readreflectreapeatWhat if we all read #SixtyBooks a year?

Every single one of us.

Students. Teachers. Parents.

What if we carved out time in each day and set it aside for reading? What if we read a few pages whenever we got the chance? What if we read books recommended to us by others in order to expand the story we know about the world? What if we read a variety of authors, books from every country, books representing many experiences and perspectives?

What if we spent more time talking with one another about what we’ve read, and what we’ve learned from what we’ve read?

What if?

Imagine a world in which every one of us reads #SixtyBooks a year.

They can be books we want to read for fun or books we read for information, required reading, suggested reading, shared reading, books read to us, books we read to other people, books we’ve read once (or many times) before, any book at all.

Now, imagine the conversations we would have with one another.

Imagine the topics we might discuss.

Imagine the levels of understanding and empathy we would reach.

This is what #SixtyBooks is all about.


#SixtyBooks is more than a reading challenge or a reading goal, because it is actually the result of what happens when we make reading a priority.

It’s not about the number of books that we read; it’s about what we learn and share because of the books we read.

It’s about who we become as a result of what we learn and share.

#SixtyBooks is a reading movement.

It’s a simple pledge that we can all make by stating:

“I will make reading a regular part of my daily routine.”

Please visit the #SixtyBooks website to find out more, take the pledge, and join this reading movement.

~What did YOU do in school today?


A thought for Thursday…


~What did YOU do in school today?


What if everyone had a mentor?mentor

  • Every student?
  • Every teacher?
  • Every administrator?
  • Every parent?

Throughout my career, I’ve been fortunate to have had number of amazing mentors (and have also had the opportunity to mentor others). Some of these mentorships have lasted over the years, while others were for shorter periods of time. Some of these mentorships have been arranged formally, while others have occurred naturally and evolved either because of or into friendships.

In contrast, there have also been times throughout my career when I have found myself without a mentor or working on/toward something my mentors couldn’t help me with. During these times, I recognized that I needed to find someone else who understood what I was going through and wanted to accomplish well enough to offer advice or make suggestions. I’ve found it difficult, at times, to find an appropriate mentor on my own. I equate the experience to the notion of “not knowing what we don’t know,” because we also “don’t know who we don’t know.”

Many of the most successful people say that one of the keys to success is having a mentor. This is great advice, but sometimes difficult to accomplish in real life.

Understanding how important mentorship is to success and reflecting on my own experiences, I’ve been thinking a lot about how we can make it less difficult, especially for our students, ways that we, in each and every school community, can work to make sure that no one is ever without a mentor.

What if the mentorship programs for educators went beyond programs for provisional teachers or state requirements?

It might all begin with as simple a shift as just having school leaders and teacher coaches ask educators (teachers and administrators alike) who their current mentor (or mentors) is. If the educator doesn’t have one, then leaders, coaches, and other members of the school community could work together to help match the educator up with a mentor, or even offer to mentor the teacher themselves (if they believed they would be a good fit). yourmentor

Having open discussions about learning goals and the role of mentors would help schools to become true communities of learners. Everyone would be learning from someone. When educators are transparent about our own personal learning goals and the need to have a mentor, we are modeling the process of life-long learning for our students.

What if all students had mentors?

We know from our own experiences that not every student connects with every teacher they have. I wish I could say that every teacher who ever taught me was my mentor, but it simply isn’t true. Some were, some weren’t. Neither is it true that every student in my classes viewed me as their mentor. Some did, some didn’t.

So why couldn’t we, in addition to assigning students to rosters belonging to classroom teachers and counselors, we also allowed students to choose a mentor (or mentors) within the school community based upon their own unique learning needs or current aspirations?

Of course, if students don’t know who to choose on their own (perhaps because they  “don’t know who they don’t know”), then school leaders would support students in finding an appropriate mentor. The mentor could be anyone from within the school system who is willing to listen to the student, advise them, get to know them throughout the years. The mentor could be a member of the faculty, administration, school secretaries, security, custodians, instructional assistants, supervisors, counselors, coaches, and so on.

The mentor could even be a graduate of the school system, a parent, or another member of the community — from area businesses or colleges — who wants to volunteer, and (with some training), will commit to mentoring a student, investing in his or her future.

What if students were the mentors?

youhelp2What if we helped students grow their own PLNs and helped them seek out mentorships throughout their school career? Then, when a student was willing, or another member of the community recognized that they were ready, helped them become a mentor to someone else?

Perhaps the best mentor for a student at a given time might be another student. What if we helped facilitate these types of mentorships in schools, empowering our students to view themselves as someone who is in the position to help others? What if students even mentored teachers?

What if parents also had mentors? 

We talk so much about the importance of the home-school connection, yet many of us are frustrated with effectively making those connections or finding ways to sustain them. What if school organizations set up the opportunity, in addition to parents becoming mentors, for parents to request their own mentor as well?

Rather than focusing all of our home-school communication on the hope that parents will come to large school events (like back to school nights) or sending one-way communication (like emails), we actually differentiated and personalized our home-school communication? We could blend those important school events, and necessary emails sent home with opportunities for parents to work closely with a personal mentor, on their own time, and focus on what is most important to them and for their families.

What if we all spent more time building these relationships, establishing mentorships, talking about and reflecting on our mentorships, and carved out time in the school calendar for all of us to work with our mentors/mentees? Imagine how much more personalized learning would really become.

What if?

~What did YOU do in school today?


A thought for Thursday…

Honoring the memory of the late Steve Mayer.


~What did YOU do in school today?



What if…we all took just a minute or two each day to tell other people, those with whom we learn, or work, or live what it is that we appreciate about them?

Maybe it’s the way they always listenwhatifwealltellotherswhatweappreciateaboutthem when you need to talk to someone.

Maybe it’s the way they come up with new ideas and include you in the process.

Maybe it’s their knack for telling silly jokes and always knowing how to break the tension during awkward moments.

Maybe they lent you a book that had a significant impact on you.

Maybe they just say hi every morning and always take time to ask you how you are. 

What if we wrote down (on actual paper) what we appreciate about them and, as we told them, we also gave them the hand-written note to keep?

What if every administrator did this? Once a day? Once a week? Once a month?

What if we encouraged our students to do this — to think of others and to take the time to let other people know they’re appreciated more often?

What if?

~What did YOU do in school today?


The students in the Peer Leader Organization of one of our high schools are hosting a week-long, school-wide event dedicated to mental health awareness and suicide prevention called Yellow Ribbon Week.2016-04-19-1.jpg

The event is based on the Yellow Ribbon Suicide Prevention Program which strives to reduce the stigma of mental illness, assist students in identifying available resources, and empower students to seek out help when they need it and to help others when they need it.

All week long, we are wearing yellow ribbons to school.

But that’s not all we are doing.

Cooperation and participation from faculty is pivotal to the success of this program and to the important message it sends.

The goal is to raise awareness and continuously foster an environment where students feel safe. Some of the topics we are making an effort to become more aware of are:

  • unhealthy peer relationships
  • bullying
  • depression
  • suddenly deteriorating academic performance
  • difficulty adjusting to gender identity
  • eating disorders

When students arrive to school for the day, one of the first people to greet them is our security guard, Allen. His yellow ribbon is a reminder to students that the school is both a friendly and safe environment.

Conversations about these topics are not always easy, but they are important for our students’ social-emotional learning. It’s critical that students know when they come to school they are in a safe environment where they can talk about anything.

Throughout the halls, there are many reminders of this week-long program.

Students and faculty are asked to answer “What do you live for?” on yellow ribbons that are displayed on the walls.

We wear the yellow ribbons on our shirts.

We’re also wearing a different color each day to address a specific component of Yellow Ribbon Week:

  • Monday – Blue (our school color, to show that we all have something in common)
  • Tuesday – Red (to bring awareness to bullying)
  • Wednesday – Green (to support Attitudes in Reverse, an organization whose mission is to educate about mental health)
  • Thursday – Purple (to support the school’s Gay Straight Alliance and LGBT community)
  • Friday – Yellow (to culminate Yellow Ribbon Week and bring awareness to suicide prevention)

It’s been encouraging to read all the different things that members of our school community have written on their yellow ribbons. It’s inspiring to see the yellow ribbons lining the halls this week, and many members of our school community wearing their yellow ribbons as well as the color of the day.

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Yellow Ribbon Week is helping the school build a stronger sense of community, a community that makes sure that we look out for one another.

2016-04-19-3.jpgThroughout the day, when I look at students’ faces (as well as those of my colleagues), I am reminded — because of this event — that I have no idea what’s going on in their worlds.

Any of us could be happy or hurting on the inside, and the outside might look just the same.

Because we can’t really know what someone else is going through, it’s important to remember that, sometimes, it’s the little things we can do for one another that can make the biggest difference.

This week’s message is a reminder that we shouldn’t wait for others to say hello to us or smile first; we should all try to be the ones who say hello and smile first — that simple smile might turn someone’s day around. When we see someone we know, we should greet them and ask them how they’ve been — asking about others is a great way for us to let them know we care. When we meet someone new, we should introduce ourselves, try to make them feel welcome, and get to know them. Any of those small gestures can help others feel safe, and help those who are in need feel like they can ask for help.

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And most importantly, we shouldn’t be afraid of the bigger, more difficult conversations, because the difficult conversations are often the ones that can and do change lives and save lives.


~What did YOU do in school today?



We had a professional development faculty meeting after school today.565cb82227332b27df342de5b68f42d3.jpg

The format?

It was a modified “unconference.”

Teachers were given the opportunity to choose their own topics for the meeting. Then, with a sense of what everyone wanted to talk about or work on (via face to face conversations or email), the building principal helped teachers locate meeting spaces throughout the building…and away we went!

I spent the hour with a group of teachers discussing data.

Wait, wait!

It’s a lot more interesting than that sounds!

We didn’t just talk about data or even about how collect the data. (There are plenty of those conversations happening already.)

We talked about how to use the data.

We talked about existing data sets as well as how our students can start looking at the information they are constantly discovering on their own, differently.

We talked about visualizing that data and the importance of developing a stronger sense of numeracy. We talked about presenting information with purpose and discussed some tools that our students could use to design information.

Given the “unconference” style of the professional development, there really was no leader. Each of us in the small group contributed to the conversation and a few of us shared some resources. All of us learned something.

One teacher shared how he is using Gapminder — an interactive website for analyzing data about the world’s population — according to indicators such as life expectancy, economy, infrastructure, and more.

Here is founder of Gapminder, Hans Rosling, demonstrating the program during his TED Talk from February of 2006.

Another teacher shared how she is using ArcGIS — an online program for making custom maps and layering data and geographic information over images.

We spent a good deal of time looking through a map we found that compared the current minimum wage to the cost of living across the U.S. (a timely topic) and, just as our students will also do when they use the program, we discussed and analyzed the information we learned, we interpreted it and thought of ways we could apply it. 2016-04-18.jpg

And then I shared a couple of my favorite videos that I’ve been using as I work with teachers in planning lessons — in all subject areas — that incorporate data visualization and information design and give students the opportunity to create their own designs.

This first one is short and sweet and sums up data visualization nicely. It’s a great video for working with both teachers and students. There are often many lightbulbs and “ah-ha” moments about upcoming projects or ways to execute a design after watching this video.

Finally, I shared this video from John Spencer about the LAUNCH cycle. I love using this video (and the LAUNCH cycle vocabulary) for helping students to slow down through the creation process, incorporate more design thinking, and take more pride in their work.

I had a fun time with this group, and I learned a lot. We each have lots of things we want to explore on our own and things we know we will follow up on with each other.

Not bad for a Monday afternoon faculty meeting.*


Looks like a pretty happy group, huh?

~What did YOU do in school today?


*Here are the other teacher-generated topics from today’s “unconference” faculty meeting:

  • LGBT/Dr. Sax Extension
  • H/PE & PARCC
  • Best Practices
  • Classroom Projects Done with Video: (Bring examples if possible) 
  • Progress Indicators for Special Education Students
  • World Language Rubric Workshop
  • Why Students Cheat
  • Annual Input Support


Many (most) mornings during the work week, I start my day with a quick, energetic educational chat called #BFC530BreakFast Club that meets at 5:30am. Clever, right? These educators have helped me grow my Professional Learning Network (PLN) and are a great source of information and inspiration!

Each morning, the topic of discussion is something different, and it’s always suggested by a member of the #BFC530 community.

Right now, I’m looking to gain a better understanding of how teachers view cell phones in the classroom. Once, having phones in the classroom was something that educators were uniformly VERY much against, largely because it was blatantly against school policy and the cell phones did little more than make calls or send text messages. Now that those school policies — and the capabilities of the phones — are changing…well, I’m not exactly sure where we are. (I wrote this post about it a few months ago.) Some teachers allow phones in the class, and some still don’t.

Though I know my own personal preference regarding the use of cell phones in the classroom, I’m certainly not ever one to say that there is a right or wrong answer. I’m really just curious as to why those who allow cell phones do, and those who don’t allow them don’t.

I want to hear more perspectives on this topic.

There will be many times throughout our educational career when we don’t agree with our colleagues or members of our PLN. These differences in opinion are the perfect opportunity to explore the issue with one another, not to form sides of opposition. The more we discuss and debate ideas, the better we will understand them, one another, and ourselves. We will figure it out, together. #BFC530Friday, 1-8-16.jpg

Let’s talk it out on Friday morning. Do you have a BYOD environment? Are cell phones included in your BYOD? Are there certain restrictions involved when including cell phones as BYOD? At what age or grade level are cell phones appropriate? What tasks are they best used for?

~Melissa Morris Inoa

~What did YOU do in school today?



A thought for Thursday…


~What did YOU do in school today?

What did you do in school today? With Mandy Casto

Today, Mandy Casto, an educator in North Carolina responds to our question: “What did you do in school today?”

This series of blog posts includes contributions from educators from all over the world, of all content areas, in all grade levels, and in various teaching assignments so that together, we will have a better understanding of what is happening TODAY IN SCHOOL. For more information about this series or to write your own response to the question, please visit this page.

Today, I watched students collaborate. They embarked on a problem-based task, came up with a list of steps that needed to be accomplished, divided the steps amongst themselves, and then helped each other solve them to come up with an final solution. They were thinking…learning…engaged.

Today, I watched students communicate. I observed them talking, using hand-gestures and facial expressions, white boards and markers, paper and pencil. They worked on problems individually and then communicated their answers with their group. Next, they worked on problems together and then communicated their answers with the whole class.

Today, I watched students create. They built towers out olego.jpgf Legos. They built Marshmallow suspension devices. They built their experiences as designers, architects, engineers, and artists.

Today, I watched students critically think. They encountered various cross-curricular problems and were challenged to think logically, backwards, and “outside of the box.” They had to consider multiple variables and even come up with some of their own to get the job done. They were tired at the end of the day, but it was worth it.

Lastly, I watched my students choose kind. They walk in with big smiles when I greet them at the door and they go home with bigger smiles! During the day, they write affirmations for one another. They hold doors open for each other. They help each other clean up in the classroom and the science lab. There could potentially be a great deal of competition in my classroom but when given the choice between being right and being kind, they choose kind. (Thanks, RJ Palacio!)

My greatest joy is watching my students SUCCEED, just as they did today. How do I know? Because in everything they did, I could see them grow before my very eyes. They took in information, processed it, and then formed their own conclusions. And, above all else, they worked hard to absorb as much information as they could and improve themselves . . . in other words, they maintained a growth mindset in all they did today, just as they did yesterday and will do again tomorrow.

Mandy Casto is a 6th grade teacher at a STEM middle school in North C8FReoLc.jpgCarolina. She graduated from Madonna University in Livonia, Michigan in 2007, and immediately moved to North Carolina to answer her calling in education. She received her Masters in Curriculum, Instruction & Assessment from Walden University in 2010. Mandy, @thatmathlady on Twitter, is passionate about life-long learning, and likes to expand her horizons at edcamps and other educational conferences. When she isn’t in the classroom or engaged in PD, she enjoys running, reading, and traveling with her husband, Brian.