“If You Build It…”

( This piece originally ran on Finding Common Ground on 5/1/14)

Anyone with children knows how hectic the morning routine can be, even on the best days. One of the most difficult parts of our morning routine is when we say goodbye to our children…especially when those children are under four. Children under four don’t always understand that parents have to go to work.

One day last week my three-year old son woke up in a bad mood. He was convinced that at that moment he woke, I was taking him to school. I usually do take him to school, but it happened to be a day in which I had an early meeting and my wife was taking him to preschool. That’s when the whining that only children under three are capable of, began. Over and over he whined, “Daddy’s taking me to school!”

When it was time for me to leave I feared the worst. So…we decided that I would sneak out without saying goodbye. It does prevent meltdowns, but I hate leaving without saying goodbye. The hugs and kisses are as much a part of my morning routine as they are for my children. Doing my best ninja, I was almost out the front door… when my son busted me.

Uh oh! But something amazing happened. Instead of the drama that I had envisioned, he simply said, “Daddy hug.”

No drama.

No fuss.

No tears.

My three-year old son was capable of much more than I had given him credit for. The reassurance and bond that my son and I had built over three years helped him to feel safe and secure in a moment that may have otherwise been stressful.

I think we can provide the same for many of our students. Many of our students already have reasons not to trust adults. They have been let down so often by the time they reach our door that they are no longer able to trust.

And so we must build it.

Brick by brick.

Until we have a solid foundation upon which a mutually trusting relationship can be cultivated.

Why Aren’t Relationships Being Built?

But where do we find the time to build this trust and foster these relationships when there is so much else to do? In their article Reluctant Teachers, Reluctant Learners, Landsman, Moore and Simmons discuss this very topic. They voice the concern that many teachers have, but also go on to explain why relationship-building is crucial to making connections:

Many teachers, worrying about the curriculum they have to cover, don’t want to lose instructional days by laying the groundwork for building community. Yet these relationships can actually make it easier to cover the curriculum efficiently because students feel invested in the classroom. The time required to develop relationships with students may be substantial. However, without this time, the reluctant learner may never become engaged in learning (Landsman, Moore & Simmons, 2008).

How and Why This Should Change?

Once you close your door, and enter that classroom that you call home for eight hours a day, you must make a choice. How much time are you willing to spend building relationships with your students? It will not be easy, and in the beginning it will take much more give than take. But I believe that in order to be great you have to be willing to open up, even when if it may be a little bit uncomfortable.

I genuinely believe that our ability to connect with the students we see every day is directly related to how much we are willing to share and give of ourselves. We must be willing to do this if we expect to make the connections we work so hard to achieve each and every day.

We spend hours and hours trying to improve our craft. We read books, we take classes and we attend countless professional development sessions. What about spending more time building relationships and earning trust?

In his seminal work, Leaders Eat Last, Simon Sinek explains how oxytocin is the chemical in our brain that allows us to feel safe. He explains that

The more time we spend with someone, the more we are willing to make ourselves vulnerable around them. As we learn to trust them and earn their trust in return, the more oxytocin flows. In time, as if by magic, we will realize that we have developed a deep bond with this person. The madness and spontaneity of the dopamine hit is replaced by a more relaxed, more stable, more long-term oxytocin-driven relationship. A vastly more valuable state if we have to rely on someone to help us do things and protect us when we’re weak. My favorite definition of love is giving someone the power to destroy us and trusting they won’t use it (Sinek, pp. 49-50, 2013).

Next Steps

So as you near the end of another school year just remember, it’s never too late to start building relationships with your students. Start by letting them in. Your gains will be immeasurable and I think you’ll even have fun in the process.

Here are some ways you can start tomorrow:

  • Bring in something from your past (old class photo)
  • Share a mistake you’ve recently made (keep it simple, but real)
  • Teach them something they didn’t know about you (what’s on your playlist?)
  • Apologize when you’re wrong (this is a must)
  • Spend time with them in a different setting (lunch, sporting event, etc.)
  • Let them see you laugh (why wouldn’t you?)



Landsman, J., Moore, T. & Simmons, R. (2008). Reluctant Teachers, Reluctant Learners. Educational Leadership.

Sinek, S. (2013). Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull It Together and Others Don’t. Penguin Group; New York, NY.

*If you would like to have my next article and my latest podcast episode delivered to your in box just click HERE. And as an extra bonus, when you sign up for my newsletter you will receive A Teacher’s Blueprint To The Best Week Ever. This is a free, 40 page pdf designed to help you have an awesome week. It’s not what you think, trust me.

Tell Me A Story About Your Day

How many of us want to learn more about our child’s day? How many us get very little in response when we ask them? I see a lot of hands, including mine, raised up high.

This isn’t a new phenomenon. For years parents have been trying to pry information out of their children, only to get the same lifeless responses. Well, I think I have just now figured out how to solve this problem.

No more questions!

Instead, I think we simply need to make the following statement:

“Tell me a story about your day.”

Stage 1

When our children are young we ask them questions such as, “What did you make at school today?” We are conditioned to ask this question because the projects they come home with are so adorable. We hang them on our refrigerators and we display them in our offices. They bring us joy because they help us to feel as if we have experienced a little piece of our child’s day. In reality though, these “cute” projects really don’ tell us anything at all about how their day went or what was important to them.

But what if we started to ask our little ones to tell us a story about how their day went? We may need to make sure we are comfortably positioned when we ask this question because we may be in for long ride. And that’s okay, because at least we will be getting a glimpse into our child’s world.

Malcolm Gladwell points out in The Tipping Point that our children are capable of telling stories as early as two years old. In his book, Gladwell cites a study done in the 1980’s called “Narratives from the Crib” that recorded a two-year old girl’s conversations with herself as she put herself to sleep each night. Gladwell pointed out that

“She was making up stories, narratives, that explained and organized the things that happened to her. Sometimes these stories were what linguists call temporal narratives. She would create a story to try to integrate events, actions, and feelings into one structure—a process that is a critical part of a child’s developments.” (Gladwell, p.119-120)

Having our children tell us stories about their day will help them to realize that there is meaning in moments and emotions and not just things. If we can help them to build and value this skill when they are young, imagine the power we can harness as they grow older.

Stage 2

As our children begin to mature we start to ask them questions such as, “How did your day go?” Oftentimes the answer we get is a one word emotional response fueled by the worst event that happened to them on that particular day. Either their day “sucked” or it was “awful”. And while we do care that they feel their day didn’t go well, we want more.

But we won’t get more unless we give them an opening. This is an age where our children aren’t able to explain why they feel the way they do. They just do! Hormones are pumping through their body like never before and they are confused but don’t really know it. So when we ask them how their went and they tell us that it sucked they aren’t being rude and they aren’t being dismissive. To them it did suck! We can’t brush it off as kids being kids and we can’t leave it at that.

This is why we need to ask them to tell us a story about their day. It will take time for them to build the courage to share with us, but it will come. More than anything our kids need us to listen without us immediately giving advice. That can come later. This is the time in which we are building the foundation of trust for what is to come later.

In Wisdom of Our Fathers Tim Russert has compiled a wonderful collection of personal stories highlighting important moments shared by sons and daughters with their fathers who have since passed. One in particular stands out to me, as it movingly illustrates the value of children and parents sharing their day’s with each other. Beth Hackett writes of her dad Roger Hackett:

Dad’s special time for me was morning coffee. He would get up at 4 A.M., start the coffee brewing and get ready for work. When the pot was ready, he would come into my room and wake me up. I would sit at the kitchen table as he poured two cups of coffee. His was always black. Mine was barely brown, full of milk and sugar, sweet to the taste. Dad would tell me about his day and ask about mine. When the cups were empty, he would tuck me back into bed and kiss me goodnight before heading out to work. It was our special time together, and we never missed. (Russert, p. 22-23)

Stage 3

When our children begin high school we start to realize that they are on the threshold of something big. While their report cards were important in elementary and middle school, now their grades may determine their future. Or at least we are convinced that they will. So we start to ask them questions like, “How did you do?”

While we have good intentions, this question has no potential. It will not tell us anything about how their day went. Furthermore, it sends the message to our children that the value of their day can be measured by a number. This can’t possibly be the message we want to send to our children.

But if we ask them to tell us a story about their day we just might find that they have been waiting for us to ask them. By this age we have hopefully begun to get a sense of what really matters to them. We can start to see their future and we know that it is a future in which we will not be right by their side.

Now is the time to really listen. Now is the time when we can step in and gently give advice. We can do this because we have been building this relationship over the past fifteen years. We have been listening to their stories for quite some time now. And while we don’t always know who the main characters are going to be, we usually have a good idea of how the story is going to end.

She would often stay up with him long after her brother and mom had gone to bed. The tv was on but they weren’t really paying attention to what was on because they were paying attention to each other. Each other’s stories. Some were happy. Some were sad and some just in between. And each night they would turn the tv off and walk upstairs, all the while still sharing stories. It was during these last few moments of the day that he thought about the fact that she would be soon be going off to college. But he wasn’t worried anymore. Because he knew she would always tell him a story about her day. And that made him feel good.

Last night before going to bed I asked my daughter to tell me a story about her day. She smiled as she told it. She laughed as she told it. But most important to me was that she told it. She didn’t show me a craft. She didn’t tell me it was awful and she didn’t give me a score.

She told me a story about her day, and for the first time in a while I felt like I was there.


*If you would like to have my next article and my latest podcast episode delivered to your in box just click HERE. And as an extra bonus, when you sign up for my newsletter you will receive A Teacher’s Blueprint To The Best Week Ever. This is a free, 40 page pdf designed to help you have an awesome week. It’s not what you think, trust me.




“Wagons Are For Babies Anyway”

wagon full of books

Timmy the turtle knew the big day was coming. His first day of school was only a month away and he was very excited. His brothers and sisters had always loved school and he just knew that he would too. They would come home each day and tell him of the grand adventures that they had had in class. Tales of projects and exploration were always his favorites.

He already knew what his first project would be. Timmy was going to share with his class all of his favorite books that his parents had read to him over the years. Each day he would dress up as the main character and act out his favorite scenes. He was certain that there would be time for this. He also realized that some of his friends may not have had many stories read to them when they were little or they may not have had many books in their home.

He had planned for this. He was going to bring his favorite books to bring to school each day to share with the kids at recess. There would be plenty of time at recess to share since he was only 5 years old. The tough part would be getting the books to school each day, but he had a red wagon that he knew would work just fine. It didn’t move fast, but he could always depend on it and it could fit everything that he needed to carry.

It was a week before school started and Timmy was ready. His outfits were all picked out and he had the coolest lunchbox. He was so excited he could barely sleep. Each night as he fell asleep he could hear his parents excitedly talking about how their kids loved school. But the night before his first day he sensed a different tone and became aware of a different topic.

They were talking about the new road that had been built and how it was going to effect their trip to and from school. Timmy wasn’t sure, but he thought it was called Common Core Highway. It sounded like a strange name to him, but what did he know? He was only 5.

Well the morning came for Timmy’s first day of school was today. His brothers and sisters did not have to go to school today. The schools made it a special day so that the 5 year olds could feel more comfortable.

Timmy and his parents laughed and giggled and held claws all along the way. Of course Timmy was pulling his little red wagon full of books that he just couldn’t wait to share with all of the other boys and girls. And then in the distance he saw it.

Common Core Highway.

It was huge!

It was fast!

It was scary!

And all of the kids in town had to cross it no matter what school they attended.

Timmy’s smile started to fade.

How was he going to get across the highway? Was someone from his school going to be there to guide him along the way?

Timmy looked to his left and he looked to his right. He couldn’t help but notice that crossing Common Core Highway was different depending on what school you attended.

Some schools had decided to build an intersection with four-way stop signs. This meant that everything  stopped for Common Core Highway. Traffic coming east. Traffic coming west. Traffic coming north and traffic coming south. Whatever happened to be heading down the highway had to stop at Common Core Highway. No matter what!

Other schools decided to have a crossing guard available to help children cross safely. This didn’t seem so bad to Timmy. If he was going to have to cross Common Core Highway at least it was going to be safer. He was starting to worry about his wagon full of books though. Would he be able to pull it fast enough? The crossing guard could only hold traffic for so long and Timmy’s wagon could only go but so fast.

Then Timmy saw it. Off in the distance. He couldn’t believe his eyes. One school had decided to build an overpass so that their students could walk right over Common Core Highway. What? Is that even allowed Timmy thought? Nevertheless they were doing it. Their students still got to school, but they never had to worry about Common Core Highway. Oh, they knew it was there, and they still had to cross it. It just wasn’t something that was going to cause them to have to slow down or hurry.

Well, it was time for Timmy to cross Common Core Highway in order for him to get to school.


Something must be wrong.

There was nothing to help Timmy get across!

No stop signs.

No crossing guard.

No overpass.

Timmy and his parents took a deep breath. This was as far as they could go with him. They realized that he would have to wait for a gap in the traffic and then move as fast as he could. They knew he could do it, but they also knew that it wouldn’t be easy. They also hated the fact that this was something that would occupy Timmy’s thoughts day and night.

And what about Timmy’s wagon? There was no way that Timmy and his wagon could safely cross Common Core Highway. Timmy couldn’t imagine the thought of leaving his wagon behind. There were too many memories in there. Too much joy. Goodnight Moon, Love You Forever, Guess How Much I Love You. Just to name a few.

Timmy was going to try. He just had to. So Timmy waited

and he waited

and he waited

and then he saw an opening.

He took off as fast he could,

and he was going to make it

he really was going to make it!

But at the last second

a tractor-trailer came out of nowhere

right at Timmy.

Timmy made it. But his wagon did not!

What was left of his wagon and the books it was carrying were strewn all over the highway.

Timmy had no time to slow down. He had not time to look back.

The bell was getting ready to ring and he had to take a pretest. He had heard that if you were late you have to make up your work at recess.

Timmy went as fast he could the whole while crying to himself, “wagons are for babies anyway, wagons are for babies anyway…”

He wiped his tears on his new shirt and hoped that tomorrow would be a better day.

Daddy, Where Does Our Lap Go When We Stand Up?

A, B, C, D , E, F, G..

This was a question that my 8-year-old daughter posed to me earlier this year and I had absolutely no idea how to answer it. And I thought that was pretty cool! Kids’ brains work in ways that we can’t even imagine.


(My son several years ago)

My concern is that we are not taking full advantage of this gift we have right before our very eyes. Our children and our students have the benefit of experiencing many of life’s moments prima facie, and because they are experiencing these moments for the first time, their take on them is pristine.

H, I, J, K …

Ours’ on the other hand is not. Unfortunately for many of us, by the time we have reached adulthood, we have developed mental calluses such that we are unable to truly experience the world simply as it is. Instead we see the world as we think it should be, or as someone told us it should be, or as we read it should be. But not usually as it is.

L, M, N, O, P …

Only children can truly experience the world for what it is. Yet we are taking this for granted. Our children’s’ innocence and pristine view of the world is becoming an endangered commodity. Their window of innocence is shrinking right before our eyes and we are letting it happen.

Q, R, S …


“I am a photographer. This is my daughter.

..and this is the first photo of her that I have ever hated.”

Kelly Poynter

And yet we seemed determined to fill our children’s’ brains with more and more information at younger and younger ages. What students are expected to know before they leave kindergarten has increased exponentially in the last few years so that we can prepare them to be college and career ready.

T, U, V …

I believe we have this whole thing backwards! We should be trying to extract as much as possible from our children’s’ brains while they are still young. While they still see the world as it is. Unfiltered. Let them ask the questions. Let them tell the stories. Let them tell us how they see the world. There is so much we can learn from them if we would just stop trying so hard to fill them up and instead let them fill us in.

dereks view

(My son today)

W, X …

“Mr. Golden Sun went to be with his mommy and daddy.” This is my son’s current theory on where the sun goes at night. Unfortunately, he probably won’t be thinking this way much longer.

Our children’s minds are a precious commodity that we can not take for granted. Their pristine view of the world is becoming an endangered resource. It’s not enough to hang up posters and display cute knick-knacks that say we value children’s voices.


Y & Z …

We have to mean it.

We have to listen with both ears.

Because we only have them for a little while. And they will grow up. And by then they will no longer see the world as it is. They will see the world filtered through many layers. Some that don’t even allow for light to shine through.

Now I know my A, B, C’s…

Let’s pay attention before it’s too late. Let’s try to extend this window as long as we can. Their voice matters. Let’s add them to our PLN and not limit them to 140 characters.

And as for my answer to my daughter’s question about what happens to our lap when we stand up; I have no idea, but what I do know is that that question would have never entered my mind and I bet it wouldn’t have entered yours.

“Grown-ups love figures… When you tell them you’ve made a new friend they never ask you any questions about essential matters. They never say to you “What does his voice sound like? What games does he love best? Does he collect butterflies? ” Instead they demand “How old is he? How much does he weigh? How much money does his father make? ” Only from these figures do they think they have learned anything about him.”
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince







me …

I sure am going to miss Mr. Golden Sun. I think I’m going to keep him around as long as I can.









teach 100

I went from #293 to #428 in one day. Wow! What did I do wrong? Or what didn’t I do right? I actually was proud of myself this week. I presented at a conference and I published a piece on an online blog. And yet I was allowing a score to drop my self-esteem, if just for a moment.

For those of you that have no idea what I am talking about, I am referring to my Teach 100 blog ranking. Teach 100 is a site that ranks blogs based on four major components. I had noticed the badge on various blogs that I read and thought I would submit mine just for fun. The folks that run the site are very nice and said that they would take a look at my blog and would consider it for their site. My first ranking was somewhere in the 300’s and I really had no idea what that meant, but I thought it was pretty cool!

The only problem was that now that I had a ranking I wanted to try to improve it. I read on the site that you if you email the staff at Teach 100 with news of updates or improvements in your blog, that they will reconsider your Teach Score, the one subjective component included in the ranking calculations. So I did just that. I felt as if I had made some major improvements in the quality of my blog and was hoping that the staff at Teach 100 would reconsider my score. They did reconsider and raised my one score one point. I was psyched!

But I was becoming a hypocrite. I was putting value in a number. I was putting value in a score. And I was doing just the opposite of what I write about in my blog.

Each morning I would look to see what my score was and for a moment I would feel proud if my score improved and I would feel a little down if my score decreased. What bullshit!

Don’t get me wrong. I am not casting judgment on anyone whose blog is on Teach 100. To be quite honest, the blogs listed on the Teach 100 site are phenomenal and are all well worth following. I simply can not continue to keep my blog on the site because I feel as if the value of my thoughts and ideas can not be measured by a number.

I also know that if I continue to include my blog on the site I will still check my ranking every so often. I do not have the self-discipline not to. And I may continue, if only just for a moment, to feel just a little down if my ranking were to drop. No matter how much I tell myself not to. And I can’t allow myself these moments.

Once again, I want to make it very clear that I am not judging anyone whose blog is on the site. They are a phenomenal group of individuals whose thoughts and ideas inspire and motivate me each and every day. I also want to make it clear that my decision to remove my blog from the site is not a comment on Teach 100 at all.  The site is all about collaboration and sharing ideas. How can that be bad? I simply have decided to remove my blog form the site.


I have three members of my PLN whose recent pieces motivated me to write this piece and motivated me to make the decision that I have. Todd Nesloney’s Scores Are In , Jim Cordery’s I Made It and Ben Gilpin’s What determines a successful school year? are inspirational pieces about not allowing numbers and rankings and scores to determine self-worth or value. Thank you gentlemen for inspiring me to do what is right for me!

Oh, I almost forgot. One more person helped me make this decision. Melissa Nixon, a new member of my PLN wrote a touching post titled It All Begins With A Smile this morning that was motivated by an InstaQuote that I created yesterday. It made my day and maybe even my week. Thank you Melissa! I am going to do everything in my power to try not to ever base my self-esteem on a number and I will try to motivate others to do the same.

When I woke up this morning I was #428 but after reading her post I felt like #1!










%d bloggers like this: