how to tell people noOn my way home from the TpT conference last Saturday, I overheard a random conversation between a JetBlue flight attendant and a passenger. It’s now the topic of a blog post here, so I suppose that’s a lesson to all of us that even our most off-handed words can have a tremendous impact and reach.

We were taxiing away from the gate when a passenger asked her if he could get something from a bag he stowed overhead. I expected to hear her say, “No, sorry, we’re taxiing, you can’t get up now.” That’s what I would have told him.

Instead she said this: “The seatbelt sign is on so I can’t say yes.”

It took a moment for me to register the brilliance of that phrase: ___ so I can’t say yes. Instantly, the listener knew she was empathetic, wanted to give him what he asked for, and had a legitimate reason for not being able to acquiesce. She said no clearly and succinctly without ever saying no.

Imagine all the possible in-school uses for ___ so I can’t say yes and I can’t say yes because ___:

  • If you go get a drink right now, you’ll miss the instructions, so I can’t say yes.
  • It’s fun to stand up on the swings, but I can’t say yes because it’s not safe for you.
  • I wish I could make those photocopies for you, but I have a meeting after school, so I can’t say yes.
  • I’d love to have an impromptu conference, but I can’t say yes because I have another parent scheduled.

If you are person who struggles with telling other people no and creating boundaries around your time, these phrases can be a real life changer! Try them out and let me know how it goes.

April bright ideas link up

For more bright ideas from other bloggers, please browse through the link-up below and choose a topic that interests you. What makes this link-up unique is that none of these posts have products or printables of any kind, just practical classroom solutions. The grade levels for each are listed in the post titles. Enjoy!


I have never had the option of having a single, tight-knit group of friends.

When I was growing up, my dad was in the army. We moved every 3 years, and so did all my classmates. That sounds kind of traumatic, but it was the only life I knew and I enjoyed the adventure of it all. I figured out how to be very independent and self-reliant, especially since I was an only child, and by necessity I developed the skills to make friends with different kinds of people from all types of backgrounds.

I learned that new people will always be entering your life, and it’s wise to welcome them rather than cling to your existing group of friends. The kids I saw who insisted on forming small cliques slowly ended up alone and friendless as our parents got stationed in other places. The lesson was obvious: If you only want to be friends with the new people when your old friends aren’t around, you’re probably going to end up lonely.

It’s only now that I am in my mid-thirties that I finally feel like I have found “my people.” I have my girls (and a handful of guys) that I can completely be myself with, and that I feel understand me on almost every level. There’s only one problem: they’re spread all over the globe. Okay, two problems: most of them don’t even know each other yet. It’s a true testament to the power of social media that we’ve even connected at all, and I’m constantly searching for ways to bring us together.

Education conferences are the obvious place to meet up, and my friends are one of the main reasons why I go. But conferences can be a strange experience because there are so many people from so many circles suddenly altogether. I hear a lot of people say that mingling at conferences makes them feel like a little fish in a big pond. They don’t realize that many of the “big fish” feel just as out of place: they’re used to being in an even larger pond and don’t identify as anyone of particular importance. Being recognized is a very surreal experience because 99.9% of educators have no measure of fame in their everyday lives.

separate ponds of educators

Navigating all the different ponds of educators is tricky, both online and in person. I was very overwhelmed at most of the TeachersPayTeachers events this past weekend because I have spent years collaborating in Facebook groups with a lot of the attendees. I felt like I should recognize all 800 educators in the room but I didn’t, so I tried to smile at everyone and some people were looking at me like who is is this crazy lady, am I suppose to know her? And by smiling I created the same fear in them–that they should recognize me and they didn’t–so then THEY felt anxious and we were both staring trying to figure out whether to introduce ourselves. But then when I didn’t smile at strangers, I worried they might feel snubbed…and sometimes they would introduce themselves and it would turn out they’re one of my favorite people in the whole universe but I didn’t make the connection between the 3/4 inch Facebook profile photo they use and the person standing before me and I felt terrible.

So yeah, I’m a little awkward at conferences and it gets pretty draining.

The whole experience made me reflect a lot on the various “ponds” in education. There are people with tens of thousands of followers on Twitter who can’t walk three feet at an ed tech conference like ISTE without getting stopped for pictures and conversations. Those same people would have been completely invisible at the SDE and TPT conferences the following week in Las Vegas. And similarly, there were “big fish” getting mobbed by fans at TPT who probably wouldn’t have known a soul at ISTE.

So my question is, why do we have separate ponds? Everyone needs to find “their people” that they can connect with deeply and without pretense. But if we’re all working toward the same goal—to make school a better place for kids and teachers—why isn’t there more overlap in the groups?

The size of our ponds is constantly shifting. So are the people within them, with new arrivals every single day.  And I think we are ALL big fish in our own separate ponds, whatever size those may be. Our pond may be just a group of 3 teachers within our own school, or through our online presence, it might stretch across the globe. But it’s still our pond, and it’s always little compared to how many educators we could potentially connect and collaborate with. So I think we need to continually ask ourselves:

Are we welcoming new fish and helping them find their school?

Have we supported the more established fish as they explore bigger waters?

Are we recognizing the fluidity of our environment and adapting to the changes within it?

Have we acknowledged our own need for growth without neglecting the pond where we started?

Are we interested in meeting fish from other ponds or too scared to leave the safety of what we know?

I am all too aware that I haven’t tackled these issues perfectly myself. There were people at both ISTE and TPT that I did not recognize, forgot to introduce myself to, or didn’t spend as much time with as I would have liked. And it was jarring for me to continually swim into other ponds. In some of them, I was a big fish (I believe the word “legend’ was tossed out on more than one occasion and I’m still wide-eyed at the thought of that.) In other ponds I ventured into, I was just a minnow and not one person in the group had ever connected with me online or even heard my name. Those two experiences often happened in the same room within minutes of each other.

Those experiences are empowering and humbling at the same time. They’re a reminder that I am impacting teachers’ lives and making a real difference on a large scale, but I’m far from the only one in that position. I have much to learn from others, and I need to be doing a lot more collaboration so that we can transform education on a larger scale. I need to also be helping others grow and move into their full potential.

Each one of us will always encounter both smaller AND larger fish than ourselves. Always. At the TPT conference, Deanna Jump advised those who are feeling like a little fish to “just keep swimming.” At the ISTE conference, Elvira Deyamport reflected on the importance of “finding your school of fish.”

I think both of those pieces of advice are terrific. I would add that as we keep swimming and seeking out our school, we need to rise to the challenge of welcoming new fish into our ponds and learn from those we haven’t yet met, both “bigger” and “littler” than us. We need to continue venturing into other ponds and making connections so that every fish can feel welcome wherever they go. And, if you’ll let me stretch the pond analogy here a little bit, one day I hope we can merge all these small bodies of water to create a great and powerful ocean of educators who are passionate about making school a place where kids fall in love with learning.


The power of social media to connect: #tptvegas14

July 14, 2014

Every time I go to a conference, I say that the best part was connecting with the people I admire, learn from, and care about. I think that was ten times as true for the first TeachersPayTeachers conference held last Friday in Las Vegas. These are the ladies (and a few gents) that I connect with […]

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5 ways to support kids who struggle with student-directed learning

July 10, 2014
strategies for helping kids be successful with project based learning and student direct learning

I mentioned in my ten takeaways from #ISTE2014 post that I wanted to write a bit more about some of the problems teachers are encountering with project-based and student-directed learning. Even though we believe deeply in helping kids uncover their passions, ask and pursue answering their own questions, and take ownership over their learning, the […]

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Follett Classroom Connections: a new set of eBook tools

July 7, 2014
Follett Classroom Connections eBooks

I’m proud to have Follett Learning as a sponsor and supporter of this blog (you might recall my posts on the annual Follett Challenge which awards $200K in tech resources to schools), and today I’m going to share with you their newest add-on service to the free Follett Shelf platform. It’s called Classroom Connections, and it’s a set of instructional tools […]

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My 10 big take-aways from #iste2014

July 2, 2014
#ISTE2014 Atlanta

I’ve always thought the term “re-entry” to our regular lives after an ISTE conference was a bit dramatic, but it really does feel that way this year. 16,000 educators in one building is…intense. Now that I’m back from Atlanta and scrolling through my notes, I’m going to try to condense everything down to 10 main take-aways. These are not necessarily the most […]

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Sortify: a free open-ended game for all grade levels

June 25, 2014
GameUp by BrainPOP

I don’t often talk about my work as the Educational Content Creator for BrainPOP because a lot of what I do is behind the scenes stuff that probably isn’t that blog-worthy. But I absolutely have to share with you this really cool game that I’ve been working on with the GameUp team for months because I think […]

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A bright idea for simplifying differentiation with smart student grouping

June 21, 2014
group work

Do your students hate group work? If so, they’re not alone. Personality conflicts and a wide range of abilities within the group often create results like this: Here’s a strategy to make it easier for you to form effective groups for a project or activity and differentiate the work that students do within their groups: 1) Pre-assess students […]

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“It must be nice to be paid not to work in the summer!”

June 16, 2014
why teachers don

If you had a dollar for every time you’ve heard that, right? It’s amazing how many people are unaware that most teachers spend their summers working a second job, teaching summer school, attending professional development, and/or doing curriculum mapping. And nearly all of us spend at least part of our summers working more unpaid hours preparing for the fall […]

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The Million Page Challenge: how one high school got kids reading for fun

June 12, 2014
John Lodle picture

Remember the Follett Challenge I featured here back in January? John Lodle is chair of the English department at the winning school, Belleville West High School in Illinois, where he has taught for the past 20 years. In today’s post, he’s kindly taken time to share the initiative that earned them the grand prize. The faculty at Belleville worked together […]

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Always a teacher: a reflection (& confession) on 5 years out of the classroom

June 9, 2014
always a teacher

I can’t believe it’s been 5 years since I wrote this post about the (hilarious?) adventures of my very first job interview in Manhattan as an instructional coach. I also can’t believe that next June will hold my 20th high school reunion. Time flies and all that. I want to make a confession here. With each passing year, […]

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5 signs your classroom is overdecorated & how to fix it

June 5, 2014
highly decorated classrooms study

You’ve probably read some version of the study that has gone absolutely viral on social media in the last few days: Heavily Decorated Classrooms Disrupt Attention and Learning In Young Children. But have you seen the classroom used for the study? The bottom image shows the researchers’ idea of “highly decorated,” which looks like a pretty typical […]

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Join the Awakened Summer Book Club & get re-inspired to teach!

June 2, 2014
Awakened online book club and Bible study

Last summer, over 600 teachers participated in the online book clubs for Awakened: Change Your Mindset to Transform Your Teaching and The Awakened Devotional Study Guide for Christian Teachers, and I’m excited to run the study again this July! I want to warn you–the format of the book club is pretty laid back, but the […]

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Secrets of teachers who love their jobs: stay in awe of the learning process

May 28, 2014
secrets of teachers who love their jobs: stay in awe of the learning process

Staying motivated at the end of the school year can be tough. I hope this latest post from the teachers who love their jobs series will provide some inspiration! Fifth grade teacher Angela Kiser joins us today to share her tips for enjoying teaching. Thank you, Angela, for taking the time to impart such beautiful, wise words. 1. Tell us about […]

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Entrepreneur on Fire: my journey from classroom teaching to educational consulting

May 23, 2014
Entrepreneur on Fire podcast: Angela Watson shares her journey

I listen to a lot of podcasts while I’m working around the house and exercising, and Entrepreneur on Fire is my go-to when I need a bit of motivation for writing. It’s a daily free podcast which was voted best in iTunes in 2013. Listening to John Lee Dumas interview inspiring people like Seth Godin and […]

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10 authentic ways to hold students accountable for home reading

May 20, 2014
alternatives to reading logs: authentic ways to manage students

Let’s face it: reading logs are boring, and most kids hate writing down the titles and authors of books they’ve read in order to “prove” they’ve done their required 20 minutes of reading time at home. Here are some more authentic ways to hold students accountable for their reading time and foster a love of books. Please […]

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Bright ideas for connecting with kids during the last week of school

May 17, 2014
6 ways to connect with kids during the last week of school

The final days of the school year can feel like a whirlwind, and there have been many years in which I felt like I didn’t take enough time to enjoy my students and give our time together the recognition and closure it deserved. Here are six ideas for grades K-5 to help you connect with […]

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Passionate learners: giving our classrooms back to our students

May 14, 2014
Passionate Learners by Pernille Ripp

I knew even before I read it that Passionate Learners: Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students was going to become one of my favorite education resources and something I would recommend to every teacher I know. That’s because I’ve been following Pernille Ripp’s incredible blog for many years. She consistently cranks out thoughtful reflections on […]

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3 (free!) ways to share bookmarks with students using Wibki

May 12, 2014
Wibki home page bookmarked favorites learning games

I’m always on the lookout for great free tech tools for teachers, so I was excited when Wibki reached out to me about reviewing their site. Wibki is a completely free tool for saving and sharing your favorite websites, and it’s especially nice for teachers because it’s an easy and highly visual way to bookmark […]

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10 smart ways to end the school day

May 8, 2014
10 smart ways to end the school day

I was recently a guest on the Teacher Aid program of BAM! Radio talking about the dismissal strategies I shared on the Tips and Tricks for Arrival and Dismissal Routines page. I was joined by Jen Carey, Melanie Taylor and Kristen Vincent, who had some wonderful tips for making the dismissal process go more smoothly. Click here to listen to […]

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