I don’t want to go back to normal

With the arrival of the vaccine and the outlook of a promising new year ahead, I don’t want normal back! I’m hopeful that we have a totally new normal where people have a little more life in the work/life balance (whatever that is), where we clearly see the injustice that has been here all along and work hard to change things to ensure equity and opportunity for all, where communities understand the value of education and educators, where we are all just a little bit kinder and understand everyone is going through things we may not realize, where we focus on our health and well-being because it is the foundation of all we do. I don’t want normal back, I want a new and better normal! I also want hugs and the ability to travel, gather and hang out with friends safely. The start of a new year has me hopeful for a better future for everyone. Cheers to 2021!


5 Ways SXSW EDU Will Spark Your Leadership

I proudly serve on the Programming Advisory Board for SXSW EDU and got to be a part of the selection process for the 2019 line up. It was exciting reading through the proposals that landed in my review pool and I’m so excited to see how the lineup came together. I’ve been attending SXSW EDU since the inaugural event in 2011, and from the start could tell this was not your typical education conference. The event has grown and evolved over time and in true SXSW fashion turned into a can’t miss learning event. Here are some themes that stood out to me and I hope it helps you understand what makes it so valuable for educational leaders.   

New people, new ideas

For ed folks used to hearing from the same people about the same issues, SXSW offers fresh takes from unexpected voices. You’ll find the diversity of speakers’ ideas, backgrounds and experience both exciting and challenging. Come with an open mind ­– you won’t agree with everything you hear. But I would argue that’s a good thing when you’re building your leadership muscles. Hearing from diverse voices will give you the opportunity to question your own assumptions and maybe even change your perspective.

Session Pick“Why Technology is Not Transforming Teaching” (Kevin Bushweller, Ed Week Executive Editor for Market Brief)

  • Description: Interactive talk that examines why teachers are far more likely to use technology to make their own jobs easier and to supplement traditional instructional strategies than to put students in control of their own learning. Research shows a handful of “early adopters” embrace innovative uses of new technology, while their colleagues make incremental or no changes to what they already do. Why is this the case? And what steps should schools take to fix it?
  • My take: Following the race to get tech in schools, Bushweller calls out the need to do better and offers tools and strategies to get there. There is no blame here, only support and ideas for disrupting the status quo.

Focus on equity

This conference is not afraid to tackle equity, to admit we’re falling short and to explore ways that we can serve ALL students better. No one disagrees that each child, regardless of background, should have the opportunity to reach their full potential. But what does that look like in practice? How do we know when we have achieved it? The conference has dedicated more than 15 sessions and 35 speakers to the topic of equity and will explore a host of creative solutions, from stronger math instruction to strategies for mental health support.

Session Pick: Improving Equity Through Unbiased Data  

  • Description: In a world increasingly focused on data and measurement but skeptical of standardized testing, how do you fairly measure student success? How can we make data-driven decisions without perpetuating bias or inequity? What role should students’ statistics play in determining their eligibility for opportunities? Hear from leaders in the education and data worlds on how they’re approaching this complicated issue in search of a more equitable world.
  • My take: Our lives are data driven, but if the data we are using perpetuate the problem, we will never reach a solution. I’m skeptical that unbiased data exist and am curious to learn if there are fair ways to measure success for students. Sessions on equity are often about our mindset and bias, but this one is offering technical solutions.

Building student agency

We need schools that go beyond the fundamentals and inspire kids to apply their knowledge and talents to help make the world a better place. Students don’t have to wait to be ‘leaders of the future’. They can be leaders right now, and educators should help create the conditions for that to happen.

Session Pick: Marley Dias, Changing the World One Black Girl Book at a Time  

  • Description: How can educators and caregivers promote the changes they want to see in the world? Marley will offer strategies for building-up joyful young readers and community activists, ultimately promoting a more just and equitable world. Marley will show that embracing equity, using diverse readings in the classroom and encouraging courageous conversations can increase literacy, make learning more fun and create sustainable change.
  • My take: I want to hear more from Marley about how she was inspired by an issue that concerned her and she took some simple steps to make a difference. I want to understand what made this possible so we can make it possible for more kids.

Spotlight on creativity 

The four Rs aren’t all there is to life, both in school and beyond. Educators know that, and it’s why they fight fiercely for music, art and theater programs. I love that this conference offers sessions and learning experiences that highlight skills so needed and valued in society.

Session PickMoth StorySLAM

  • Description: This open-mic storytelling competition is open to anyone with a true, personal five-minute story to share on the night’s theme of transformation. SXSW EDU attendees are invited to put their name in the hat to tell a story, or just enjoy the show.

Session Pick: The Moth in the Classroom

  • Description: Personal storytelling can play a key role in classrooms—connecting students to content, centering student voice, and developing essential skills. But how do we create the conditions for great storytelling? We will lead a lively, on-our-feet workshop for educators to brainstorm and craft their own true, personal stories, as well as reflect together on classroom strategies. Leave with concrete ideas for your classroom, and a new confidence in your story!

Session Pick24-Hour Playwriting Challenge 

  • Description: The title says it all: you will write a play in a day. In this hands-on session designed for folks who have never written a play, we’ll use theater to craft powerful narratives. You’ll start with ideas about social justice/education; learn story structures; go through a scaffolded process to write your script; work with professional actors to develop characters; practice giving/receiving feedback; and prepare for a performance of your play by the company of actors.
  • My take:  These kinds of activities put us right back in the learner’s seat. Test them out, flex your creativity muscle and see what they inspire you to bring back for your staff and students. We are all perpetual learners and putting ourselves in the hot seat for a day is a fun challenge.

No fear of tough topics 

Educators are not afraid of difficult conversations. They’re part of daily life in schools. Fortunately, SXSW is not afraid to host them either. Mental health, equity, social justice – these topics are deep and complex, but we owe it to ourselves to dig in and learn more.

Session Pick: Comedy & Poetry: Tools for Unpacking Mental Health  

  • Description: Our group specializes in using slam poetry and stand-up comedy to teach leadership and diversity skills. We’ll be instructing how to use these two art forms to create engaging content and connect with students on a level that helps empower them to be more open and understanding of their peers. Audience members will leave with a better understanding of other walks of life, and how vulnerability can create leaders that others naturally gravitate towards
  • My take: It can be tough to keep up with kids these days – what they are struggling with, what sparks them or resonate with them. Sessions like these offer tools for reaching students in new and unique ways.

I would love to hear what you are excited about learning or have learned in the past. Take time to connect with the people in attendance and come back with a boat load of inspiration and new ideas!

13 Quotes on Leadership & Change


I was working on a project to highlight inspiring quotes on education, leadership, teams, and change. Thought I would share some of my favorites. Would love to hear yours. Please share in the comments!

“Education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world.”           ― Nelson Mandela

“A team is not a group of people that work together. A team is a group of people that trust each other.” – Simon Sinek

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” -John Quincy Adams

“Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” -John F. Kennedy

“The pessimist complains about the wind. The optimist expects it to change. The leader adjusts the sails.” -John Maxwell

“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” ― Leo Tolstoy

“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.” ― Rumi

“The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.” ― Albert Einstein

“Change is an opportunity to do something AMAZING.” – George Couros

“A bad system will beat a good person every time.” – W. Edwards Deming

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” – Peter Drucker



Making an Impact #IMMOOCBB


I (Kirsten) shared this quote with my awesome #IMMOOC blogging buddy (Charlie) and even though it is not from The Innovator’s Mindset, we felt like it directly correlates to our work and mission. Here is our buddy blog experiment sharing the wonderings about leadership, empowerment and impact. View his awesome blog Educationomics for more great reading!

Most of my (Charlie) teaching strategies have developed from my time coaching sports. While I began my career in education as both a teacher and coach, I recognized that my gift for working with young people existed on the playing field long before I figured out how to lead a classroom. My love for sports (namely, lacrosse) and my ability to inspire players to give their best effort and elevate their strategic thinking galvanized my career choice years ago, and I haven’t looked back since.

Along the way, I worked with many inspirational student athletes. They found their role models in athletics and built their “game” as inspired copies of their favorite television sports heroes. Names like LeBron James or Tom Brady come to mind as people who motivated my young athletes. These superstars demonstrate leadership within their “field” that elevates others every day.

  • LeBron’s teammates gain confidence when he is present; they come together to play better as a team. The ball feeds through LeBron at the exact right time to give teammates the best chance to score. Lebron has vision two or three passes beyond the current one, carrying an oil can in one hand and a wrench in the other as he tweaks and tightens the basketball machine.
  • When Tom Brady walks up to the line of scrimmage and barks out the play, calls an audible, or makes a hand signal towards his receivers, everyone listen.G including his opponents). Tom recognizes something that is about to happen based on the moving pieces in front of him. No one else sees the game like he can, so the other players on the field follow his lead, orchestrating a masterful charge down the field.

While these examples are a bit sensational, the framework for them equals that which is required for classroom leadership: the opportunity for our students to make an impact in their current and future lives depends on the teacher elevating his or her own game within the learning space. We model the way so that others will recognize the value in giving one’s best effort and in setting challenging standards.

My (Kirsten) journey at TEPSA is about to come to a close as I move to a new adventure working with school system leaders in the coming weeks. The thought of what my legacy will be is at the forefront. I’m no LeBron or Tom Brady, but hope there is a legacy of good work that will last in my absence.

I am not the kind of leader that comes in and makes sweeping changes from the start. I told our Executive Director that right from the start. You want major changes, I’m more of a slow and steady kind of girl. The African Proverb says it best: “If you want to go fast, go alone – If you want to go far, go together.” I’m in it for the long haul with the crew on board. Along the way with little changes here and there, conversations, shifts, additions, and deletions you look up and find what was there several years ago has transformed into something new and different (and hopefully better). In reflecting on what builds sustainable change over time, I think it boils down to these qualities. Feel free to add your own in the comments of what we did not include!

Build Something Meaningful

No one wants to sustain a practice that is irrelevant or not adding value to the organization after the originator leaves. To know what is meaningful for staff, students and parents, you must know them! Meaningful work comes from connecting with others and we all know relationships are key. Ensure what you create and implement resonates with the learning community and is something worth keeping over time.

Empower Others

The experiences discovered in our learning spaces should instill self-confidence and a desire to know more. But these two characteristics prove empty without the skills and ability that drive them. That is what empowering others means:. a person who has filled his or her learning toolbelt can tackle any topic and pursue any passion. It’s our job to demonstrate these tools and the innovative uses for them.

Share, Share, Share

If you have knowledge, let others light their candles in it.

-Margaret Fuller

Knowledge has no value when kept in secret. As we push for more innovation in our learning spaces, collaborative effort remains the only skeleton key. Knowledge should not be kept as power, it needs to be shared to create powerful learning throughout the organization. Teaching students skills to know and be able to do things independently is so rewarding. Do not forget we need to do that for the adults as well. The #IMMOOC experience is a great model for this! George, Katie and all the other gracious learning collaborators are sharing their time and talents so we can learn with them. It is wonderful to find such a smart and fun group of educators to connect with and stretch my thinking. I look forward to continuing this learning journey even after the experience is over and sharing what I’ve learned to hopefully help others.

We would love to hear your thoughts on this topic, please share in the comments. What are you doing to improve others and make a lasting impact?

Never Stop Learning #IMMOOC

EinsteinI’m excited to participate in round 2 of the Innovator’s Mindset Massive Online Open Course (#IMMOOC) led by George Couros and Katie Martin. I was more of a lurnker in the fall with the first go around since I hadn’t started to blog yet. By connecting and learning from this great group, it was the nudge I needed to get going and share more of my voice.

If there were traditional grades assigned with the first IMMOOC, I would have totally FAILED! I didn’t complete the “assignments” or keep up with the rest of the group. However, the learning I gained was invaluable. This group sparked my brain into overdrive and totally changed my trajectory as a learner and leader. I’m already behind again, so I’m going to combine weeks 1 & 2 together here to get caught up. 2-for-1 here ya go!

The Purpose of Education & Why is Innovation Needed

I love the Einstein quote in the introduction of The Innovator’s Mindset. But I would add that the true value of learning, is what you do with it! I have always loved learning. School was a place that I enjoyed going and was very successful. People like me are not usually the ones that want to change school since it worked so well for them, but I knew there was a better way. I got really good at the “game of school” by acing tests, getting good grades, and pleasing the teachers. However, my learning was not deep or meaningful and I wasn’t really doing anything with it (other than what the teacher’s had assigned).

I want the kids I teach (and my own children) to gain knowledge and skills to help them be successful in life, not be performers on worksheets and tests. This should be the purpose of education. Probably because most of my days in the classroom were spent with English Language Learners, I knew what I taught them (or didn’t) made an impact in their lives. It was not about getting a good grade. It was about learning the language and culture to survive and thrive in a new place.

As an adult I’ve become a much better learner, not just a student. I learn things that I want or need to know. I may use Youtube to find a video about how to fix the washing machine, or learn more about Easter Island before our adventurous trip there. (Worthy of a future blog post!)  School should be meaningful for our students in their lives now. My own children have had some wonderful innovative teachers who have connected with them and sparked curiosity. But there are also the drudgery and test driven classes that kill the joy of learning. This is why we need more innovation and not just in pockets.

I see a transformation happening, especially in Texas. Many visionary superintendents and principals embrace A New Vision for Public Education that was created back in 2008. Many of the principles discussed are becoming more accepted, but are still not commonplace. The good news is I feel the tide turning with so many more educators on board to be creative, create meaningful learning opportunities for all kids and have more fun in school. We are getting there, but there is still much work to be done! As more teachers embrace the characteristics of the Innovator’s Mindset, new and better learning opportunities will be available for our kids.

Characteristics of the Innovator’s Mindset


The characteristics of the Innovator’s Mindset where I “glow” or are strongest are being empathetic and reflective. Probably the most emotional qualities here and the more passive. But it would be interesting to find out what other people would say about me on this – feel free to chime in!

I don’t think I am alone sharing these qualities. Most of us went into education to serve others and make a difference. I think those goals go right along with empathy and reflection. I can easily connect with kids (and teachers) to build strong relationships that foster growth. I also spend a lot of time thinking about what is working and what is not. As a designer of professional learning, I’m constantly thinking about how to improve experiences and help school leaders in their growth to make the most impact. Time is precious and I could plan learning opportunities all day. But what is going to make a difference for the students we serve and what are the BEST ideas that they need to learn?

The characteristic I’m consciously trying to “grow” is risk-taking. Educators, for the most part, are a very risk averse group. Even our lower car insurance premiums prove that as Katie mentioned in episode 2! I continue to work at taking new risks (like writing a blog) and am building that muscle little by little. I have to say the connection that Sarah Thomas made to Fight Club was epic! I actually love that movie and can totally relate to it. At times, there is a crazy person inside my head that is totally fearless. It helps to think of that alter ego when I need to do hard things and channel an inner drive to make it happen. Sometimes I have to step outside of myself to move past fear and anxiety. It is also hard to let go of control, but I am working on that too!

Earlier today I was listening to the pivot podcast with Jenny Blake and she ends every episode by saying, “Build first, then your courage will follow”. I always thought it was the other way around…that I had to be brave enough BEFORE I started. But my thinking has been completely backwards. This notion that courage is a muscle you can build up by continuing to try new things is extremely freeing. Growth mindset in action. When I first started participating in twitter chats I would overanalyze each tweet and wonder what people would think. Now I am much more comfortable sharing my thoughts in 140 characters. I’ve seen my courage and confidence grow significantly. Now I save all the overthinking for the blog posts, reading and re-reading them before I hit the dreaded Publish button. Each one gets easier over time and I look forward to a day where I write, edit and publish without hesitation.

If you have read this far, I really appreciate you sticking with it! I will keep working on the risk-taking  while being empathetic and reflective. I hope to continue to make great connections to build my network and find a problem or two to solve along the way. Where do you “glow” and where would you like to “grow”? I would love to hear, please share your thoughts!





Connecting the Dots

Well here it is, my very first blog post. I have been thinking about a blog, even writing down topics and composing posts in my mind for a while, but haven’t been brave enough to click the button. What a fun way to start the new year doing something different and out of my comfort zone! I hope to share my thoughts and ideas on education (and life), pull in some fun stuff and connect to continue the conversation. Life seems like individual moments or dots in time. But sometimes as you reflect and pull back you can start to see how events, people and ideas are really all connected. I’ve always loved connecting the dots and I look forward to doing more of that in this space.

The name Leadershift comes from an event we had several years ago. That year we were making several big changes to the long established learning conference. We wanted to acknowledge things were changing a bit but put it in a positive light. I was thinking about how we would always focus on leadership but needed to shift things around a bit. It was a fun lightbulb moment when the two ideas came together as Leadershift. It was the perfect word for the moment and I think it fits great here too. Not really a word, but you can easily understand the notion. In education we are at a turning point and things are changing at a rapid pace. We must refocus and shift our thinking in many ways to ensure we are meeting the needs of todays learners.

Thank you for checking out my blog and I hope to connect some dots here with you. I look forward to learning with you and would love to hear your feedback!