“You Take Care of Yourself”


How often do you use the phrase, “You take care of yourself?”  As a Field Placement Faculty member for Granite State College, I hear it all the time in the classroom, both from classroom teachers, and the preservice teachers I am there to observe.  Typically, this phrase has a negative connotation – it is said after a “tattle tale” reports someone else’s misbehavior.  But…let’s really think about that phrase…

I would argue that “take care of yourself” not only belongs in our classroom, but it is a phrase we should say with high frequency and a positive connotation.  What do we mean when we say take care of yourself?  In the classroom, especially in the younger grades, this phrase is meant to remind learners to mind their own business – to stop being concerned or distracted by what others are doing or saying.  However, taking care of yourself is actually a lifeskill – a concept that all students should be taught in the early stages of their schooling career.  Sure, take care of yourself could mean to not tattle, or to remember to brush your teeth and get a good night’s sleep, but I see taking care of yourself as something much deeper.

How do you take care of yourself as a learner?  What skills do we, as educators, need to teach our students?  How can we foster them in the classroom?


1.  Determine Learning Needs

It’s important to discuss the process of learning with students.  Ask your students:

  • What works best for you? 
  • Is it helpful to have an image in front of you? 
  • Do you like to experiment and explore and then read content?  Or would you prefer to watch a content-packed video and then apply it to real-life situations? 
  • Do you like working independently?  Or do groups bring out the best in you?
  • Do you like to ask questions right away?  Or do you prefer to let the material sit and process?

As educators, we like to think we know our students and how they learn best, but there’s no better source than the student themselves.  Be an active and inquisitive participant in your students’ determination of their learning needs, and help them to understand how learning about learning can help them take care of themselves.


2.  Embrace a Growth Mindset

According to Dr. Carol Dweck (2016) studies have demonstrated that learners with a growth mindset “learn more, acquire deeper knowledge and do better—especially in hard subjects and in negotiating difficult school transitions—compared with equally able students who believe their intelligence is a fixed trait” (p. 36).    Teach students that their brains are malleable and that learning is a process that involves making mistakes and stepping out of one’s comfort zone (check out mindsetworks for some awesome resources).  Approaching school with a fixed mindset leads to frustration, fear, and a negative reaction to “failure”.  Embracing and emphasizing growth, not achievement or an end-product, helps all students to change their mindset to one that allows students to take care of themselves.


3.  Collaborate

Learning does not happen on an island or in a silo.  Give students the opportunity to learn from and interact with others (both physically and virtually).  It sounds counterintuitive, but sometimes a peer’s support, listening ear, or positive inspiration, is all students need to help them take care of themselves.



Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

4.  Self-Advocacy

Give students the opportunity to speak up for what they need.  As questions not only about content, but about learning needs.  Make yourself available for students, and positively reinforce their self-advocacy, even if you feel it may be motivated by attention-seeking behavior.  When a student advocates for themselves, LISTEN.  Work hard to understand what they are asking for and how you can support them.

Moreover, utilize whole-class participation techniques to efficiently foster self-advocacy.  Perhaps this is in the form of a “how was your day/this lesson?” exit ticket, or even a simple show of fingers (5 means I’m feeling really good about this material, 1 means I’m lost and I really need help).  Soliciting feedback is just the first step in fostering self-advocates; make sure you follow up with your learners as well (ex:  “I saw that you felt really great about this lesson today…can you pinpoint what it was that helped you feel so successful?” or “Sara, thank you so much for letting me know that you’re having a hard time with the area model for multiplication.  I found this video for you that may help, and I’m happy to check in with you before school tomorrow, but next week we’ll also learn a few more strategies for double-digit multiplication that may work better for you.”).


5.  Reflection

One of the best ways to take care of yourself is to reflect on a regular basis.  Give students opportunities to think about their own learning.  Pose questions such as:

  • Were all of your learning needs met?
  • What would you do differently next time?
  • How did your mistakes help you learn?
  • What successes did you have?  Celebrate them (even if they’re little)!


One of the best ways to teach students to take care of themselves is to model it.  Share your own learning needs with your students.  Embrace a growth mindset.  Provide opportunities to collaborate and join in on the fun.  Describe situations in which you advocated for yourself and your needs.  And always, always reflect.


Dweck, C. S. (2015). The Remarkable Reach of Growth Mind-Sets. Scientific American Mind, 27(1), 36-41.


#IMMOOC Week 6: A Synthesis Poem

Collaboration Couros

This #IMMOOC experience has been overwhelmingly inspiring and transformational.  How can we choose just three posts to capture this process?  Instead, @ccormier_edu and I collaborated to create this poem that synthesized some of the major take-aways from our six weeks of learning, growing, sharing, doing, and reflecting.


To Be an Innovator…

By @ccormier_edu and @TheEdSandbox


Be flexible not just in seat but in mind,

Stay strong and persevere through the daily grind.

The only way out is to look within,

Always be present, even amongst the din.


Spreadsheets are a tool every teacher should come to love,

Homework? Nah – it gives few the chance to rise above

Don’t assume how your actions are perceived by another,

Appreciate your PLF– love them like a sister and brother.


Positive or negative – which will you spread?

Reflect with your heart and gut – not just your head.

Keep students the center of decisions we make

Sharing matters, no matter which journey you take.


Fly, and help others fly,

Cannonball in and give it a try.

The more we believe in the power of “me,”

The stronger will be our power of “we.”


Disorder interrupts a stale state of mind,

Be willing to accept short term losses – long term success you may find.

Opportunities may not come in the ways we expect,

In order to grow you must reflect.


#IMMOOC wasn’t made for us, but by us,

Blogs, tweets, and chats gave us lots to discuss.

If you’re ever feeling frustration or doubt,

Just remember your WHY: Love is what it’s all about.


Thank you all for helping me to find my people… for me it’s not about what I learned, it’s about what’s next.  I can’t wait to continue to learn from and with you!


PS – for another version of the poem, check out our ThingLink!

A Reflection on Reflecting

Learning without Reflection.jpg

“How’s school going for Tyler?”  I asked my friend the other night.  “Awesome!” she enthusiastically replied, without missing a beat.  “He loves it.  And he’s really learning a lot.  My favorite part is that he has to do a weekly reflection that I can read by logging into the portal.  And it’s actually good.  He actually gets it!”  My heart burst with happiness.  I was thrilled for my friend, who, over the past year struggled with school placement issues and finding the right fit for her son.  These weekly reflections were like snow globe, allowing her to see a snapshot of the mind of her 16 year old who’s conversational vocabulary is typically limited to a grunt, nod, “ok,” “not bad,” or “pretty good.”

Even more so, I was elated for Tyler.  Instead of coasting though school putting the minimum amount of effort in on each assignment, he was being stretched – not only with content knowledge, but with the process of reflecting.  “At first it was hard,” he told me, “but after a while I realized there wasn’t really a right answer.  That I just had to think about what I did well and what I want to get better at.  It actually makes me realize how much I learn in just one week.”  I swear I heard angels singing!  Tyler shared more about school with me in that one conversation than he did all of last year.

Tyler’s mom shared his latest reflection with me – isn’t it just exuding growth mindset?!

Screen Shot 2017-10-29 at 12.57.50 PM


The entire #IMMOOC experience is reflective in nature.  Instead of simply consuming articles, podcasts, and tweets, I am connecting, revising, writing about, and reflecting on others’ ideas.  It takes me at least 2 hours to listen to each #IMMOOC episode because I regularly pause the video and write down my own reflections and ideas related to the material.  I have always thought of myself as a “good learner,” but this process – reading and listening to others’ ideas and then reflecting on how they relate to my own life, beliefs, and experiences – seems to have maximized my potential for learning.

Screen Shot 2017-10-29 at 1.16.03 PM.png


Below are 5 reflections on reflecting:


Reflection can occur:

  • before learning (looking back, preparing)
  • during learning (looking inward, assessing)
  • after learning (looking outward, seeing a larger whole)
  • going forward (application, synthesis, transformation)

Don’t limit yourself to reflecting after learning (how often does your lesson take more time than anticipated so you skip the time allotted for reflection?).  Learning is an infinite and iterative process.  As @TracyZager says, “Instead of asking, ‘So what did you learn?’ ask, “So what are you wondering now?”

Access Higher Order Thinking

Pose reflection questions that foster metacognition, transformation, creativity, exploration, empathy, and a growth mindset.  Peter Pappas has done some amazing work thinking about reflection parallel to Bloom’s Taxonomy.  Check out his Taxonomy of Reflection:

Taxonomy of Reflection




Narrate your own reflection process.  Show learners that you think about how things are going and how you can adapt and improve, both personally and professionally.  Reflect with your head, heart, and gut…avoid being myopic with your thoughts and considerations.

Teach Learn


Reflection breeds reflection.  Others’ ideas provide more prompts, and another perspective to help solidify knowledge and connect ideas in a way that you may not have been able to do on your own.  Carve out time for your learners to reflect – if you’re unable to provide the space and time to share thoughts in person, utilize Google Classroom, Twitter, or Flipgrid (just to name a few).  Although reflection intended for an audience of one (the reflector), can be powerful, the domino effect that stems from reflecting in an open space can be exponentially rewarding for all involved.



Reflection is a cumulative process – the more you reflect, the more you get out of it.  Give yourself and the learners you work with time to hone their craft.




Margaret Wheatley claims, “Without reflection, we go blindly on our way, creating more unintended consequences, and failing to achieve anything useful.”  The ability to reflect separates the

-good from the great

-the complacent from the productive

-the comfortable from the risk-taking


So…where will you go from here?  What are you wondering now?  What will you do next?

The Cycle of Action


It really is that simple.  Just do it.

The cycle of action is intriguing.  Our ideas often start as seeds – when we put more time and energy into the seeds, our ideas become revised and refined.  They start to become firmly rooted with a strong foundation, and, again, with time and support they grow into something bigger.  Some seeds become trees – with vibrant colorful leaves and many branches that are all connected to a central trunk.  Some seeds become flowers – a beautiful blossom at the top of a single stalk.  But, in my world, most of those seeds are buried deep in the ground – left untended and unsupported.  The majority of my ideas die before they can become something bigger than what they started as.

Too often, I rationalize the fact that I didn’t nurture my seeds with excuses like time, resources, and environment.  Sometimes, I know that I am just scared to let them grow.  But really, I need to stop looking at my ideas as seeds that require an unbelievable amount of time and attention before they come to fruition.  

We often think of action as something that has to happen from the ground up – we start with a small idea, do some research, revise it, rework it, and let it mold into something we’re proud of.  #IMMOOC has opened my eyes to looking at action in a new way.  Does the foundation always have to be set before you build the house?  No.  Is it OK to jump even though you’re not sure where you’re going to land?  Yes.  Sometimes, you just have to do it.


Find Your People

“Find your person.”  I say this phrase to every preservice teacher I work with.  In a single day, teachers feel the whole gamut of emotions:  joy, lost, inspired, frustrated, energized, discouraged, supported, confused, just to name a few.  We all need someone to ride the roller coaster with us – to be a calming and centering, yet inspiring and motivating presence in our professional lives.


In last week’s #IMMOOC chat, @patrickmlarkin discussed the importance of being able to share one’s experiences.  “It can be a lonely existence sometimes…you need to have other people you can reach out to…the access through the technology, for me, has been a game changer.”  Twitter takes finding your person to a whole new level.  Instead of scouring my school building for an open-minded, passionate, all-about-the-kids educator, I have thousands of those seemingly scarce individuals placed on my lap every time I open my computer.   I found “my people.”  That’s life-changing.

What I appreciate the most about “my people” is that I don’t actually agree with everything they say.  We are not, in fact, like-minded, but we do share similar feelings when it comes to growth and innovation.  We have like-mindsets.  The #IMMOOC PLF has forced me to stretch my thinking.  I appreciate the varying perspectives, the different ideas, and, most importantly, that all of “my people” want to grow and improve to be the best teachers and humans they can be.

I joined Twitter in April, as a requirement for an Open Education grant I was writing.  I spend most of the first five months consuming – reading, retweeting, and messaging my favorite articles to “my person”.  This #IMMOOC experience changed me.  As @ccormier_edu so beautifully articulates in her Motivating Mindsets post, “Rather than my old consuming pattern of reading and implementing, finding and trying, I am inspired and motivated to designcreate, and contribute to the discussion.”  I want to give back what “my people” gave to me.  No longer will I advise preservice teachers to, “find your person” – they can do way better than that…



I’ve been thinking a lot about empowerment this week, and a common thread keeps coming up…the importance of being a good listener.  No, I’m not talking about the good listener who sits criss-cross-applesauce, keeps his lips zipped and eyes on the teacher (*insert eye roll here*)… I’m talking about teachers as listeners.

In last week’s #IMMOOC chat, Patrick Larkin (@patrickmlarkin) spoke about the process of becoming a 1:1 school district.  He described:

I was really fortunate to have a group of high school students as a part of the decision-making process…the high school students were actually the ones that decided on the iPads…the high schoolers were a key part of that whole thing…the teachers were a little uncomfortable going with the tablet, but the kids told us that they were going to go smoothly, that the kids were going to help the teachers along the way, and the transition couldn’t have gone better because we had the kids so heavily involved in that.

Burlington School District’s choice to not only involve their students, but listen to their students (important distinction here), empowered the students and helped to make the 1:1 initiative a success.

We strive to create a classroom environment and school culture where students feel empowered academically.  But that’s not enough.  In the Innovator’s Mindset, George Couros (@gcouros) highlights the importance of relationships.  He claims, “The three most important words in education are:  relationships, relationships, relationships.  Without them, we have nothing.”  Social empowerment is even more important than academic empowerment.  Something as simple as remembering a student’s name on the first day of school helps a student to feel heard and empowered.  We shouldn’t only ask for student ideas, we should repeat their contributions, expand on them, and relate to them.  Empowerment opens doors for learning, communication, teamwork, risk-taking, and inspiration.

Screen Shot 2017-10-24 at 2.38.17 PM

Image from @julesrsh on @upsplash

We must remember that our objective as leaders who embody the Innovator’s Mindset is not just to empower scholars – it is to empower humans in all facets of their life.  When we start to blend the line between school and life (which can be done by forming quality, meaningful relationships), empowerment occurs much more authentically.

In her blog Becoming the Math Teacher You Wish You’d Had, Tracy Zager (@TracyZager) discusses her first step in supporting teachers:

In my coaching and my work with preservice teachers, I’ve learned that my square one is always the same: I want teachers to become addicted to listening to students’ mathematical ideas. It might sound like simple advice, but it’s not. Everything else follows. Once we become fascinated by our students’ creativity and ingenuity, we become more motivated to teach math. We enjoy it more, and so do our students. 

Zager’s advice can apply to all leaders – not just math teachers.  She goes on to offer some of the best advice I’ve ever read:  “When I feel unsure of what to do, I think, “Don’t just do something; stand there.  Listen.”  In teaching models of the past, an emphasis was put on the student as a listener.  As we embrace more student-centered approaches to teaching and learning we must put listening at the forefront of our minds.  When teachers listen, they empower.  And when learners feel empowered, the sky is the limit…

Screen Shot 2017-10-24 at 3.19.00 PM

The Elusive Perfect Moment


Out of all of the outfits in my son Ryan’s closet, this one is my favorite.  I love the message (is there anything you’d rather have a two year old do?).  I love that the letters are different; bright and colorful and a little bit unusual.  I love the texture of the fabric and that it stretches just enough to be a perfect fit on his little 2T body.  I love that the shorts are durable enough to handle grass stains and rock slides, and that they have pockets for collecting the treasures my little explorer finds outside.  

We got this outfit for Ryan in May, and it’s been my favorite ever since.  But here’s the thing – it’s September now, and he’s NEVER worn it.  Not even once.  Why, you ask?  It’s not because it didn’t fit, or that it wasn’t warm enough, or even that Ryan likes to pick out his own clothes.  It’s because I’ve been waiting for the perfect moment.  The elusive perfect moment.

For me, blogging has been like Ryan’s shirt, just hanging there in the closet.  I know I have ideas worth sharing, and that I will learn so much from diving head first into an open space where my ideas are not only heard by a greater audience, but also appreciated, challenged, questioned, remixed, and reflected upon.  But here I am, my ideas about education on the forefront of my mind every day (like the favorite shirt that I flip past every morning when I get Ryan dressed) but I am blogless – just waiting for the perfect moment.


As educators, we often get caught waiting for the perfect moment:

  • “I’m not going to bring that up at today’s PLC because my colleagues ‘just aren’t ready yet.”
  • “Sure, using that innovative app sounds like it would support my lesson beautifully, but I haven’t taught a how-to lesson on using the tablets and I don’t have time to do that today.”
  • “I really want to retweet this, but I’m going to wait until I have more of a following so that more people can interact with the material I tweet.”
  • “I loved reading about Number Talks, but I don’t think this is the perfect class to start it with.  I’ll try next year.”
  • “I want to go back to school for an additional certification that will open new doors, but I’m just too busy.”
  • “I want to start blogging, but I need to build it up and make it look really good (and maybe even have my Marketing-major brother work some magic) before I share it with others.”

Yup.  That’s last one is straight from the horse’s mouth.  For some reason, I am living the writing process cycle that I was taught in elementary school…I feel this immense pressure to perfect before publish.  In today’s world, that doesn’t make sense.  What is perfect?  And won’t every idea improve when challenged, revised, and questioned by others?  If we are trying to model and embody the growth mindset, why would we wait until the “end” and publish something fixed?

Writing Cycle


Why Innovate?

Innovation is important because it takes us out of the perfect moment mindset.  Innovators act on a spark – they don’t wait for somebody to build a fire pit, properly place the sticks, tear the newspaper, and light the match, and they certainly aren’t deterred if there’s rain in the forecast or a strong wind howling above.

Our rapidly changing world makes “perfect moments” a rarity.  Learners must be empowered with the confidence to turn their spark into something bigger without the facilitation of a perfect moment.  How?  Dedication to cultivating the innovator’s mindset in ourselves, our students, and our communities of learners.  We must create a world of learners who epitomize George Couros’s 8 Characteristics of the Innovator’s Mindset (see image below).


If we’re able to create a world of innovators, I know we’ll have a lot fewer favorite outfits sitting in the closet.




Writing cycle image from:  https://www.burkinsandyaris.com/what-the-writing-process-really-looks-like/