45 Minute Goals Can Transform Your Teaching

Shelly Sanchez Terrell dives deep into the transformative program

Don’t walk in the classroom defeated. Make professional development personal. Start tomorrow. It is easy in simple, small steps. For the last seven years, Shelly Terrell’s 30 Goals Challenge has ignited teacher learning. Today, we’ll learn how this “quick goal” technique can transform your teaching.   Shelly wants teachers to tackle small, short goals. They take just […]

Is Your School Culture Welcoming to Parents?

Best Selling Author Anne T. Henderson helps us become more parent friendly.


Parents should be partners: it sounds nice, but does it help learning? Anne T. Henderson, author of the best-selling book Beyond the Bake Sale, talks about school culture and parents. Parents are not the enemy. When we teachers engage parents as partners in helping children, we can turn around our struggling students. Also hear her […]

How we can stop TEACHING TO THE TEST and start empowering learning (for a change)

Every Classroom Matters Episode 189

"Schools work better for adults than they work for kids. We need to work harder to make schools work for kids." Eric Sheninger

I’m sick and tired of excuses. Everyone makes them but the biggest, most obnoxious dumbest excuse we’ve adopted is “we have to prepare kids for THE TEST.” Sure the test has become a reality. But with so many people seeing the schools KILL THE LOVE OF LEARNING so we can help kids memorize rote facts […]

7 Books to Help Add Purpose and Meaning to Life

Leaders are Readers and Readers are Leaders

7 Books to add purpose and meaning to your life

You want to have purpose and meaning in your life, and certainly there are lots of people who have advice. How do you tell truth from fiction? How do you know who to believe? Research by Anne Cunningham and Keith Stanovich found that habitual readers know more than habitual television watchers. But it also showed […]

EPISODE 142: What If Everybody Understood Child Development? [PODCAST]

An Interview with Every Classroom Matters Guest, Rae Pica

Rae Pica is joining a cacophony of voices calling the US national standards for kindergarteners as “developmentally inappropriate” and “unrealistic.” In her new book, What If Everybody Understood Child Development?: Straight Talk About Bettering Education and Children’s Lives, Rae shares a composite of opinions and research that gives voice to the children being pushed to […]

Book Review: P is for Pirate

Book review for P is for Pirate

I’ve never seen anything like this book for teachers. But that is a good thing. In this day and age of crazy busy-ness, this may just be the perfect book for quick inspiration! P is for PIRATE: Inspirational ABC’s for Educators looks like a children’s book but reads like an inspirational kick in the pants for […]

Cover of a Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller - Book Review

Book Review: A Million Miles in a Thousand Years (Thomas Nelson, 2009)

So, what if you could edit your life — what role would you give yourself? In this book review of a A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: How I Learned to Live a Better Story I share why this book is epic and unsettling. It is also one of my best reads of 2014.

When Michael Hyatt said  A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: How I Learned to Live a Better Story was one of his favorite books of all time, it sounded odd. Written by the same author of Blue Like Jazz, this book challenges you to look at your life and edit it. In my opinion, it is a must read.

I STARTED THINKING differently about life when I met a couple of filmmakers who wanted to make a movie about a memoir I’d written. I wrote a memoir several years ago that sold a lot of copies. I got a big head about it for a while and thought I was an amazing writer or something, but I’ve written books since that haven’t sold, so I’m insecure again and things are back to normal.Donald Miller
A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, loc 200

It makes sense. I remember reading some research in the early days of Second Life. (wish I could find it.)  They had found that when they took troubled girls in a program in Florida into Second Life to play out what was happening to them in real life that the girls would make changes. Why? Because they were able to see themselves in third person.

Maybe we should be doing that too.

Interestingly Donald Miller, the author, author takes the elements of story — specifically the need for conflict and the need for the central character to overcome that conflict — the need for a protagonist and other story elements– and encourages us to apply these to life. The thing is – we remember the big days of our lives. Those with monumental events. Those with story.

When Your Life Has Story

Like the day last year I sat and listened to my daughter give her valedictory speech. I didn’t cry because her speech was epic. I cried because of the great story her life told that got her to that moment.

If Steve was right about a good story being a condensed version of life—that is, if story is just life without the meaningless scenes—I wondered if life could be lived more like a good story in the first place. I wondered whether a person could plan a story for his life and live it intentionally.Donald Miller
A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, loc 530

She overcame the taunts of classmates who told her not to do so well on tests as she was making them look bad. Those who tried to get answers to homework with promises of her being included in events on weekends. She overcame and succeeded.

Great story.

What Role Should You Play Today?

But A Million Miles in a Thousand Years doesn’t have us focusing on our past. It centrally nails us to today. If you look at your life right now. If you look at the conflict, the characters, and the great thing(s) you want to attain. What role should you play?

For me, it is a hard role. I’ve gained fifty pounds in the past 2 years after coming through a very difficult situation that almost caused me to withdraw from social media. I thought about quitting teaching and living life as a hermit. I’d be happy tending a garden, fishing, and writing the next Walden. I really would.

My uncle told a good story with his life, but I think there was such a sadness at his funeral because his story wasn’t finished. If you aren’t telling a good story, nobody thinks you died too soon; they just think you died. But my uncle died too soon.Donald Miller
A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, loc 518

But being a hermit standing on a pillar isn’t my story. Every single kid should have one great teacher and I want to be at least one of them. I want to be that pivot point that helps kids find themselves and their passion. I’ve got down the role of teacher and want to play it as long as I can.

Every time I put my head on my desk and wonder how I’m going to make it, I feel the vibrations of tens of thousands of heads on desks of teachers just like me and I know how they feel.

My sister says that these experiences of the tough side of teaching aren’t wasted if I can help others through them. So sometimes the road I travel as a teacher is dark and hard and full of slimy gooey monsters who threaten to steal my joy and life’s purpose. But as I kill the monsters, I can help other teachers kill their own. I can shine a light upon the heroes among us. Teachers are epic. I love them with a deep love. Telling their story is part of telling my own.

I was watching the movie Star Wars recently and wondered what made that movie so good. Of course, there are a thousand reasons. But I also noticed that if I paused the DVD on any frame, I could point toward any major character and say exactly what that person wanted. No character had a vague ambition. It made me wonder if the reasons our lives seem so muddled is because we keep walking into scenes in which we, along with the people around us, have no clear idea what we want.Donald Miller
A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, loc 1258

But I’m afraid now because my story includes sweat. It includes some more running if I can get my knee to cooperate. Whatever it is, it is going to include not eating the Italian Cream Cake that my son won at the Fall Festival Last night. I may have to shun the ham and mashed potato casserole the lunchroom is famous for and eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich instead.

If I’m Going to Edit My Life

Because if I’m going to edit my life – I’m going to have to lose this weight. I’m going to have to join my son who has already lost 18 pounds as he loses another 15 or so and I am going to have to become healthy. If I’m going to edit my life.

Somehow we realize that great stories are told in conflict, but we are unwilling to embrace the potential greatness of the story we are actually in. We think God is unjust, rather than a master storyteller.Donald Miller
A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, p 100

If I’m going to edit my life, I’m going to have to not only write this blog and tweet and these other things. But I’m going to have to make time to write the books that are on my heart. I’m going to have to overcome my fears of self publishing or my self-doubt that people may not want to read it. I see where I want to go with these books but I have to go there.

Overcoming Conflict Gives You Purpose

I remember being a sixth grader who was bullied beyond belief. I cried every single day for four years – from halfway through fifth through halfway through ninth grade. It was hard. I was one of those who ran for every election and never won one I couldn’t even get elected to carry the banner for the Homecoming parade.

What I’m saying is I think life is staggering and we’re just used to it. We all are like spoiled children no longer impressed with the gifts we’re given – it’s just another sunset, just another rainstorm moving in over the mountain, just another child being born, just another funeral.Donald Miller
A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, loc 719

I remember it was in sixth or seventh grade and Mom and I were driving in the car to Albany to shop. I had my shoes off with my argyle sock clad feet on the dashboard. I told her that I knew deep down I was called be a leader but that no one would let me lead. That I had something to say and no one would let me speak.

Was I going to have to live my whole life alone when I had these things inside me that had to come out? I felt like I was going to explode. I had stuff to share and do. Things needed to be done. And I was invisible.

Overcoming Conflict Writes a Great Story

So, Mom bought me a book. It was my Granddaddy Martin’s favorite book after the Bible. How To Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. She  told me to read it until it made a difference.  I remember keeping the book in the bathroom and reading it while I took the long hot baths that have marked the end of my day since I was in the second grade. I read it. I read it. I reread it.

By ninth grade I understood that thinking of others first was the key. Of course, we all star at the center of our own play – as evidenced by my introspective book review here — but as you look at your goals, looking at others first will help you shape your own goals to be a more helpful person. Genuinely help others because you want to and in the end, you help yourself. You reap what you sow.

If the point of life is the same as the point of a story, the point of life is a character transformation.Donald Miller
A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, loc 821

I stopped talking about what I wanted and started looking at what others wanted.

For for my next election I asked “What do ninth graders want?”

In my generation we wanted to hang out – boys and girls. Lights off and dance. Not this dirty dancing stuff they do today but in our day our music was considered pretty raunchy too. Careless Whispers and rock stars who dressed like zombies, wore one glove and grabbed their crotch. Naughty stuff, mind you. So, I ran on a platform of more dances. That election and every election after it, I was blessed to be voted the winner. Even through college and beyond. Not because of me but because I learned to think of others.

Transformed character through overcoming conflict. Story.

Overcoming Hard Things Makes Good Stories, Good Stories Make a Great Life

And that story is pretty cool. It is one I could tell my children and they can understand. I always tell my kids —

“Don’t you know we always have to start off with nothing and earn it. That is who we are.”

My Recommendation

I highly recommend this book. While there are some religious overtones, I would recommend it to anyone. There’s great clarity that comes from looking at your life in this way. And that clarity, like this book, is a gift.

Part of me wonders if our stories aren’t being stolen by the easy life.Donald Miller
A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, loc 1948

Awesome book. Great read. I’ve already given away two copies. It is that good. A Million Miles in a Thousand Years is one of my best reads of 2014.

Show Your Work Book Review (Workman Publishing Company, 2014)

Austin Kleon has two great books you should pick up:

These are empowering books for writers and educators alike. They are so beautiful, though, you’ll want to buy the print version. I particularly love Show Your Work! for two reasons:

  1. Kleon shows that sharing your work should be part of what you do every single day.
  2. Many of us are paralyzed by perfectionism. We don’t want to “show” our work because our work isn’t perfect.

Kleon convincingly shows how showing your work is part of a journey to better work. By sharing and showing, you get feedback. By getting feedback, you get better. When you get better and share more, you get more feedback. Thus, showing your work and learning from others as you do is the path to awesome. He puts into words what many of us who blog and share feel about our own journey. As I blog, I believe I learn far more than I share. The more I share, the more I learn. Crazy, isn’t it? Not convinced — buy the book.

Be an Excellentist not a Perfectionist

Since reading his book I”ve committed to shun my desire to be perfect. I am now a self-proclaimed excellentist not a perfectionist.

Perfect is a lie. Excellence holds true. Perfection implies everyone has to love you. Perfectionism — for us mere humans — is unattainable.

Excellence is a commitment to do your best and to achieve a high standard of excellence in your field. I aspire to be that.

The term excellentist is one I coined as I was talking to two of my students who struggle with perfectionism.I had these two students wouldn’t hand in a project because it wasn’t perfect yet. Seth Godin talks about this also when he says to “ship it.” (Someone else may say this word too, if they do, I don’t know it but it is a good term, so hey, I’m that.) 

Perfectionism is a problem that keeps us from being creative. It can limit your life and your ability to thrive. Excellentism is a much more worthy habit as long as it is something worthy of being excellent in. I am happy to satisfice and pick any old pen to write with, however, I want posts on this blog to be excellent.

Shun the Vampires

He also talks about shunning the vampires in your life — those people who suck all the creativity and joy out of you. He uses the example of how sculptor Constantin Brancusi wouldn’t tolerate the life-sucking habits of Pablo Picasso. Before the years of Facebook, he “defriended” Picasso. Quite literally in real life.

A chapter title from Steal like an artist, Austin Kleon's first book.

A chapter title from Steal like an artist, Austin Kleon’s first book.

Sometimes the teacher’s lounge is a hangout for vampires. If so, don’t go there. Run away!

Great Graphics and a Simple Read

The other thing I love about both of Austin Kleon’s book is the graphic appeal of it. He uses graphics, text, and even poetry in ways that are appealing. I have both of his books on my coffee table and read them when I need to be inspired to keep going and sharing.

Who Will Like This Book?

  • Teachers and educators who advocate helping students publish their work.
  • People who want to use social media but don’t get the point of why they should share.
  • Perfectionists and creatives of all kinds will love these books.

My favorite of the two is Show Your Work! but that is kind of like saying whether I like chocolate ice cream or Moose Tracks — both are pretty doggone good.

Buy the Book Reinventing Writing and Improve Student Writing Now!

Reinventing Writing is here — in ebook format at least. Those of you who follow me on Twitter and Facebook got the news last Friday that due to a glitch, the book was released early at a big discount. I’m glad for those of you who jumped on it (the price went back up yesterday.) […]

Reinventing Writing: Free Video and Virtual Book Signing

Writing has been reinvented. Nine tools have changed writing, learning and living forever and we need to understand how to use them in our schools. The keynote video in this blog post was part of the Reinventing the Classroom conference and I share the highlights of what I do with my students to teach these […]