The Hard Truth

I am the lead learner of an elementary school. It is 3:00 AM and I am awake, worried about a child that biologically is not mine but in all other aspects belongs to me. A child that struggles to succeed in class, follow directions, show respect, and accept love. I have prayed for this child, cried for this child, spent hours on the phone looking for help for this child, yet it never seems like I’ve done enough. My thoughts penetrate a peaceful slumber and stumble back on that six-year old’s innocent face. The face that belongs to a child crippled by circumstance, environment and society. The burden for this child is palpable. so much so sleep escapes me at this dark hour of the morning.  I, like most educators I know, have dedicated my life to making a difference for children…. all children. I understand the you must connect before you can correct.


The hard truth about connection….it is a two-way street. Parents must want to connect, children must want to connect, educators must want to connect. We can’t will it, we CAN work on it, cultivate it, pray about it, dedicate to it, but we can’t make it happen. What then? What if connection never comes? I am a firm believer that without connections true growth and change will not happen. The thought of no breakthrough is frustrating, infuriating and frightening, yet I will NOT give up.

I work diligently to remain positive, be a beacon and encourage others…. but the hard truth is this job is tough, demanding, emotionally draining and endless. The other hard truth, I can’t imagine doing anything else. As difficult as some days can be, they can also be amazing, uplifting and monumental for both adults and children. It is hard to hear from a family member of a student that you “don’t care about kids”, don’t have the best interest of kids at heart” and throw “kids under the bus”.  While my heart knows better, my head over analyzes every aspect of the situation with a student. What could I have done differently? How can I improve the situation? Where did we miss the mark? Reflection can be a powerful tool, but it can also be exhausting and self-deprecating if not used correctly. I continue to work on finding the delicate balance between these two areas.

As a lead learner, for me, my HARD TRUTHS are:

  • I will NOT give up on any child….EVER.
  • I will remain STEADFAST for my students and team.
  • I will FIGHT for kids, all kids every day.
  • I will NOT allow ENERGY VAMPIRES rob me of my joy.
  • I will SUPPORT, NUDGE and sometimes PUSH my team toward excellence.
  • I will use REFLECTION to hone my skills, not beat myself up.
  • I will BELIEVE in the greater good.
  • I will STAND UP, SPEAK UP and LEAD UP.


I am facing the day with my HARD TRUTHS on my heart and mind, determined to invest in my students, my team and my community. I can and will make a positive difference.



What are your HARD TRUTHS?



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Connecting For Kids

Kids Social MediaWhat do you do when you are trying to do what’s best for kids?  We CONNECT. We connect with kids. We connect with parents and families.  We connect as teachers.  We connect as leaders.  We find any way possible to connect, so we can do what is best for our kids. Education was once considered a lonely profession. Consider the one room schoolhouse, where one teacher served an entire rural community and everyone knew she was not to be seen after dark! Through the years a culture of connection and collaboration has slowly unfolded. Today, with social media at our fingertips, we have endless opportunities to establish connections with anyone and everyone. We have the ability to invite the community in via pictures and videos. We have networks with amazing educators to help us grow stronger in our profession.  There simply is no reason why we shouldn’t be connected educators…we have every reason to be connecting for kids.

Why…By Bethany

One of my favorite authors, John Maxwell, wrote a book entitled, Everyone Communicates, Few Connect: What the Most Effective People Do Differently. I read this book many years ago when I first entered the world of administration, and it opened my eyes to the importance of how we communicate, and the real purpose of it. My superintendent assigned the book for our team to read, and it was a game changer for me. If our communication isn’t reaching others, we are defeating our purpose. Authentic connections will not happen without authentic and purposeful communication. When we connect with others, we are validated, challenged, inspired, and our emotions are brought to the surface. This is what helps people become better versions of themselves. When we as educators connect, we become better educators. Our kids deserve nothing less than our best. Flying solo as an educator is no longer an option. When we struggle, we connect for support. When we succeed, we share to support others. When our beliefs are challenged, we share to ignite passion. There is power in connection, and connecting for kids is something we must ALL do. After all, it is about them, isn’t it?

So…remember the WHY behind connecting for kids!bethany-middle of kids

  • To seek support and advice
  • To be validated for innovative thinking
  • To gather resources (blogs, images, podcasts, etc.)
  • To share our successes and thoughts
  • To strengthen our core beliefs
  • To inspire and be inspired
  • To celebrate the AWESOME we witness each school day

This list could continue, because the WHY behind connecting for kids is immeasurable. We owe it to ourselves, and we owe it to our kids…they are ALL OURS

How…By Lindsey

If you want to make the best connections, you must be visible.  Visibility should be at the top of our “To Do List.”  As lead learners, our lists are full of emails, phone calls, meetings, and paperwork, but we must have visibility (in permanent marker) at the top of the list.  We should intentionally (put it on the calendar) be in classrooms, at recess, in the hallways, and out front during morning/afternoon dismissal to see first hand what is happening in our school.  When you are visible to all, relationships begin to bloom because you learn to know the people with whom you work with…your Kids, your Teachers, your Staff, your Families, and your Community.  What a positive feeling it is for parents to see you in the mornings greeting the kids with high fives and hugs.  What a rewarding feeling to enter a classroom of fully engaged kids and leave a handwritten note in appreciation to the teacher.  Through each of our actions as leaders, we begin to make connections through our interactions with kids, teachers, and families.

Bohler Quote

You may ask…How do you do this?

    • Morning Greetings/Afternoon “See You Tomorrow”
    • Mobile Office to be in the classrooms
    • Eat Lunch with the Kids
    • Spread the news of what’s happening at your school
    • Give Kids a Voice on what happens at their school
    • Share with Kids are Awesome they are can day!
    • Go Beyond the School Walls

When…By Karen

When do we connect with/for kids. When do you not? We should be making connections and building relationships with and for kids constantly throughout each and every day.  Kid connections should be the unwavering compass needle pointing us to and keeping us aligned with our why. So often, lead learners get inundated with infraction forms, system issues and trivial problems that weigh us down and make us feel as though we are trapped in our offices.  Don’t let your office become a trap…get out and connect with and for kids. It must be a conscious, culture changing mindset to become a lead learner who values and insists on building relationships with students.

The BIG question often becomes… when do we do this?

  • Through Celebrations
    • Academic Milestones
    • Behavior Milestones
    • Character Milestones
    • Attendance Milestones
    • Positive phone calls home
  • Through Collaboration with Adults AND students about concerns
    • RTI (academic and behavioral) – Social/emotional concerns through formal/informal conversations during lunch, recess, bus duty, hallways…the list goes on and on.
  • Through Communication – Share, Share, Share
    • Face to Face with students (find their passion…their why), parents, ALL stakeholders…bring them into the school and put yourself out there.
    • Via social media – sharing our story and our why
    • Newsletters


Us…Are we connecting everyday for our kids?  Is our story being heard around the state?  These are the questions that got us to thinking we need a movement to connect educators across the state of Arkansas for our kids!  And why not connect for our kids?  After all, it is about them, isn’t it? Kids deserve us to be the best version of ourselves, so what if we had a place where we could go for continual conversation, resources, great ideas from our schools, and…yes…a Twitter chat? This is the WHY behind #EduAr…to connect FOR kids! We need to learn together, from each other. Learning goes beyond the 6 hour professional development session, beyond the talks in your hallways and in team meetings, and beyond your district. Arkansas kids (and the rest of the nation’s kids) need us to learn from a larger source. We owe that to them. Let’s do this!

Information coming soon on a set time for the #EduAr weekly Twitter chat! Look for slow chat questions or images with a post for the day. Please begin sharing by using #EduAr in your tweets. Let’s get connected within our state, and reach out to other states as a unified group of educators. Ready?

Karen, Bethany, and Lindsey



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The Undeniable Power of the Human Connection

I have been excited for over a week about the planned “dream session” scheduled with Lindsey Bohler @MrsBohlerSES and Bethany Hill @bethhill2829. We often connect over social media but these coveted face-to-face meetings breathe new life into me. The passion these two rock star educators share for our profession and our children is unprecedented.

What was meant to be a short hour or so “connection session” turned into a four-hour non stop problem solving about “what is”, dreaming about “what WILL be” and sharing details about our schools, our visions, our celebrations and our struggles.

Throughout the conversation I was struck by how much alike, yet how vastly different the three of us are. We are all in different seasons of life, but our philosophies are so aligned that at times we would finish each others thoughts. This strong, vibrant relationship came about because of Twitter.  I can’t stress enough the power of a personal/professional learning network (PLN). The connections made go beyond a 140 character tweet.  They make you reflect, make you question, and yes, sometimes make you doubt.

If you do not have a PLN, what are you waiting for? The resources and power of the human connection fostered by social media are endless. I am thankful for these face-to-face meetings that nurse my soul, validate the fact that I think differently and stir a deep desire to push myself to get better.


Don’t be afraid to reach out. Educators by nature have a strong desire to help people. Send an email, a Voxer or make a phone call. Ask for advice, share an idea or “borrow some brilliance” from other educators. You will only grow from the experience and walk away a better teacher, leader and person. FIND. YOUR. TRIBE.

My heartfelt thanks to Lindsey and Bethany for spending four short hours rejuvenating my spirit by sharing their #JoyfulLeaders(hip). Becasue of you, I grew in my professional and personal journey today!





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Finding Workflow Mojo

Now that the hustle and bustle of the holidays are behind us and the spring semester has officially started, I can’t help but think about how to organize my time so that my workflow does just that…flow.  As a lead learner, it is just as hard to plan my day as it was to plan a full week of lessons when I was in the classroom.

Every day offers up a new opportunity, a different set of challenges and situations that will cause the clock to enter what feels like warp speed. Many days I look up and realize I am late for bus duty feeling like the day just started and I didn’t even eat lunch.


While I realize there are many occasions in a given day that I have absolutely no control over; a student struggling with behavior, a team member wanting to share how well her scholars did on their multi media presentations, or the oven going out just before school starts. I also realize that by being very intentional with how I plan out my day, I can still be productive without losing too much ground when a random situation arises.

The past four years as a Lead Learner, have taught me that the more I prioritize my day, the more productive I feel and the less frustrated I get when an issue arises unexpectedly.The ideas below are not novel and most lead learners will recognize most if not all. I needed to put them on paper as a reminder that I MUST keep working on the work.

Finding Your Workflow Mojo

  • Start your day early – Arriving before your team gives you a little quiet time to think about your day, prepare your coffee, write positive notes to teachers or students . You can also use this time to reflect, walk the building or catch up on stray emails. Try  for emails in Google. LIFE CHANGER!!
  • Take care of yourself – That means eat … even if it is going down the hallway on the way to lunch duty. This is where I fail in a BIG way. I often order lunch allow it to get cold then toss it in the trash.  NOT A GOOD PLAN.
  • Delegate task – As leaders, we must learn to share the work load. Distribute tasks across your team. This works two-fold, it helps lighten your work load so that you can get out of the office while providing your team opportunities to lead. I use Google Sheets to help me keep track of tasks, who they are assigned to and when they need to be completed.
  • Utilize a “mobile office” – This has been one of the best additions I have added to my workflow (working on using it more at my new school). I use the “mobile office” to get out among the students as I monitor hallways during transitions. This provides the opportunity to interact with students and team members while having access to my laptop to type notes, send emails and visit classrooms.


  • Try Voxer – With an outdated intercom system and a strong dislike to the large bulky walkie talkies, I opt to use Voxer. Voxer is an app that works like a walkie-talkie over your cell phone. It allows me to send text or audio messages and can serve as a walkie-talkie should the office need to get in touch with me. I often send my team feedback messages after visiting their classrooms. If you are unfamiliar with Voxer, I encourage you to check it out here!
  • Create Action and/or Tickler files – A clean, organized desk at the beginning of each days helps with workflow. This is on my TO DO LIST for 2017. For this, Merlin Mann of 43 Folders suggests using an A-Z accordion file. Place documents requiring an action requiring more than 2 minutes in here. This may be items such as forms to fill out and documents to proofread. You can also use a tickler file to supplement this. Check out Merlin’s tutorial for more details.
  • Set “Out of Office” Times – Setting time aside each day to get out of the office (or an entire day) and into classrooms will help keep the main thing the main thing. Set the alarm on your phone as a reminder and place the tent message  below in your office chair so anyone stopping by knows where you can be found!
    capture image.png

It seems I am constantly looking for ways to become more efficient in my day-to-day workflow so that I can spend more time in classrooms without taking time away from my family.  Finding my workflow mojo is a daily endeavor that will continue, I am sure, throughout my career.

Here’s to you finding, improving and/or keeping your mojo!


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Steadfast in 2017

As a self-proclaimed math/science geek, I am a problem solver who uses numbers, graphs and data to get my creative juices flowing and neurons firing! I, traditionally, don’t get hung up on “words”, but then I read One Word that Will Change Your Life by Jon Gordon,  Dan Britton and Jimmy Page and just like that my indifferent attitude toward the power of words, or in this case a word, shifted. After reading the book for the first time in 2014, I haphazardly worked through the process of choosing a word and attempted to focus on that one word. My 2014 word was Inspire. At the end of that process, I did not feel very successful in “living” the word.

The next year I included my team and we worked through the one word process together. Asking those from my inner circle to be my thought partners – to help with clarity and discernment. I found the word and I lived the word. The process was deeper and more meaningful because not only did I reflect on my own growth areas,  I also asked others to help stretch my thinking. My word for 2015 was BELIEVE – believe in myself, my team, our students and our vision.  


My team shared their #oneword with each other and we were accountability partners when there were road blocks in the journey. Watching our team grow and support each other in an effort to help each of us live our one word was a HIGHLY rewarding experience.

As I have been preparing for my 2017 one word work, the process has been more difficult. In the fall of 2016 I joined a new school district (literally), hired every member of a new team, met 400 + new kiddos and developed a new outlook on teaching and learning. As a lead learner, in this very unique situation, I quickly realized I did way too much assuming. I assumed our kids knew how to ride the bus, walk down the hallways quietly and respect authority. Naive…yes, I guess so and most assuredly a HARD LESSON. Through the lens and experiences of this new culture, I have gained confidence in my ability to make strong, solid decisions regarding what is best for our students and our team. Based on where I am as an individual lead learner and the diverse situations my team and students have faced way before I met them, my #oneword2017 is STEADFAST.


As I studied the definition of STEADFAST, I initially saw it as a word that could be misconstrued as having negative connotations (1a below).

Definition of steadfast

  • 1a :  firmly fixed in place :  immovable b :  not subject to change <the steadfast doctrine of original sin — Ellen Glasgow>
  • 2:  firm in belief, determination, or adherence :  loyal <her followers have remained steadfast>

But upon reflection, I was quickly reminded that there are times a leader MUST dig her heels in to ensure decisions being made are best for kids and that is NOT a bad thing. For some, this may resemble “immovable or inflexible” but, for me, it is reality AND I am not afraid.  The second definition is the one I was most drawn to…. firm in belief, strong determination and loyal because my #kidsdeserveit (another amazing book that is a must read for any leader) and so does my team.

Bring on 2017 where I will be STEADFAST in….

My belief that all children have a story of promise and possibility!  clzblpxwmaa2t4d

My determination to do what is right for kids even if it means standing alone or swimming against the current.


My faith that #thepowerofpinewood WILL play a huge role in reshaping teaching and learning throughout our district.what-can-people-not-accomplish-if-they-will-but-master-the-secret-of-steadfast-perseverance-quote-1

While 2016 was a year of learning, growth and also disappointments, in many ways I hate to see it go because of the wonderful memories that tend to fade so quickly. I am looking forward to an amazing 2017. The possibilities are endless for Team Pinewood and the entire Jacksonville North Pulaski School District!

Stay STEADFAST and joyful (#JoyfulLeaders) in your journey friends. What we do everyday makes a difference! Can it be a battle? Yes. Can it be exhausting? Yes. Can it be frustrating? Yes. Can WE do it?


Standing Steadfast Awaiting 2017 –



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The Power of the Small Stuff

Years ago I read the book  Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff….and it’s all small stuff by Richard Carlson. I was inspired by the book because of the simplistic way the author addressed how, as humans, we often make “mountains out of mole hills”. In many ways, I still agree with the message of this book, but now realize that the “small stuff” to one may be the “big stuff” to another.


Years ago as a novice teacher, I didn’t understand that consequences assigned to discipline infractions should teach and help mold student behavior. While I didn’t have significant discipline problems, when an issue would arise, I would assign consequences without much thought. This fixed mindset was disrupted by a simple encounter with a former student.

I had not taught 4th grade in years, but I recognized the young, blond man coming toward me. He had been a handful in the classroom, but I had fond memories of his love for science. He smiled as he walked up to me so I was thrown by the words that tumbled out of his mouth. He said, “Hey Mrs. Norton. Haven’t seen you in a long time. You remember that time you sent me to detention?” I had no response. I did not remember. I reflected on the hot air balloons we built, the caterpillars we observed as they transformed before our eyes, and the projects we worked on before project based learning had a name. But for him….he remembered the one day I assigned him detention 10 years before. The moment was surreal….like in the movies when everything around you stops in freeze frame and your hear someone talking but have no idea what they are saying. I finally pulled myself back to reality to hear him say,  “I never understood why you sent me to detention.” Clearly, 10 years later I had no clue why I sent him and no idea what to say. 

Small stuff….assigning detention seemed pretty irrelevant to me as a teacher at the time, but obviously it had a huge impact on this student. My heart ached because out of all the engaging lessons taught that year this was the one memory of me and my class that stuck with him.

I think about this encounter often. About the small stuff and the positive or negative impact something seemingly nondescript to me can have on the lives of others.

Never underestimate the power of your actions. With one small gesture you can change a person's life. For better or worse.






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Journey to Success

Blogging from 20,000+ feet above the earth seems so surreal to me. It was only a few short months ago that using the web to search quotes, find images, check email or just surf the web was taboo on domestic flights. Scare tactics that made the passenger think the WiFI would interfere with the electronics of the aircraft sure made me follow the directions. After all, I had no idea whether this was fact or fiction, but I sure didn’t want to take my chances.

As I sit here thinking about how the airline industry continues to work to meet the needs of their customers, I can’t help but think about students sitting in classrooms across the globe and wonder how do we personalize their learning so that we are meeting their individual needs? Just like adding Wi-Fi to an aircraft, we should be tuned into our learners and work to find ways to keep them engaged, ignite their passions and work to empower them to pave their way to success through perseverance and pure grit.

While I realize this is much easier said than done, I also realize that by looking at personalized learning with an intentional, purposeful lens, we can create an education for ALL learners that will equip them for their own level of greatness.

Just like the airline industry we can:

Show students how to track their progress.

It is hard to see where we are going, how far we have to go or set goals if we have no idea where we are. Setting goals based on current data helps a child “vision for the future”. Everyone has a goal. It may not be voiced or written, but we all have aspirations to some degree. Conversations with our students about those goals are vital to them reaching them. Just like the airline industry provides a “flight tracker” we should provide our students with a “success tracker”. #gamechanger

What is “their” mode of learning?

Notice, I didn’t say “our” mode of learning. It is way too easy to get caught in the “rut” of “this is how I have always done it”. But this is a dangerous mindset and  is NOT what is good for kids. We must change our thinking and our delivery to meet the needs of the “current” leaner, not the pupil of the past. How do we do that? Interest and modality inventories, CONVERSATIONS and observations are great places to start. The airline industry finally figured out that passengers need ways to be productive and engaged during long flights. Thus the installation of WI-FI….now granted this is not happening on every plane for every airline yet…the key word here is YET. Just like widespread personalized learning, I suspect it will be happening very soon.


Giving students choice will only enhance their learning experiences. The importance of choice is noted throughout the airline industry from the way you order tickets to the design of the airport. Choice in digital or paper tickets, early check in, seating options, airport dining, and the list goes on and on. Do we give students enough choice? If so, what does that look like, sound like, feel like? Are we transforming our classrooms to meet the physical, social and emotional needs of our learners or are we still lining desk up in tidy rows with no opportunity for collaboration and exploration? Non traditional classroom seating, flexible schedules and choices in content delivery are just a few ways we can change the road to learning in our classrooms and schools.

 We Must Provide the Journey…..NOT the Destination

I believe educators are in the journey business, not the destination business. By giving students experiences that push their thinking, nudge them toward greatness and build on their strengths while identifying their weaknesses, we will arm each child with the tools they need to identify their own “destination”. We MUST empower them to plan, think, tinker, experience (sometimes this means analyzing failures), defend, relate, identify, build and soar. When boarding a plane, the airline is charged with providing a comfortable journey that meets the needs of the passenger. When you step off the plane the impact of the destination is up to you.

I have often heard the statement “building the plane as we fly it” and thought of it as a negative. Now, to be clear, I DO NOT want the actual plane to be built in mid air….while I am on it, but the statement packs a punch when you are thinking about education. In some ways that is exactly what we are doing. We are building learning experiences and modifying and tweaking them to meet the diverse populations in our classrooms. If we aren’t doing this on a daily basis we just might need to find a “new plane”.


 How will you continue to “build the plane”?

My view from the sky looks amazing! I see all the possibilities of “perfecting the plane”. Can’t wait to get back to my sidewalk and get busy!


*disclaimer – I am not promoting any airline in particular. The photos are representative of the airline I recently used to fly to California so my knowledge comes from first hand experiences.

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