Sunday, January 25, 2015

Tightening Things Up

Have you ever struggled to fit everything into the school day??

Have you ever learned a new strategy or technique and wanted to fit it into your day, but then felt that you didn't have time?

If you answered YES to either of these I believe you are in line for a Time Audit.

Oh boy, I said it...Audit.  I'm not sure anyone enjoys an audit...I'm not even sure an auditor enjoys an audit.  But, in all honesty, a time audit of your day is probably worth completing.  Still not convinced? 

For me the educational epiphany has hit me twice in my career.  The first time was during my 5th year teaching. I was taking Masters courses, teaching and trying to be the best dad and husband I could be. 

On one particular Saturday I was in class and I listened to other educators describe lessons and their typical school day.  This got my wheels spinning.  I decided to take a close look at my lesson plans and then I tracked my time all week.  What I discovered is that I had: A) too much downtime in class B) my brain breaks were too long C) I loved Social Studies, but because of this, my lessons were longer than necessary.  If I tightened things up I could really increase our reading & writing time.  

So that's what I did.  The next weekend I began to modify my plans and I began to keep a timer on my watch to help me stay focused.  The end result, I was able to increase our reading & writing time by nearly 25 minutes.  Over the course of a semester this becomes very significant.

My point is, I didn't have to cut anything from my schedule.  I listened to my colleagues, I reflected on my practice and I made adjustments.  Often times we think we must give something up to fit something in.  I don't always think this is true.  Sometimes it is as simple as Tightening Things Up.

The second educational epiphany occurred two years ago.  My good friend +Curt Rees always shares when he hits #InBoxZero.  This is in reference to his email inbox.  Well, to be frank, I hate him for #InBoxZero!  When life is good for me I hover between 8 and 15 emails.  After Curt posted #InBoxZero I set out to get control of my email.  Unfortunately I did it all wrong.  I spent too much time in my office or on a device.  I became obsessed with #InBoxZero.  Then I woke up.  To obtain #InBoxZero I had to become more efficient.  Sitting at my desk was not efficient.  So, I did another Time Audit, but this time I was the Principal, not in the classroom teaching.  My audit helped me discover that I needed to increase dialogue with staff and parents...and cut down on office time.  It also showed me that my time spent outdoors with our students was significant.  At this point I had to weigh my options.  Ultimately I came to the decision that I could still be outdoors three or four days per week, but I also needed to be in classrooms.  Ultimately, my two time audits were the BRUTAL TRUTH.  I had to prioritize and increase efficiency...not cut and replace.

We are now at the halfway point in our school year.  I urge you to take a good look at your day.  I bet you could implement new ideas and try new things without simply cutting something out.  Why not do your own Time Audit and figure out what you can, Tighten Up.


Monday, January 26th:  Lego Club 4-5pm
Monday, January 26th:  NWEA testing begins (please plan accordingly)
Tuesday, January 27th:  Kate Messner Visit for grades 3-5 at 8:45am (office will call classes down)
Tuesday, January 27th:  Minecraft Club 4-5pm
Wednesday, January 28th:  All School Assembly 8:45am Jump Rope For Heart with Mrs. Kelly
Thursday, January 29th:  iCreate Assembly at Westwinds grades 3-5 (bus leaves at 8:45 and returns at 10:50am)
Thursday, January 29th:  Minecraft Club 4-5pm
Friday, January 30th:  8am Staff Meeting in Mrs. Smith's classroom

Articles Worth Reading:

I Will Ask You About You @katiejoyk

A Thank You To The Teacher @HuffingtonPost

Having Natural Talent vs Being a Hard Worker @8Amber8

How Teaching Became Fun Again @edrethink

No Thank You @TonySinanis

Baking Bread @jonharper70bd

It Is Time To Restore the Innocence of Childhood shared by @daydreamreader

8 Toxic Beliefs That Most People Think Are Normal @marcandangel

Videos Worth Watching:

Whisper Challenge (4 min)

Raising Savvy Cyber Kids (13 min)  WORTH YOUR TIME!

Different (15 min) Inspiring & Powerful!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Your Line in the Sand

Where do you stand when the chips are down?  When life smacks you in the face how do you respond?  

Throughout my life I have never been one to intentionally rock the boat or ruffle feathers.  I have always considered myself to be honest, caring and purposeful in my actions.

Recently I have found myself engaging in controversial conversations.  Some of these topics have been -


What I quickly discovered is that when you are entering into a conversation with someone, and you aren't sure where they stand, it can be a little nerve wracking.  

The other challenge I often encounter is that I don't always feel knowledgeable on certain topics.  For example, politics.  Politics can be extremely complex and layered.  I find myself playing catch up on current issues.  My personal struggle is when a topic comes up and I don't have a preference either way.  This can be viewed as the proverbial, "fence straddler".  When in all actuality I'm not straddling the fence, I just don't have a strong opinion.

With that as the foundation, I lead into a critical story.  My first year at Warner was not the smoothest.  Many of you vividly remember those days and some of you have probably tried to block those memories out.  I often will reminisce and reflect on those days.  There were a few takeaways that I still live by today.

(You Don't Need To Be The Smartest Person In The Room) You may have your knowledge tested by others.  It is important to not feel trapped into having all the answers.  Sometimes I think I need to have all the answers and save the day.  Then I come to my senses and realize it is about discovering solutions and working as a team.  The smartest person is the room...not ONE person.

(It Is Dangerous To Assume) The key to sustained success in anything you do is communication. Early on at Warner I heard a phrase over and over, it was... "we've always done it this way."  I then began to assume that was best. Assumptions can be dangerous.  Over time I decided to make small, purposeful changes to some old habits.  But along the way it was vital that I communicated with all stakeholders.

(What Do You Stand For) This is the big one!  When I reflect on my years in education I look back at a few moments.  I remember difficult conversations, I remember not backing down from what I believed in and I remember keeping my core values at the center of my decisions.

Still to this day I'm confronted with decisions and issues.  Each time I think, what do you stand for? People that know me know that my decisions center around one thing, what is best for kids!  

Today we celebrate one of the greatest men in the history of our nation, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  

We all know what he stood for, I ask all of you, when controversy comes your way, where do you stand?

Next Week At A Glance:

Tuesday, January 20th:  4pm Minecraft Club
Tuesday, January 20th:  Lock down PM
Tuesday, January 20th:  TEAM Meeting 9:15am
Tuesday, January 20th:  Hearing and Vision Screening
Wednesday, January 21st:  Grades 3-5 morning assembly
Wednesday, January 21st:  Hearing and Vision Screening
Thursday, January 22nd:  CP Federal Credit Union in the PM
Thursday, January 22nd:  4pm Minecraft Club
Friday, January 23rd:  1/2 day of school...Dismissal at 12:05
Friday, January 23rd:  Warner Fun Night 5:30-8:30pm

Articles Worth Reading:

Power of Connection @TechNinjaTodd

Love - my #oneword @GenieneD

Videos Worth Watching:

Letter to idea for high school students (3 min)

Sammie's Strength (6 min)

Tom Hanks slams Full House with Jimmy Fallon (4 min)

Arms Wide Open (16 min)

Friday, January 9, 2015

What's holding you back?

2014 was the start of something special.  That something was #ClassroomCribs.  I'm a believer that learning spaces matter.  As we jump start 2015, I feel it is critical to talk about where we've been and what we're learning.   

This past summer +A.J. Juliani+Erin Klein and I began working on a new project.  AJ is the mastermind behind #ClassroomCribs, and I thoroughly enjoy collaborating with this wonderful group.  As we wrap up the 2014 #ClassroomCribsChallenge I feel compelled to go back to the beginning.  It was an exciting summer of listening and discussing learning spaces with Warner staff, and educators attending NerdCamp & @EDcampLDR.  The excitement to redesign was contagious!  

During the entire challenge one other individual was key, +Tom Murray.  Tom is an intelligent leader in the field of education.  He has tremendous knowledge when it comes to technology, innovation and design.  I'm excited that Tom is now a vital part of the #ClassroomCribs Team!  

Last August Tom, Erin and I led a discussion at @EDcampLDR.  The room was full of educators looking to learn more about redesigning learning spaces.  The discussion centered on three things: Materials, Money and Research.  After @EDcampLDR things began to really gain momentum.  The website opened up and the Challenge started.  So much of what was being discussed was positive. You could really feel and see a shift in learning spaces.

Then it happened...

It was a normal August day.  I rolled into Warner and talked to several teachers as they were preparing classrooms. Then as I began the trek back up towards the front office I got a ping. Innocent enough, just an incoming email.  I opened the email and read a sad letter by a fellow educator.  Her name will remain anonymous.  In her email she shared her story and described her classroom.  She told me what she wanted to do and that the #ClassroomCribs Challenge really sparked her.  Then she told me what her administration told her.  She was being stonewalled.  Her administrator mentioned money, time, policy...all sorts of barriers.  She felt hopeless.

At the moment I felt terrible for her, and I emailed her a few suggestions.

But then it happened again...

I received a Vox from a fellow educator who read my post on Transforming Learning Spaces.  The educator described a similar, sad scene.  A scene where administration handcuffed teachers and did not allow for classroom redesign.  At this point I knew that these two educators were not alone.  I investigated through my #PLN and found that many teachers are not able to redesign learning spaces. All I could think is, what is holding those administrators back?

Dear Fellow Administrator,

Each day hundreds of kids walk into the building.  They walk in wanting to connect, learn and experience joy.  What is unfortunate is that many of our students come from an environment that doesn't allow choice and encourage creativity.  Our kids feel stifled, shoot our adults feel it as well.  

As the students walk in I ask you, look at the faces. What do you see?  Do you see happiness?  Do you see the glimmer?  I hope you do, because our kids deserve to hold onto that glimmer for as long as possible.

I share that with you because I believe people get a "feel" or "vibe" at school.  I have walked into buildings that have felt very cold and sterile.  I have entered classrooms that have been overloaded with clutter.  These environments produce a feeling.  So often those feelings are anxiety, stress, depression and fear.  I, for one, don't ever want our students to feel that when they enter a school or classroom.  

I'll now transition to a series of questions and statements.  I hope you will take the time to reflect and think about each one.

First, do you give teachers the autonomy to paint in the spaces they occupy?  If the answer is no, I hope you'll take a second and check out the research - Color Sense.  I realize the common statement I hear is, the teacher doesn't own the room, they may be moved the very next year.  That's true, but if it occurs, can't the room be repainted?

Second, are flexible learning spaces visible and evident in the building?  I sure hope so, but if the answer is no, you may want to check this out - Reimagine Classroom Design.  21st Century Education should be flexible.  Do you want to promote anytime, anywhere learning?

Third, when you are approached about redesign do you immediately think of a barrier?  Some administrators think of their budget, some think of policy, but, unfortunately you are focusing on the barrier, instead of trying to knock it down! I encourage you to check this blog out by +Angela Watson - Creating a Cozy Classroom

Fourth, what about "The Code" or the Fire Marshall?  Honestly, I have heard this from both teachers and administrators.  My first reaction is to sit down and talk with the Fire Marshall.  Explain the project and listen to why it violates code.  See if there is a middle ground.  But please fellow administrator, don't discuss the issues unless you truly are advocating for your students and teachers.

Fifth, are you being told by the Superintendent or School Board that you cannot redesign learning spaces?  If this is so, I hope you will share a detailed document of the research - Active Learning Spaces.  I'm a believer that knowledge is vital to any change.  If you value the "feel" of the school you will invest the time to redesign learning spaces.

Finally fellow administrator, I want to encourage you to advocate for your students and teachers. When we at Warner Elementary started our journey we started small.  We painted bathrooms, visited other schools to get ideas and touched up our bad spots.  What we all quickly discovered is that the ownership and pride of the building increased for everyone.  This is our school, it isn't perfect, but we love it!

I believe somewhere inside of you is the administrator that wants to positively impact students and teachers.  My hope is that 2015 is the time to begin transforming learning spaces in your building. Now is the best time to bring out the glimmer in their eyes.

If you ever want to talk I'm willing to listen and support.  You can find me on twitter at @benjamingilpin or you can go to the #ClassroomCribs website - classroomcribs.

Never miss an opportunity to make a positive impact in the world!

-Ben Gilpin

Give it a TRY

With all due respect to Yoda, I'm compelled to share this post with you.  

Years ago as I stood in front of my 5th grade students I saw many faces that were quick to give up or not even try.  I remember it like it was yesterday.  It was 8am and I was fuming, I fully intended to give a stern lecture and really set the tone.  Then around 8:30am I walked out into the hallway and began greeting students.  Within a couple of minutes my demeanor was changing.  My young 5th graders were telling me stories, giving hugs and full of joy to begin the day.  As the last couple stragglers put away their jackets and walked in I had decided to change my approach.  I cared deeply for each of my kids, I didn't want to be angry.

So, this is what I did.  I pulled my students up front and we all sat down on the floor.  I looked into the eyes of each one of my students and I told them I was disappointed.  I was disappointed in what I was seeing in class.  I was disappointed that several students were giving up, not trying and taking the easy way out.  My tone was soft and caring, but I was honest with my students.  I looked at them and most were looking down.  Many of them knew that they were not putting forth their best.

I paused, I looked at them and I said, "I can teach you a lot, but what I want you to learn in this class is that your success depends on one person...YOU!"  One of my young ladies raised her hand and then said, "Mr. Gilpin you point us in the right direction, but it is up to us to walk."  I smiled and nodded.

From that day forward we had a class mantra, TRY.  That's it.  We decided giving up, quitting and pouting was not going to accomplish anything.  Whether we succeed or fail was not going to define us, our defining characteristic was that we would TRY.  The second half of the year was positive. Day in and day out the students in my class and me, as the teacher, tried new things and we weren't going to let failure define us.

In any situation, the best thing you can do is the right thing; 
the next best thing you can do is wrong thing; 
the worst thing you can do is nothing. 
- Theodore Roosevelt

That story, though different, reminds me in some ways of what it is like to be an educator.  It can be easy to throw our hands up and stop trying.  Sometimes it is easy to blame our legislature, lack of funding or administration.   Yet, if we are honest, we have enough tools for success.

This year teachers have adopted a new math curriculum, learned writer's workshop model and have implemented strategies to personalize the learning in each classroom.  This isn't easy.  But this is what we do.  

As I link Theodore Roosevelt's quote to our 5th grade mantra, I believe we must TRY!  We must try to reorganize our day.  We must try to prioritize our lessons.  We must try to change old practices. We must try to continuously move forward.  

A new year brings new found hope.  Then, as we jump back into things it can be so easy to fall back into routines and habits.  I urge you to stay ambitious!  Try something new, and better yet, don't wait for the next semester...TRY!


Monday, January 12th:  Happy BDay to Julie Oliver
Monday, January 12th:  4th/5th grade Spelling Bee at the CAC 6pm
Monday, January 12th:  Penny Boxes go home for our, "Pennies for Leukemia Challenge"
Monday, January 12th:  Winter Lego Club begins 4-5pm
Tuesday, January 13th:  4th grade to MSU Planetarium
Tuesday, January 13th:  Bible Release Day
Tuesday, January 13th:  Admin meeting 9am
Tuesday, January 13th:  Winter Minecraft Club begins 4-5pm
Wednesday, January 14th:  K-2 Assembly at 8:45am
Wednesday, January 14th:  Discussing NWEA Winter Testing at PLC's
Thursday, January 15th:  CP Federal Credit Union Day
Thursday, January 15th:  Winter Minecraft Club 4-5pm
Friday, January 16th:  8am Staff Meeting in Mrs. Nash's room
Friday, January 16th:  AM Lockdown Drill

Articles Worth Reading:

Failure @stumpteacher

Pregnant Teachers @HuffPostEDU

Videos Worth Watching:

One More Game (6 min)

What a great take between Jimmy and Nicole (9 min)

Gift Giving that will make you feel good! (6 min)

Friday, January 2, 2015

Extended Family

Today I visited my mom on her final day of work.  She is retiring from the Post Office and preparing for some much deserved rest and relaxation.  As I stood back and took it all in I listened to co-workers, customers and friends.  Her final day was a celebration!  The hugs, well wishes and stories really made for an uplifting environment.

At one point I listened to my mom and a former employee share a memory and then I heard her say, "Your co-workers become your family."

Sometimes stress comes from work, sometimes grief comes from work, sometimes frustration comes from work...these are all natural feelings that we experience.  What I began to think about is the moments.  Think about your year, who has experienced it with you?  I bet in one way or another your work family has.  I think back to the moments that have been shared.  In just the last few years we have endured a lot of highs and lows.  A few that come to the forefront are: weddings, child birth, loss of loved ones, graduations, major awards and the welcoming of new colleagues. 

For the last five years I feel lucky to have forged so many meaningful relationships.  

Life is interesting.  Think about it, such a huge part of every one's life is work.   I grew up in a time when work was very blue collar, you tightened your belt and rolled up your sleeves.  I watched my parents endure good and bad times on the job.  I heard the stories my grandfather shared about the good ol' days.  And all this led to a mindset; that mindset then morphed into wanting a better life for my own kids.  Yet through it all, one thing remains...the people.  They are in the ones that are in the trenches with you.  

As I sat back and watched my mom take in her final day, it was a good reminder that it is always about relationships.  I felt that 2014 was a phenomenal year for me, for Warner and for my family. There were celebrations, honors and opportunities, but through all of it, experiencing it with my extended family is what I will cherish.

Now we kick off a new beginning, 2015 is here.  In some ways I can't believe it is truly 2015.  I mean as a kid I loved watching Back to the Future with Michael J. Fox and when they went to the year 2015 I was in complete awe!

My goal for 2015 is to strengthen relationships.  I want to continue to walk-along-side my extended family at Warner.  I want to build lasting friendships with my #PLN and I want to cherish the adventures with my own family.  

When it came time to leave the retirement open-house I hesitated.  I thought about the legacy, the end of an era and I also thought about the connections.  Our relationships are who we are.  We don't always have to agree, we don't always have to be best friends, but in the end it is about enduring, caring and togetherness.

As I look ahead I see lots of new beginnings, a few endings and endless opportunities.  I'm grateful that I have such a great team to live it with each and every day.  Here's to a wonderful year!


Sunday, January 4th:  Happy BDay to Candy Brugger
Monday, January 5th:  Welcome Back!
Monday, January 5th:  Reminder to all String Team students, no practices in January
Wednesday, January 7th:  Grades 3-5 morning assembly
Wednesday, January 7th:  Early Release 2:35pm
Thursday, January 8th:  CP Federal Credit Union PM
Friday, January 9th:  Meeting at MDE (9am-3pm)

New & Notes -
*  Keep in mind the 4th & 5th grade Spelling Bee is scheduled for Monday, January 12th

Articles Worth Reading:

One bad tweet can be costly to a student-athlete

Arne Duncan's EDU predictions for 2015 @arneduncan

Arne Duncan asks, "What If?" Here are the responses... @ValerieStrauss

Most Memorable Blog Posts of 2014 @ReadByExample

In My Ear, In The Moment @JimDetwiler1

Playing in the Paper @laughwithchad

Why Schools Should Pay More Attention to Students' Grit  @HuffingtonPost

One Hope @ScottRRocco

15 Ways To Live a Year With No Regrets @marcandangel

Videos Worth Watching:

Owen and Haatchi...phenomenal! (12 min)

Year in Review 2014 (3 min)

Staredown between Fallon and Downey Jr. (3 min)

Touching Gift...great reaction! (1 min)

Bet My Life by Imagine Dragons (3 min)