Teachers, it is time for us to embrace our profession of TEACHING! #coffeechugPLN

“Never create for today; How might we prepare for the future? …The world is moving and we cannot stand still” —@jbrettjacobsen

I read this tweet today and could not help but think how true this statement is in education today. We are at a place and time where the world is moving and upgrading at a pace that not everyone is able to keep up with.

Schools have always been behind society and with the surge in technology, shift in economy, and dynamic swing in society/economy/lifestyle schools are falling behind at an even more rapid rate.

Teachers have to stop worrying about the past. They need to stop thinking so much about how they were taught or ways that used to work. Times have changed. The world has changed. And it will all continue to change. We must change along with it.

Educators must embrace the world we live in. We need to stop waiting for permission and make things happen. We have a keen enough insight to see how things have progressed and changed. We know enough from being in the battle trenches of education to know what is still missing in schools today. We are intelligent enough to know how to make these ideas happen.

And we are powerful enough to make change and do what is right.

Enough of the mindset that we are “just teachers”. You are not “just a teacher”. You are mind shaper who innovates and inspires the next generation to help enhance the world. It begins with us in our classrooms doing what we know how to do best.

So don’t think for today. Don’t think about standardized test scores, following the sameness factor that we have all been forced to believe. Stand up and teach! Teach these kids to be ready for the world. We may not know what the future holds, but we sure as heck know what it takes to be successful and ready.

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Do your kids get enough boredom? A thought provoking question and article

I read another article that made me stop and pause. The article discusses whether our children are having enough time being “bored”.

Do your kids get enough boredom? http://t.co/6NgkhM4

I cannot help but think being bored is actually a good thing. I think to my son Aiden who complains about being “bored” within 10 seconds of not playing with a friend, playing a videogame, or watching tv. It bothers me that he has already begun to lose the creativity and imagination that he once used all the time to entertain himself. Or perhaps maybe it looks different now and I have not come to terms with this yet. He must be constantly entertained. He was one that could sit and create something out of nothing, but now that he has grown up to the ripe old age of 8 he is losing that critical skill.

The more I read about the future and how the world is flattening I cannot help but think that I need to put him and his sisters in situations where they are forced to be creative and problem solve. At night when Aiden and Addy go to bed we can hear them two hang out in Aiden’s bedroom and just play and create these very cool(and humorous) games and pretend worlds. I don’t want to be some extreme parent, but I want my kids to be able to entertain themselves. I don’t worry about Addy because she still lives in Addy World and she can just do her own thing whenever.

I don’t know what the answer is. Do we eliminate stimuli? I know I am guilty of the notion of always being entertained. I am trying hard to keep my phone away from me at times so I don’t constantly check this app and that app. What I have found is when I move my phone away for certain parts of the day I am slowly getting my concentration back to read and explore other things.

Would I accomplish more without my phone? I think so, but I have gained so much from my Twitter conversations and networking with people. There is a time and place.

It is all about balance. Aiden no longer has that balance. I just don’t know what to do with it. I just let him be bored and tell him it is good for him until he figures something out. So far, he just pouts until it is time for the next thing in our crazy schedule.


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What is the purpose of education? We want to hear from you!

I posed this question to some of my students for an assignment the last week and I think you will be intrigued by their answers. I have created a Padlet where all their submissions are posted


I would love it if you would check out their answers to this question. Please leave a comment or two here on this blog post for them. Pick their brains more. Ask them more questions, tell them what you agree/disagree with, etc. They want more discussion on this and they only can handle so much from this teacher.

Even better, craft your own answer and share. We would love to have others to compare answers to and even better from other educators. Leave your answer on the page. It is open for others to post and share.

Are educators and students on the same page or are we off?

What really is “education”? Are we stuck in old ways of thinking or is that the right way?

Let us know.

We will be uploading throughout the rest of the day.

Please share and spread the word to help my students gain some active thinking.

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Help Crowdsource Resources for Parents with Gifted Children

I am sharing and creating a document where anyone who has something to share something valuable is free to help out. We are trying to gather resources for parents who have gifted children. We have the document broke up into several categories. Feel free to edit/modify and tweak as necessary.

Here is the link – https://docs.google.com/document/d/1Jf8H3AD1dasbRh_oFQhiAjc1ElXN5GNyl8yRaDqeL7k/edit?usp=sharing

We hope you consider helping build up a great resource tool for parents.

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Flat Classroom Debate Project: Eracism – How we operate and prepare

I wanted to create a post about our current project we are exploring in 6th grade. I am working with a small group of students for a global debate project, Eracism, conducted by Flat Class.

We are debating the following topic:  “The use of Facebook by students around the world to communicate with one another does more harm than good.”

We just wrapped up our first round debates. We faced a  very powerful school from Indiana, Forest Ridge Academy. As we now prepare for our next debate and wait for the judges decision on which school won I wanted to take time to write up a post sharing how we prepare and conduct class for a global debate.

The whole process and information about this project can be found here: http://eracism.flatclassroomproject.org/

Step 1: My situation is a bit unique. I teach extensions/enrichments. Our 6th grade is currently focusing on the theme of bullying. I thought this debate topic was relevant to this theme. I talkd with the language arts teachers and we assembled 10 students who we thought could handle the workload of regular language arts class and attending class with me. I meet with these students three days a week during their language arts class – Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. They come out of various class periods throughout the day so we are never all together at the same time. I have a group in the morning and a group in the afternoon. We work collectively. So we are not only working in an asyncronous environment online with the other schools, but also in our very own school.

Step 2: Getting Organized: We use Google Docs for everything. We create the following documents:

1. Global Debate Research: Negative
2. Global Debate Research: Affirmative

The next time I run one of these debates we will create both of these right away. This time we created just the negative document because that was our side to argue. In hindsight we should have created both so when we conducted research we could store items for both sides accordingly.

3. Global Debate Script: Negative
4. Global Debate Script: Affirmative

We create two more documents where we can transfer the research into a script to read and practice with while preparing for our debates.

5. Google Form/Survey – We created a survey to poll our school population.

Step 3: Getting Started – Daily Classroom Operations

Each class we meet in my office around a little table

The picture above is one of the groups I work with. We all sit in a circle. I have found collaboration to be more effective this way. In other groups we would go the library, but the computers are in rows so the kids don’t talk. This feels more open and the kids really open up, talk, collaborate, connect, and move around as needed. They are little professional workers.

I start each class discussing where we are and where we need to be. We always start with a small group discussion about goals, mini teaching lessons(speaking, word articulation, how to reuse key words, etc.), and then I let them sort themselves out. I will be honest it is difficult for me to not structure it all. I let them figure it out even if it is the hard way. I provide suggestions, but don’t force anything. They choose to either use it or go their own route. I really feel that this is the heart of learning. For example, my students know they can do better especially after listening to the other team speak. They followed their process and now know what to do to improve.

After having short conversation the students get to work. They divide themselves into tasks and work. I sit at my computer(to the right of this table when looking at that picture) and I read the script and notes take place. I interject as needed and make sure they are staying on task. I don’t tell them directly what to do or write. It is all on them. I give guidance. Each day I will write up a bullet point list on the document of my thoughts and ideas.

I have also made video recordings when I don’t see them for days due to scheduling. This example I give more direct insight than normal, but we missed several times to meet and had to record when we returned so I felt the need to really give some specific guidance.

Step 4: Preparing to Record and Record

The debate is all conducted online using Voicethread.

We use my own personal Mac to record because the audio quality is always the best. Before we record we will have practice runs where we time the script, study word count based on various speakers(rate of speech so we can gauge how many words needed). I make everyone speak. We have to have different speakers for all the parts. The rules state that we cannot have one person do all the talking. I go a step further and I don’t allow anyone to record twice. Everyone must try to practice and gain experience.

When it is time to debate here is what we do. We have 5 minutes to respond after listening to simulate live debate protocols. We cannot sit and prepare for days for a response. It is a highly stressful moment of time. It is high octane discussion and scramble to assemble a rebuttal. We have our notes pulled up on the laptops and we listen.

Here is our rebuttal process

Here is what we do just to share our strategy for what it is worth. On our end we listen around one computer and take notes on paper. After listening we spend 2 minutes quickly sharing out what we heard and think we should focus on. We then open up our laptops and quickly tidy up our script with the remaining 3 minutes. At the 5 minute mark we start recording with our next speaker. While that speaker is speaking the rest of the crew can go ahead and finalize any last rebuttal notes and ideas. We slide those papers to the speaker and he/she then has to make sense of the notes and speak on the fly. It is very stressful and always a relief to have it done

When we record the speaker sits at my desk as shown below. While he/she records our opening remarks you can see the others working behind the scenes to get the rebuttal prepared. On the desk you can see the notes the others have placed down for him to use to speak on the fly and make it work.

Here is a note exchange en route


We have little note reminders to help the speakers and the note takers like this


After we finish recording we always stop to talk about how it went, what we can do better, did we miss anything, etc.

As of this writing, we have reflected on the process as a whole. We do not have the judges remarks yet. We listened to the whole debate and studied it. It is not personal, but we look at what we can do better and learn from. We have many key take-aways from our first round to get better. That is the great part of this project…..we can always get better.

Now we wait the judges feedback. We are now working to create a script for the other side of the debate so we are prepared. We have to change our whole mode of thought and basically start over.

This is a great project. I hope this post helps shed some light on how we operate. I am sure I am forgetting key things that I will later realize I forgot to discuss. If you have questions, advice, or tips we would love to hear from you!

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Learning Creative Learning: Let’s play WAYK in Danish

Yesterday I joined Arne on Google Hangout to learn how to speak Danish. I will tell you that it was an amazing experience. I was out of my league learning a new language, but I had a blast participating. This is what I do after school. I am always engaging and trying to find new ways of learning and stepping out of my comfort zone. I worked with Arne who lives in Denmark. How cool is that?

Anyways, here is the Hangout. Watch me struggle, but have fun doing it!

I think this is a new technique that our foreign language teachers should try. I will using this as a presentation tool. I found it fascinating. I love this course and this week we have been challenged to teach others something. I joined this as I was quite intrigued. Tonight I teach about robotics!

To learn more check out – http://www.whereareyourkeys.org/

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Teaching Ideas #2: A Few Useful Tools For Teaching and Learning

Here are a few things you and your students may find of value:
1. Free Plagiarism checker. This site gives you a score out of 100 and rates written work based on several criteria. Just copy your work and paste it into the box provided. Very easy. This is a great way to challenge students to edit and refine their own written work. They will enjoy doing that because they control their own evaluation score for a change. The teacher doesn’t have to be the bad guy evaluator.
2. Online alarm clock. If you have your speakers on, you can set things up for yourself or students to wrap things up at a time of your choice. Most tasks that students do should be assessed for the amount of time that each might take and then students can work to the time limit or timeline established. Most people work to deadlines, so why shouldn’t professional students with their work? Start this in the lower grades and get kids used to the idea of valuing their time and making the most out of it. Time management skills are important. Deadlines with their work is good training for later on. If they finish early, they can take the time difference off or have a treat. If they go overtime, reassess and allocate additional time and then reset the alarm clock to the new deadline. (this is in response to the Murphy’s Law: “A task takes as long as the time allotted to it.”
3. Learn a Language via Translations. Don’t just translate for the sake of translating a language from one to another. Learn about the connections between languages. For foreign language classes, Google Translation is very valuable. If you write one language in proper form, the translation should come out correctly in any other language. If students are studying a different language, they can immediately see what they wrote in their own language as well and compare. Back and forth. It’s a good way to show them how the spoken and written words in one language may not come out the same way in another and then make adjustments for that when they are learning another language. Very fast and easy and covers most languages.
4. Tuning up Written Work. This probably won’t be new for many of you. Get students to learn and use some new vocubulary in their written work using this valuable Synonym, antonyms, and definitions site: http://www.synonym.com/ There is a kids dictionary for the little ones.

5. Currency Converter as a Learning Tool. Put some new life into math, economics, geography, business classes by having students take imaginary trips to different countries. An interesting starting point can be the country’s currency. (from personal travel experience, preparations often start with the currency and then develops from there) Learn about the currency and what things will cost in relation to your own economy and country. Go to websites of the country and see what things cost. Do comparisons. What might be good to buy in that country – shoes, clothing, watches, etc.? Study why things are cheaper or more expensive there.
Do the math with the currency. How much money will you take with you on the trip? How much will it cost in your currency? Study how people earn and spend their money e.g. in Pakistan, most people are independent business owners and most spend only cash. Very few people there have credit cards – maybe around 5% of the people! Imagine the money they save and have extra to spend by not having to pay interest on credit cards!! http://www.xe.com/currencyconverter/
6. Motivating Excellent Writers. Open up an account with Ezines and then publish the best of the stories and articles that students write. Each article is evaluated internally before it is allowed to go online and they are very demanding. Once published, an article is tracked and you get all kinds of statistical feedback on it. Adults who are good writers should consider putting their work on this site. I have over 30 articles there already. They give you monthly reports on traffic, etc. Students can get good experience in being professional writers.
7. Trigger Words Lists. (don’t miss this. Very Valuable!) Attached(below) is a list I put together a few years ago. Share with your students to help give them ideas. (Note: These are not all my ideas. They have been gathered and added to from many websites.)

Thanks again to Otto Schmidt for sharing.
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Learning Creative Learning: Week 4 – Powerful Ideas

This Week for Learning Creative Learning

Readings in Preparation for Session 4 (Mar 4): Powerful Ideas

* Alan Kay (1995): Powerful Ideas Need Love Too! [Note: Open in a new tab or window to view the whole document]
* Mitchel Resnick & Brian Silverman (2005): Some Reflections on Designing Construction Kits for Kids. Interaction Design and Children conference.
Papert described powerful ideas as general (applicable across domains), intelligible (easy to grasp), and personal (rooted in experience). Share an example of a powerful idea from your own experience. What people, materials, or environments supported your learning experience? How might you help others understand and appreciate this powerful idea?
Create a project with TurtleArt, and reflect on any “powerful ideas” you engaged with in the process. (For more background, see TurtleArt paper below.)
Additional Resources:
* Paula Bonta, Artemis Papert, & Brian Silverman (2010). Turtle, Art, TurtleArt. Constructionism 2010 conference.
Art themes with TurtleArt
* Arvind Gupta (2010). Turning trash into toys for learning (TED talk). See also free books and videos from Arvind Gupta.

I am learning things more as a whole this week as opposed to my recent posts where I had key ideas from each article. The thing I am learning most is my desire to be good at whatever I do. Take Turtle Art for example. I suck at it. Plain and simple. It drives me nuts. I want to create art. I want to create cool things. I need time. I need to play and tinker with Turtle Art. This goes back to the previous week of playing, making, tinkering to learn. I have these powerful ideas that I want to create, but need freedom to explore how to make it happen on the canvas.

While reading the articles in my short amount of free time I realized that I agree with the notions shared. Schools don’t have the luxury for kids to have time to explore “big, powerful ideas”. I am fortunate enough to have the flexibility in my classes to do this and I see the rewards at that come with it. However, my situation is different than the rest of my fellow educators and classes. I work with the gifted. I have more freedom and wiggle room in my classes. The rest don’t. Because there is not that time to go big everyone suffers. Just like my Turtle Art skills are suffering right now for not having time to explore. It all connects!

Because we don’t have this time to do these big idea thinking and tinkering many students struggle because this is how they operate. Schools don’t have time or space for them to strive and be successful. They must conform to the desks, 45 minute class periods, with multiple choice tests. I often wonder if we could simply eliminate labels of special ed, gifted, etc. and instead changed the whole school day around. Would these labels be needed if we could create “learning centers” that met the needs of the learner and the project they were working on with breakout sessions ran by “teachers” that taught the essential skills to help guide them on their personal journey of self learning and experimentation? 

That is where I am. I have crafted time into my schedule this week for specific Turtle Art learning and specific Scratch learning. With this time carved into my schedule I look forward to documenting my learning journey. Perhaps I will screencast my learning and thinking. That would be interesting to broadcast this, have others chime in, and experiment with sharing my tinkering process. I might do this. I love spontaneous “powerful” ideas!

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Learning Creative Learning: Week 3: Constructionism and Making Part 2

I was swirling in so much reading between school, deadlines, book reviews, and this class that I am behind. I have not been able to fit the time in to do the assignments with Scratch and writing about my childhood object from last week. They will get done, but just not in the weekly manner.

I do want to make sure that I have time to type up my responses and ideas to the readings because I feel that is important.

Readings in Preparation for Session 3: Part 2

I have added my thoughts under each of the articles I read and videos I viewed. I was think about the following:
In preparation, please read the suggested readings (above) and discuss with your group:
* What ideas in the readings interested or resonated with you?
* How could you apply these ideas to help others learn in your own work, family, or community?
* Seymour Papert (1980): Mindstorms (Chapter 1: Computers and Computer Cultures)
I marked a lot in this reading. I won’t go through it all due to space, but I have a few parts I want to discuss. 

Right away I was hooked by this passage:

In typical education situations it is “the computer programming the child.” 

“In the LOGO environment the relationship is reversed: The child, even at preschool ages, is in control: The child programs the computer. And in teaching the computer how to think, children embark on an exploration about how they think themselves.

This to me is powerful. Not so much with programming a computer, but with helping children understand how they think. How many of our students could answer the question about how they think? I don’t think many could. Perhaps if we could help guide them to understand themselves more about their learning then the classroom could become more powerful and influential. I don’t know how to do this, but I am quite fascinated by this mindset in teaching students to see themselves in this manner and as a results teachers would gain a deeper understanding of the students.

“…our culture is relatively poor in models of systematic procedures.” 

I don’t know what to make of this. I kept reading and then it all made sense. We live in a society where things are either right or wrong. With a systematic procedure students could go back and work out the “bugs” in their thinking like in computer programming. Software is not wrong, but you have to find the bugs and work them out. The passage explains it best when it states:

“For example, many children are held back in their learning because they have a model of learning in which you “got it” or “got it wrong”. But when you learn a computer program you almost never get it right the first time. Learning to be a master programmer is learning to become highly skilled at isolating and correcting “bugs”, the part that keep the program from working.”

This is the essence of what we should be teaching students, don’t you think? The key is how to do this in a system and society so ingrained in “right” and “wrong”. Many people believe that there simply cannot be another option. To change education to this model of thinking is a drastic change and going against society, history, government, and life. How does one go against the grain to reach these goals? It is not simply changing your classroom. It is an ebb and flow of ideals and systems that must change and that is not easy.

Reading this article felt so relevant to me despite it being written in 1980. The one passage where he writes, “Skeptics do not expect the computer presence to make much difference in how people think and learn.”

I am not sure that computers do change our thinking. We change our modes of how we accomplish things, but I think that we still think and learn as before without all this technology, it is just that our order of operations depends on the tools available to us at the current time. My son watches Minecraft videos to learn how to do things in Minecraft. I used to read the monthly Nintendo Power magazine to study how to beat Metroid. Same ideas and modes of operations, but technology has changed the speed of feedback and availability.

To show that the article was written in 1980 I have to share this part because it is now true when speaking about the future of TV or the super TV.

The content might be varied to suit the tastes of each individual viewer, and the show might become interactive, drawing the “viewer” into the action.

We have this today with reality TV, voting for our favorite dancers, watching YouTube, etc. The future is here!

Later in the article he discusses how students who used to struggle with writing because it was laborious with pencil and paper can now eliminate the labors of writing with a computer. With writing by hand he talks about writing out a rough draft, writing it again to make it better, and to physically keep rewriting. With computers it can be fixed right away and not include so much physical issues. I would still disagree with this notion. A couple of things. The labor of writing is in the actual process of figuring out what to write. To edit on a computer is still not enjoyable. Many teachers still expect a rough draft hand written or typed up, then another document printed off showing progress. We still live in a system using old school methods with new technologies so the rule themselves out. Furthermore, most lower elementary students are not able to be on computers. My son is not able to type at school for his homework. Typing is becoming a lost skill as there is not enough time in the day to teach it and many think students can do it. There are still issues with typing and I don’t think that the computer has improved the joy of writing for students.

I think that we need to adopt a line from the article which is not what it was intended for – “educational intervention means changing the culture, planting new constructive elements in it and eliminating noxious ones.” I think we are at a time in education where we need to begin to do this process. Time to adopt to the new ideas and technology and begin to shift how we operate in public education. I think schools are working hard to do this, but we really need to look at what systems in place right now are not best suited for kids today. As educators sometimes the things we are most comfortable with are very things that need to change. I don’t have the answers, but I sure wish I did. The conversations are starting and need to continue. I love networking with others to see what is going on because people are working to make positive change. Funny how he states in 1980 that “We are at a point in the history of education when radical change is possible…” I think we are at the point again.

To change is hard. When he states the QWERTY problem of the “tendency for the first usable, but still primitive, product of a new technology to dig itself in.” For example, it drives me nuts that students cannot figure out different ways to present besides a triboard. When you eliminate triboards from a showcase you would think that were told students their dog died. We have to dig deeper and really think things through and begin to challenge ourselves and thinking.

Whew! That was some serious thinking.

* Dale Dougherty: The Maker Mindset

Another great article. As always, a few things really grabbed me. I liked how he writes that Makers are trying to reject the idea that you are defined by what you buy. I like this. How do we define ourselves? Can we do it without labels of society and instead true human qualities? Tough to do.

As I read this article it reignited the change of my school converting to a true Project Based Learning school. We need to teach students or help guide them to explore, create, discover, and engage in the world to create their own paths. We should not have classrooms with rows of desks where they sit and listen. Students want to be challenged. They want some say in their learning. They still want structure and guidance, but we must provide them some freedom as well.

I really wish I had my own classroom so I could create my vision of learning. I would love to write grants and create an amazing classroom of thinking and creativity. We need to study makerspaces and incorporate these themes into our classrooms of today. More economics  art studios, and science labs should be built into our rooms.

Last, I think the one thing that I will forever take away from this article is the question

What can you do with what you know?

This needs to be asked as educators. When finishing the plans for the day ask yourself this question. If there is not a good answer to your lesson plan perhaps you need to tweak things. Students need to ask the same thing and if they cannot come up with an answer then they need to pay more attention, dig deeper, and find ways to make it applicable. 
After writing all of this up I feel that I have some ideas that I can infuse in my teaching philosophy and I need to continue to fight for better educational opportunities for students. That is what I am going to do with the ideas from these readings.
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Teacher Thoughts on Dan Pink: To Sell Is Human Part 6

I thought I had all my notes wrapped up and then I saw a piece of paper with notes scribbled on them and realized that these are perhaps the most important. Maybe not, but they are worth sharing if I took time to handwrite the notes as opposed to marking the page corners in the book.


When I was writing up ideas earlier I glossed over the page I had marked. I could not remember why I marked the page, but reading my note I instantly thought, “How could I forget?”

Dan Pink talks about Sam Sommers and the idea of a “jolt” to mix things up and see things differently. They talk about different jolts from simple things like sitting somewhere else in your regular routine to major things like traveling to another country. 

The jolt I thought of when reading goes to education. As teachers, why don’t we go out and visit local businesses? Why don’t we connect more with the community? We are always asking students to do this, but we need to as well. This could help us see what our students really need for skills and talents in the real world. We can talk to the owners and leaders and find out what they want from their employees. We need to stay in contact with the real world as “jolt” to our classrooms. We need to be reminded that the world is changing and simply reading about it is not always enough. We need to see it, feel it, hear it, touch it, etc. We sometimes need a “jolt” of reality to make our classrooms more real world.

Another one I overlooked is the Right Question Institute. Perhaps we as teachers need to enhance our skills with questioning a bit – Right Question Institute – http://rightquestion.org/

Just like the “jolt” concept posted above if we educators learn how to question better, then we can expect the same in our classrooms and teach students how to do this(much like learning how to listen in post #5). Just think where our classrooms could go if we could get students to listen and to question better. Holy cow! It would be amazing!!!

Reading this passage about 1% is another reminder for me to gain some clarity in my own life. I often times have so many things I am juggling around that if I were to focus on the 1% of the ideas in my brain I would have great focus in my life.

Last idea is the idea presented by Salit. He says to replace “Yes, but….” with “Yes, and….”. This subtle change completely transforms the energy of the conversation and the possibilities in which a group can progress.
This is a small and powerful shift that can result in great things. And with that I end with my notes. I hope you have enjoyed.

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