Flipping the Script.

As we’ve navigated through the uncertainty that surrounds the COVID pandemic, I’ve heard repeated more than once the mantra, “Live each day as if it’s my last”. I understand at the heart of that statement is the intent of gratitude, empowerment and positivity, but to me that statement always seems to have a very definitive (and implied not-so-happy) ending to it. As an incurable optimist, I prefer to flip the script on that statement and be guided by the mantra “live each day as if it’s my first“. The first day of school. The first day of a vacation. The first day with a new child. The first day of a new job. Living each day as if it’s the first gives me a sense of unlimited hope and opportunity. And ‘hope’ and ‘Opportunity’ are two words that if we repeat them enough to ourselves, we can have the courage to get through anything.

This mantra has served me surprisingly well during the time of COVID. It seems like there are so many ‘firsts’ just naturally occurring constantly in our lives, both personally and professionally. Creating virtual instructional models for first time, using various remote learning technologies for the first time, creating the best-ever COVID karaoke sessions with family for first time…the list of firsts is a mile long and grows every day. But I’ve found when I see these firsts through the lens of hope and opportunity, it creates an excitement that allows me to not only survive all the change, but thrive in it.

So as I walk through the annual ritual of transitioning from one year to the next, here’s to wishing all of you an amazing 2021 and a year in which you live each day like it’s your first!


There is a great video that’s been around for a few years from TheFunTheory.com that shows how making something ‘fun’ can get people to do something they otherwise wouldn’t want to do.  The video is called Piano Stairs and it’s worth a second look, even if you’ve seen it before.  I’ve used this video over the years during staff professional development, as well as at parent meetings, to start a conversation about the importance of ‘fun’, and how ‘fun’ can/should be incorporated into our schools.

I would guess that when most people traditionally think about incorporating fun into school, it’s in the context of a reading, math, social studies or science lesson.  As in, “Wow, that was a really fun science lesson today!”  But I have challenged myself, and my staff, to think about ‘fun’ in a more targeted manner as we reset our PBIS behavior expectations this month.  In general, I think it’s been harder to consider the idea of ‘fun’ when we are teaching replacement behaviors or behavior expectations to students.  After all, until PBIS hit the scene a few decades ago, schools would predominantly focus on changing behaviors through a deficit-mindset or through punishment-to-change-behavior.

I think it’s easy to forget that to students, letting go of old behaviors and relearning new replacement behaviors is not only uncomfortable and confusing, it’s simply not fun.  During our PBIS reset this past month I’ve spent a significant amount of time listening and learning from our students as to what type of ‘fun’ motivates them.  Previously at our school we’ve provided the relatively common ideas such as extra recess, pajama day, crazy hat day, etc., as motivators, but you can only get so much mileage from that sort of fun.  Sometimes with the more challenging behaviors there needs to be some serious thought – out of the box, unique thought – as to what type of ‘fun’ is needed to encourage the necessary productive struggle that leads children to a change in behavior.

It’s not as easy as it seems to define exactly what is fun for students.  That process can quickly turn into a generation-gap issue.  As much as I love old Atari games, Electronic Football, Electronic Battleship, and other 80’s retro-cool fun, many of the students in our classrooms today want Ozobots or iPADs…which means I have to do my research and learn how to use these items (which isn’t always comfortable for me!).  But I recognize it’s crucial to step outside myself to accurately define what fun looks like for students in 2018.  So I’m always keeping my eyes open for the latest educational tools/tech that I can bring into the school and use creatively with PBIS.  Tools/tech that can be used in large groups, as well as ones that can be used with individual students.

It’s been reassuring to discover that some old-school fun has stood the test of time when it comes to changing behaviors.  For instance, the simplicity of a Nerf basketball hoop.  I had one in my classroom when I began my career as a 1st Grade teacher in 1998, and still have one in my office as a Principal.  I have had hundreds of conversations with students about behavior while shooting hoops in my classroom or office.  As educators, we all know the science behind physical activity and it’s positive relationship to working through thoughts/feelings, but the hoop adds a ‘fun’ component.  “Let’s shoot hoops and you can tell me how your day is going.”  “Let’s shoot hoops and we can talk about what happened in the classroom earlier today.”

Sometimes it’s just that little bit of fun that moves a child into an emotional space to embrace the productive struggle needed to change behavior.

This type of thinking has been a part of me as an educator since the first day I stepped into a classroom many years ago.

This generation of students is expecting us to provide more fun for them in school.  They are expecting that productive struggle and fun will be paired to make their very complicated work a bit easier for them to handle.  And that includes the way in which we teach/reinforce behaviors and behavior expectations.  I’m sure the thought of an educator utilizing a Nerf hoop can be described as a bit unorthodox, and in many ways I recognize that it is.  But given all the conversations and all the behaviors that I’ve seen change because of those items, it’s worth it to find the fun.

I welcome your thoughts and comments!


The Science Behind Happiness

“Unless you consciously take in a good experience, it usually washes through your brain like water through a sieve, leaving little good behind.”  page 27, Hardwiring Happiness, Rick Hanson.

The past several years I’ve found myself increasingly intrigued by the science behind ‘happiness’.  I was a bit surprised to learn that our brains are not wired to retain the happiness that occurs after happy experiences in our lives.  The quote that begins this blog is from an excellent book called Hardwiring Happiness, by Rick Hanson.  Rick Hanson describes how we need to consciously think about the happy things that occur in our lives; otherwise we do not retain much of the happiness from that experience.  So why is it important to retain the happiness from those good moments?  They add up.  For instance, when you feel you’ve had a good day (at work, at home, wherever), it’s usually because you can recount the happy things that happened…and the residual happy feelings of all those moments combined make you feel good.  But unfortunately, unlike the happy experiences we have, the un-happy or negative things that happen to us are imprinted quite quickly and permanently on our brains without much effort.  That realization was a bit unsettling to me.  It means that the negative experiences in our lives are naturally more prominent in our thoughts and subsequently we have to work harder to imprint the happy experiences on our brain.  Basically we have put work into re-wiring our brain in order to retain the happiness from our happy experiences.  Ugh.  (Insert *sigh* here…)

Children are the happiest people I know, which is probably why I’ve spent the entire 20 years of my educational career as a teacher, an Assistant Principal, and a Principal at the elementary school level.  It’s energizing working in an elementary school environment because there is such happiness being displayed constantly throughout the entire day.  And it’s infectious.  One happy moment with a student can change my outlook on an entire day.  It’s quite amazing when I think about it…the potential for happiness that is inherently embedded within hundreds of random moments throughout my school day.  So what I’ve decided to do over the past few years is consciously hold each of those happy moments with students in my head and my heart for a minute or two longer, letting the happy thoughts and feelings linger a bit so it imprints on my brain.  Believe me, the constant barrage of those happy moments throughout my school day start to add it up.  I’ve actually grown in my skill of retaining happiness throughout other parts of my life by simply taking an extra minute to be present as I’m feeling happy during the school day.  It’s the main reason why I walk around my school building with a smile.  My brain is being re-wired for happiness.

So the next time you have a happy moment, try sticking with it for a minute or two longer than you normally would.  Be present while in that happy moment, but also (very literally) think to yourself, “I’m feeling happy right now”.  Do that repeatedly for an entire day as happy moments occur.  As crazy as it sounds, it will actually help to build a happier outlook on life and re-wire your brain for happiness.