As I set off with my trusty backpack…


I am an explorer. People who know me wouldn’t disagree with the statement and would probably point to my love of travel as evidence. But I would argue that I travel because I am an explorer, not that I am an explorer because I travel. This is a distinction that I wouldn’t have made before today

But I became an educator because I am an explorer; I am curious and wanted to learn more about the world and people around me. Being an educator gives you license to learn anything and everything, but it’s also an opportunity to uncover how the world works and to bring that world to my students. I am also an explorer in the classroom, both an ethnographer and an archeologist, uncovering truths and information about my students.

Labeling educators as explorers can be an important shift in how teachers and the outside world think of teachers. On one hand, some people see teachers as experts in a subject matter who then impart that knowledge to students. Another view of teachers is as regurgitators of information that someone else has deemed important. A third view is that of a teacher as a facilitator of learning experiences. Which view is most popular seems to ebb and flow with time and which education trend is currently in fashion. Educators as explorers is obviously most complementary with the third view of teachers –- a view where teachers are continuing to learn and gather knowledge and can use that knowledge to craft engaging and empowering learning experiences for their students.

Explorers venture off into unknown (to them) territory to learn new information; information that they then translate into a medium that others can understand. Traditionally, they also play a role in exposing you to new people and new experiences you didn’t even know existed. And since many organizations understand the value of having teachers value what organization values (geography, a tech tool, India), teachers are given opportunities to explore in ways that other professions aren’t afforded. Often these are geared toward specific content areas and/or age groups but it’s amazing what I am allowed to spend time learning (often for free and sometimes even paid to learn.)

The teachers who are explorers learn for learning’s sake, those who know that no knowledge is wasted, seek out these opportunities. Russian history workshops taught by experts (i.e. university professors) passionate about the topic –sign me up. Studying butterflies in Costa Rica — I am there. What role plankton plays in the ocean and on our planet? — I can’t wait (especially if it has an in the field aspect).

As a teacher, I tromp off to these conferences, experiences, or online opportunities to gain knowledge and skills that I can bring back to my students. I translate my learning experiences into a medium where the students are exposed to this new information and ideas — my role is open their eyes and to provide experiences that might be contradictory to their world view so that their understanding of the world and how it works is widened.

As an educator who wants my students to have a voice and choice in their learning and who crafts inquiry-based learning experiences, I need to have a diverse knowledge base. My gain in knowledge is their gain.

Having an explorer’s mindset allows me to craft learning experiences where my students’ curiosity drives the conversation and learning. I am okay with the unknown and have a skill set where I am confident (perhaps unreasonably) that I can figure out enough information to help students with what they need help with. My role becomes one of a connector — I connect students to information, to experts, and to locations where they can learn the information that is needed. I translate the unknown into explorable bits so that students themselves are explorers of new information, new skills, and new learning experiences.

Today, I participated in a meet-up sponsored by National Geographic. I was lucky enough to hear the stories of explorers (both educators and explorers in the more traditional sense) and as with other learning experiences, my brain went into overdrive on how to share this information with others — how might I translate my experience and learnings into a format my colleagues and students could understand?

Archeology? I love archeology and learning about the past. This love carried me through nine years of Latin, three years of classical Greek, and one fabulous dig in Ecuador but today’s insight and learning was tied to STEM. I had never thought about how much STEM is involved in archeology. Listening Christine Lee, a bio archeologist, talk about her work in Mongolia all I could think about was how this could be a path to bring more students who traditionally are not involved in STEM in college and as a career into the STEM world. How might we use archeology to inspire K-12 students to be curious problem-solvers? How might this lead to more diverse and varied understanding of what it means to be a scientist?

Shah Selbe Talking About His Lab

Examples of how technology can solve problems that are facing the world today? Yes, please! Shah Selbe provided a wow factor of what can happen when you bring technology and engineering into conservation projects as well as a eureka moment. I helped run a hack-a-thon last year for our middle school students where they utilized the Internet of Things (IoT) to solve local problems. His examples of how he and his collaborators are utilizing IoT to solve global problems helped push my thinking what the students might focus on and might actually prototype (check out It also was an example of the value that technology can add to conservation work, and that by compartmentalizing disciplines and subject areas, we limit out-of-the-box and innovative thinking. He doesn’t know this but I have already started to brainstorm ways to use what he is working on to inspire and to push my students’ thinking.

Broadening my understanding of US history? Learning information that expands my understanding of US history is always a bonus. Tom Herman presented on resources about the Anza Expedition, a journey by Juan Bautista de Anza (and 240 men, women, and children) in 1776 from New Spain to establish a settlement at the San Francisco Bay. This could be a perfect new project-based learning unit for either the 4th or 5th grade classes — 4th grade studies California history (and visits the Bautista mission) and 5th grade studies the formation of the United States. Thoughts are swirling about head about where to take this next.

So as I set off to work this morning with my trusty backpack, I think about the new possibilities out there. What might I explore next?

All I know is that having opportunities to interact with other explorers and experts in the field allows me to continue to learn and provide better learning experiences for my students, and I thank National Geographic for allowing me to spend two days uncovering new insights and discovering that I too am an explorer.

Originally Published on Medium at

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Teaching Global Competency


Does your school focus on making sure students are ready for a global society? What skills, attitudes, and knowledge is taught? What is missing? Will your students have the skills necessary to be successful and active participants in college and beyond?

In our area of the country, global competency and global education are becoming a hot topic (as they should be). Districts and schools are having conversations about what it means to be a globally competent student and which skills, attitudes, and knowledge students need to be success in today’s global economy.

The California Department of Education just wrapped up its second day of a global education summit, looking for feedback, inspiration, and clarity on what educators think California should focus on in terms of global education.

Should schools focus on foreign language instruction, teaching about other countries and other people, or environmental projects that touch all of us? There are some fabulous resources out there for teaching global education and global competency for both students and teachers some of which were shared at the CA Global Education Summit.

National Geographic has started a Nat Geo Educator Certification program to support educators developing students in the skills, attitudes, and knowledge deemed necessary for students to be globally competent.. Though the program is currently in beta, the educator community has a lot of resources on teaching students about the world. Check it out at

The Partnership for 21st Century Learning has a wealth of resources including a framework for state action on global education and a Teacher Guide to K-12 Global Education Grade Level Indicators. Colleagues at my school have found these particularly useful since the Teacher Guide is broken down into grade level spans and has concrete indicators of the skills and knowledge students might demonstrate as globally competent individuals.

The Asia Society also has delineated what a global competent student might look like and identified resources to prepare students. They also have how to guides as well as a network of schools (International Studies School Network) focused on closing the achievement gap and addressing the opportunity gap between what is being taught in schools and what a student needs to be a successful and productive member of our global society.

Teaching environmental science or bringing elements of environmental science into your classroom or existing content is a great way to help students see the interconnectedness of the environment, our communities, and the world (a skill necessary to be globally competent and climate literate). One way to connected to others in real world through citizen science projects and activities. Check out SciStarter for numerous projects you can do with your students around a variety of topics. Students can count birds for or take pictures of ladybugs they find in the Spot the Ladybug project or help track air pollution in the AirVisual: The Air Pollution Monitoring Project.

One focus of the CA Global Ed Summit (Day 2) was thinking about global education in terms of career and CTE (career and technical education) and the skills needed to be successful in life. Global education can be content knowledge (such as learning a foreign language or participating as a citizen scientist) but teachers can also focus on helping students develop specific skills and attitudes necessary to be global competent and ready for college, career, and beyond.

A specific skill and attitude students need to have to be globally competent is the ability to see others’ points of view. Developing empathy and an understanding of others can be developed by traveling but also can be developed through a variety in classroom activities. Picture books and novels are great starting places for students to put themselves in others’ shoes and to refine their understanding of others’ points of view. When students immerse themselves in a story, especially a story with a character who is different from them, they need to learn how to think like the character in order to understanding the characters’ thoughts and motivations.

Another way to help students learn how to think about others is to create opportunities to use the design thinking process to solve real world problems. The beauty of design thinking is that it is a human-centered process that asks students to step outside themselves and to design solutions for someone else. It provides opportunities for explicit empathy gathering since the students are asked to really understand the point of view and needs of the person they are designing for. Students are asked again and again to think about and understand others, a skill necessary to be successful in our global society.

To be part of the conversation on global education and how schools focusing on (or not focusing on) developing the skills, attitudes, and knowledge necessary for students to become globally competent, follow #globaled or join #globaledchat on Thursdays 8pm EST/ 5pm PST.

To learn more about what was discussed at the CA Global Education Summit, check out my Storify: and/or join the CA Global Education Network at

Farmers' Market

Hanging out with students from our sister school in China

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Storytelling and Teacher Voice


I always feel like once you start paying attention to topic/event/idea, you see it everywhere. For me, storytelling has been this topic. Everywhere I look, storytelling and telling your story is there, proclaiming its worth and explaining why YOU should tell your story.

For me, thinking about storytelling started this summer. My colleagues and I were accepted to the Teach to Lead Washington DC Summit (July 2015), a two day summit sponsored by the US Department of Ed,  National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, and (recently added) ASCD.  The summit (and other Teach to Lead summits) was organized around creating opportunities for teacher leadership–each school, organization, school district, or state submitted a proposal on how to they were going to increase teacher leadership, and the two-day summit focused on providing time for teams to flesh out their ideas, through workshops, feedback, reflection, and work time.

Our proposal and work focused on creating a career lattice for teachers at our school to support them as they developed into rock star educators. So often in education, your choices are being  “just a teacher,” being an administrator, or working on becoming an administrator. Teacher or administrator–those are the two paths that people see for themselves. In addition, becoming an administrator is often seen as a step-up rather than being “just a teacher.” We wanted (and still want to) to broaden the definition of what it meant to be an educator. Furthermore, our mission statement states, “BCS inspires children, faculty and staff to reach beyond themselves to achieve full potential.” We focus a lot on making sure our students are reaching their full potential but what about our staff? Thus, we started to explore developing a career lattice of sorts, a professional pathways plan, that including options such as leading from the classroom, becoming the best rock-star teacher one could be, becoming a coach or mentor (while still in the classroom or something more full time), working in edtech or instructional design, and becoming an administrator.

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How we might develop teacher leaders and support teachers through different pathways

How is this connected to storytelling you ask? Well, when we started to discuss how to introduce the idea of teacher pathways,  it became apparent that one of the reasons we wanted to create the pathways was because we understood that people became teachers for many different reasons. Having pathways would honor those reasons as well as provide opportunities for teachers to take ownership over their own future. Telling the stories of why we became teachers would provide a space for us to reflect on our educational journeys so far and where we were going. In addition, those stories would provide a vehicle for connecting where we are with where we were going.

We decided our first step would be a storytelling workshop where teachers, admin, and staff would think about the power of storytelling, reflect and tell their story, and participate in some self-learning. Were they meeting their mission of why they got into teaching? Has their teaching mission changed? Are they on a  new trajectory? This workshop would provide a frame for the pathways and give meaning to the work we were doing.

Even though I started see articles and stories everywhere about the importance of storytelling, there were/are very few websites, articles, classes on the art of storytelling (well, other than the English/language arts classroom). IDEO has a Storytelling for Influence online class but it’s expensive and lasts several weeks. There were articles that stated teachers should tell their stories and how this helps teachers take ownership of their stories (the why) but not on the how. How do teachers tell their stories? Where do they tell their stories? 

We spent months emailing, calling, and reaching out to our connections and to organizations that focus teacher leadership. Finally, we came across an acquaintance who was passionate about storytelling, had been a teacher, and was now working in supporting teachers. Eureka!

During our search for a storyteller/person who would support us in telling our stories, I attended an I3 grantee event called Moving Innovation in Education Forward at the Medium Headquarters in San Francisco. Medium is a space for people to write stories and publish them on their online platform. It’s blogging 2.0 with greater opportunities for interaction and conversation between the writers and the readers. One focus of the workshop was grantees sharing their stories via Medium, and not just the PR stories, but stories about the journey and learning that would take place while they implemented their grant. Yes! An person/organization talking about WHY stories should be shared and some ideas about HOW to share (including a space where to share the stories).  I tucked my thoughts about this event into the back of brain to pull out when we were ready to write.

Finally, we were ready for our storytelling day (which we scheduled on a staff development day so that everyone could attend). The day started off with a community building activity since we wanted to set the tone of being a team, feeling safe, and having fun. In small groups, teachers were live action educational memes (complete with animated “GIFs”). From “When THAT parent emails you at midnight” to “When a student asks for the directions right after you said them,” teachers embraced this fun activity with enthusiasm.

Second on our list was a tinkering activity. Though at first glance this may not seem to fit, the purpose of the activity was two-fold. One was to provide a fun STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) activity while the second was to complete an activity where most participants would exhibit a beginner’s mindset. The activity was scribbling machines, and for most teachers, circuits are not something with which they feel comfortable. So it was new activity for most, and it created a space to talk about growth mindset, working hard and not giving up when struggling, how to work together to rise above your frustrations and mistakes, the importance of reflection, and how learning is not a linear path. This became the perfect segue into how teaching can be difficult with ups and downs, but when we focus on why we became teachers and why we stay teaching, the hard work and growth is worth it.


A scribbling machine

The storytelling workshop focused on helping us understand why stories are important and how to tell stories–both as a narrative form that one might teach in school but also the importance of story in self-identity, how  stories drive who we are, and how stories influence us. We watched TED talks and YouTube videoes on stories (such as The Future of Storytelling by Paul Zak and Wired for Story by Lisa Cron). We looked for quotes on storytelling and wrote stories on why we became teachers. We reflected on barriers we’ve faced on our journeys and strengths we developed because of those barriers.


Finding quotes on storytelling

And we looked toward the future–Where is my path leading me? What is my next step? What is that next corner? What do I have? What do I need? What are my strengths? What trainings do I need? What can my colleagues help with? What do I need to take ownership over? 

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What our future holds for us–our next paths

The answers to these questions started the conversation about what a career lattice/teacher pathways might look like. (And where those of us who attended the Teach to Lead summit stopped to high five each other. Yay! Pathways being suggested by our colleagues themselves. Teacher voices being raised and heard).

From these conversations, we introduced the idea of pathways and a career lattice. Career lattice is a bit of misnomer because when I think of career, I think of guidance counselors and having one career. What is your career going to be? What are you going to be when you grow up? It’s the lattice part about it that we focused on –we have all these paths that intersect at different points, and a path may not be straight, and your path might be different than my path, and they may intersect at different points or maybe just once but we’re all focused on education and doing the best we possibly can for students. What might this look like in education? How can teachers lead from the classroom if they want? What career options are there? How can we reframe the conversation about teacher pathways?

In addition to starting the conversation about teacher pathways and a career lattice, we wanted to support teachers in publicly telling their story. In my quest for learning more about storytelling, I came across a great story: Chimamanda Adichie’s The Danger of a Single Story. This TED Talk focused on how the problem with stereotypes is that only one story is being told.  When you only hear one story, you don’t get to hear and learn about the other points of view and perspectives that are out there. These stories are only heard when  people are encouraged and empowered to speak.

So while we spent the morning writing our stories, we didn’t share them, and a lack of teacher voices and teacher stories is a problem in education today. The story of schooling is being told by irate parents, unknowledgeable politicians, and one or two representatives of the teaching professional. So, while professional pathways provide opportunities for teacher empowerment, sharing our stories also is empowering and is important. Stories of why we became teachers, stories about why we stayed teaching, and stories about our struggles and successes are all valuable. In addition, sharing our stories about reframing what it means to be an educator helps others see the different perspectives of what it means to be a teacher. It broadens the definition and doesn’t rely on one stereotype.

We needed a platform to tell our stories, a space for conversation about and documentation of where we are coming from as well as where we are going. Medium to the rescue!  Under our own Medium publication, BCS Educator Voices, we are moving beyond teacher as a static singular figure and looking at the diversity of teaching voices. We are providing a space for teachers to reconnect with why we became educators and to share our journeys as we transition to the next stage of our careers, regardless of where those paths may lead.

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Our publication on Medium

Hopefully, you will check out our stories and will interact with us. Share your stories and your own path. Interested in learning more about storytelling? Check out this article that was published the day of our storytelling workshop (yes, it’s everywhere!).


Posted in Professional Development, Storytelling, Teacher Leaders | Tagged | Leave a comment