Celebrate Clean Air

Celebrate with Ruth Ayres at RuthAyresWrites

Thank you Ruth Ayres for providing a space to celebrate.

Today I celebrate clean fresh air. I live in Washington State and currently we are covered in smoke from wildfires burning in Canada and Montana. From my deck I usually gaze out to rolling green pastures and hay fields. They create a patchwork of colors blending together until they meet the valley below. In the distance the rolling hills rise up to meet the towering peaks of the Cascade Range.

For the past two weeks a thick gray yellowish haze blankets everything. The smoke from the fires hangs and drips from the air sending people to the Emergency room for breathing treatments. Air quality alerts remind us to stay indoors. I have cancelled several hiking trips because of the poor air quality. The long anticipated Junior Rodeo was cancelled because of the health risk to both participants and horses.


I’m grateful that the smoke from the fires is temporary.However there are too many places that are consistently covered with air pollution. I think of the what ifs or the possibility of the smoke not being temporary. I read an article today talking about current policies that want to move backwards and bring back industries that negatively impact the quality of our air and water. Really? We need to keep moving forward to find alternatives and better ways to ensure our air and water remain clean. One way we can help this process is to make our voices heard, join organizations that support policies and candidates that protect air, water and public lands.

As the new school year approaches I’m wondering what students will want to celebrate. I’m hopeful that as we move forward in education students will have opportunities to be problem finders, have time to work on solving real world problems and then celebrate their effort. We all have the opportunity to be leaders in education. We make choices every day that can improve our practice. We can choose to read professional books, research, write, connect with leaders in the field and then implement new practices that give students more choice, more voice. We can breathe new fresh ideas into outdated practices.


I have taken clean fresh air for granted. Today I long to see blue sky, hike up a steep mountain trail, filling my lungs with sweet clean air.

Today I celebrate clean fresh air.


Inspiration, Connection and Magical Moments

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“You have extraordinary treasures hidden within you. Bringing forth those treasures takes work and faith and focus and courage and hours of devotion. We simply do not have time anymore to think so small.”

~Elizabeth Gilbert-Big Magic

Have you ever had those goose bump moments when you know you have connected with someone or something that completely inspires you? When you are so moved by someone’s work you just have to thank them for sharing and offer your appreciation. There are many of you out there who inspire me. Today I would specifically like to thank Margaret Simon for sharing her work with the world. Her stories and poems bring me much joy and inspiration. Last week she wrote a beautiful poem that sent me back to another place and time. It moved me so much that I reached out to Margaret to let her know the impact her work had on me. Her poem inspired me to write my own poem. She asked me if I would share it with her. I was hesitant at first because it’s scary to put yourself out there but I’m working on my courage so I said, Yes. What an honor for me to have Margaret not only read my poem but then offer feedback and post it on her blog. 

“Keep your Eyes Open. Listen. Follow your curiosity. Ideas are constantly trying to get our attention. Let them know You’re available.”

Elizabeth Gilbert ~Big Magic


Noticing Beauty in the World

I wanted to find some photos  to include with my poem. This search lead me to Derek DeYoung. His artwork took my breath away. I had never heard of Derek and was not familiar with his work.  Derek’s vibrant colored trout and dreamy riverscapes brought me back to the past when I dove into the art of fly fishing, matching the hatch, gently presenting a fly, and mastering rowing a drift boat down the river. I  spent the majority of my time in those days chasing trout, wading and floating some of the great fly fishing rivers of Montana. Each day I was in awe of the beauty that surrounded me.

When I read  Derek’s story it brought me back to how I spend my time now.  I’m in awe of kids. I spend time thinking about kids and how we can make school a place  that recognizes students for their strengths. A place that values creativity, curiosity and connections. A place that provides students with opportunities to problem solve, create, and dream big. A place that doesn’t try to make everyone fit into a box but recognizes each individual student for the unique, gifted person they are. A place where we reconginze the magical moments of connecting to a student’s heart and mind. I’m grateful Derek’s Dad reminded him to dream big and go after his dream. I’m happy Derek was brave enough to follow that dream.

Reaching out and connecting with others who share their creativity with the world has added so much depth, inspiration and joy to my journey. Today I celebrate Margaret Simon and Derek DeYoung and the magical moments of connection and inspiration.

I’m wondering who inspires you? Will you reach out  to them and let them know? Will you be brave and share your treasures?

“Be Brave. Without bravery, you will never know the world as richly as it longs to be known. Without bravery, your life will remain small — far smaller than you probably wanted your life to be.”   

~Elizabeth Gilbert-Big Magic

teton-riser-dayCapturing the Magical Moments


Celebrate Mom and Dad

unnamedI am celebrating today with Ruth Ayres

Today I celebrate my parents and the gifts they have given me. I celebrate the gifts of gratitude, empathy, courage and love.

For the past six years my 92 year old Dad has been the primary caregiver for my 88 year old mom. He has done this without an utterance of a complaint. Preparing meals, shopping, laundry, setting up medication which is no small task as her pill box resembles a small pharmacy. Routines drive the day from morning until bedtime.

On every visit home I was in awe of all he was doing but also fearful as I would think about the two of them alone. Yet they seemed to embrace each moment and dwelled in the present. Holding hands, laughing, driving to church, the theater, and the store. Dad carefully curling her hair with the hot curling brush, methodically setting out her morning pills and breakfast. Serving up Maria Calendars yummiest frozen meals.  A new normal for all of us to embrace.

Six weeks ago my Dad broke his hip. He fell on the basement steps while bringing the plastic Christmas tree downstairs. He crawled up the steps yelling for my mom to call 911. He had hip replacement surgery, went through two weeks recovery in the hospital and is now recovering at home. My brother, sister and I are taking turns being home to help them with this new normal.

Watching my mom cheer my dad on while he works with the home health care physical therapist and listening to her reminders to him not to bend down to pick things up is heartwarming. This morning he made coffee, set out her morning pills and breakfast. My parents continue to unknowingly give me gifts of empathy, gratitude,courage and most of all love.

Today I celebrate my Mom and Dad.

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IMMOOC Innovator’s Mindset


“Twenty -first century education is not about the test; it’s about something bigger. My focus is not on whether kids can knock it out of the park on some science test in grade three. What I care about is that kids are inspired to be better people because of their experiences in my school.”

~George Couros– Innovators Mindset

My highlighter was flying across the pages in the Introduction of the Innovator’s Mindset. I found myself wanting to stand up and start cheering. George Couros already has me convinced that with an Innovator’s Mindset anything is possible. Thank you, George!

Reading the introduction validates so many of my beliefs about school, children and what truly matters in education. The relationships we cultivate with students, staff and families is what helps move us forward. When we focus on strengths or use what Gravity Goldberg calls an “admiring lens” we build capacity for change.  I want to be part of the change that creates environments where kids are inspired and empowered to be better people. I want to be part of the change that creates environments where teachers are inspired and empowered to create meaningful experiences for kids.


~George Couros

I understand that I must be “innovative” in my actions if I want others to be “innovative”. This is one of the many reasons I’m here putting myself out there, connecting, collaborating, and sharing with others. This is not an easy task for me. I’m inspired to do this for the kids I get to work with. It reminds me of what we ask students to do everyday….take a risk…be brave and have courage. It is what we hope teachers will be willing to do everyday…take a risk…be brave and have courage to create student centered learning experiences.  To say yes to student voice and choice.To say no to compliance and yes to creativity.

The challenges we face today are vast, deep and wide. Worksheets and compliance will not provide our kids with the skills they need to design solutions to these many problems. I’m here to learn, share and grow in my understanding of how to lead change in schools where the focus is on creating experiences that inspire and empower kids to be better people.

Change is an opportunity to do something amazing.

~George Couros- Innovators Mindset


Taking Apart The Print Cartridge

In my new role as an Assistant Principal I often have the opportunity to work with students who act out for many different reasons. Instead of inflicting punitive measures against the child, I work to understand the behavior. I also spend time being proactive by trying to build relationships with students who have been identified as needing extra support and attention.

Building Trusting Relationships is the key to successful behavior growth for these students. Which in turn leads to academic growth. Relationship building takes time and intention. It starts with three  simple questions:

What’s going on?

How can I help?

What are you interested in?

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of spending time with a first grade friend ( I will call him Robert).We were working on strategies to help him calm down when he starts feeling tense,angry and about to blow.Some of our time together was spent with him teaching me about motor-cross and the difference between dirt-bikes and motorcycles. We printed off several different coloring pages of dirt-bikes that he glued into a new Dirt-Bike Writing Journal. It was only fifteen minutes but I know it was fifteen minutes that gave him an opportunity to be heard,valued and to see me as a caring, trustworthy adult.

A few days ago I received a call from his teacher that he was having a very rough morning she asked if he could come visit me. A few minutes later Robert was standing in the doorway to my office.

“Robert, it is so great to see you!” I said with big smile. “What’s going on?

Robert had a terrible morning at home and it carried over to the classroom.

Leaning in I gently asked ,“How can I help?”

Robert hung his head down and then slowly looked up and reluctantly whispered, “Can you print more stuff for my writing journal?”

“I would love to! Are you still interested in Dirt Bikes or is there something else?”

It turns out that Robert is also interested in Lego Ninjago guys. We found several characters he wanted printed off but the printer cartridge was empty. He helped me replace the cartridge. He wouldn’t let go of the old cartridge. He was studying it very closely then suddenly he shouted out , “Mrs. Duncan, Can we take this apart? I want to see how it works! I want to see what’s inside!

fullsizerender-19I had to say YES to that kind of excitement. Of course we can take the cartridge apart. I immediately found a screwdriver.Robert is also working on focus and growth mindset. He was so intrigued with taking the cartridge apart that he didn’t become frustrated when he had to try several different ways to get at what was inside the cartridge. He discovered springs, gears and plastic rollers. It was an amazing moment! He carefully saved the pieces and asked to bring them home.

fullsizerender-21Robert left my office with a big smile on his face. He was standing taller and had a sense of confidence about his abilities to focus and accomplish a difficult task. He was now ready to get on with his day.  The empty printer cartridge wasn’t empty at all. It became a tool that gave a student and myself an opportunity to grow in our learning and understanding about what truly matters in education.

May the Force Be With You

Last week I had the great opportunity to work with a Kindergarten student who was beginning to have a melt down.It was during a transition time and he wasn’t ready to transition. I happened to be popping in to say hello. The teacher was relieved to see me and redirected the student my way. She suggested we look for new books for his book box. I have worked with this student before to help him reset and refocus. I knew he was a “Star Wars Expert.” His teacher also knows how interested and excited he is about Star Wars.

As soon as (I will call this student Bill) Bill and I started looking through the basket filled with Star Wars books, his eyes lit up. We laid out all of the Star Wars Books. Bill selected three books. I asked if he wanted to read with me and he wildly shook his head yes. We had a great discussion about the force, galaxies, and good and bad characters. He found sight words and wefullsizerender-17 acted out scenes with sound effects of light sabers and droids. Bill looked closely at small details in the pictures. He inferred motives and elaborated and empathized with characters. Most important this normally withdrawn student was shining and I was enjoying EVERY second learning from him!

I asked Bill many questions. One question I asked was,”What is the force?” Bill scrunched his eyebrows and his mouth fell open in disbelief that I even asked this question.He matter-of-factly answered “It’s an energy field created by all living things.It keeps the galaxy together.”  “You really are a Star Wars Expert,” I replied in amazement.

The soothing sounds of chimes echoed from the classroom signaling the end of readers workshop and the start of recess. He didn’t want to stop sharing his expertise on Star Wars but it was time to go. Bill had recess and I had other classrooms to visit. He gave me a hug and his departing words were, “May the Force be With You.”

As I walked away my heart was full and I was grateful to have been present in that moment. A moment to create a small opportunity for a student to have voice and choice, to share his passion and expertise. A small opportunity with a large impact.








Summer Literacy Camp

I’m very excited for the opportunity to coordinate a Summer School Program for children in kindergarten through third grade. What I’m most excited about is the freedom to put  into practice my deepest beliefs about what has the greatest impact on student growth and that is to: focus on a child’s strengths, provide choices, and use their interests to engage them in the learning.

Instead of a traditional model this summer school program will have a camp atmosphere with a focus on growth mindset, curiosity,  and nurturing creativity. We will spend time outdoors engaging all of our senses as we explore, notice and look closely. These opportunities will help students develop their observation skills and will transfer to our reading and writing.

Our first week of camp our mentor texts will be The Dot and Ish by Peter Reynolds. In both of these stories Peter Reynolds characters model for parents, teachers and students how to  be brave enough to “make a mark” to get started and if you get stuck you can “ish” it. (This is what I’m doing right now with my first blog post. Friends, I’m a work in progress.)

One of the first things we will be exploring are The Access Lenses, created by  @trevorabryan . The Access Lenses are a powerful tool that help students look for evidence in  pictures/illustrations. The evidence they find allows them to make meaning, increases comprehension and leads to rich discussions. The Access Lenses are a powerful tool because all students experience success and contribute to the conversation. You can learn more about The Access Lenses at Fouroclockfaculty

Dear Students,

You have worked hard all year and the last thing I know many of you  want to do is come back to school over your summer break but wait…

This is Summer Literacy Camp.

Camp is about YOU.







trying new things,

making new friends,

sharing what you love,

creating art,

building confidence,


celebrating your learning.

See you at camp!

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