Sunday, August 3, 2014

The Important Thing

By Michele Corbat

The past two months have been a whirlwind of opportunities, challenges, reflecting, reading, growing and learning.  In the past two months, I...

...was hired as the new lead learner of Morrish Elementary, 
...delivered my first AND second keynote addresses about building a culture of learning (with my #COLchat friends - Adam & Rod),
...felt helpless as I watched my friends suffering with unimaginable pain, thought-provoking books like The Carpenter by Jon Gordon, Passionate Learners: Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students by Pernille Ripp, The Collected Writings (so far) of Rick Wormeli by Rick Wormeli and Brick House by Danny Hill

The past two months have taught me lessons that I will carry forward and do my best to put into action.  The past two months have been two of the most important months of the year for me.  These are some lessons I have learned. These are some of the important things about the past two months.

The important thing about leadership is the ability to create more leaders. 
It begins with trusting relationships.
It can influence up, across or down.  
It has common traits like honesty, empathy, and transparency.
But the important thing about leadership is the ability to create more leaders.

The important thing about facing fear is growing from being pushed out of your comfort zone.
It peels away an old layer of yourself so you can become something better.
It makes you braver to try things you have never tried before.
It shows you how strong you really are.
But the important thing about facing fear is growing from being pushed out of your comfort zone.

The important thing about friendship is knowing that you are not alone in the world.
It makes you feel better when all that person has to do is be there when you are hurting.
It reminds us how much people care about us and love us.
It brings a smile and chuckle when you are alone thinking about a funny memory.
But the important thing about friendship is knowing that you are not alone in the world.

The important thing about passion is it helps us live our purpose.
It drives us to find answers to our questions and to create.
It brings hope to students when they are allowed to explore it.
It thrives in a culture of learning, but is killed in a culture of compliance.
But the important thing about passion is it helps us live our purpose. 

The important thing about language is it has the power to kill or to give life.
It is a free choice you make every day.
It can shift fixed mindsets to growth mindsets.
It shows those who you love, serve, and care about that they matter.
But the important thing about language is it has the power to kill or to give life.

The important thing about reading is it takes us out of our own minds and into the minds of others.
It is the starting step that prepares us to cook a meal, use a new gadget, or take a trip.
It boosts our imaginations and creativity.
It allows us to gain knowledge and experience from others.
But the important thing about reading is it takes us out of our own minds and into the minds of others.

These are a few of the lessons I have learned over the past two months.  These are a few of the important things.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Bye Bye Bystander, Hello Hero

By Michele Corbat

Sometimes scratch that, many times this past school year I have been astounded by the way my school community has come together to support one another and show kindness.  We've had tragedies that have forever changed us, such as the death of  beloved Dieck Elementary teacher, Mr. Christopher Carney and the suicide of adored high school senior and varsity football quarterback, Brendon Fitch.  Our teachers, administrators, students, parents, and the entire community pulled together for the families of these individuals (Chris's wife is also a teacher at Dieck Elementary where his two children are students and Brendon's mom, uncle and aunt are all teachers at Swartz Creek Schools where his cousins also attend school).  On Saturday, May 10th, students and staff from Swartz Creek Middle School, joined together, once again, to show kindness.  Thanks to the work of our SCMS Diversity Club, which is lead by teacher, Tony Suchanek,  the first ever "Bye Bye Bystander, Hello Hero" event was held on Saturday, May 10.

Description of the event on our district website

A Little Background

On November 4 & 5, 2013, several hundred educators, students and community members gathered for the first ever The Hero Roundtable at Swartz Creek High School. This is a one-of-a-kind multi-disciplinary conference on heroism and was organized by Adam Hartley and Matt Langdon.  The opposite of a hero is not a villain; it's a bystander. Every community in the world, big or small, can use more heroes. Those who attended, learned how to stop being bystanders and start becoming heroes.

I attended the conference with a small group of middle school students and a few other teachers.  We were moved by stories shared by Jeremiah Anthony, a high school kid from Iowa City, Iowa who created the Twitter account Westhighbros to take a stand against bullying.  The account tweets sincere compliments to students and staff.  And stories from author, Dave Rendall, who told us, "What makes us weak, makes us strong and what makes us weird, makes us wonderful."  He encouraged us to embrace our uniqueness by flaunting our weakness.  We also heard from a 15 year old boy from Michigan, Ethan King, who started a non-profit charity to donate soccer balls to under-privileged children around the world when he was only 12!  Ethan told us, "It doesn't matter how old or how young you are, you can make a difference."

After this inspiring event, the students, teachers and I met a few times to plan how we could begin taking action in our school.  Many ideas were shared and initiatives were beginning to happen in small ways in our school. Paper buckets were posted on all staff members' doors or work spaces. Announcements were made to fill the buckets with post-it notes with compliments or uplifting messages.  Lockers were decorated with uplifting notes and compliments as well.  Students and staff were encouraged to take the Ten Day Challenge.

The Ten Day Challenge

Thanks to my colleague, Tony Suchanek, the momentum continued.  Tony is a 6th grade teacher in our school who started and leads our Diversity Club.  He took the ideas from The Hero Roundtable Conference to this club and we had a movement!

Fast Forward To This Weekend

The Diversity Club organized an event to make an even bigger impact. They organized the first annual, "Bye Bye Bystander, Hello Hero Celebration".  I attended this celebration on Saturday.  As participants arrived, they signed in to the guest book and noted the time.  When we left, we signed out and noted the time. These logs will be used to determine how many people were involved as well as how many total minutes people stood up against bullying.  There were problem-solving games like untangling a human knot and uplifting games like a compliment web.  Students sang and danced.  Three of our 8th grade students rocked the house as their band played rock classics from the 80's.

Most moving for all though, were the stories shared during open mic time.  Some shared stories about feeling worthless because of how others had picked on them to the point that they wondered if life was worth living.  Others shared stories of knowing you are different and celebrating those differences anyways.  A parent took the mic and explained to students that our attitude is not a feeling, rather a choice.  He told us that we can choose kindness.  In between stories, videos were shown about people who took action as heroes like the story of the Olivet Middle School Football team who planned to make a classmates day, to make his week, to make him happy.

Inspirational messages were also shared from across the world from people like Matt Langdon, Jeremiah Anthony and Ethan King.  They encouraged the students to keep standing and doing the right thing.

Now What?

I wasn't the only one impacted by this event.  A ripple of kindness is spreading.  I know this because three students have started an Instagram account that they call SCMS_Hero.


This is one example of how the event made an impact on those who attended.  I wonder how many other people, both students and adults, left the event thinking, "I will not stand by, I will STAND UP when I see someone in need."   I am excited to see what the future holds for my community because I know that this is not the end.  It is the beginning.  The beginning of a movement where people look out for each other.  Where people look at one another and say, "I see you and I got your back!"

Almost 1,000 Swartz Creek Middle School students and staff wearing their #SCMShero T shirts

Want To Learn More?

Tony Suchanek will bring students from our Diversity Club to share on July 29, in Swartz Creek, Michigan at the COLchat To Action Conference.  Come meet these heroes in person and learn how you can start a movement in your school!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

A Letter To My Son On His 13th Birthday

By Michele Corbat

Dear Brady,

Today is a special day.  Today you are thirteen!  It does not seem possible that you are turning thirteen.  It was only yesterday that I was in labor with you for 15 hours...scared...and hoping that you would be healthy.  It took forever for you to be born. I was exhausted and almost to the point of giving up, telling the doctor that I couldn't push any more. However, I found the energy to try to push one more time and finally you were born (only four minutes from Friday the 13th).  As exhausted as I was, all of that faded away the moment the doctor handed you to me, my beautiful son. You had jet black hair and the biggest blue eyes.  You were amazing, so tiny and perfect and beautiful and such a gift from God.  I have been more amazed by you as you have grown.  I thank God in trusting me with the gift of being your mother.

The past 13 years have definitely been the most blessed learning experience in my entire life. I am certain that I will continue learning from you in the years to come.  You have taught me how to love unconditionally not expecting anything in return, how to enjoy the small things in life, how to be carefree.  All the way home from our vacation today, my mind was flooded with memories as I was driving.  The times we danced in the living room with the stereo blaring, the times you'd help me 'clean' with your mini-vacuum, when I found you hiding behind the recliner using nose hair trimmers to shave your head, playing grocery store and McDonalds with you in our basement, your first day of school as I cried my eyes out putting you on the bus, watching you play tee-ball (picking weeds), then baseball (hustling behind the plate as catcher), cracking up at your spot-on impersonations, watching you act as the third parent for Austin (#firstbornprobs) and watching you comfort him when times have been difficult. The list is endless.  Thank you! You have made my life worthwhile. You have been one of the brightest lights of my life.

Someday I hope you look back and read this letter with a different perspective than you do today. As you begin your journey as a teenager I want you to know a few things. 

1.  Stay close to God in all times.  When you are feeling stressed or overwhelmed, talk to Him.  When you are feeling blessed and thankful, talk to Him.  Change is constant and life is short.  God will be with you through it all.

2.  Dad and I love you.  There are going to be times that it may seem that we are 'lame' when you ask to do something that 'all of your friends' are doing and we say no.  Please know that every decision we make is out of love.  We want the best for you and want to protect you. 

3.  Be a good big brother.  Austin ADORES you.  He watches everything you do and say, often imitating you.  Be a good role model for him.  When you make mistakes, admit them and then change your ways.  He is going to be there for you long after Dad and I are gone.  Make time for him.  Nurture your relationship with him.

4.  There are going to be girls that come and go in your life. There will be heartbreaks.  Choose the ones that are special to you. Most importantly, treat them with respect, and respect yourself. Treat every girl as God's property. Treat yourself as God's property.  Remember that you can talk to Dad and me for advice. 

5.  Be kind.  Be a great friend to others.  Be the person that people can count on and trust.  Treat people with respect and give everyone a chance.  Remember that everyone is fighting a battle we know nothing about. 

6.  There are going to be some rough times as a teenager.  There will be days when life is awesome, but there will be many that it seems the world is against you. In those days, I want you to remember, Dad and I have your back. Always. No matter what. Take it slow, you don't have to grow up overnight (even though you keep reminding me how many years until driver's training or college).

I am so proud of you! You bring joy to my heart and I love being your mother. Every day is a blessing and the best is yet to come.

Love you always and forever,


Saturday, March 15, 2014

Reflections on #MACUL14

by Michele Corbat

I attended the 2014 MACUL Conference along with some of my colleagues.  There were countless, amazing technology tools shared and I have an Evernote document loaded with these tools.  However, the tools were not my main take away from this conference.  My take away was the importance of establishing relationships and connections with one another.  Every keynote address and every session that I attended included stories about the power of connections and relationships.

My eyes welled with tears during  Adam Bellow's mind-blowing keynote address when he shared this video clip of John Berlin's emotional appeal to Facebook to unlock his late son's account. After his son passed away, John wanted to watch his son's "Look Back" video, and thankfully got the opportunity.  The technology enabled John to connect with his son one more time.  Adam reminded us that technology allows us to capture the meaningful experiences in life and to create the big ones.

Then I heard more stories from Todd Nesloney, better known on Twitter as TechNinjaTodd,  Todd shared his journey in creating a flipped project based learning classroom.  One of the first statements he made was, "Relationships are number one.  If you are not building relationships, then nothing I am saying will work in your classroom."  AMEN!  Todd told us about the Math Fair he does with his students and how it has been the highlight of his career.  I was inspired listening to him explain how proud the students were of their learning because they could choose their project based on their passion.  Todd understands the importance of establishing relationships with students and making his classroom a place where students want to be.

At the end of the first day of the conference, my last session was on Game Changing Apps by Drew Minock, Brad Waid and Todd Nesloney.  Once again, the power of connections came up.  One of the game changing apps the guys shared was Cargo-Bot.  Brad shared a story of one of his former students who was a mute.  This student talked to no one for years.  However, once this student was introduced to Cargo-Bot, he became inspired.  After several weeks of working with Cargo-Bot, this student spoke.  He was the first to volunteer his group to do a presentation to the class on Cargo-Bot.  He even led the presentation!  Brad explained that you never know what's going to impact, inspire or engage one of your students.  It could be a connection with technology.

Throughout the second day of the conference I continued to hear stories about the importance of relationships and connections from George Couros.  George told us about how his father, an immigrant from Greece, learned to use Facebook and FaceTime.  Why did he choose those tools?  Because he knew that was the way he would connect with his children and grandchildren.  He told the story of Alyssa, a seven year old girl from Australia whose father helped her start a blog.  Alyssa posted a video to her blog that George took at a Justin Bieber concert and her father tweeted it.  Teachers around the world commented on Alyssa's blog and she would rush home from school each day to read the comments.  The power of connections using technology inspired and motivated this child to write more blog posts.

An idea was also born out of this conference.  An idea on encouraging other teachers and administrators to become connected.  Some of the #michEd crew including,  Todd Bloch, Jeff Bush, and Mike Kaechele connected with me at the end of the second day to ask if my #COLchat team would be interested in joining them in submitting a proposal to present at the 2014 Michigan Association of Secondary School Principals' Conference.  We set up a Google Hangout with my administrators and #COLchat co-moderators, Adam Hartley and Rodney Hetherton.  We are working on our proposal now and the focus will be how a culture of learning can be created through relationships and when educators are connected. 

George Couros said, "To inspire meaningful change you must make a connection to the heart."  It's about the relationships and connections that we make NOT about the technology itself.  We need to be sure that we are not missing the best part of the internet--the power of connections.  This is the big idea that I want to share with my colleagues when I return to school this week.  This is the big idea that will continue to be my focus with my school community.  I will take what I learned from MACUL14 and put it into action.  I will focus on relationships and connections. 

Thank you to all who spent countless hours organizing or preparing presentations for the MACUL14 conference.  I am grateful for the opportunity to have connected with so many passionate educators from Michigan and across the world!

Monday, January 27, 2014

Reminders on Kindness

By Michele Corbat
"I have this theory that if one person can go out of their way to show compassion, then it will start a chain reaction of the same. People will never know how far a little kindness can go."
Rachel Joy Scott (1981-1999)
Student, First Victim Of The Columbine High School Massacre

Do you know about Rachel's Challenge?  If you don't, stop reading this RIGHT NOW and check it out.  I've written about this before when people in my life have reminded me about the impact of kindness.  I've been reminded of this in two very powerful ways once again.

The first way breaks my heart into a million pieces.  The first way is how heart-breaking it is to others when we are intentionally unkind.  Maybe you haven't heard yet, but there's a new fad going around where high school and middle school Confessions accounts are popping up all over Twitter.  Or maybe it has been going on for a while and I am just finding out.  These accounts are places for students of these schools to send anonymous tweets that are supposed "confessions" along with their grade level.  These accounts are nothing more than horrible examples of keyboard courage.  According to, keyboard courage is:

Keyboard Courage
Function: noun
descriptive quality: 1: A quality or characteristic displayed by a person through the written word that this person would not ordinarily possess. 2: The confrontational attitude exhibited by someone via an anonymous entry to an internet web-page or posting. 3: An attitude demonstrated by someone when they realize that actions taken by them or words written by them across a computer connection will have little, if any, personal repercussions. 4: A false bravery possessed by an individual who does not possess the true quality in person.

Sadly, some of these accounts have shown up in my school district.  I have read the tweets.  Some are terribly hurtful and I wonder what the person named in the tweet is feeling.  Is she wondering what everyone will think when they see her at school?  Is he thinking that people will laugh at him and make fun of him?  Does he want to seek revenge for the anger he is feeling from his hurt?  Words are POWERFUL and unkind words can kill us!

But then, I was also reminded of the power of kindness; how small acts of kindness can cause someone to feel loved, to make someone's day, to heal and to inspire.  My colleague, Chris Carney, is battling the fight of his life.  One month ago, he was diagnosed with cancer.  He has been feeling excruciating pain for more than a year with the sources not found until recently.  Chris is a popular teacher, one who children love.  It's not uncommon to walk past Chris' classroom and see him playing his guitar and singing to or with his children.  Or to see him dress up as Superman to remind children how they are heroes for their acts of kindness.  Chris' wife, Christy, is also a teacher in my school.  She is one of the sweetest and kindest people you could ever know.  It's not uncommon to find a note from Christy letting you know she is thinking about you and praying for you when she knows you are facing struggles.  It's no surprise that she's taking unpaid time off from school to care for Chris.  

When Chris was diagnosed, just days before Christmas, teachers, parents, and community members stepped up immediately to show the Carney's just how much we love them.  Within days, a benefit was organized with information shared on Facebook and Twitter accounts.  People jumped in to lead committees, businesses donated gift cards and merchandise, students made cards and wrote letters, and teachers donated sick days.  One act of kindness led to another act of kindness and so on and so on. 

After only a few weeks of organizing, an amazing benefit took place yesterday.  The roads were ice-covered and temperatures were barely above 0, however HUNDREDS of people came.  People volunteered their time to work the various areas of the benefit.  Many donated more than the minimum amounts for admission or bake sale items. It was the top story on our local news.  Check it out here. At this point, more than $17,000 has been collected and this amount continues to grow as donations are still rolling in.  Acts of kindness filled the entire room!

However, Chris and Christy were not able to come to the benefit as Chris has only recently been released from the hospital and cannot compromise his immune system.  But the power of technology did not stop us from bringing them there.  The best part of the day for me, were the times we spent connected with Chris and Christy through our Skype visits.   To see their students, past and present, come to the iPad and tell them "I love you" or "We miss you", made my heart smile.  To see Chris and Christy smile from ear to ear as people talked with them was the best feeling in the world.  When we told them that $12,000 had been raised by 5:00 with still two hours to go, the expressions on their faces said it all!

Photo courtesy Kirsten Lovely
We all need to remember that what we say and what we do matters.  Life is short.  Rachel Scott said, "Tomorrow is not a promise, but a chance."   Will our actions and words help others feel hope or feel despair?  It's our choice.  I choose kindness.  I choose acts of love.  It feels so much better!


Wednesday, January 22, 2014

A Journey to Healthier Grading Practices

By Michele Corbat

Today I was reminded that Margaret Mead was spot on when she said this.  I worked with our elementary standards based grading team.  This is a team of thoughtful, passionate individuals who are changing our little corner of the world for students.
In my district, Swartz Creek Community Schools, we have had standards based report cards in place at the elementary level for about 5 years.  This was before Common Core State Standards were adopted by my state.  Over the years, our teachers have worked to make some tweaks to the report cards, but the cards have not really been fully aligned to CCSS.  This year a group of elementary teachers, led by Rodney Hetherton, was invited to represent their grade level and school building to work together on revising our report cards.  Our revised report cards will better reflect the CCSS for ELA and mathematics.
The team has only met three times, however the work these dedicated teachers have done is amazing!  It speaks volumes of their commitment to take positive steps in better communicating grade-level expectations for student learning.  It was obvious to me from the first meeting that a culture of learning existed on this team.  There is trust amongst these 7 individuals.  They are honest with their questions about how they have been reporting student learning.  They are positive and supportive with one another.  People on the team feel safe to express confusion.  Our conversations are reflective and thoughtful.  They are reaching out to their building and grade level colleagues for input and come to each meeting reporting this feedback to the team. 

During our first two meetings, time was spent revisiting elements of standards based grading and the purposes of it. We discussed the purpose of a report card.  We discussed the differences between formative and summative assessments.  We discussed power standards. In between meetings, we collaborated using Google documents to record suggestions for ELA and math power standards.  

Like I mentioned earlier, today was only our third meeting.  The first two hours were spent discussing what makes an effective standards based report card. We reviewed examples from other school districts. I had to leave the meeting for another meeting (a typical day for me) and when I returned two hours later the team had the entire ELA-Writing portion of the report card revised.  Not just for one grade level, but for kindergarten through fifth grade.  They were thoughtful about the organization of the card to align to the CCSS anchor standards, spiral up through the grade levels and that the wording was parent-friendly.  After a quick lunch, they spent a couple of more hours working collaboratively and revised the entire mathematics portion of the card.  Again, for kindergarten through fifth grade!

Because these educators are so thoughtful, they spent the last portion of the day planning how to share the drafts of these revisions with our colleagues.  They want to ensure that teachers understand the rationale behind the revisions.  Conversations around how to educate our parents on the revisions also took place.  Maybe a team of parents will join us in a future meeting.  A guide to the revised report card will be developed with an FAQ section.  Ideas were collected and documented on our Google doc.  These details will be worked out in our next meeting.

I am blessed to be a part of this team.  Margaret Mead was right.  My colleagues are thoughtful, committed people who are changing our little corner of the world. 

If you get grading right, it will support everything else you do.~Doug Reeves