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Happy Birthday, Coach

Thursday was my 42nd birthday. I’m not ashamed to admit my age. In the immortal words of New Kids on the Block, “Age is just a number, don’t you stop having fun.” Over the course of that day, hundreds of people sent tweets, wall posts, texts, Voxes, direct messages, called or gave in person well wishes for my big day, which happened to fall on Thanksgiving. You’re probably thinking that’s a big number, but to my credit, I’ve come in contact with too many people to count between my hometown and current city, college experience, professional contacts and school community.

As I drove home yesterday (a 3+ hour drive), I began to think about the myriad of people that took the time to send me a ‘birthday shoutout’ and was struck by one subset – former students. One of the pillars of my teaching has been forming lasting bonds with students. As a related arts teacher, I have the privilege of having students for multiple years, watching them mature and become more independent. I’ve stayed in contact with many as they graduate high school and go on to become teachers, doctors, lawyers, tradesmen and tradeswomen, cosmetologists and too many other vocations to listen. I’ve also shed tears when they end up incarcerated, pass away or battle personal demons.

Each year at graduation, I’ve always told my graduating 5th graders that my gym will always be theirs and they are always welcome to come back and visit. Many students take me up on that offer. True, many are those that graduated within the past few months, but many are now in high school, college and now working themselves as well. Too many to count have asked advice or come to let me know they were engaged, starting a family or had chosen a profession. Seven of my former students and interns have gone on to choose physical and health education as a career, which is humbling.

There have been times when I’ve questioned if my body can continue to function at a level required to be effective as a physical educator. There have been surgeries, injections, days on crutches and too many nights on the couch with ice packs to count. Pain is temporary. As I age, the pain becomes more frequent and intense, but it does somewhat subside. The joy I feel knowing that I’ve made an impact on a student’s life is wonderful medicine. It gives me motivation and healing that medicines and ice packs cannot and it makes me more certain that age IS just a number. I may be 42, but my students, current and former, make me feel 24.



It’s easy to be content where we are professionally.  We become comfortable in our surroundings; we find a pattern that suits us and we stay in a holding pattern.  Sure, educators love their jobs and they give time beyond what’s expected and what they are compensated.  That story is as old as time.  When students do well, educators are lauded; when there are problems, they are castigated.

ECET2 is a movement.  Maybe the word movement doesn’t do it justice.  Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teaching and Teachers was created in 2012 by the Gates Foundation for Education.  The New Orleans convening was the fourth national one, and state and regional convenings have popped up across the nation.  In our Bluegrass state, there have been 5 convenings to date with the second state convening to be held in January.  Unlike many negative connotations the state of Kentucky may have, with the Gates Foundation and ECET2, we are one of the states who lead the way and set the bar high for others to emulate.  I’m so proud to be a part of ECET2KY, and can’t fathom that it’s been less than a year since my journey began.

300 of the best and brightest teachers from across the country were treated like rock stars at ECET2NOLA.  Most had no idea of what to expect.  There were a select group of teachers from previous convenings and from the Gates Teacher Advisory Council that were involved in the planning; it made the event more relevant to be planned for teachers by teachers.  From the opening remarks by Irvin Scott (@iscott4) of Gates Ed, all in attendance were mesmerized.  Over the course of the weekend, breakout sessions that both challenged and inspired, keynotes that brought both tears and laughter, and food and drink worthy of true rock stars or professional athletes were enjoyed.  Colleague circles promoted candor and critical discussions of problems of practice. Innovative new ideas were shared, networks grew and above all, educators were inspired by just being in each other’s presence.  Oh yes, there was also parade down Bourbon Street – a local band leading the convening from the hotel to the site of the welcome reception, where beads were showered on friends and strangers alike, waiting below with arms outstretched. #ibeadedthat

Of special meaning to me were the remarks by Vicky Phillips (@drvickip), director of Education, College and Career Ready Program of the Gates Foundation, a proud Kentuckian.  She spoke of the important role education has played in her life and of the impressive gains our home state has made since the adoption of Common Core.  We are a state on the rise, and she is proud of us.  Vicky is proud of us.  As I grow in my connection to the Gates Foundation, the fact that Vicky is proud of us means more and more to me.  At the concluding state luncheon, we sat at the same table and discussed the next steps for ECET2 in our state.  By the end of the lunch, she had spoken with each of the 27 Kentucky delegates.

In an era where teachers are undervalued, with ECET2, they are anything but.  As I mentored to the ‘newbies’ throughout the weekend and reconnected with old friends, one recurring theme was evident.  There is a passion, a fire, inside all teachers that sometimes needs to be stoked.  Once the flame gains momentum, the educator truly becomes an ‘impatient optimist’ that doesn’t merely believe they can make a difference.  They have accepted they do make a difference and they strive to make an even bigger impact, not just on their students, but on all those around them. is the link to the video that gives a glimpse into the passion and celebration of this past weekend.  To those of you that were there and have been involved with the ECET2 movement, I send a hardy SHOUTOUT!  To those of you who aren’t familiar with the movement that is ECET2, please read Vicki Phillip’s blog on the Impatient Optimist site to get a better idea of just how powerful the weekend was.

Welcome to Your Blank Canvas – #ECET2KY

My #ECET2KY experience began with the trip to the Red Mile in snow and treacherous driving conditions.  I rarely made it above 40MPH and a normally benign drive took 2.5 hours.  By the time Taylor Haydock (@MrsTCH – Kennedy Montessori Elementary) arrived, it felt like I’d been in the Iditarod Race.  I had packed rations in case I ended up stranded, but thankfully, they were not used.  I did, however, keep my snow boots on as I trudged into the event.

Once we got in and found our table (and sweet swag bag), it wasn’t long before the magic began.  MC Mickey Campbell introduced the day’s events and changes that needed to be made due to the inclement weather (no Google apps session), and then Barbara Bellissimo (@bbellissimo – Fund for Transforming Education in KY gave a welcome, explanation of @thefundKY and introduction to Irvin Scott (@iscott4 –  Gates Foundation).  We sang – yes, sang – to a version of the Black Eyed Peas and gave a rousing “SHOUT OUT” until we had enough spunk.  I must say that by this time, I was captivated.  The #tag #ECET2KY was probably trending by this time!

Sherri McPherson (@SherriRMc – Fayette County) was the first speaker and posed a question that many of us may have been asking, “Why am I here?”  She spoke with passion of her ECET experiences and spoke of rejuvenation for our profession.  To remember WHY we teach and what drew us to teaching.  She encouraged us to be a voice for our profession; to work together to forward education.  With all the hoops we as educators must jump through today, it’s easy to lose sight of those.  As she spoke, thoughts of special moments with students popped into my head.  I love my job.  I get to “play” and form the foundation of what it means to be “healthy” with my students.  I am truly blessed!

My first breakout session was with Robin Reid and Brison Harvey of Lafayette HS – “Learning and Improving Practice through Collaboration.  Taylor and I were teamed with Brian McDowell and Renee Boss (@renee_boss – KDE) and collaborated to build a 28.5 inch house of cards and a structure made from 18 pieces of raw spaghetti, string, masking tape, a rubber band and a marshmallow which nearly stood on it’s own:)  We looked at the Tom Wujec: Build a Tower, Build a Team TED talk and spoke about how collaboration is imperative for the educational process.

We came back for the first of two colleague circles where we shared our leadership “super power” and discussed what leadership meant to us.  My circle included Brian McDowell (Mason County), Mickey Campbell (Fayette County), Paradise Forbes (@pforbes81 – Williamstown), Ali Wright (@alicrowley – Fayette County) and Anna Shultz (@aetps13 of the Gates Foundation).  As I listened to Anna explain her work at the Gates Foundation and the exciting things planned for #ECET2, I felt an overwhelming desire to get even more involved with being a teacher leader.

Our second breakout session was with Ali Wright and the Center for Teaching Quality (#CTQ) team.  We were posed a quote from Barnett Berry (who was in attendance), “It’s time to blur the lines between those who teach in schools and those who lead them.”  We were asked to compare our version of what leadership is to what we had heard so far.  I must say that my views on leadership were being challenged by the company that I was in. This was not just any group of educators.  There were teachers of the year at either side of me. There were nationally recognized leaders and innovators.  I felt motivated to be more of a leader in my school, district, state and beyond. We were asked to create a professional action plan and were given an amazing template to use.  I made it a point to ask for additional copies so I could share with my colleagues.

During lunch, our keynote speaker, Megan Allen (@redhdteacher – Florida, Mt. Holyoke College), delivered a passionate talk.  She showed a street sign from New Orleans that says, “Welcome to Your Blank Canvas” and asked what we would put on our canvas.  She shared stories of students.  Her “Grip of Trust” story hit close to home, reminding me of my son, William, an Aspie.  It was so uplifting to see her passion that she fills towards her work.  I later attended Megan’s breakout session called Fireside Chat, without a doubt my favorite session.  We worked in groups to list celebrations and challenges after we watched a Tosh 2.0 clip on Jessica’s Affirmations The statement “We don’t grow when things are easy, we grow when we face challenges” really made an impression on the group.  Megan talked about Imposter Syndrome and having faith in your abilities, believing that we do have a voice and we are the experts in our field, so we must have a voice.  We are all leaders our own way.  My new friend Kelly Stidham (@kastidham – KDE) posed the question that seemed to sum up our challenges.  Her post it read, “Have we clearly defined what our work is as a profession?”  We were taxed to think about what leadership looked like at our schools, which tied in with something said at my colleague circle that stuck with me, “Is everyone in my building ready to be a leader?”  As I drove home, those two questions took up most of my time.

We met back in our colleague circles again to discuss what work needs to be done in our profession, what the role of the teacher leader looks like, next steps for ECET2, and how we can network.  Josh Roberson (Robertson County) was our closing speaker, addressing “How did I get here?” “Why YES is so Important” and “Are We Professionaly Fit.”

The day was so empowering.  From the speakers to the people at each table to the questioning and challenges, I left feeling like I had a more defined idea of what I wanted my teaching and leadership to look like.  New goals were realized, new friendships were made, and most importantly, I realized how much more there was that Kentucky had to offer it’s students.  We are at the front of the educational movement in this state.  We must not rest on our laurels and continue to push forward with innovative new ideas and fresh thinking.  I’m so honored to be part of that movement.

On a #physed note, I met two amazing physical educators from Central Kentucky.  Melody Hamilton (@WoodfordcntyPE – Woodford County) and Emily Coleman (Fayette County).  Melody will be a presenter at next month’s SDAAPHERD Conference on Teacher Effectiveness.  Meeting other physical and health educators is always so exciting!Image


Connecting the educators in JCPS in positive, solutions-oriented conversations.

Coach Ratliff #physed

Trying to physically educate the world, one person at a time...


A discussion of best practices in the modern Physical Education classroom