Collaboration is not created by the arrangement of desks.

Collaboration is not created by the arrangement of desks.

Collaboration is not created by the arrangement of the desks.

When Doug Reeves made this statement at a Literacy Leadership Symposium I attended recently, I pictured one particular classroom in my mind. One where the desks are arranged in rows, yet I often walk in to find students with heads together in spots around the room, learning together.

Doug said that having classrooms arranged with desks in pods does not necessarily mean that collaboration is happening. Just like having desks arranged in rows does not necessarily mean that collaboration is not happening.

So, how do we create a culture of collaboration in a classroom? In a school?

Collaboration happens when

two or more people share ideas with each other and

build on their ideas and learning

based on what they hear from one another.

The little ideas they started with begin to grow

as they add to each other’s learning,

and before they know it,

their ideas are completely transformed

into something greater than they ever imagined.

Fake collaboration exists. It happens when we push desks together and call it collaboration. It happens when we change the name of our staff meeting to “Staff Collaboration Time” yet the leader still does all of the talking. It happens when one person dominates the conversation and others are not able to share ideas. It happens when we hand kids a worksheet and tell them they can work on it with a partner and call that collaboration.

Yet, real collaboration is alive and well in many schools and many classrooms.

What does it take to really collaborate?

  • Relationships, so there is trust and vulnerability
  • Valuing everyone’s ideas
  • Time together
  • The ability to NOT crawl up on the table with your idea
  • Transparency about the values and biases you bring to the group
  • An action plan for the next steps

Creating the conditions for collaboration takes modeling from the classroom or school leader and it takes a commitment from all group members. It is pretty easy to convince others that we are better together, but it does take some work to define how collaboration really happens. And then, once we create a culture of collaboration, we must constantly improve our work together because if we aren’t improving, we are declining.

Heads together excitedly sharing thoughts and ideas with an end result that surpasses expectations.

That is collaboration.

Want to see Quincy Elementary teachers collaboration in full creative force? Watch THIS

Image source HERE

Author’s note: Attending Adaptive Schools training has helped me reflect on my skills as a group member and as a group leader. Dr. Brandi-Lyn Mendham brought Adaptive Schools into our district and having this training together has set the stage for collaboration like we have never experienced before. To learn more, visit


Are you running on empty? Or, does your tank overflow?

Are you running on empty? Or, does your tank overflow?

When I talk with people about TV series that I watch, I never get asked questions like:

“How do you have time to watch television?”

“You don’t get paid to watch TV, so why do you do it?”

Yet, when I talk with people about blogging, Twitter chats, the Facebook Live show my friend and I just started, etc. I am often met with questions like:

“How do you have time for writing and tweeting? I could never find time for that.”

“You don’t get paid to host a Facebook Live show or to write blog posts, so why do you do it?”

The other day, I watched this video adapted from Daniel Pink’s talk about motivation. This information about what really motivates people has so many implications, from helping me understand the methods behind my madness to helping all of us understand how to help students feel motivated to learn.

To explain my madness, let’s picture a big tank, like a propane tank. Except that it is not filled with propane, it is filled energy.

Everything you do adds to the tank or takes away from the tank.

The things you love to do, that you are passionate about, fill the tank. For me, things like getting creative, trying new things, making someone’s day, helping others, and being playful fill my tank.

The things you don’t like to do but feel like you have to do, take fuel out of your energy tank. For me, doing paperwork or the dishes, remembering the five thousand things I need to pack in the car before I leave the house, and dealing with selfishness are energy depleters.

How often do you fill your tank?

How often do you something you absolutely love to do?

How often do you pursue something with excited curiosity?

When you wish time would stop because you are having so much fun?

How often do you empty your tank?

How often do you plop down on the couch at the end of the day, bleary-eyed and feeling sad for no particular reason?

How often are you doing things you don’t like to do, rushing through the task as quickly as possible?

When you wish the minutes away instead of enjoying them?

Are you running on empty, or does your tank overfloweth?

What about our students?

How many opportunities do they have to fill their tanks? Things they explore with excited curiosity, where they want time to stop because they love it so much?

How many tank-depleting tasks does a typical student have to do in a day?

How does the fullness of their tank relate to their enjoyment of school?

What happens when a student’s tank runs out?

Passion is one great force that unleashes creativity, because if you’re passionate about something, then you’re more willing to take risks.

-Yo Yo Ma

Check out my latest tank-filler, with my friend Jon Wennstrom:


Why I Write: A Surpising Voicemail

Why I Write: A Surpising Voicemail

Today I received a voicemail from my older brother.

He said that he was having a bad day last week and had a few minutes to read some of my blog posts during his lunch, and that one in particular helped him in that moment.

There it is. Right there.

Exactly why I write.

I enjoy writing. I appreciate processing the things I believe in, experiences I have learned from, or questions I have. An idea starts to flicker and I become very curious how the idea could translate into a written piece. It is fun working through that process, and sometimes the idea develops into something worth posting and sometimes it doesn’t.

Actually, I am finding that I love it. Especially after listening to that voicemail.

Today when I was listening to my brother’s voicemail, the smile on my face spread bigger and bigger. I can actually help this man who I have always looked up to, who has taught me so much? This older brother whose main mission in life at times has appeared to be to torment me?

I mean, this guy knows me as an insecure little girl, a whiner, a rebel, jealous of his successes–he has seen much more than someone who knows me as a professional adult. If he can read what I write and have it lift him up in a moment when he needs it, my mission is more than accomplished. I have surpassed what I thought my writing could do.

For so many reasons, thank you for that voicemail Todd. For I didn’t even know I was writing for you, but for you I will write!


5 Steps to Follow When Dumbfounded

5 Steps to Follow When Dumbfounded

I imagine most people want what I want…to feel important, like I belong, to have some freedom, to have fun, and to have my basic needs met. In Choice Theory terms, these needs are called power, love and belonging, freedom, fun, and survival. We all want these few, simple things. Yet, they are not so simple. Not simple at all–wars have been fought over these five needs.

I have been confronted with some pretty ridiculous things in my life…bet you have too. Those things that leave you confounded and temporarily speechless. If you know me, you know that my speechlessness last for just microseconds. I have a recipe I follow when I am listening to others, and I follow it closely when I am dumbfounded.

  1. What is this person really saying?
  2. What does this person really want?
  3. What positives am I hearing?
  4. Communicate understanding
  5. Make a plan to move forward

What is the person really saying? Often the person is telling me about how they have been wronged in some way, and if I really listen, I will hear what they are saying.

I feel like I do not belong.     

I feel like a bad parent.     

I don’t know what to do next.

What does the person really want? Once I hear the message, I can ask some questions to figure out what the person really wants, and it is most often power. People get upset when they feel out of whack–what they want is not matching up with reality and they feel powerless to change it. The powerlessness stems from the fact that we cannot control anyone but ourselves, and that is a hard thing to accept.

Moving forward can only come once there is acceptance of what can be controlled and what cannot be controlled.

What positives am I hearing? You may laugh when I say this, but when I say look for positives, I mean it. I mean it for the person who is so mad that they are spitting in my face. I may have to compliment someone for not cursing at me, or for sitting down with me, but I find something. A quick, “I can tell how difficult this situation is for you, and I appreciate that you came in to talk it over.”

Communicate understanding. When I communicate the understanding, I am careful not to assume I have that understanding, so I ask questions. I may say, “Let me sum up what I think I am hearing you say…”. I do not do this until I am relatively certain that I do have that understanding, or I will hurt the trust we have built and we will have to start over.

I have seen my fair share of trials and tribulations, so I often can relate to the person with a story of my own and how I overcame the situation. I try to keep it brief, however, because the conversation is not about me, it is about the other person.

Make a plan to move forward. The plan should not be my plan, but I can certainly ask questions that may lead to ideas. “What do you see as the next step?”, or “What other information do you need before you decide what to do next?” are great ways to start the process to empower the person and make a positive step in the right direction. Making sure the plan is simple, immediate, and based only on what can be controlled is crucial for the success of the plan.

Thank you to my PLN for inspiring me to reflect on my practices, and thank you to the late great Dr. William Glasser for all of his books and work to understand human behavior. These are the steps that have worked for me, what steps have worked for you?

3 Easy Steps to Calm Confrontation

3 Easy Steps to Calm Confrontation

Someone is heading for me…I can tell because of the squinted eyes that are locked on me. I see a gait that is determined and quickened. Is there smoke coming out of their ears? Uh oh, what do I do…

Have you been there?  I certainly have…in my personal life and in my professional life. This was the stuff of my nightmares when I first became a principal. My hands would get clammy, my stomach would knot up and I would pray for someone to pull the fire alarm.

That was then, and this is now. Thank goodness. After years of experience with challenging confrontations, I cannot say that I necessarily look forward to them, but I do approach them with the confidence that I am not going to let my emotions get the best of me during the conversation. I know that I will listen to understand the concern, and express that understanding. We may not end up agreeing at the end, but we can be agreeable.

I approach difficult conversations with 3 easy steps.

  1. Listen. Don’t speak, other than to ask the initial question, “I am glad you came to see me, I can see you are upset. What’s going on?” Just listen and have open body language.
  2. Understand the good intentions the person has. Communicate their good intentions back to them in short and simple sentences. Negative emotions might mask the good intentions that are there…dig for them if necessary.
  3. Ask, “How would you like me to help you with __________ .”

At that point in the conversation, you will have an understanding of the concern, what the person wants from you, and you will have calmed the situation by empathizing with him or her.

From there, you can identify the things you both want that are in common. With parents in a school situation that is relatively easy because we both want the best for their child, and we can agree to that. If what the person wants is not reasonable, explain that without insulting his/her perspective. It is never our job to judge feelings or perceptions, just to provide information.

Above all, I always tell myself that it is not about me, it is about the person in front of me and what they are going through at the time. As much as I like to think that the world revolves around me, I am not the most important person. This helps me set my feeling aside because, quite frankly, if I do not set them aside, my feelings can get in the way of good communication. Nervousness can lead to timidness, defensiveness can lead to disagreeing to be disagreeable, and fear can lead to talking in circles. Staying focused on serving the person in front of me helps me stay calm.

…as the person approaches, I give a supportive look and invite him into my office, where we sit side by side at my table. I thank him for coming in, and ask what’s going on. I reassure him that I know we can handle it together…we leave smiling and laughing, feeling understood, validated and with a plan to move forward.