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:


The Little Boy and the Tokens

The Little Boy and the Tokens

The little boy glanced up and saw an old lady struggling to juggle her two large bags of groceries. He looked at his momma, who nodded her head, then he rushed over to the lady and asked her if he could help.

“Why, thank you young man. What a sweet boy you are,” beamed the old lady.

After they put the grocery bags into her trunk, she turned to the little boy and said, “Your generosity and helpfulness have earned you this token. Come back and see me after you collect ten of these tokens and you will get a special prize.”

The little boy didn’t expect any sort of payment because his momma taught him to do the right thing just because it’s the right thing to do. She said a smile from a grateful person is worth its weight in gold. However, he was delighted to get the token and daydreamed the whole way home about the prize that awaited him.

As the next couple weeks went by, he noticed that the people who carried tokens to give to helpful children wore a yellow flower pin on their collars. The pins were small, but the boy grew able to spot them a long distance away. He sprinted to be the first person to help someone with a yellow flower pin, whether he was again at the grocery store, at church, at school, or even walking down Main Street.

The little boy’s momma was pleased with her son’s helpfulness. Their family had always valued the Golden Rule of, “doing unto others as you would have done unto you.” She was hopeful that the tokens he treasured weren’t becoming the sole reason for his good deeds. Momma knew that her boy would not be given tokens for his good deeds when he was a grown up. She earns the same paycheck as her grumpy co-worker.

One day, the little boy counted up his tokens and was surprised to discover that he had collected nine. He needed just one more before he could turn them in for that long-awaited prize. Oh boy! He felt like he was going to burst with excitement.

That same day, he went to the grocery store with momma again. As they exited the store with their bags, the boy scanned the parking lot for yellow flower pins. There were two people heading to their cars. One was an old man who looked like he was about to drop one of his heavy bags. The other was a woman carrying just one bag. He didn’t even see the old man as he spotted the yellow pin on the woman. He knew today would be the day he got that tenth token.

The boy didn’t look for his mom’s permission before running over to the lady. He asked her if she needed help, and she shrugged her shoulders and handed the boy her bag. After the bag was placed in her car, she thanked the little boy and got in her car and left. He stood there in disbelief.

He couldn’t believe that he didn’t get anything for his helpfulness. He scowled and kicked at the ground as he went back to his mother. He never looked up to see that the old man who was struggling with his bags had actually dropped one of them, spilling groceries, cans rolling all over the parking lot.

The boy wouldn’t give up his quest for his tenth token, and he did receive it that week. In anticipation he could barely contain, he gathered up his tokens and headed to the house of the old woman.

The old woman greeted him at the door with a smile and led him to a wooden chest. The boy was wide-eyed as she opened it. However, his grin turned into a frown quickly as he looked over the prizes. These were just trinkets, silly little toys that he could get from the dentist after getting his teeth cleaned. He had waited all this time and helped all those people for this junk?

He was too polite to say any of this to the woman, so he took one of the trinkets and walked home discouraged.

“I am never ever gonna help anyone again if all I get as a reward is junk!” the boy said to himself as he threw his prize on the table in his own house.

Momma saw his discouragement and anger and went to stand next to her little man, wrapping her arm around his shoulders. She whispered in his ear something he will never forget.

“The swell of joy in your heart as your kindness spreads a smile across someone’s face is the best reward in the world. It beats any trinket or even any paycheck. Kindness freely given builds people up and creates bridges across continents of sadness. Yours is a kind soul, and you need no prize other than the pride you feel by making someone’s day.”

Image source: HERE



There is an Ugly Green Monster Under My Bed

There is an Ugly Green Monster Under My Bed

When I was younger, there were times when I was jealous of someone’s success. Oh, I would try to disguise my jealousy in the form of criticism usually. In my head, I would poke holes in the person’s success. I would feel bad because I knew I wasn’t being nice. When I peeled the layers away to try to figure out what was going on, I recognized the green ugly monster that was residing within me. I was plain ol’ jealous. But, that was a long time ago. I have completely buried that monster.

If we consider yesterday a long time ago.

It happens all the time. Why are we so scared of others’ strengths?

I know why I am.

I am scared of the successes of another because I am insecure. I am not sure if I can keep up with them, I am not sure I even want to. When I see someone else doing something great, but it is something I am uncertain I can do, it is much easier on my psyche to criticize and judge them and to trivialize their successes than to accept my own weaknesses.

Yet, there are these beautiful people who float around and seem genuinely happy for others’ successes. I love these people. They have a light, airiness about them and they exude joy. They must have defeated their ugly green monsters in a skipping contest. Or, maybe they never had a monster at all. But, man, their smiles and enthusiasm for the hard work of others is a joyful sight.

They even want to share the successes of others, to shout them from the rooftops. Those monster-free people don’t seem to be worried about themselves at all as they celebrate the gifts bestowed upon someone else.

Are these people anomalies of nature, or can anyone rid themselves of the constraints of jealousy? I am asking for a friend…

If I were to create a recipe for a jealousy-free life, I might mix in the following:

  1. Love for others
  2. Love for yourself
  3. Humility
  4. Selflessness
  5. Acceptance

Stir twice and sprinkle over your green monster as needed.

The jealous are troublesome to others, but a torment to themselves.

-William Penn

Image source:  HERE

How I Avoided the Chopping Block my First Year of Teaching

How I Avoided the Chopping Block my First Year of Teaching

I stunk it UP my first year of teaching! I mean that I was so bad that there was talk of not having me back for a second year. I made many mistakes that first year, but let’s start with the biggest mistake I made–getting into power struggles with students.

When I started teaching I thought things could go one of two ways in my classroom–MY way or the students’ way. I remember telling students to do something like their work, apologize, etc. and they wouldn’t do it. Wait. What?!? Did you miss the part that I am your teacher?

I would dig myself into a deeper hole by continuing down the line of demanding that they do things that they were not going to do. I found myself in a hot mess as I tried to figure out how to get out of the situation without giving up the little control of the classroom I had left. I couldn’t just let this student ignore my directions. AAAGGGG! What could I do?

Over time I learned a few tricks to avoid power struggles. The most important thing I learned is that it does not have to be my way OR the students’ way, it should be OUR way. The students’ needs for power, freedom, fun and belonging must be met within the functions of the classroom or they will work against me to meet them. Either way, they will meet their needs. I just needed to decide if it was going to be in defiance of what I asked them to do, or if I was going to ask them to do things that would help them meet their needs while they learn.

Here is a short list of things to include in your classroom to avoid power struggles and to make it a need-satisfying place for learning. I made it into a cute acronym: CRAFT.

  • C:  Choice must be incorporated throughout the day. It can be small choices, like where to sit during independent practice, or it can be a big choices like researching a topic they are passionate about. Choice is power and freedom, it is a double whammy of need-satisfaction in the classroom.
  • R:  Relationships need to be positive and strong, and students need to understand how relationships work. When I was teaching my students about relationships, I liked to describe them as checking accounts. All the positives you put in to a relationship are deposits, and any negatives like excluding someone or teasing are withdrawals. You never want your account to go bankrupt, so we make sure we make many many more deposits than withdrawals.
  • A:  Ask, don’t tell. Students are smart and know so much more than we think they know. When there is a problem, simply saying to a student, “What do you think should happen next?” can empower them and give us insight into their thinking. Other questions you could ask are, “If you were the teacher in this situation, what would you do?” or “How do you think we could resolve this situation?”
  • F:  We always need to remember to have FUN! Not just teacher-prompted fun, but student-prompted fun too. I will never forget a student from my first and second year of teaching named Ryan. He taught me more about classroom management than four years of college did. We had lots of power struggles my first year of teaching, but I got to teach him a second year and guess what? No struggles. I was a quick learner! One thing we did to help him have a great year was to give him a stage for his funny antics. He had the best grandma dance ever, so we started having “Disco Lunches”. We would turn on music and allow students to come to a performance area to dance for their classmates. It was a blast, and it was just what Ryan and probably many other students needed at that time of day.
  • T:  Turn it around! I learned how to back that thing up and work my way out of a power struggle. I get to practice this as a principal too. If I have asked a student to do something and he/she will not do it, I can simply say something like, “I see that you are not ready to work this out. I will check back with you in…”.

There are many other tips and tricks to use to help classrooms and schools be need-satisfying places, and ways to avoid or work your way out of power struggles. CRAFT works for me…what tips do you have?

Please note: This blog post is based upon my experiences and the teachings of Dr. William Glasser and Choice Theory. I learned about Choice Theory and Reality Therapy through training with The William Glasser Institute and reading many books written by Dr. Glasser.  If you are interested in learning more about the work of Dr. Glasser, I recommend reading Choice Theory (Glasser, William. Choice Theory: A New Psychology of Personal Freedom. , 1998. Print.) or visiting for training opportunities.

My Christmas Tree is Still Up

My Christmas Tree is Still Up

It is February 1st…and, my Christmas tree is still up.

Just in case I have ever given anyone the impression that I am perfect, here is the proof.

I try to come across as the real Allyson Apsey, flaws, misguidance, and all truth as I see it included. I believe that all works of fiction should be clearly labeled. I am also well aware that sometimes people post only the good stuff and leave out the bad. My purposes for writing are many, some purely selfish for reflection and some much more altruistic. Maybe something I share could help someone else. That would be cool.

(I thought altruistic started with a “u” until I just googled it.)

I don’t think putting a persona of perfection out there is all that helpful for others. I am willing to share my mistakes and failures for the learning (and maybe entertainment) of anyone willing to read what I write.

I aspire to be a better person everyday. To learn from my mistakes and make incremental improvements until I reach a goal. Then, I set a new goal. I am in the struggle, just like we all are. I just really really enjoy the journey.

Excuse me while I wrestle a sock away from my dog. Happy to be able.



Who Controls You?

Who Controls You?

Why do you answer the phone?

Because it rings, right?

Or, do you answer it because you want to talk to the person calling you?

Is all behavior purposeful, or are we simply responding to what is happening around us?

Let’s look at an example and see what we think.

A young woman, in her early twenties, was driving home from her first teaching job, fighting traffic. She stayed late at school planning for the next day and was starving, tired and really wanted to be at home. The person behind her was honking and inching forward until he was almost on her bumper. She was thinking a few choice words and wondering what the guy’s problem was. Didn’t he realize that everyone was anxious to get moving?

She raised her hand to give him a taste of his own medicine. She stopped with her hand in mid-air. What if it was one of her student’s parents? That would be so unprofessional, and the parent might recognize her. She put her hand down and took a deep breath.

What stopped this young lady from displaying an obscene gesture? She was angry and the guy behind her probably deserved it. What does her behavior tell us about why people do what they do?

We all have urges to behave, and typically our urge to behave is driven from a frustration signal. We behave because we want something. We might eat because we are hungry, or bored, or sad. We yell because we are angry or frustrated. We select our behavior from a recipe book of previous behaviors in our head in our best attempt to meet a need to calm the frustration signal.

So, if we behave to meet a need, and we select our behavior in our best attempt to meet that need, does that mean that the only person who has control over our behavior is ourselves? That is empowering! And a bit frightening—does it also mean that I cannot blame my behavior on how someone else is making me feel?  I am responsible for my own behavior all of the time? Woah, mind blown.

What about my feelings; who controls them? Sometimes, I feel sad when I don’t want to feel sad. Or mad, or stressed, on and on. How can I “control” my feelings?

Let’s go back to the young lady. Instead of reacting and making an irresponsible choice, she took a deep breath. What might happen if she then called her best friend? How might she start feeling? Do we think she would forget about the grumpy guy and enjoy the conversation with her friend? Or, what if she turned on her favorite song and started to sing along—how would she feel then?

We do not have direct control over our feelings, but we do have indirect control. How we behave and how we think has a significant impact on how we feel. We are not Jeanie from I Dream of Jeanie, so we can’t wiggle our nose and magically feel better. The good news is that there are things we can do to feel better.

In our example, the young lady listened to some music, sang along, and all of a sudden began feeling happy and looking forward to the rest of her evening again. If instead she had sat in silence and thought about how horrible the drivers are, she would have continued to be frustrated and angry. Therefore, we can surmise that we can change how we feel by doing something, especially something we enjoy.

I find that taking a walk can help me feel better almost every time. When I take a walk, I do something that I call “peeling the onion”. I may be feeling bad about something, but I cannot pinpoint the exact root of my feelings. When I peel the onion layer after layer and get to the source of the concern, it is typically something that I have no control over. Identifying the source, realizing what I do and do not have control over, and making a plan helps me feel so much better.

The next time you feel like unleashing on someone, pause and think about how you would handle this exact situation with your boss sitting next to you, or with your grandma there. Picture someone you love and admire there with you. What behavior choices would you make then, and what does that tell you about who controls you?

Please note:  This blog post is based upon the teachings of Dr. William Glasser and Choice Theory. I learned about Choice Theory and Reality Therapy through training with The William Glasser Institute and reading many books written by Dr. Glasser. I was even able to spend some time with Dr. Glasser–one time I bought him a bluegill dinner at Hofbrau restaurant in Interlochen, MI.

If you are interested in learning more about the work of Dr. Glasser, I recommend reading Choice Theory (Glasser, William. Choice Theory: A New Psychology of Personal Freedom. , 1998. Print.) or visiting for training opportunities.