Monthly Archives: August 2014

Cheers to Launching a Great School Year


 blog balloonblog balloon2 

We observed our first hot air balloon launch last weekend, and one word that best describes it is…spectacular. Balloons clumsily bumping into each other as they first took flight and then soaring into serenity…lovely. It was a hectic launch that led to a peaceful flight.

This scenario reminds us of when we taught elementary school age children, and we would have our Christmas program practices. These practices always seemed chaotic, unruly, and left us with the feeling that the kids would not be ready when it was the real deal. When the evening of the program arrived, we were always apprehensive about whether or not it would go on without a hitch. It always did! The students made us so proud. Like the balloon launch, the Christmas program was a hectic launch that led to a peaceful flight. Kind of like the beginning of the school year, wouldn’t you agree?

The balloon launch and all the steps the pilots were required to take were similar to steps educators have to take to start their year (or start a Christmas program 🙂 ). Below are our ideas for you to have a peaceful flight this year. And as the last step suggests…cheers to launching a great school year! 🙂

Preflight Preparation: The pilots must stay informed about wind and weather conditions prior to flying. Helium-filled balloons were being sent into the air every few minutes to check wind direction. Educators need to make sure the conditions are just right in their buildings before the students get there. (So make sure the A/C is cranked…or fans are on for those poor souls without A/C.)

Lead Balloonist: (By the way…be sure to read that heading correctly or the balloon won’t fly.) This balloonist was marking the target for all the rest. Once his burner was lit, then all other balloonists could begin to inflate their balloons with air. Educators are the leaders and set the tone for the rest of the year by being passionate, positive, and enthusiastic. Once these traits are accomplished, all others will begin their year on the same note.

Take Off: When those hot air balloons took off, we were a bit skeptical. Some bumped into each other. Others took a little longer, and we thought the burners would burn the material of other balloonists. Not so. Even though the takeoff was a bit hectic, once those balloons all rose into the air, it was a spectacular view. The school year may take off a little chaotic, however, remember that once you get going and get those around you fired up to be there, the view will be remarkable.

Chase Crew: Once those balloons were up in the air, vehicles were leaving the launch site left and right. These folks in the vans and pickups and trucks were the chase crew. They stay in contact with the pilot of the air balloon and followed the path of the balloon. They make sure that the landing area is okay, and then once the balloon has landed, the chase crew helps the pilot with all chores. The pilot may get the glory, but without the chase crew there would most likely be no flight. The leaders of the school may get all the glory of what’s happening, but without the students, teachers, and support staff, there is no school.

Landing: Hot air balloon pilots land their balloons in a safe place with little wind and few obstacles. Sometimes the basket may tip over when landing. Once the school year is over and the educators have landed another year, sometimes there may be a few rough spots along the way, however, generally, the landing ends up with all stakeholders moving forward with a sense of accomplishment.

Toasting: After safely landing the hot air balloon, it is a tradition for balloon pilots to recite the Balloonist’s Blessing with a champagne toast. At the end of your first day, first week, or first year, start a new tradition in your building and make a toast to a great school year – the people, the places, and the possibilities. Thanks President Gores for those words! 🙂

Whether your school year starts out hectic and bumpy or calm and smooth, we wish for you a peaceful flight this year!

Stay Calm & Lead On!
Profs Dr. C. & Dr. V.



Let’s Chat Naked

blog chat naked 

Stopped by the Family Aquatic Center to say hello, and the picture above is what we walked in on. So without thinking, we blurted out “Let’s chat naked.” Yes, every single one of those kids stopped doing whatever it was they were doing with their cell phones and looked up at us. A miracle…they looked up from their phones. Now we had their attention. “Let’s chat…face-to-face. Let’s chat naked,” we suggested.

One of the girls smiled at us and said she had heard the saying of ‘going to a meeting naked’ where no lap tops, iPads, or smartphones were allowed. Hmm…now that’s an interesting concept we think we should try.

We chatted, briefly, and then they all went back to their phones. Made us think of a YouTube video we just watched on someone’s Facebook page the other day called “Look Up From Your Phone.” It’s worth the five minutes it takes to watch it.

In Abraham Lincoln’s closing remarks to Congress in December, 1892, he wisely recommended that we all rise to the occasion even if “the occasion is piled high with difficulty.” That can certainly apply to the use of cell phones in a classroom, can’t it? Even if your students are using cell phones when you think they shouldn’t be, maybe it’s time we teachers rise to the occasion and figure out HOW to use them in class rather than HOW to abandon their use.

Below are five ways we have discovered to be useful when using the cell phone in class:

  1. Poll your students on their opinions.  is a great resource for this. For example we’ve used to poll our Intro to Education students on WHY they want to become teachers, which leads to great face-to-face discussion in class
  2. Ask a question of your students and have all students ‘Tweet’ their answer to a special Twitter account set up just for your class. For example, we could ask our students to name five assessment tools used in schools or ask the students who is the author of a certain children’s book and they tweet their answer to us. The tweets then lead to outstanding ‘naked’ conversation.
  3. Place QR codes throughout your presentation. Students pull out their phones to “follow” your presentation and lesson. It helps with all of the “extras” that may not be shared during the class because of time restraints. It can also be a place for students to go for their assignments.
  4. Students can use their phones to record a lesson or presentation to share with the class. It can also be used to self-assess a presentation. Students can then upload their video to Youtube and let the learning go viral.
  5. Take a fieldtrip with the phone! If you can’t go somewhere, bring the somewhere to you. Students can Facetime with primary sources—aka people—instead of just reading it on the Internet (or find it in a book…the thing with pages on their desk).

Just like the comment “let’s chat naked” caused all six of those kids to look up from their cell phone, using the cell phone as a teaching tool can enhance face-to-face dialogue. Meaningful discussions will augment our classroom teaching. Using the cell phone in our teaching can aid with the discussion process, which in turn will increase student learning. And that, fellow educators, is what teaching is all about.

What are some ways that you are using a mobile device in your classrooms?


Stay Calm & Lead On!
Profs Dr. C. & Dr. V.


Rev Up Your Year – Full Throttle Ahead

Google Images
Google Images

An indication that the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally is coming to a close is when you see packs of motorcycles heading east on Interstate 90 in South Dakota. I actually just witnessed that scenario the other day while driving the car to Sioux Falls. I thought to myself “huh, they are all going the wrong way…must be over.”

Sturgis, South Dakota, with a measly population of 6,600, grows exponentially usually the first week in August, sometimes topping 500,000 people. Individuals from all walks of life ride their bikes out to Sturgis to check out the festivities. (Some people haul their bikes out on trailers then ride when they get there…does that count?). 😉  I know a family from the Sturgis area that rents their home out to a doctor from New York during the week of the bike rally and this family gets an astronomical amount of money for that week. Wow…things that make you go ‘hmmm.’ 🙂

Have you ever been to Sturgis? I have. Just passed through so I can say I’ve been there. That brief time was enough for me, though. Maybe you are one who stays for the whole week. If you are that person, then you know you are ‘revved’ up to get to Sturgis and you go ‘full throttle ahead’ to get there.

Doesn’t that paint a picture of what the beginning of the school year is like? Whether you are a teacher or a principal, aren’t you ‘revved up’ to get started and you go “full throttle ahead’ to get ready for the school year? I know I do. Every year is that way for me. A new beginning is always exciting and I actually enjoy the preparation.

Below are some ways that will rev you up to get your new school year going full throttle ahead:

  • Personal Space – Just like your motorcycle is your personal space, how will you arrange and organize your personal space at school? How will you polish and shine what is yours to make it stand out above all others? Where would you like your desk? Where would you like your materials? Others’ materials? What do you want on your walls? How about your space on the computer? Email all ready to go? How about your class/school webpage? Are you a blogger? Would you like to start? Go to to learn more.
  • Surroundings Awareness – Becoming familiar with the best route to take when traveling to Sturgis was a must. Same goes for school. Get familiar with your building. Where is the copy machine? Do you have a code for it? Where are materials located such as construction paper? Become best friends with the school office administrator, the custodians, the cooks. Does the maintenance crew want your chairs up when they sweep your classroom? How do you ask for help when a repair is needed? Will the cooks allow you to use any of the kitchen equipment for a special project? Do they expect you to help in the lunch room?
  • Leadership Plan – Did you travel to Sturgis with a group? Were you in charge of the trip? Transfer that thought over to school. How will you manage your time? How will you prioritize? Do you know what to do in case of a crisis such as a tornado drill or a sudden death? Is your plan ready to go? Continue to add to your plan as the year progresses. There’s a good chance you will be initiated by fire.
  • First Day Jitters – Once you arrived in Sturgis, did you know what you planned to do that first day? What will you do on the first day at school? Will you be nervous? Probably a little. Get a good nights’ sleep if possible. Drink a glass of tart cherry juice before bedtime. Tart cherry juice has melatonin in it to help aid sleep. Eat a good breakfast the first day. A Green Monster Smoothie is delicious and nutritious. See the recipe below. Leave home with a positive attitude. Build relationships. Greet people at the door. Wear a smile. Actively listen to others. Use icebreakers. Check out the link for many many icebreaker ideas. Read First Day Jitters by Julie Danneberg. Green Monster Smoothie Recipe: 1 cup spinach, 1 cup frozen kale, 1 cup unsweetened Coconut Milk, 1 scoop of Strawberry Slim Fast Powder, ½ frozen banana sliced, 1 kiwi fruit peeled and diced, a handful of frozen cranberries, 1 tbsp flaxseed meal. Put all ingredients into a blender and mix until smooth. Pour over ice and sip through a straw. Enjoy.
  • Expectations – Were there certain expectations that you had before, during, and after being at Sturgis? Now that you are home from your bike rally trip, did you visit with others on how the trip went? At school, what expectations do you have of yourself? Of others? How will you behave? How do you expect others to behave? How will you dress? How do you expect others to dress? Are you a good role model? Do you depict best practices? Become a reflective practitioner. At the end of each day, reflect on what went well, and what needs improvement. What do students expect of YOU, their leader? Watch and listen to find out:
  • Make Connections – From the picture above, it’s easy to see that there were hundreds of thousands of bikes and folks at Sturgis. Connections are easy to make when you surround yourself with that many people. Do the same at school. Connect with the students, the staff, the parents, and anyone else you know who are associated with your school. How can you connect? Get to know people on a personal basis. Remember “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Appreciate others, respect others, show others they matter. Connect with others via Twitter. Join a PLN. Actively participate in live Twitter chats. A few we recommend are #tlap and #nbtchat. Once connections are made, all else will fall into place.

This list is by no means complete. There are many more creative ways to get revved up for the school year. Please add to this list by commenting below. Whether you proudly ride a Harley or lead on a Honda (…or ride a Trek or Schwinn 🙂 ), go full throttle ahead with these ideas. It will make for a great year exponentially. When you are all revved up and ready to go for this school year, please, just keep your hands on the handlebars at ALL times! 🙂 Stay in control…

Have a fun year and enjoy the ride. Let that bike roar.


Julie Carrow
Photo Credit: Julie Carrow


Stay Calm & Lead On!
Profs Dr. C. & Dr. V.

Summer v. Fall Tug-of-War!

google images
google images

So it is August… I have a love-hate relationship with this month. It is a tug-of-war between summer and fall and all that entails. Maybe it is true for you as well? The days are hot and the boys’ summer activities have concluded for the summer… well sort of. Football starts now that baseball is over. Still we have some time to relax and enjoy some lemonade on the porch if we allow ourselves to do so.

I always love summer. I always love fall. School supplies—yay! School supplies—ugh! Perhaps I have a split-personality. (No comments from you, Wendy! 🙂 ) I love my job, and love the people! What’s not to love? So why the “ugh” feeling I wonder….

What I don’t love is the “in between” seasons feeling when I attempt to cram everything from the last season into a matter of a week or two with hopes of being fully organized and able to enjoy the next season. I start summer with a long “teacher” list of items to accomplish such as teach a few summer classes, research, write a few papers (with attempts to publish), write at least one of my books, catch up on photo albums, deep clean the house, teach the boys how to swim, scrapbook the boys’ school year and lives from the past year, and the list goes on and on. Does any of this list happen? Yes and no… it doesn’t happen the first week of the summer like I think it should—every year! Some of it happens early or throughout the summer. The fun stuff like helping the boys learn to swim. The “not-as-much-fun” stuff happens when the calendar changes to August, and I feel the push to get the list accomplished before the school year begins.

I recently discovered what I really struggle with is not so much my list or the lack of accomplishment of the list, but instead it is life flying by. “I can’t wait for…” is a phrase that I knew well growing up. My kids know it now and say it often. That phrase scares me now. I am a planner and look to the future to plan for the now. As we turn the calendar to another school year, I see time flying by…faster than the year before. Life is rushing by. The phrase and song by Alabama ring true…“I’m in a hurry and don’t know why.”
What can I do to change it and face my fear head on? How do I slow down Father Time?
Embrace now instead of waiting for tomorrow. Stop the “I can’t wait” attitude and enjoy today. A quote on my wall at home is “Cherish yesterday. Dream tomorrow. Live today.” That’s what I need to do. So instead of worrying about my syllabi (at least for today) and fretting over the unfinished backyard project or the unfinished photo albums, I am going to just breath and be…and maybe read for fun. Yes, that’s what I’ll do.

Have you enjoyed a good book lately? Or are you waiting for tomorrow? If you started reading this blog because of the image at the top, sorry that we don’t list 50 fun things, but reading for fun is definitely in the top 10! 🙂

My summer reading list is one of the fun summer to-dos that I do love! My list always starts in a linear, orderly fashion. I read, checking off my list until I discover a detour and read away from my list and onto a new path. Such is the case with my recent read, If I Stay, by Gayle Forman. It didn’t start out on my list. A good friend recommended it to me while sitting at baseball watching our boys play. It is about life and death…and making decisions. It is a great read. It is a horrible read. It is similar to The Fault in Our Stars in that the main characters are teenagers dealing with more than the “normal” teenager stressors in life like everyday peer pressure. You need to read it…and soon. It comes to theaters on August 22nd. In case you aren’t buying what I am selling, two other votes to read it:
“Both brutal and beautiful, this thought-provoking story will stay with readers long after the last page is turned.” ~School Library Journal
“This is an achingly beautiful story.” ~NPR’s The Roundtable
Now you decide.

Live in the present. Take a breath. Let tomorrow be tomorrow. …and don’t worry about the fact that this blog post is not research driven or well organized. It is just the way it is. Enjoy. It’s only the beginning of August after all.

Stay Calm & Lead On!
Profs Dr. C. & Dr. V.