A Sea of Positive Thoughts: Three Lessons a Teacher Can Learn from Disney’s Finding Nemo

by Ana K. Crow

That sweet Disney film that made the Dorys and Nemos of aquariums everywhere famous, can also make you famous, or at least your teaching ethic, that is. The simplicity is beautiful; here are three of the best lessons you’ll ever learn from the film:
1.) “Just Keep Swimming
I know you remember this line from the film where Marlin, Nemo’s father, finds himself in a state of defeat over losing his son. With a pinch of humor and love, Dory, his newfound friend, reminds him to “just keep swimming.” The sing-song phrase sticks with Marlin as the search for Nemo continues. Much like Marlin’s feelings, defeat is a notion that will, if rarely, still occur during an awful day of teaching. Choose to “just keep swimming” and keep your momentum up. As educators Harry K. Wong and Rosemary Tripi Wong mention in The First Days of School: How to Be an Effective Teacher (2004), “…teachers can acquire ineffective teaching attitudes…and these become crystallized into their permanent teaching repertoire” (p.23). What the Wongs are alluding to is the idea that teaching should be more than simply “survival” (p.23). In your classroom, it benefits both you and your students to just brush off those bad days. Modeling an optimistic, resilient attitude for students teaches them to “just keep swimming”, too. In the same way, allow the resiliency of your students to influence you in an encouraging way. When you find yourself feeling mentally exhausted (and there will be days like this), recall when one of your students was also feeling that way and the effort that carried him or her through to meeting his or her goals. The right attitude will never fail you or your students.

2.) “Speak Whale
During one of the last scenes in the film, Finding Nemo, Marlin and Dory notice a whale in their vicinity. Marlin, being wary of the unknown, does not wish to approach the whale. Dory, on the other hand, recognizes the need to “speak whale” and reaches out vocally, as if speaking to a friend. Finally, being the helpful creature that he apparently is, the whale swims over to help them on their quest to find Nemo. Following this example from the film, it can be inferred that there are different ways to approach your students. Much more can be gleaned about student needs when you build a positive, open teacher-student relationship. Akin to this are educator Carol Tomlinson’s ideas from her book, The Differentiated Classroom: Responding to the Needs of All Learners (1999). Referring to those teachers who create a world of differentiated instruction, she states that they, “…become partners with their students to see that both what is learned and the learning environment are shaped to the learner” (p. 2). Essentially, this strategy focuses on students as individuals and enhances the educator’s role as it supports the student’s learning on their own terms. Students who are inspired by clear communication will flourish and your classroom could be the safe space in a possibly tumultuous sea of learning.

3.) “My Bubbles
Before he is reunited with his father in Finding Nemo, Nemo is placed inside an aquarium at a dental office. At first, he struggles to fit in and accept this as his new home. Gill, the leader of the aquarium group, points out that they are all struggling with something. During this exchange, Nemo notices Bubbles; a fish whose love of bubbles has become central to his routine as he exclaims, “My bubbles!” at various intervals of his aquatic day. Despite this seemingly odd, albeit humorous behavior, Gill’s tone is one of empathy and understanding about where Bubbles is coming from. Embracing the charms and multifaceted dimensions of school life and visualizing them as parts of an aquarium make it easy to create a welcome cove for those like Bubbles. Quite often, acceptance, empathy and understanding can help a student reach their full potential. Anyone who teaches will readily see that their classrooms are filled with diverse personalities and characters. This sea of diversity is bound to motivate teaching professionals to create the perfect environment for students through their own positive relations with each other as well. It was a small aquarium, but Bubbles’ friends accepted and understood him. Could you?

Finally, navigating the reefs of the educational world will most certainly require a positive attitude and mode of thinking throughout. Within all phases of school involvement, opportunities will present themselves that will require educators to connect and relate to students with humility and sincerity. Use these lessons from Finding Nemo to be a mentor students can trust and count on.

Stanton, A., Unkrich, L., Walters, G., Lasseter, J., Peterson, B., Reynolds, D., Brooks, A., Buena Vista Home Entertainment (Firm). (2003). Finding Nemo. Burbank, CA: Buena Vista Home Entertainment.

Tomlinson, C. A. (1999). The differentiated classroom: Responding to the needs of all learners. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development

Wong, H. K. (2004). The first days of school: How to be an effective teacher. Mountain View, CA: Harry K. Wong Publications, Inc.

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Gleaning “Great” Practices from “Great” Companies

By Ron Allen

great idea2A while back I read a book titled Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…And Others Don’t by Jim Collins, an American business consultant and author.  This book went on to be a bestseller and it is now widely regarded as a modern classic of management theory.  At first glance, this book appears to be primarily for the business world, but what if we viewed its findings though the lens of the world of K-12 education?  Is it possible to benchmark the best practices identified in Good to Great and apply them to the educational setting?  For those who have read the book, you’re probably thinking, “Yes, I think there is something there, let’s explore!” For those of you who have not read the book, let me give you a quick primer.

Jim Collins set out to identify and evaluate the factors and variables that allow a small fraction of companies to make the transition from merely good to truly great. Collins and his team began to exhaustively catalog the business literature, identifying a handful of companies that fulfilled their predetermined criteria for greatness.  Then, the defining characteristics that differentiated these great firms from their competitors were quantified and analyzed.  The resulting data is presented in Good to Great in compelling detail.  These characteristics can be identified not only in great companies, but also in great schools and districts.

Let’s take a look at some of the findings from the book and how I see them connecting to K-12 Education:

  1. Good is the Enemy of Great

Collins (2007) tells us that this is not just a business problem but rather it is a human problem.  He also tells us that few people attain great lives, in large part because it is just so easy to settle.  Good is easy to do, great is much harder.  Why try to be great at something when I can just be good?  I think all schools have the ability to be great; the recipe for success is out there.  There is no shortage of research, studies, and examples of how schools can be great.   So here’s the question, “Is good the enemy of great in the world of K-12 education?”   We could use an analogy between “good” and “great” with Danielson’s domain levels of performance of “proficient” and “distinguished” from her framework for teaching.  But Danielson (2007) reminds us that “distinguished-level of performance is a good place to visit, but don’t expect to live there” (p. 41).   I think the takeaway here is that as teachers, we should all strive to perform at a proficient level while at the same time intentionally creating the opportunities to spend some time at the distinguished level.  So perhaps the new question is, “Is proficient the enemy of distinguished?”

  1. Level 5 Leadership

Level 5 leaders channel their ego needs away from themselves and into the larger goal of building a great company, or in this context, a school or district.  Collins states that all the good-to-great companies had level 5 leadership and the absence of it showed up as a consistent pattern in the comparison companies.  Collins also states that these leaders often had a long-term personal sense of investment in the company and its success, often cultivated through a career-spanning climb up the company’s rank.  Take out the word “company” and insert the word “school” or “district” and let’s now view this concept for our purposes.  Can we read this to mean that the great principals have been teachers in the same school or district for many years? How does this bear on how we grow our principals?  Clifford (2012) characterized this practice as “casting a narrow net” and would discourage it as a district hiring practice.  According to Clifford, some district hiring practices limit the applicant pool and hinder the committees’ ability to attract the best candidates.  If the district does not have the caliber of candidates available then it certainly makes sense to cast a wider net but there is something to be said of leaders that have had a long-term personal sense of investment in the company and its success.  We must keep in mind that the average age of school principals has increased from 48 to 50 years old and the majority leaves their positions by age 55.  Additionally, the average school principal moves to a new school at least once (Gates et al., 2003).  The new generation of principals will spend less time at the helm.

  1. First Who, Then Whatteachers wanted

When Collins began the research project, he expected to find that the first step in taking a company from good to great would be to set a new direction, a new vision and strategy for the company, and then to get people committed and aligned behind the new direction.  He found quite the opposite.  He found that the executives who ignited the transformations from good to great did not first figure where to drive the bus and then get the people to take it there.  No, they first got the right people on the bus and then figured out where to drive.  So what does this mean for our education comparison? The take-away is that we focus the hiring process on securing high-quality, highly talented teachers.  In determining the right people, the good-to-great companies placed greater weight on character attributes than on specific educational background, practical skills, specialized knowledge, or work experience.  This can be a bit tricky since teachers do have to have certain credentials in order to teach.  Once required teaching qualifications are met, Collins suggests that we focus more on character, work ethic, basic intelligence, dedication to fulfilling commitments, and values.  In other words, if we get the right people on the bus, the right people in the right seats, and the wrong people off the bus, then we’ll figure out how to take our schools and districts someplace great!

Freedom (and Responsibility) Within A Framework

Good-to-great companies built a consistent system with clear constraints, but they also gave people freedom and responsibility within the framework of that system.  They hired self-disciplined people who did not need to be managed, and then managed the systems, not the people.  This goes back to getting the right people on the bus.  When you have done so, the problem of how to motivate and manage people largely goes away.  When we build a culture around the idea of freedom and responsibility, we allow teachers to be the best teachers they can be.  Rafe Esquith is a great example of what this looks like in action.  Rafe is an award-winning American fifth-grade teacher of Room 56 at Hobart Elementary School in Los Angeles (Strauss, 2013).  According to a 2005 report on National Public Radio, 90 percent of his students were living below the poverty line, and all were from immigrant families, with none speaking English as a first language, yet they all scored in the top 5 to 10 percent of the country in standardized tests.

  1. Technology Accelerators

Collins contends that the good-to-great companies approach the prospect of new and emerging technologies with the same prudence and careful deliberation that characterizes all of their other business decisions.  The point here is that when used right, technology becomes an accelerator on momentum, not a creator of it.  The good-to-great companies never began their transitions with pioneering technology, for the simple reason that you cannot make good use of technology until you know which technologies are relevant.  We seem to so desperately want the newest high technology in the classrooms but it often seems to end up as a big fail and, at times, gets in the way.  As teachers we need to fully educate ourselves on the technology before using it and we need to have a plan to immediately resort to in the event the technology fails.  We also need to ensure that we are not simply replacing a legacy delivery method with a technological delivery method just because funds become available.  We need to make sure that the chosen technology actually enhances the learning.  If it does not, perhaps it should remain in the technology classrooms.

These are just a few topics to glean from the book.  As you read it, so much jumps out to you that feels applicable to education.  Since starting my Master’s in Teaching degree, it feels like everything I do, say, read, or watch is always channeled back to teaching.  I guess that’s not such a bad thing.


Clifford, M. (2012). Hiring quality school leaders: Challenges and emerging practices. Washington DC: American Institutes for Research. Retrieved from http://www.learningpt.org/pdfs/HiringQualitySchoolLeaders_IssueBrief052009.pdf

Collins, J. (2001). Good to Great. New York, NY: HarperCollins.

Danielson, C. (2007). Enhancing professional practice:  a framework for teaching. Alexandria, VA: ASCD

Gates, S., Ringel, J., Santibanez, L., Ross, K., & Chung, C., (2003). Who is leading our schools? An overview of school administrators and their careers. Santa Monica,  CA: RAND.

Strauss, V. (2013, July 16). The world’s most famous teacher blasts school reform. The Washington Post. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com

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The Results are In: #CreateaPLN 30 Day Challenge

By Sarah McKinney

Welcome back! It’s good to see you here at Saints IgnitED. From August 2013 to April 2014, we ran three iterations of the #CreateaPLN 30 Day Challenge. The goal of the challenge was to expose each participant to technologically-based opportunities for online professional learning network (“PLN”) creation through a series of web-based challenges. While interacting with other educators through educational blogs, Twitter, Pinterest, and Learnist, participants diligently responded to surveys and submitted comments through the Challenge’s Google Site.

This post’s purpose is twofold: to provide our readers with some of the Challenge’s survey and anecdotal results we’ve been saving up over the past year (*drumroll please*) and to inform new readers who find themselves here as a result of our Washington State University TECH-Ed Conference poster presentation QR code. We will be presenting on the development of online professional learning networks for professionals in all fields.

36x48 Horizontal Poster

We hope to see you there on Thursday, September 25 and Friday, September 26 in Pullman, WA!

 Data PLN Challenge

Anecdotal Results:

“I enjoyed this challenge. I never thought of blogs as a source of learning new things. I read the blog post of Lisa Dabbs on 5 tips to foster a love for #Reading. I loved that some of the things I would want to use in my classroom like reading aloud to the students or having a classroom library were listed as things that a teacher can do to foster a love for reading.” – Monique O.

“The more I use twitter the more impressed I am with the connections you can make! It gets easier the more I use it too. Keep it up guys!” – Sharon R.

“Twitter will fit like an old pair of boots in a couple weeks. Re-tweeting a popular post with embedded hot links and hash tags can lead to spam, so I use it sparingly. Nice tool when you run across a real gem.” – Glenn T.

“Loving the twitter challenges. Always thought twitter was useless until starting to create my PLN. I have already connected with other teachers from around the country and have found lots of useful info.” – Alexzandra C.

“There are some music educators that I love that I can’t find on Pinterest, which bums me out. But I’ve started following a few people that have similar music education boards with a ton of pins, so that’s definitely helpful. I like Pinterest, and I can’t believe I didn’t think to put up a string pedagogy board until now. Pinterest, it’s not just for recipes and weddings….:)” – Lisa P.

“I took this opportunity to really push myself to connect with users who I didn’t know personally, which was a little weird for me, but, hey, that’s the whole point of this, right? I’m definitely starting to feel more comfortable on Learnist. The iPad app is awesome and I’ve been using that a lot more than the web version.” – Breanne S.

“First of all, I was surprised that how many teachers were on twitter and blogging sites! This PLN Challenge gave me fresh eyes to use blog, Pinterest, and twitter for educational purpose. I have used couple of websites we have been through for my personal uses, but I feel so much connected with other educators since I opened my new blogs focusing on education. Without PLN Challenge, I may think that I will try these blogs later someday when I feel needed. I am so glad that I had a chance to go through all these now. I am ready to roll!” 🙂 – Hana K.

“Before the PLN challenge I was very closed minded about using social media. I didn’t want to have anything to do with it because having a facebook previously, I knew I was unable to be disciplined enough to avoid it and study. This challenge has really opened my eyes to using social media as an outlet for sharing useful information. I’m glad I took this challenge because now I know how to use social media cites to better my understanding of teaching in such a way that it’s professional rather than casual.” – Danielle C.

“I definitely grew my PLN through Twitter by connecting with educators and educational organizations. As far as Twitter goes the biggest benefit I get is by following the various educational organizations such as Nat’l Geographic Education. It is through these connections I get current event info that is beneficial as an educator.” – Ahna J.

If you are interested in learning more about the research behind online professional learning networks, we encourage you to browse our reference list.

#CreateaPLN 30 Day Challenge – Starter Kit

#CreateaPLN 30 Day Challenge – Pathway #1

#CreateaPLN 30 Day Challenge – Pathway #2

Who Should I Follow On Twitter?


Arnold, N., & Paulus, T. (2010). Using a social networking site for experiential learning: Appropriating, lurking, modeling and community building. Internet and Higher Education, 13, 188-196.

Bauer, W.I. (2010). Your personal learning network: Professional development on demand. Music Educators Journal, 97, 37-42.

Beach, R. (2012). Can online learning communities foster professional development? Language Arts, 89, 256-262.

Donne, V., & Lin, F. (2013). Special education teacher induction: The Wiki way. The Clearing House: A Journal for Modern Junior and Senior High Schools, 86(2), 43-47.

Duncan-Howell, J. (2010). Teachers making connections: Online communities as a source of professional learning. British Journal of Educational Technology, 41, 324-340. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8535.2009.00953.x.

Gunawardena, C.N., Hermans, M.B., Sanchez, D., Richmond, C., Bohley, M., & Tuttle, R. (2009). A theoretical framework for building online communities of practice with social networking tools. Educational Media International, 46, 3-16.

Kim, H.J., Miller, H.R., Herbert, B., Pederson, S., & Loving, C. (2012). Using a Wiki in a scientist-teacher professional learning community: Impact on teacher perception changes. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 21, 440-452.

Lawless, K.A., & Pellegrino, J.W. (2007). Professional development in integrating technology into teaching and learning: Knowns, unknowns, and ways to pursue better questions and answers. Review of Educational Research, 77, 575-614.

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (2009). Creating effective teaching and learning environments: First results from TALIS. Retrieved from http://www.oecd.org/education/school/43023606.pdf.

Polly, D. (2011). Teachers’ learning while constructing technology-based instructional resources. British Journal of Educational Technology, 42, 950-961.

Ranieri, M., Manca, S., & Fini, A. (2012). Why (and how) do teachers engage in social networks? An exploratory study of professional use of Facebook and its implications for lifelong learning. British Journal of Educational Technology, 43, 754-769.

Sie, R.L.L., Pataraia, N., Boursinou, E., Kamakshi, R., Anoush, M., Falconer, I., Bitter-Rijpkema, M., Littlejohn, A., & Sloep, P.B. (2013). Goals, motivation for, and outcomes of personal learning through networks: Results of a tweetstorm. Educational Technology & Society, 16(3), 59-75.

Woods, A.M., & Weasmer, J. (2002). Maintaining job satisfaction: Engaging professionals as active participants. The Clearing House: A Journal for Modern Junior and Senior High Schools, 75, 186-189.

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Creating a Professional Learning Network

CreateaPLNNow is your opportunity to join us for #CreateaPLN Challenge!  The goal of the Challenge is to expose each participant to technologically-based opportunities for professional networking.   During the next month, participants will be building their Professional Learning Networks by connecting with other educators around the world.  These new connections will challenge participants to think more deeply about education, technology, and how individuals relate to one another.

Below are some comments from previous participants:

From Micahel Defant, @mrdefant:  Don’t be afraid to try new things to grow as an educator.

From Hana Kim, @LOLearningSMU:  This PLN Challenge gave me fresh eyes to use blogs, Pinterest, and Twitter for educational purposes.

From Erika Wilson, @live02learn:  Challenges aren’t meant to conquer alone. Networking and connecting to the many different professionals has brought me to a completely different outlook.

From Heather Robertson, @her07fsu:  When we began the challenge I was skeptical as to how Twitter would help me connect to other educators and build my network. I thought Twitter was simply to follow celebrities and receive updates about them. I soon learned from this challenge that many professional educators were on twitter posting valuable information. I’m discovering new blogs and resources that pose information that will be useful to me as I continue my career. I’m now excited when I find that the authors of the online resources I use have twitter accounts. If they publish content that I find relevant I may want to explore other ideas and information that they have to share.  As teachers we want to be able to be just as accepting of new uses and ideas as we would like are student to be. I’m glad I kept an open mind about exploring ways to connect.

Join #CreateaPLN Challenge by following this link.  We look forward to growing our PLN and to connecting with you!

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Five Things You Should Know When Deciding to Become a Teacher

I see you

By Hana Kim

Recently, my husband and I bought a house. The process was arduous- it involved daunting paperwork, long waits, and lots of money.  It is such a complex process that it can become overwhelming and, at times, it seemed like we may never close on our dream house.   At the same time I was buying a house, I had also begun pursuing my Master’s in Teaching degree, and I realized that the things I learned in the process of buying a house could benefit those thinking about becoming a teacher:

1. Do not rely solely on the internet; go hunt your house actively.  Online research is an important step in gathering new information, but it also limits your choices.  You have to get out and see the properties. You have to visit real houses and see what features each house has. After visiting a couple houses, you may sense that this could be your house or this is never going to be your house. When discerning what grade or subject you want to teach, don’t just visit a school’s website,  go visit the local schools around where you live. Do volunteer work to see the differences between schools. See how each teacher teaches in different ways. Find out which teaching methods you would like to apply or to avoid in your future classroom.

2. Do not wait until the last moment.  My realtor warned me on the first day we met, “Do not wait until the last moment to find what you want. Good houses are sold quickly.” The same is true for teacher preparation. Participate in educational events or seminars. Be proactive about what you are interested in. Do not hesitate to finish the courses you have to take. Grabbing an opportunity is like a gambling; there is no guarantee. But if you let a good one pass, you will regret it.

3. There is no such thing as “a dream house”.  This was a shocking fact to me. There is no dream house even if you built it by yourself. Humans easily get bored. We always look for something new or different. There is no perfect job in the world. That is why we call it a “job.” Do not feel frustrated if you don’t have perfect settings for your school or class. There are no perfect students either. If you do not like where you are, think about how you can make changes for your school, students, and yourself. There is a reason why those home improvement stores are popular.

4. Work together.  The most inefficient way to finish a task is do it alone. Buying a house involves multiple agencies, a bank, a realtor, and friends and a family. Do not be afraid to ask for help. Talk to your peers, teachers, advisors, mentor teachers, and coworkers. Get all the information you can. People generally feel valued themselves when someone asks for help or support.

5. Closing on a house does not mean that you can stop maintaining the house. The final process of buying a house is closing and getting a house key. However, it is not the end of your work with a house; the truth is that it is actually the time to start work on your house. You have more responsibility with maintaining the house. Your house will increase in value based on how much effort you put into maintaining it. Becoming a teacher does not mean that you can stop improving yourself. There is no end to your training as an educator. This is one unique element about becoming a teacher. Usually, when you get a job it is time to work hard and make money. But once you become a teacher, it is time to work harder to increase your knowledge and skills, to prepare your students and lessons, and to build your school community. Never stop improving yourself.

House and Keys in Female Hands

Buying a house is an important step of life. (It is also hard to get a refund once you signed your signature on a hundred pages!) Becoming a teacher also requires a commitment to you, your students, school administrators, and students’ parents. Owning a home is a huge accomplishment–Own your teaching and make a difference every day for those who need you.

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A Look at Differentiated Instruction and Family Dinners

 By Jenny LeTempt

 Jenny Entry

            As students and educators we often encounter many technical terms and find their definitions in textbooks in boldface type.  However, what do these terms really mean when you break them down?  How can we apply them to the classroom if we don’t understand them inside and out?  As educators it is our responsibility to know these concepts, apply them, and understand them fully.  That is why I attempted to connect my own experience with my textbook understanding of these terms in order to develop a better understanding of their true meaning.

            First, I looked at the “textbook” definitions.  Differentiated Instruction involves “shaking up” the classroom, so students have lots of options for processing information, understanding concepts, and expressing what they have learned (Price and Nelson, 2014). 

            My son is ten years old.  I have had the opportunity to stay home with him since I started the MIT program at Saint Martin’s.  I find that I can often make connections between my family life and the big ideas that I am learning about education.  For example, the concept of Differentiated Instruction can be applied to our family dinners.  We all eat dinner at the same table and we all eat the same food.  The size portions might vary depending on the individual (universal design).  My husband needs more food than my son and me to stay healthy.  My son likes ketchup, but my husband does not.  By serving the same meal, but making small adjustments, I am utilizing differentiated instruction.  I could also consider how they will consume the food and offer to let them use their hands, knife, spoon, fork, or have their food blended into a liquid (variation in instruction).  During dinner I might mention strategies or model how to eat certain foods like spaghetti (Conspicuous strategies).  If I serve a meal like steak, and my son is unable to cut the meat himself, I will cut it for him and model how to be safe with a knife (mediated scaffolding).  During dinner if someone does not eat a particular dish, I will inform them of how valuable that food is to their diet.  I could also give them specific information of how it affects their body in a positive way, as well as how their body might suffer if they do not have a balanced diet (Strategic integration).  At the end of the meal, I might ask my son to model how to cut steak safely for me (Judicious review).

            Applying these terms to my life experiences helps me garner a deeper level of understanding of their meaning.  It gives me the ability to look at the big picture and how I can use Differentiated Instruction in my classroom.  After all, it is all about shaking things up and giving students lot of options and ways to share what they know and what they have learned. 


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Five Lessons: Building Fences and Making Connections

By Sarah McKinney

Back in March, a neighbor who was moving offered his used chain link fence to me for free knowing that I was looking to set up a fence for my dog. I had it in my mind to install the fence on my own. How hard could it be? Right away, friends questioned who I was going to hire to put up the fence. Skeptical and concerned, few of them gave me the impression they thought I could handle the project on my own. I wondered why this was. Was it that they thought I lacked upper body strength? Or was it that they had never known me to complete this kind of project before?

With friends’ comments ringing in my ears, “the fence” quickly became a project I had to prove I could complete by myself. Despite being determined to get the project done myself, self-doubt swirled in my mind. How much fencing material did I even have? Was it enough to enclose my backyard? Was I strong enough to lift the fencing on my own? Maybe there was some truth to the doubt I heard in my friends’ comments. Still, I set a weekend to complete the project.

Going off of the recommendation of the neighbor who gave me the fence, I rented an auger (i.e. post hole digger). I thought it would take me no more than 20 minutes to dig all of the necessary holes. I could not have been more wrong. Not being a native of Washington, I did not realize that just below the friendly six inch top soil layer lives a layer of potato-sized rocks, which soon sent the auger flying out of control. I struggled to manage the machine and each hole was more difficult than the last to dig.

Over an hour later, hole dug, I started putting poles in the ground. I was happy with my progress. But when I went to lift the roll of chain link, I soon realized I needed someone to support it while I attached it to the poles. Tired and covered in dirt, I was disappointed in myself. I thought I could finish the project on my own, but I was losing steam quickly. My arms had turned to jello. Reluctantly, I texted some friends for back up. Once they arrived, we got to work, developing a system as we went. We had the whole fence completed in under an hour.

While reflecting on the construction process, I realized that what I learned during this simple project sets a fitting tone for the Saints IgnitED blog and perfectly encapsulates what I have learned as a teacher candidate at SMU. Here are five lessons I would like to share:


1. Embrace a DIY attitude
Teaching requires a “go-getter” attitude toward everything from curriculum design to classroom management. You must be the driving force behind innovation and change. Sometimes you have to go at it alone. My fence project felt this way at the beginning. There is a lot to be said for the process of “doing it yourself”. Cultivate self-sufficiency in yourself.

2. Step outside your comfort zone
The idea of putting up a fence on my own was daunting to say the least. Similarly, teaching is not always about being comfortable; it’s about pushing yourself further, harder, and beyond for your students. Try new things. Surprise yourself. The profession depends upon innovation and risk taking.

3. Plan, but prepare for the unexpected
I’m a planner by nature, but my experience as a teacher candidate has shown me that sometimes, the plan will fail. Ever had a lesson bomb mid-period? Things tend to take a turn for the unexpected at that point, and you have to “roll with it”. I did not expect to hit so many rocks in the ground, nor did I anticipate having to call on friends for help. The plan for the day was rewritten, and that’s okay!

4. Collaborate
This is one of the most valuable lessons I have learned during the MIT program. Teaching is collaborative endeavor. As much as it is important to lead in innovation and adopt a DIY attitude on your own, find those people in your program, in your building, and online who are similarly motivated in the field of education. Most of all, collaborate with your students. My fence would not have been completed without the help of my friends. I just had to ask for help. Connect, grow, and learn together.

5. Failure IS an option
The whole time I was working on the fence, I kept wondering what would happen if I could not lift the auger or if the fence would not stay up. But then I thought, at least try! There is no harm in trying to complete this project yourself. With day-to-day teaching, there is always tomorrow. If the lesson flopped and the kids were giving you blank stares, try again tomorrow. And teach your students the same lesson.

The beauty of pursuing a career in education, I’m finding, is that you start to see the learning process unfold in every day interactions and activities where you may not have previously seen them. Think about when you have learned lessons applicable to teaching during the course of your daily routines and experiences. If you think about it for a while, I’m certain you will come up with something that is worth sharing with other educators and that merits personal reflection as you progress through the program and enter the profession.

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