When sitting and listening, brain activity mirrors sleeping

When sitting and listening, brain activity mirrors sleeping

I heard something interesting the other day…

When sitting and listening, our brains are about as active as when we are sleeping.

Besides that, children are not taught nor are they wired to sit and listen anymore.

I am fortunate to visit classrooms every day where teachers are asking deep thinking questions and empowering student passions. Students are talking to each other, brainstorming, dreaming, exploring curiosities, getting to know each others’ interests. Teachers are talking to the students, but most of the time it is to ask questions, to elaborate on student thinking, or to encourage them.

When sitting and listening, our brains are about as active as when we are sleeping.

We have to ask ourselves, are we in the business of providing brain rest time, or are we in the business of empowering students to learn, think, and explore their own curiosities?

The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.     -Ellen Parr

For more information, check out this blog post by the Human Anatomy and Physiology Society that describes the MIT study regarding brain activity during sleep vs. during lecture: https://hapsblog.org/2013/08/25/10-professional-development/

Image source: HERE

“Change your life one 5-second decision at a time.” -Mel Robbins

“Change your life one 5-second decision at a time.” -Mel Robbins

We cannot control our feelings.

We do control what we think and what we do, and our feelings follow along.

Want to feel better? Take a walk, clean the kitchen, work toward a goal, listen to a kindergartener’s story.

Learning Dr. William Glasser’s Choice Theory taught me this early in my career and early in my marriage–it saved my marriage and my career. Before I understood how to change how I feel, I felt out of control. I felt angry and didn’t know how to change that feeling. I would feel stressed even though my problems were so minimal compared to others’. I distinctly remember one time in my early twenties being so angry that I threw a coffee cup into the sink and broke it. Woah mama, get a grip.

I don’t have to stay angry, or mad, or stressed, or sad. Those feelings will still rise up, like a little bolt of electricity running through my body. When those negative feelings happen, now I quickly coach myself to think logically and take some type of action to help me feel better.

The beauty is that if I am in control of me, I am able to help others in the way I want to. And, like you, I want to give everything I have to the people I love and work with.

Today I listened to Mel Robbins talk with Louis Howes about her book The 5 Second Rule and I LOVED what I heard–not just because Mel is a fellow West Michigan gal either!  Mel takes what I learned through Choice Theory to the next level. She shared Damasio’s work, which reveals that 95% of our decisions are based on our feelings. We don’t make decisions based on logic or on our goals. We decide based on how we feel, and Mel says this robs us of joy and opportunity. Do you feel like having that hard conversation? No. Do you feel like taking that run? Nope. Do you feel like cleaning your closet out? Na.

She gives us a tool, the 5-second rule, to help us take action when we don’t feel like it. When you have the urge to do something you should do, rather than dismissing that urge, count backwards from 5 and then do it. You start the action necessary to move toward doing the right thing as soon as you start counting.

I should work out. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Blast off the couch.

I should talk through that mistake with my colleague. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Go for it.

I should read to my son even though I am so tired. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Be the mom you want to be.

Change your life one 5-second decision at a time.

-Mel Robbins

Image credit: HERE

Press the ‘Reset’ Button to Bring Back the Joy

Press the ‘Reset’ Button to Bring Back the Joy

Are you feeling the joy?

This time of year sometimes patience wears thin, and we feel like students have forgotten expectations even though it is March. For teachers, the creative juices might have dried up a bit. We could all use some of the energy we had in September. You are not alone, this happens across the state, country, world.

So, what to do? Think about how you could press the reset button to refresh and re-energize yourself and your class. Here are some ideas:

  • Do relationship-building activities every day for a few weeks. Fifteen minutes of fun could go a long way.
  • Remind students of expectations in an empowering way. Have them reteach each other with quick presentations on the expectations that need revisiting. Don’t forget to have them explain the ‘why’ behind the rule.
  • Look at your lesson plans for the day and make sure there are things you are looking forward to in there. Students can read us like a book–if we are stressed and not having fun, they will mirror us.
  • Focus on how far students have come rather than the problems that pop up. Share the joys with you colleagues. They could use the lift!
  • When problems do pop up, talk over solutions with your principal or a teammate. You are not alone!

There is so much to celebrate every day. We have to dig through the other stuff to find it sometimes, but it is always there, just waiting for us to rediscover it.

How will you ‘reset’ and find the joy again?

Stay focused on our mission. Have squid eye. Just be snow.

Stay focused on our mission. Have squid eye. Just be snow.

It was an ironic discussion. 

We were collaborating away at a School Improvement Team meeting, discussing the things we are currently doing to improve student reading achievement. We listed out ten or more things we are working on, along with some things we haven’t even started to tackle. And, that was just reading. Then there’s math. And writing, science and social studies. In addition to that, we want our students to develop strong, positive character, and to have a need-satisfying environment. We need to innovate and incorporate technology and 21st century skills. The list of goals goes on and on. No wonder educators feel like their heads are spinning and they are working so hard but not getting anywhere.

Our conversation settled in on student goal-setting. Teachers began discussing the value of students having specific, achieveable goals catered to the next steps in reading achievement. Students could have ownership of their goals and their learning, and take the ‘goals’ with them even when they traveled to a different class. It would give deep meaning and purpose to their practice and it would help them have a sense of accomplishment when they achieved the goal and began to tackle a new one.

There is irony in having a goal about making goals. There is also irony in that teachers would benefit from specific, attainable goals in the same way students would. If we gave students a list of twenty goals to achieve right now, it would be overwhelming. It is the same for adults. We have to narrow our focus or we cannot do anything well. We have to pick a goal like having an uncompromising focus on reading, and stick to it with a fervor.

That very same morning of this meeting, I listened to a #mybad podcast with Jon Harper and guest Cameron McCoy. Cameron is a freshman at Morehouse College, and in the podcast he shared a mistake he made early in his freshman year. He was so excited to get involved on his new campus that he overextended himself and ended up sick in the hospital. He needed to bring himself back to his mission at Morehouse, and that was to get a great education and better himself. 

I was compelled to tell Cameron’s story to the team that morning, to help us understand that if we want to do amazing work, we have to stay focused on our main goal. After we tackle that goal and have a solid plan in place, we can move on to our next goal. We have to have “squid eye” to not only see the things that we are doing to bring us closer to meeting our goal, but to also see the things getting in our way. Squid eye, a laser-like focus on best and worst practices, comes from a book called Fierce Leadership by Susan Scott. 

Later that day, a teacher left a photocopy of a few pages of a book on my desk, telling me that it reminded her of what we talked about that morning. It was a chapter from a book called Present Over Perfect by Shauna Neiquist. I was sold on the title, and so touched by the passage from Job highlighted in the chapter. Neiquist tells us that in this passage, “God says to the snow, ‘Fall on the earth.’ That’s it. Just do one thing. Just fall.”

We can do that. We should do that. Just do it, that one thing, with all you have. 

Do that. Do it good. Then, do something else. 

Stay focused on our mission. Have squid eye. Just be snow.

“Remember that what gets talked about and how it gets talked about determines what will happen. Or won’t happen. And that we succeed or fail, gradually then suddenly, one conversation at a time.”   -Susan Scott, Fierce Leadership

Image credit: HERE

Where does ‘I’ fit in?

Where does ‘I’ fit in?

We hear all the time that “I” doesn’t belong in educational leadership. I wholeheartedly agree that true teamwork and collaboration exist when ‘we’ and ‘our’ is the norm. Our students deserve us to have a collective ownership over creating the conditions for success for all of them.

There is no ‘I’ in team.

I was mentored by an educational leader who lived and breathed this idea. I began to think that not all swear words contained four letters, that there was a swear word with just one letter–I.

There were times when this was a bit perplexing…how could I tell a teacher I was proud of her? I felt like I had to say, “we are proud of you because…”. But, then, who was the ‘we’?

Where does ‘I’ fit in educational leadership? In our focus on collaboration and teamwork, do we whitewash individual accountability and achievement? We have collective ownership of the successes and the failures in a school if we work as a team, yet within that framework, is there a place for ‘I’?


  • I am sorry…
  • I am proud of you because…
  • I stand with you.
  • I am worried about…
  • I wonder…
  • I have an idea…
  • I learned something new!

What do you think? Where does ‘I’ belong in the schoolhouse?

We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community… Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sakes and for our own.     -Cesar Chavez

Image credit: HERE

Let the Newbie Take the Lead

Let the Newbie Take the Lead

Cautious by nature, I was a little reluctant to go snowmobiling this weekend. I pushed through my worry because I was so excited for my family to get to experience snowmobiling in Michigan’s Upper Pennisula together.

As expected, it was a gorgeous display of all Michigan winter has to offer. We visited Pictured Rocks, Big Springs, and drove through tunnels of snow-covered trees. My worry was unfounded, as the leader of our group was considerate of the rookie driver (me), traveled at a conservative speed, took the easiest routes, and checked in frequently to make sure we were okay.

An experienced rider always took the last position to keep an eye on how everyone was progressing. In addition to this, I followed a friend who had more experience than me, but was a cautious rider and I knew I could trust following in her path.

This wasn’t the first time I tried my hand at snowmobiling. In fact, I used to have a snowmobile of my own. As I was enjoying the ride this weekend, I asked myself why I gave snowmobiling up those years ago. 

After what I experienced this weekend, I think I know the answer. And…I think the answer can help me understand the change process for others.

When I tried my hand at becoming a “snowmobiler” a few years before, I kept trying to fit into the group I was riding with, but the hilly, narrow paths, the speed, and continually being left behind made me feel like a misfit. I was uncomfortable, scared, and continuously felt guilty for slowing the group down. Despite my desire to share this hobby with family and friends and really trying to make it work, I eventually gave up and sold my snowmobile.

I was reflecting on my snowmobiling experiences and see parallels to trying anything new. I found three key factors that influenced my success this go-round:

1. Let the newbie take the lead. Don’t blaze a trail and expect them to follow. Show them the way, then let them take the lead while you watch and give support.

2. Relationships are key. It is so helpful to have a trusted friend or colleague give you guidance. Someone who has a bit more experience than you, who stretches you to try something new, but doesn’t take you too far out of your comfort zone.

3. Stop and check in frequently, point out potential obstacles ahead, and give guidance for overcoming them. Ask questions–want to slow down, speed up? What are you proud of, what are you worried about?

The biggest lesson I learned through these different experiences is that the most important person during the change process is not the expert, not the leader. If we want to support real and lasting change, the most important person has to be the newbie.

Oh, and…when in doubt, throttle out.

No bird soars too high if he soars with his own wings. 

-William Blake

Ever Flash Your Brights?

Ever Flash Your Brights?

Ever drive down the road at night and get annoyed by a passing car with their brights on?

Have you ever flashed your brights in annoyance, only to have the driver flash back to prove their brights weren’t on?

Did you feel like a jerk? Wish you hadn’t flashed your brights?

Ever have someone falsely “accuse” you of having your brights on? Did you get defensive in a ridulous way, a surge of emotion totally uncalled for in that trivial situation?

We don’t like to falsely accuse, and we don’t like to be falsely accused. 

So, let’s not.

Sound good?

People don’t need our judgement, they need our understanding and grace.

Image source: HERE