Andy Takes Action: A Text, Tool, and Thought


Andy Takes Action


This entry is introducing a new type of post that will be featured the first week of each month on the blog.  There are so many amazing books out there, and we continually find ourselves wanting to know new titles and how to use them, so that is exactly what this monthly post will do–introduce a new text, provide ideas/tools for how to use it, and capture a few thoughts on the importance of the message to our students.  And our first one is a real gem!  I know it’s the last week of August, but it’s too good to hold back.  So, what does that mean for you?  You get a “Text, Tool, Thought” post next week, too!


Andy Takes Action is a book I happened upon in a small art museum gift shop in Philadelphia.  The author, Valerie Lang, attends Moore College of Art and Design with an emphasis in illustration, and also works in the gift shop!  When I saw this book, I knew it was perfect for launching the school year.  I snagged it, she signed it, and I have dearly embraced this book ever since!

In the book, Andy aspires to be an action hero despite being mocked by his peers for having such an audacious dream.  As events play out at school where action is needed, Andy learns, with the help of his teacher, that Andy has what it takes to make his dream come true. More importantly, his peers do too.


Craft Moves:  

  • repetition
  • quotations/dialogue
  • word style and formatting–color, size
  • balancing action, dialogue, and thoughts in a text
  • symbolism–cape, helmet

Theme/Central Message: 

  • community
  • activism
  • individuality

word formatting demo notebook tool

A tool I created in my demonstration notebook outlines how word formatting impacts a text.  So many times we ask students to thread a theme or message throughout the text, or try out repetition and they struggle to do so.  Once students have written a draft, have them review it.  What words are repeated?  Why?  Do they have meaning?  Are they connected to your theme?  Could we make them look differently?

Additionally, your aesthetic learners who might resist writing, would love to start out in an artistic way.  What words are coming to you write now that are driving your piece?  Write them out in an artistic way.  What impact are you wanting them to have on your reader?  Start with a single word–I like to call it a piece’s “essence word,” and let the writing grow from there.

I also used this book with a primary teacher to help set a tone of unity while building community at the start of the year.  We had the students think about their natural strengths, and how those could be used to empower and help others throughout year.  They made capes stating how they were going to be action heroes, and then we used those words to help us draft our class mission statement.  We have coined the term ‘hero’ into our class name, and continually think about what positive action looks like in different situations throughout our day.  It has definitely established a proactive, rather than reactive, stance to our thinking, words, and actions.  It’s been wonderful to watch students help each other out, and then exclaim, “I was just an action hero!”  Yes, yes, you were.  Keep being just that.


Taking action in our world today has never been more important.  We see the news, we know the issues, and we know action needs to be taken to right them.  But too often it feels too big or our lives are too busy, and so we show compassion and empathy, and move on.

 That’s awful, but what can I do?  When would I even find the time to do it?  It seems so big.  What does the first step even look like?

Yes, these are all valid thoughts and reasons.  However, what we must remember is that systems, whether broken or functioning, were created by individuals with a vision.  The only way the broken systems are going to be taken down or remedied is in the same way.  It starts with us.  And at the even more cellular level, it starts with us being a model of action for the generation looking up to us-our students, and our very own kids.  We are in an age where being a compassionate, empathetic onlooker is not enough.  And Andy is just the character to show us that our actions being big or small is not what matters, it’s that action was taken and you were brave enough to do it.

When Kids Don’t Care about our Rules



just the students I'd hoped for

In Pernille Ripp’s latest blog post, Welcome Them All, she displays this sign created for her classroom.  It gave me pause.  We are days into school and only on the surface of learning the many layers underneath each student.  Their stories are just beginning to unfold.  Their identities remain largely unknown to us at this time, yet many of us have already begun to project identities onto them.  We are days in, and the labeling of students has begun.  And that’s where I pause because I wonder, have we even given them a chance?

Don’t get me wrong, labels, in and of themselves, are not bad.  They are how we make sense of our world.  But too often in education the labels we place on students come from a deficit mindset–their incapabilities, their rule-breaking.

In turn, these students become incapable rule-breakers in our minds.

Not a glamorous identity.


In Kylene Beers new book, Disruptive Thinking, she asks the reader to reflect:

Think of something you don’t do well. (golf).  Think about how it makes you feel when you try it. (hopeful and anxious).  Think about how it makes you feel when you try it repeatedly, and don’t make the progress expected. (frustrated, passive, defeated).

Now imagine doing that thing 7 hours a day for 190 days in front of your peers.  That’s what we ask our struggling readers and writers to do every day.


And guess what?

It’s also what we ask our struggling behavior students to do every day.

We ask them to conform and follow rules and fit in boxes that their bodies and minds were not made for.  Innocently enough our first actions are focused on fixing the behavior, but this often turns to a mentality of needing to fix the child.  In doing this, we frame an identity for this kid that suggests they are broken in some way.  Imagine having to work in that kind of space–where you are seen as broken and in need of fixing?  It doesn’t exactly build a foundation for community or an environment for success, huh?

Furthermore, many times our solution to the behavior comes in the form of isolation–a safe seat, a buddy room, the recovery room.  Again, none of these are bad, and that’s not the intended message. Safety is number one, and each of these have a place in keeping students safe. What I simply want to encourage is thoughtfulness when deferring to isolation as the solution, and here’s why:  we have two types of students in our classroom–rules kids and relationship kids.

Rule kids are just that, they respond to rules.  They have been taught to trust adults because adults want what is best for them, and they are surrounded by adults that live this message.  “Rule kids” thrive on the structure and organization that rules establish.  They’ve learned the system and the system works for them, so they don’t question it.

Relationship kids are the exact opposite–they do not care about the rules.  If they did, they would follow them.  Likely, rules have not played a large part in their existence and in their eyes, they are doing just fine. I’m here, right? Additionally, these students have to trust the adult imparting them, and this trust is not something that comes as naturally as it does for the “rules kids”.  Typically, “relationship kids” are not surrounded by trusting adults, so it has to be earned.  Continuing to remind them of and punish them for rules they don’t care about only creates madness and frustration for both parties.  Your relationship kids respond to humans–they need the connection, they need the trust.  When we send them away, so does our opportunity to create that connection so desperately need to succeed.  We have to keep them close.

It’s also worth stating that the rules kids still need relationships and vice versa. The two are not mutually exclusive.  It’s just understanding that the thought process differs for each kind of kid when walking into a new experience or situation.  One thinks, “What are the rules here? I need to follow them, and then I’ll get to know the people around me.”  While the other kid thinks, “Who are the people here?  Who can I trust, and what do they want from me? Those are the ones I’ll respond to.”


In the case of identities, we talk endlessly about shaping students’ to see themselves as readers and writers.  What we don’t talk about is how we shape them to see themselves as successful, capable humans, even if the grade card suggests otherwiseDoing this gets buried under the demands of teaching content, yet the implications of doing so are far more lasting because when we do this we honor individuality. Students live under the fallacy that the successful people of the world are those that sat quietly and got good grades in school.  We cannot continue to perpetuate this idea.

Each year teachers think about and  fill their toolbox with many tools related to classroom management and curriculum and instruction.  We are missing a key component.  What tools do we have in place to connect individually with our students?  To let them speak their identity to us, rather than us projecting ours onto them.  What tools do we have for listening, for showing empathy, for focusing on their strengths, not weaknesses?  We’ve got students hanging on by a thread, and we can be the connection that builds that single thread into a rope, pulling them back in and giving them hope through a life-changing relationship.  We must use the power we possess to do just that.




Crashing Through Comfort Zones: Finale


new beginning

I’ve become painfully aware of the past week how demanding daily blogging can be.  As I sit at home today with a sick son, I’m finishing up my blog series.  Indeed, a few days late. Thank you for being patient.  As the members of the district I work in attend convocation this morning, I’m gathering some rousing words of my own to energize me for the year.


This week we embark on “Back to School” week and become inundated with apples, pencils, excessive wine consumption memes, and lethargic children, we need quiet.  Quiet to recharge, quiet to reflect, quiet to create a vision that focuses us in the madness.

This weekend I had the opportunity to have Saturday morning coffee (or bloody marys…) with two of the fiercest women I know.  They are not complacent, and because they are not complacent they see deeper, think stronger, envision greater.  Which also means they challenge uncomfortably and meaningfully.  I’m privileged to get to sit in this intellectual space. So as the new school year dawns, and I think about space and place, I’m making a conscious effort to fine new ones.  To seek out opportunities never before capitalized upon, growing my boundaries both literally and figuratively.   Part of my reimagine mission, includes reimagining myself.  We are built by our unique experiences.  I’m spending this year seeking them out.  I’m not waiting for them to come to me.

I’ve already got three lined up:

All events are free and welcome the entire community.  I’d encourage you to join me if any pique your interest.

I’ve also made the decision to give up television this fall.  For me this space and place breeds passivity in my life.  Complacency lurks here.  I have four 300+ page books I want to read.  I thought I’d get them read over the summer, but that didn’t happen so I’m saying goodbye to the screen.  These books are focused around community, activism, and truth. The television will never offer me that.  Even in a place as comfortable as my home, I reimagining what it looks like–what potential can exist here?

Whether you crash through your comfort zone blindly as I did with summer school, or stick one toe out in the vast waters of the ocean, I encourage each of you to truly reimagine what this year could be for you personally or professionally.  What’s that itch you’ve always had?  What’s keeping it from happening?  Who could help me scratch that itch and bring it to life?  Think beyond your comfortable circle.  Find new people, make connections, dare to think differently, and in doing so you’ll expand your tribe.  You’ll create one that raises the bar for possibilities, and stomps over every roadblock along the way, because we are doing the damn thing.  Whatever the thing is, we. are. doing. it.

The human existence was not made for boxes and boundaries.  If you do nothing else, be keenly aware of where these exist, and who’s putting them there.  Am I putting myself in this box or someone else or a system?  Does it have to be this way?  What does it look like to break down this box, enlarge this boundary?  Does it need to be here at all?

What does effective action look like?  And then take it!

Because in the words of  Denis Waitley, “The real risk is doing nothing.”


new adventures



Crashing through Comfort Zones: Trusting in the Unknown and Rallying Relationships


Yesterday got me.  A husband out of town.  A week full of back-to-school presentations. Two kids resisting the alarm clock daily and coming home exhausted each evening.  I had very few thoughts yesterday, and even fewer words prepared to articulate them.  So, today you get a double dose which actually works out perfectly because these two topics are so closely related.

Trusting in the unknown is cliche, I know.  We see it all over the digital landscape through memes and inspirational Pinterest boards.  This is not the “trusting in the unknown” that I’m referencing.  Not really, anyway.    Trusting in the unknown often refers to situations; going to try something new that you’ve never done before.   What I’m referring to is self.  Trusting in yourself to not know, and being vulnerable enough to admit it to others.

Margaret Wheatley says it best in her remarkably honest text, Turning To One Another:

“We have to be willing to let go of our certainty and expect ourselves to be confused for a time.  We weren’t trained to admit we don’t know.  Most of us were taught to sound certain and confident, to state our opinion as if it were true.  We haven’t been rewarded for being confused. Or for asking more questions rather than giving quick answers.  But the world now is quite perplexing.  We live in a complex world, we often don’t know what’s going on, and we won’t be able to understand its complexity unless we spend more time in not knowing.”

In a time where I find myself feeling like I need to be everyone’s everything, it was an incredibly revealing experience to say to others, “I don’t know.  I need you.  I need you to be my something this time–my guidance, my mentor, my answer to this question, my eyes that haven’t looked this direction before.”  I had to get comfortable saying, “I know I’m supposed to be leading you, but to do that well I need you to lead me. I need you.”  In doing so, two-way dialogue reached new depths and my listening skills sharpened.  More importantly, unlikely relationships formed.  Everyone has a skill set, assets, they feel strongly about.  Many times we are too busy to notice them.  When you stop someone and tell them you are in need of what they can offer, a seed sprouts.  An incredibly profound seed.

Often times as leaders we feel we have to have all the answers.  People look to us for that, and expect it.  What also has to be recognized is that no one person has all the solutions, nor is there a single one to to varying situations we face.  They are complex, layered, and confusing.  They are not simply resolved.  We are always going to be faced with limited time.  But we don’t have to always present ourselves as satisfied to quick, easy answers that don’t truly satisfy us.  Doing so perpetuates passiveness and honors nothing beyond the surface.

I went in to my summer school role as a blank canvas, allowing myself to be newly fashioned.  I let people see beyond my exterior.  What I would become was unknown. Each day,  I was built up and created in new ways.  New strokes were added, and bold colors scattered. Those who held the paintbrushes have forever left their mark.

Thank you.



Crashing Through Comfort Zones: Community Connections


I recently finished the book, Exit West by Mohsin Hamid.  A beautiful and harrowing story of migration, Hamid addresses the delicate fragility of the unknown through the delicate placement of his words.  These particular ones caused me pause.

“…and she had known the names of almost everyone on her street, and most had been there a long time, they were old California, from families that were California families, but over the years they had changed more and more rapidly, and now she knew none of them, and now all these doors from who knows where were opening, and all sorts of strange people were around, people who looked more at home than she was, even the homeless ones who spoke no English, more at home maybe because they were younger, and when she went out it seemed to her that she too had migrated, that everyone migrates, even if we stay in the same houses our whole lives, because we can’t help it.

We are all migrants through time.”

As a summer school principal, I was a migrant.  I traveled from a place where I knew the streets and people well, to an alien land where I became the intruder. A transplant.  Just as an organ works to connect to the new body it’s been placed, I too, sought to connect to a main artery in this community.

This foreign land was mere miles from my daily “home,” yet I might as well have been thousands of miles away.  To this end, we keep our sense of community too small. It centers around my school, my neighborhood, my church, my family.  Communities are much wider than this, but we keep them narrow. Narrow is safe and means I don’t have to extend myself as much.  I position myself in a place where I feel comfortable my needs will be met.  What about others’ needs?  Communities aren’t supposed to be self-serving. Communities are about connecting and building a foundation of belonging. It moves beyond focus on self to focus on others, upholding a more universal ideal.

So, this year I’m looking for the migrants.  The misfits, the rebels, the outsiders.

Those who feel lost amidst an educational landscape that’s become unrecognizable.

Those navigating the construct of a system to work for their kids.

Those joining new teams.

Those teaching new grades.

The frustrated and defeated.

The beaten and bloody.

Young and old alike.

I’m looking for the migrants.

I’m saying, “Let’s connect.  You are not alone.”







Crashing Through Comfort Zones: Power of Presence



For 23 days, presence was not just asked of me;  it was demanded.  Not demanded by the people around me, but demanded by the situation itself and its newness in my world.  The option to “check out ” simply wasn’t one.  And it was a gift.  An exhausting and exhilarating gift.

For those familiar with Strengths Finder, two of my top five strengths are learner and WOO (winning others over).  Those who know me well are not surprised by this.  I want to know everything, and why it works, and even after that I’ll probably still have some questions,  and I want others to like me.  Summer school left them split.  I had everything to learn, and with all the learning there was little left for WOOing.  Having to leave WOO behind was liberating.  All my energy had to be focused on listening and hearing and remembering and applying and problem-solving and negotiating and…

My physical presence, that typically displays a charismatic smile to warm others up to me, was overshadowed by the mental presence required of me to think through all the situations and tasks from the lens of student, teacher, families, custodian, cafeteria manager, transportation, administrative assistants, etc.  I left so many people off emails that should have been on them, I’m sure I drove them mad.  Typically my work evolves around teacher, student, or building.  Sometimes all three, but rarely.  But this summer, my work encompassed so much more, and so many more.  And as I was stretched to new levels of thinking and connecting, I realized how complacent I had become.

Complacency is a lurker.  A silent, profound stalker with a constant presence. But we welcome it into lives everyday like it’s the opposite.  Like it’s a long lost friend we’ve been waiting to see.  Because complacency is also sly, sneaking in at our most unsuspecting moments.

“Mommy play with me.”  // “Give me five minutes.”  (which turns to 20 or never, and we let it be. Life’s busy.”)

“Honey, date night soon?” // (vaguely) “Sounds good,” while scrolling through FB, answering an email, or adding art to our latest snap.  You fight later about never getting a date night.

I’m going to run 4 miles today.  Yes, I can run 4. // After a mile, three sounds good.  It’s just me out here.  At least I’m doing something, right?  Yeah, I’ll do three today.  Four will be my goal next week.

And so the script continues.  We become comfortable with our routines, and in turn, complacent.

As I prepare to enter my 6th year as an instructional coach, my job and the people that surround me will largely stay the same.  I feel complacency lurking.  I feel a level of knowing, of comfort, that could easily allow me to let this year pass as others have.  And everything would be fine.  But I’m not striving for fine. So, I’m forcefully shoving it away by asking myself,

“How can I keep my job fresh and new and real? What do I still want to know about those I work with?  What about my job can I re-imagine?

I want to feel as alive as I did this summer, where the newness and unknown required a level of presence I rarely give.  I’m going to sit in those disturbing places that don’t have quick answers, and really navigate the terrain.  I’m going to reach out to others to help me.  To those I don’t know as well.  I’m not going to say, “It is what it is” or “This too shall pass.”

I’m stepping in.

I’m disrupting.

I’m engaging.

Let’s leave a mark.  

Blog Series: Crashing Through Comfort Zones



Since my last post, I’ve been asked so many questions about my summer school experience.  In the coming week, I am going to challenge myself to blog daily and answer those questions through all that I learned in those 23 days.  As a payoff for making it through the last one, they will be short and sweet.  Along the way, I hope you’ll find some inspiration on crashing through your own comfort zone in the coming year.

Monday: Power of Presence

Tuesday: Community Connections

Wednesday: Trusting in the Unknown

Thursday:  Rallying Relationships

Friday:  Appreciating Place and Space

Saturday: Just Do It

Let’s go!