), a metric century (100km) or multi-day rides, cyclists are supported by SAGs. SAG is an acronym for support and gear. SAG “wagons” patrol the route and offer water, food, and mechanical or medical assistance to riders. Although the majority of cyclists on these rides stay alert to their surroundings and frequently conduct self-assessments, even the most experienced riders can experience a bike malfunction, get lost or crash (sigh). Having the confidence that SAGs are patrolling the route and can offer assistance is reassuring.

Likewise, as educators in the 21st century, it’s critical that each of us have a personal support system. I love this quote (paraphrased by me), “Working toward peak performance is a little like [riding a bike or teaching a class] -- it may become routine and you may even flip on the cruise control every so often. But it’s important to be aware of your surroundings and adapt to them [shift] when necessary. Pay attention, ask yourself some questions, and take control of your success” (Garnett, 2014). IMHO, the best way for educators to do this is by establishing their own PLN. A PLN is a personal/professional learning network. Here is a 90 second video explanation of a PLN (Lalande, 2012).

By creating your PLN, you become part of a network of connected educators. Whether you remain a “lurker” - you view but do not contribute, or a collaborator, your PLN offers you a place to connect with other educators, share ideas, gather resources and ask questions. As you do so, reflection and ideas for more engaging activities occur frequently. Here are some ways that educators are using their PLNs:
-    Professional development – learn from content-area specialists
-    Locate resources for your classroom, such as free websites and software
-    Get lesson plan ideas from master teachers
-    Learn about new technology and how to integrate it into your teaching
-    Find collaborative solutions
-    Find interesting links to education news  (Smith, 2009)

I like to think of my PLN as continuous, personalized professional development. The network you establish can be thought of as your educational SAG - always there to lend a helping hand.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014


I recently completed a couple of week-long, cross-state rides. I dream of doing these all year long. Ride all day. Explore small town America. Camp overnight. Repeat. Sigh. Folks outside of the cycling cult rarely understand how such activity can be enjoyable. I just smile in response to their incredulity. It’s one of those things that has to be experienced to be understood. On these rides, I invariably end up chatting with folks that are participating on their first “long” [multi-day] ride. Most of the time, these “newbies” have finally chosen to personally experience the adventures they’d only previously read or heard about. Frequently, they become hooked. There is a sense of accomplishment, a filling of emotional and mental bank accounts, and the realization that one’s body - although perhaps temporarily uncomfortable - will benefit. 

Today in my district, Literacy Coach Michelle Brezek held PD on blogging. As a result, seven new blogs were begun. In addition, the BigTime Blogging Challenge was started
( Many blogging newbies have followed blogs in the past, yet held back on starting their own. Personally, I procrastinated beginning this blog for a variety of reasons, the main one being a fear that what I had to say would be inconsequential to most. Maybe it is, but what I have discovered is that blogging allows me to reflect on what I do and why I do it. This reflection then leads to determination to change things, which results in actions to improve. 

Just as in cycling where one’s enjoyment, endurance and form improve as more miles are completed, the educator’s mindset and practice improve through the reflective benefits of blogging. So ride on. Write on. The rewards are abundant.