We are hearing more and more about creating equitable spaces and classrooms within schools…and it is about time! I am so excited about this work because for a very long time, a large number of our students have felt left out, marginalized, less than, or invisible. I have yet to come across another profession that is as intentional and self-reflective as education. We are CONSTANTLY looking at ourselves and our schools for ways to improve; improve our teaching, our testing, our connection with our students, the way in which we push our students to connect to something bigger than themselves and with each other. Finding space for equity is an incredibly important aspect of focus but can seem overwhelming. Where do we start? How do we know how we are doing already and how far we have to grow? My suggestion is to start with your classroom and your curriculum. This checklist provides hard data on 27 observable teacher behaviors that contribute to culturally responsive teaching and equitable classrooms. This is a good place to start to see where your strengths are and where your growth areas are. CSTP has published a rubric that teachers can use when creating lesson plans to ensure that you are being culturally responsive with your planning and activities for student development. The Mid-Atlantic Equity Consortium has put together a school-wide equity audit rubric that covers curriculum inclusion, teacher behaviors, school-wide policies, and classroom practices.

Some of the changes that need to happen may be small. For instance, my son, who is in third grade, has a reading assignment this quarter that requires that he read three biographies with no stipulations other than he be interested in the people that he is reading about. After learning about this assignment, I told him that he needs to choose one female biography, one person of color biography, and the third can be an open choice. That would have been a very small change for his teacher to make to this assignment, but one that would have provided an opportunity for students to explore people that they otherwise would not intentionally look for.

Some of the changes that need to happen may be large and overwhelming like the design of whole educational systems in places, practices in and out of schools, and the way in which resources are allocated. Keeping focused on the outcome of more engaged and successful students who feel supported and inspired is important enough to put in this good work.In focusing on the pursuit of equity in schools and in classrooms, my hope is that this newsletter will provide guidance on how to begin making those shifts, both big and small, in your classrooms and in your schools. The hope is that this newsletter will help you begin to take steps away from talk and into action by providing a framework for an action plan that you can commit to now and into the future. We love each and every one of our students, of course we do, but learning HOW to love each of them in a way that resonates with the student is the important piece that we need to begin to really focus on. If you have any thoughts, ideas, practices, or suggestions that you use in your own classroom or school that focuses on the pursuit of equity, please share with me.


As we continue to focus on creating equitable spaces for our students, I think it is important to listen to what other educators are doing in their classrooms. Depending on where you teach and what your student make-up looks like, the creation of your own equitable space might look very different than someone else’s. I like this article by Shane Safir as it offers tangible suggestions from knowing each child well, understanding how their life stories influence their learning stories, and how to remain mindful of the idea that a “one size fits all” approach to learning is really a one size fits none approach. This work is hard and uncomfortable but every moment of critique and reflection are worth it when your students know that you see them and that you cherish them as much as every other student in the room.


Pedro Noguera is a founder of UCLA’s Center For The Transformation Of Schools. In this podcast, Noguera shares ten specific actions educators can take to pursue excellence through equity. Some of these are things we need to speak up about, some are shifts we need to make in our own mindsets, and others are changes we can implement in our own practices. Noguera goes step by step through each of these specific action steps towards more equitable classrooms.




Screen Shot 2019-09-10 at 12.26.48 PM.pngI first read this book in my doctoral program and thought it was an excellent way for educators to use the power of equity audits to help eliminate achievement gaps and educational bias in their classrooms and in schools. This text provides a set of “inequity indicators” for evaluating schools, generating essential data, and identifying problem areas for school leaders. There are also nine skill sets for improved equity-oriented teaching for classroom use. There really is something for everyone in this text and I can’t recommend it enough to help you with this work.


Onward, Elena Aguilar’s newest book, tackles the problem of educator stress, and provides a practical framework for taking the

Onward: Cultivating Emotional Resilience in Educators

burnout out of teaching. I LOVE this book and the accompanying workbook. I could see schools using this as an ongoing PD for educators for the entire school year. This actionable framework gives concrete steps toward rediscovering your self, your energy, and your passion for teaching. You’ll learn how a simple shift in mindset can affect your outlook, and how taking care of yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally is one of the most important things you can do. The companion workbook helps you put the framework into action, streamlining your way toward renewal and strength.

  • Cultivate resilience with a four-part framework based on 12 key habits
  • Uncover your true self, understand emotions, and use your energy where it counts
  • Adopt a mindful, story-telling approach to communication and community building
  • Keep learning, playing, and creating to create an environment of collective celebration


This month, I challenge you to identify two areas within your classroom, curriculum, or school where you can begin to create a more equitable space. Use this Action Plan Framework (PDF version as well) as a way to organize your priorities and your timeline for this process. Check in with me throughout this process and let me know how it is going for you!
Have a great month and, teach well Friends!

This is the year. This is YOUR year!

THIS IS THE YEAR. THIS IS YOUR YEAR! (watch this video for some inspiration!)

August always brings so many emotions for me. The idea that the summer is almost over, that it is time to begin transitioning my thoughts away from the simplicity of summer days where, for me, the greatest decision is which flavor of ice cream to eat, to thoughts of the school days on the horizon. There is nothing like having a good chunk of time in the year to step out of your professional life and back into yourself, finally reflecting on YOU and your needs. Now, that is not to say that teachers do not work over the summer. I do not know a single teacher who does not continue to develop curriculum, read current books related to their content areas and pedagogical exploration, reassess and rework projects and PBL units that need a little love, and think about strategy regarding assessment throughout the summer. However, there is something great about being able to do it over a cup of steaming hot coffee in your PJs (or is that just me?).

August also brings a wave of excitement for me. I still get those butterflies in my stomach when I think of the first day of school and meeting all my new students. There is so much possibility in that first day. The untapped possibility that fills the room with nervous energy as the students survey you and their classmates. The brimming possibility of meaningful relationships with these developing humans. And, the possibility of inspiring these incredible young people to find and develop their own sense of purpose; who they are, where they fit in the world, and the responsibility that comes with that. We teach our content, of course we do, but we do so much more than that. We cheer these kiddos on when they finally understand the problem, we pat them on the back when they demonstrate that they get it, and we beam with pride at the end of the year when they walk out of our classrooms, ready to take on the world. Is this a bit idealistic? Yes. Is every day this inspiring? No. But could it be? Absolutely. I worked with a teacher this summer who told me that her goal was to make every student that comes into her classroom smile, every day. Will that happen? Who knows but let’s high five to her for trying. This is the year. This is YOUR year! Let’s make it happen!

Teach well friends!


As we prepare our classrooms for the new group of students that will come in on day 1, each wearing their own armor of protection, be it humor, silliness, nonchalance, disinterest, or disengagement, it is important to be ready to meet them where they are and to really SEE them. Getting to know our students and forming relationships takes time but Janice Wyatt-Ross shares six tried and true ways to embrace each student so that they feel seen and welcomed into your world from the beginning. This article offers suggestions from learning your students names and how to pronounce them correctly to seeing yourself as your students see you as a few of the ways to engage authentically with your students from the very beginning of the year.



I have shared this video before, and I will undoubtedly share it again because I LOVE this woman and her message. At one point in this TedTalk, Mrs. Pierson says, “while you won’t like them all, the key is that they can never ever know it ” and the very first time I heard her say that it stuck with me and does to this day. We have ALL had those students that we DREADED every.single.day and it takes all the reserve that we have to make it through the class with this kid. But, what Mrs. Pierson says rings true. These children deserve our best, and our hearts, every single day, no matter what. There are plenty people in their lives who don’t believe in them, who will hurt their feelings, who will try to break them down; don’t let one of those people be you. You are building a legacy of relationships with each and every student that you teach and in doing so, you ARE changing lives, every single day.




Thanks to modern technology, we have learned a great deal about the complexity of the brain and the learning process. Unfortunately, however, we have not learned very much about how to teach in a way that takes full advantage of how the brain learns. In this book, Tracey Tokuhama-Espinosa describes Mind, Brain, and Education (MBE) science as the intersection of neuroscience, psychology, and pedagogy and draws on research from each of these areas to offer 50 best practices that teachers can employ to maximize student learning and achievement.

The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace


Catch the vision of authentic appreciation! Learn the foundational concepts by reading The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace. This book helps supervisors and managers effectively communicate appreciation and encouragement to their employees, resulting in higher levels of job satisfaction, healthier relationships, and decreased cases of burnout.


Purpose In Learning

I have been doing a lot of work over the past two years at World Leadership School to define what Purpose Learning is and what it can look like in schools. Clearly, the idea of purpose identification and clarification is not new and something that people struggle with seemingly as they get older and more settled into their lives and careers. What we have been considering is how can we help students begin to clarify their own sense of purpose at a younger age. This generation is under immense pressure to perform. They are put onto the conveyor belt of education as soon as they enter formal schooling with one goal in mind…COLLEGE. They are pushed along and encouraged to take this class but not that one for fear they might not get an ‘A’ in that one, to play this sport but not do that play, to not get a job because it would distract from their school work, to volunteer a prescribed number of hours to boost their resumes, and to focus 100% on themselves all the time so that the can achieve “their” goal. If this is so satisfying and clear for students, then why does the data suggest that students have never been more dissatisfied? Depression is at an all time high, disordered eating and self harm are sky-rocketing, (attempted) suicide rates are astronomical, and our kids are stressed out to the max. Bill Damon, of Stanford’s d.School, has said that “the biggest problem growing up today is not actually stress, it’s meaninglessness”. Our kids don’t know what they are doing or why they are doing it. College is a goal thrust upon them rather than one they identify for themselves and we, as the adults in their lives, need to reconsider what we are presenting as important to students. Hence, this deep dive into Purpose Learning. So, the more I thought about this the more it became clear that we need a framework that we can use as supportive measures to our curriculum that will provide tools for deep engagement and opportunities for purpose exploration WHILE we teach our content.

Purpose Matrix This matrix presents the WHY of Purpose Learning, which is to develop the whole child, the head (which we do an incredible job of already in schools), the heart (connection to the world outside of self), and the hands (taking action). The HOW component was taken from Andrea Savari’s Redefining Readiness Report (2017) focused on core social emotional skills. The HOW component of each are the tools that teachers can use to get at these skills through their curriculum and their teaching. My hope is that this framework will provide ideas for teachers to shift from content centered classes to more skill development and purpose exploration classes through the lens of the content.  Let me know your thoughts on this and if you think it would be useful for teachers.

#everybodypoops: Exploring Affordable Sanitation in Developing Countries


The most effective use of Project Based Learning that I have ever been a part of occurred in my Biology II, The Great Diseases course where the students were studying inadequate access to sanitation around the world. The students were asked to acknowledge World Toilet Day put forth by the World Health Organization in February of last year. The purpose of this day is to bring awareness to the 2.6 billion people around the world who do not have access to adequate sanitation methods. The students were asked to observe this day by only using one toilet facility on campus, and this facility happened to be a 5 – 7 minute walk from the majority of their classrooms. The other stipulation was that the timing of the use of this facility could not be disruptive to any of their classes or their teachers. They needed to plan out when they would be able to go to the bathroom so that it was convenient for them without being obtrusive. The students commented that they originally thought that the day was going to be amusing or even fun, until it became a nuisance. This simple activity allowed the students to develop empathy for the many people in the developing world that also have to plan out the proper time to find and use the bathroom facilities so that it is convenient and more importantly, safe, for them.

In reflection of the toilet awareness activity in the following class, a discussion ensued about the injustice of the inadequate sanitation issues around the world and the students indicated at that time that they wanted to learn more about this issue. It was at this point that I could see the beginnings of a project that I had not planned. I asked the students to do some preliminary and independent research on areas around the world that suffered most significantly from inadequate access to sanitation and to be prepared to report out on that research in the following class period. The students discussed their findings and decided that they were most interested in learning more about inadequate access to sanitation of the squatting communities in urban India. The students were moved by a recent reporting of two young girls in Uttar Pradesh, India who had gone into a field at night to relieve themselves and were followed by two men who proceeded to rape and murder these young girls. It was a devastating and tragic story and the students were outraged and decided that they wanted to help.

In my own preliminary research about toilets in developing nations, I came across a TedTalk, Innovation to Sanitation Through Empathic Design, by Jasmine Burton. Burton, a recent graduate of the University of Georgia, majored in Empathic Design. I felt that Jasmine would be an interesting connection for my students because of her geographic location and her age. So, I found her email address on her web page and reached out to Ms. Burton to see if she would be willing to respond with some information about her toilet design and the implementation of her design in Africa. Ms. Burton replied that she would be very excited to speak to my students and asked to Skype with them if possible.


The Skype session took place the following week with Ms. Burton, who, unbeknownst to us, was currently living in Zambia and working on the implementation of her own empathically designed toilet into rural villages there. Prior to the Skype session, the students read about Ms. Burton, her business Wish For Wash, and her toilet design. The session lasted approximately 50 minutes with the students leading the discussion through their questions.

After the Skype session with Ms. Burton, the students told me that they were very interested in moving forward with their research and wanted to design a toilet for the squatting communities in India. The students used the next few weeks to research existing designs, created their own toilet designs, and then made prototypes of their design in the Maker Space of their school out of cardboard and plastic materials. Ms. Burton had asked to Skype with the students again after they created their prototypes so that she could offer suggestions for modifications that would help make the design of their toilets more functional.

During the second Skype session, Ms. Burton told the students that she thought that their designs were creative but that they would not know if they were feasible until they created them out of corrugated cardboard (which many life-size prototypes are made from, apparently) and made the toilets true to size. At this point, I just looked up Corrugated Cardboard in Richmond, VA and reached out to a local corrugated cardboard company, Richmond Corrugated Box, that agreed to allow my students and me to come to the factory for a tour. While there, the students were able to work with Richmond Corrugated Box’s Graphic Designer to import their prototype designs onto the software and print them on corrugated cardboard.

The experience was beneficial to students as they were able to see their designs in real time, make modifications in the moment, and then have them printed so that they designs were an adequate representation of what they wanted for their field toilets.

The final aspect of this project was a Skype session with Ms. Burton to show her the student designs and discuss the pros and cons of each design. Ms. Burton suggested reaching out to various NGOs to discuss the possibility of adopting the toilet design to have them mass-produced and shipped to India. The students were not ready for this step however because there were many unanswered questions that needed to be addressed before the designs felt sufficient and useful enough for the students to move forward with production.

This project was extremely in-depth and the students were exposed to multiple facets of learning that they would not have if they did not take on this project. They were tasked with designing a toilet that would be light enough to move, sturdy enough to withstand multiple uses, to weigh the pros and cons of a sitting vs. squatting toilet, the financial burden of mass-producing a product such as this, the logistics of finding a way to deliver the design to India, the environmental impacts of the dumping of these toilets which would inevitably happen on the streets and in the drainage run-off areas. The list is endless and though this project took longer than expected, the depth and breadth of learning was also more comprehensive than expected which lead to a feeling of successful learning of the students and myself. A number of the students went on to write their college entrance essays about this project, entitled #everybodypoops (which you can follow on Twitter).

Project-based learning is a tool used to develop 21st-century skills and to put content knowledge into practice in an authentic way. PBL is not a new tool but it is the only tool that this career educator has found that can accomplish these goals of skill development, content knowledge enhancement, and problem-solving prowess.