Secrets of Living an Epic Life Full of Meaning

Day 45 of 80 Days of Excellence

From the Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis

Follow @coolcatteacher on Twitter

Out beyond complacency and comfort lies a land of opportunity. It requires that you no longer comform to the comfortable. You can’t “phone it in.”

You have to work.

You have to dream.

You can’t settle.

Everyone wants success – well, most do anyway. And most people say the same thing. Everybody is shooting for grandiose goals and their speech often turns to braggadocio about what they’re GOING to do. Get out of the way, all that hot air can burn you.

But most people would rather talk than walk.

They’d rather complain and make excuses than make plans and cooperate with others aiming towards a vision.

We’re afraid to dream. We’re afraid because we might be disappointed.

But the saddest among us not only don’t dream, they lie helpless in a cage of their own making that keeps them imprisoned in a world of their own design.

Before you can win a ballgame in the physical world, you have to win it in your mind.

Before you can be married to the love of your life, you have to have the guts to ask him or her out on a first date.

Before you can experience awesome new things, you have to let go of the mediocre old ones.

If life were a house, some people would keep the same couch and carpet for 80+ years. Never changing. Never experiencing anything new.

Not only is that couch no longer new, it is probably nasty.

And that is what we often do in life. We stay in “that job” too long. We never have the conversation with “that friend” who isn’t really acting like a friend. We worry too much about making “that person” angry at us so we go places and do things that aren’t really what we want to do at all.

If we’d just start living our own lives instead of living the life others wish we would live, we might just realize that we have enough life, excitement and joy for one person – us. And that to attempt to please, cajole, and suck up to some angry people is as hopeless as trying to use an umbrella to keep dry during Noah’s flood.

This is your life. Start living it.

Or you can be among the many who as they come to the end of their life, wish they had lived their own life and not someone else’s wish for it.

Fulfilling your life’s purpose and a reason for being here is part of living an epic life.

And you’re not going to get there by chasing some else’s dream.

Be brave. Be true. Be you.

This post is day 45 of 80 days of excellence. I’ve created an email list below for those of you want to be emailed the full posts written as part of this series.

The post Secrets of Living an Epic Life Full of Meaning appeared first on Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher helping educators be excellent every day. Meow!

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Iditarod Teacher: How to Connect and Learn from the Iditarod Race

Heidi Sloan on episode 258 of the 10-Minute Teacher Podcast

From the Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis

Follow @coolcatteacher on Twitter

Heidi Sloan is the Iditarod teacher for this year. It starts on March 3 – 18. Get free lesson plans, connect with a musher and get your kids excited.

Check out Jennifer Gonzalez’ 2018 Teacher’s Guide to Technology for more than 200 tools with special tips, videos, and screenshots to get you started.

Listen Now



Enhanced Transcript

Iditarod Teacher: How to Connect and Learn from the Iditarod Race

Link to show:
Date: February 21, 2018

Vicki: Today we’re talking with Heidi Sloan, a Virginia 5th grade teacher who has the privilege of reporting on the Iditarod this year, February 19-22, 2018.

So Heidi, tell us about this opportunity and what you’re going to be doing.

Heidi: The Iditarod is a dog sled race across Alaska commemorating the Iditarod trail and the sled dog tradition of Alaska. Every year I have incorporated the race into my classroom for a long time, and it just builds engagement and motivation with the kids.

They have a whole education department but they choose one teacher a year to go on the race. It’s been a dream of mine for years.

This has been a dream of mine for years

I applied, and I was chosen last April to be the 2018 teacher on the trail. I will be going out and speaking to schools and actually flying by bush plane to all that the mushers have to … and I’ll write that lesson plan, and what’s going on each day from Alaska.

Vicki: So how will people be able to follow these lesson plans and let their students follow along?

How can we follow along?

Heidi: If you go to, and then click on the Education tab, there’s just a boatload of wonderful lesson plans for every subject. Then my tab once your on the trail. I’ve been posting week for months. I have a lot of ideas and lesson plans for teachers, too. I just put one on. If you’re new to the Iditarod, just getting started, it’s a really good checklist of ways to just jump in with all that you need, just to start. So I would recommend that, too, if you’re new to it.

Vicki: What do your students think about this opportunity?

How are your students feeling about you going?

Heidi: They’re very excited. They’re a little apprehensive that I’ll be gone for five weeks, because it’s actually March 22nd that I get back.

Vicki: Ohhhhh! So it’s February 19 through MARCH 22nd? Sorry, so they’re going to be following this for a while!

Heidi: The race actually begins on March 3rd. That will be the weekend to be watching, but they’re excited. They love learning about the Iditarod. It’s so new to kids, especially in the south. They just have no concept of the cold and snow and all the neat things that go into mushing dogs. They do get excited, and it really helps them want to read the articles and do the math problems and make the — that have to do with it. It just wraps rather easily into our curriculum.

Vicki: Heidi, what are some of the best things to teach, using the Iditarod as kind of a backdrop?

How does the Iditarod fit in with a regular curriculum?

Heidi: There’s a lot of character education that you can pull out of it — determination, loyalty, leadership, all that kind of stuff definitely can be pulled in. I do a lot with that.

Even in geometry, you can work with the dogs’ harnesses and measure the angles. There are a lot of fun things to do with math.

I do a STEM project where the kids have to come up with a little dog house that has a certain amount of volume in it, using crackers and frosting. There are just all kinds of neat things you can do with that.

There are a lot of articles that the mushers write at the EDU of Iditarod does. You can have your kids read the articles.

There are just so many fun things.

How can people reach you while you are there?

Vicki: So Heidi, will people be able to tweet you? Will classrooms be able to tweet you questions?

Heidi: My internet is sort of spotty, because I’ll be in the interior of Alaska…

Vicki: Ohhhh…

Heidi: Probably the best way to reach me would be and I will be able to email back sometimes and possibly even send a little Skype video or something to teachers. So if they want to see the dogs, or see what’s going on, I’ll do my best.

When and how can teachers apply to be able to do what you are doing?

Vicki: So when do applications open to apply for 2019? That’s going to be the first question that some folks ask after they take a look at all your lesson plans.

Heidi: They have actually selected some finalists for 2019, so the next up would be 2020. So they are due December 1st.

If you click on the “Teacher on the Trail” tab, it tells about how you can apply as well and what the requirements are. It’s the thrill of a lifetime, so if anybody is interested, I would just say, “Go for it!”

Vicki: And Alaska is just such a beautiful state. I’ve been there and spoken at their conference. So many beautiful, wonderful educators there. And it’s just… just… the beauty is tremendous.

Heidi: Yes, yes it is. It’s just pristine. I’ve been getting a lesson ready for the Alaskan schools, comparing Virginia kids to Alaskan kids. Things that Virginia kids never see, like snow machines or moose.

Vicki: Well, until this winter, right? (laughs)

Heidi: (laughs) That’s right!

Vicki: This winter’s been wild.

Where would teachers begin if they have no experience teaching this?

OK, so how does a teacher get started? You said you have posted a lesson plan on getting started with teaching about the Iditarod. But tell us again where to go and how you think that we should start.

Heidi: Go to and click on the “Teacher on the Trail” tab along the side. On there is “New to the Iditarod” is what I think I titled the post.

Basically, it gives some book ideas for read-alouds to get started and getting your kids familiar with the race.

It’s got some math activities. It’s got activities on researching the rules, which is good reading research practice, and that helps them understand.

I’ve got a packet in there that helps them find a musher that they can follow and cheer for, and what they can look for on the website once the race starts.

I’ve got ideas on graphing the temperature and things like that all along the race, and doing activities with the checkpoints. Those are some of the things that you can just get started, and then you can build from it as time goes on.

I always say, “Start small, and you can always add to it later.”

Vicki: So what is the most surprising thing that you’ve learned about the Iditarod?

What has surprised you the most?

Heidi: Hmmmm. I love the Alaskan people. A lot of the mushers are from Alaska or foreign countries like Norway and Sweden. I like their adventurous spirit.

I love how difficult the Iditarod is. People don’t realize. You’re going down mountain cliffs. You’re going over frozen rivers that sometimes have water on them.

Just the bitter cold and the “Do it yourself” type of attitude. I just love that, and how the mushers help each other along the trail.

All that has been a wonderful learning experience for me.

Vicki: So, the Iditarod is coming up, March 3 through March 22.

We will have all the resources for you. We can follow Heidi.

Heidi, thank you for coming on, so that we can have a voice and of course your picture that we

can include this exciting opportunity for teachers to be able to take some fun lesson plans and kind of get to know exactly what’s going on. This is just a great teaching opportunity.

And I love how this event has actually having a teacher to really engage teachers and students. I think it’s a fantastic model I hope a lot of events will follow this model.

Heidi: Thank you so much, Vicki, for the opportunity to share.

Contact us about the show:

Transcribed by Kymberli Mulford

Bio as submitted

I am a 5th grade teacher who loves to motivate and engage my students in February and March by using the Alaskan Iditarod sled dog race as a tool to help teach math, reading, science, writing, and geography. I want to make learning relevant and make sure my students learn something new each day. This year I was selected to be Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™, the one teacher who gets to actually go on the race to be a reporter of sorts for teachers and students around the world. I love sharing motivating ideas with teachers!


Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a “sponsored podcast episode.” The company who sponsored it compensated me via cash payment, gift, or something else of value to include a reference to their product. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I believe will be good for my readers and are from companies I can recommend. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” This company has no impact on the editorial content of the show.

The post Iditarod Teacher: How to Connect and Learn from the Iditarod Race appeared first on Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher helping educators be excellent every day. Meow!

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Keep Your Head Up When You Stumble

Day 44 of 80 Days of Excellence

From the Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis

Follow @coolcatteacher on Twitter

Westwood Schools Alumnus, Lieutenant Colonel Robert Hilliard, (soon to be a Colonel in the Army) spoke to our students today. As he talked about success and failure, he said something incredible,

“If your head is up when you stumble and you’re looking forward, then you will see an open door.” Lt. Colonel Robert Hilliard, US Army

This is a man who knows struggle. From leading troops who disarmed IED’s in Northern Baghdad to helping construct hospitals to help with the Ebola Crisis in Africa, Lt. Col. Hilliard is one of those who handles stress and difficult things for a living. I admire him very much.

But I think this point is an important one.

Keep your head up.

Why we shouldn’t hang our heads

Life is tough. You will fail. You will get knocked down. You will have problems. I will too. Problems, failures, and struggle are part of the human condition. No one is exempt. Struggles come to us all.

But when we hang our heads, we look down. We only see our feet. We only see our failure. We look at the ground. Or even worse, we look at the pit that we have fallen into.

We look at the debt. We look at the anger of others. We look at the mistakes that landed us here. We look at where the problem has landed us. And we feel sorry for ourselves.

When Your Head is Down, You Can’t Look in the Mirror

Hanging our heads is a helpless position. We can’t even look in the mirror when our head is down.

Part of progress is often being sorry for our mistakes and to learn how not to make them and turn from doing it again. If our problem is of our own making, we have to do that if we want to prevent the problems in the future.

There are those people who lose every single job because of a “bad boss.” Well, either they are horrific at picking jobs or the problem is closer to home and stands in their sneakers and puts on their pants every morning. And when families enable this behavior without helping the person understand that their absenteeism or defensiveness or anger or irresponsibility is part of the problem – it will repeat itself. And this part is hard.

But the person you’re trying to “help” isn’t going to get better hanging their head. They have to look up and look into the eyes of those who love them and learn how to improve their behavior so their situation can change. We can all learn from problems.

Holding Your Head Up

However, in many cases, after you’ve examined yourself to learn what you need to do to improve your part of the situation it is time to find the next step when:

  • You didn’t get the promotion you wanted at work.
  • The person you loved didn’t love you back.
  • You had a financial disaster and your savings is gone and you’re in a mess.

Keep your head up and look for what’s next.

Keep your head up and look for what you can learn.

Keep your head up and find people who can help you improve.

Keep your head up and look for the next opportunity.

Some of the greatest things that have happened to me were failures. The things I didn’t win. The awards I didn’t get. The opportunities that fell through. The mistakes I made where I actually learned from them and turned away from doing them again.

The times when I hung my head, I missed out. I missed out on improving myself in my self-pity. I missed out on opportunities. And sometimes I missed out on talking to people who love me and wanted to be with me in the trouble.

But, Robert is right. If we can learn to keep our head up when we stumble, we might just look forward and see an open door.

And that, my friends, is failing with excellence.

This post is day 44 of 80 days of excellence. I’ve created an email list below for those of you want to be emailed the full posts written as part of this series.

The post Keep Your Head Up When You Stumble appeared first on Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher helping educators be excellent every day. Meow!

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Google Jamboard

Tom Mullaney on episode 257 of the 10-Minute Teacher Podcast

From the Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis

Follow @coolcatteacher on Twitter

Google Jamboard is a fun interactive app. There’s hardware too, but don’t be worried. The free app has lots to play with. You just download it on Google Play or iTunes and use it with your touch Chromebook or iPad after listening to Tom Mullaney share how it works. Enjoy this fun, free tool.

Check out Jennifer Gonzalez’ 2018 Teacher’s Guide to Technology for more than 200 tools with special tips, videos, and screenshots to get you started.

Listen Now



Enhanced Transcript

Google Jamboard

Link to show:
Date: February 20, 2018

Vicki: Today we’re talking with Tom Mullaney @tommullaney. He is in the San Francisco Unified School District as a Learning Integration Designer, and he does it with digital technology.

Now Tom, you and I have talked about two technologies that you’re particularly excited about with Chromebooks — Google Jamboard and Google Expeditions.

Now first of all, I have never heard of Google Jamboard. What is it?

Tom: So Google Jamboard is actually a $5,000 piece of equipment. Don’t stop right there. Don’t get worried. It comes with a free app that students can access.

Google Jamboard is a free app

They could access it on a their phones. It’s a little bit small. But also on iPads and on Chromebooks that have the Play Store enabled, which is where education Chromebooks are going.

In Google Jamboard, you have this collaborative space which doesn’t sound all that exciting, but when you think about all the things you can do, you can bring in web content, you can draw perfect shapes, you can draw perfect angles, you can do all these crazy things, including having Hangouts occurring in this Jam. This is a great way to get your kids collaborating, and it’s very, very new.

Vicki: OK. So Jamboard is a piece of hardware, and this is going on inside the hardware that’s connecting them? Is it like something physical that you’re interacting with?

Google Jamboard is also a piece of hardware, but you don’t need it to use the free app

Tom: I mention that there’s hardware, because if you Google “Google Jamboard,” you’re going to see this hardware. Ignore the hardware. We don’t care about that. We care about the free app that lives in the iTunes store and the Google Play Store. It’s called Google Jamboard.

Your kids could do this on an iPads tomorrow. If they can get Google Jamboard on their iPad, they can be in there collaborating with their peers, just like you would in any other Google app, but you have all this fun drawing and collaboration abilities, essentially. So it’s the app that we’re focused on.

Vicki: So your school doesn’t have to own a hardware piece to use Google Jamboard… for this to work. All you have to do is download a free app.

Tom: That’s correct. The hardware that you have to own — iPads or touchscreen Play Store enabled Chromebooks — which if you own them now, it’s very likely your district may own in the next year or two.

Vicki: That’s kind of confusing, isn’t it? (laughs)

But we’re just talking the free app, here — Google Jamboard.

Tom: Right. It’s the kind of thing where — they want to make money, right? They’re a business — but you just have to dig a little deeper and get the app. You can do all the stuff for free.

Vicki: Cool. OK. So you said that kids can interact. They can have a collaborative space. So this is past what they can do with Google Docs, sharing in Google Classroom?

How is this different from collaborating using Google Docs?

Tom: Yes. So in this space, you can draw. They have shape recognition, handwriting recognition, or autodraw. So you can try to draw a house, and then it will predict what you drew and give you options. “Did you draw a house? Did you draw a sun? Did you draw a boat?” of all this cool stuff. It will highlight, or cut things up. You can add more frames, so the space can be somewhat infinite because you can always add frames.

You can also save individual frames as images or entire jams. Each file, let’s say — in Google Docs, a file is called a “doc,” but in Jamboard, a file is called a “jam.” You can save each jam as a PDF.

There are emojis. You can insert emojis right away. Think about how teachers could use that. They could be a collaborator on a jam, and start putting check marks and smiley faces into the elements of the jam they like, and so on and so forth.

Vicki: OK, so this is like the next level of the next step of Google Drawing?

It’s like the next level of a next step of Google Drawing, but much more

Tom: It is, but let’s think of it a few different ways. So Google Drawing is not sketch or touch-friendly, and there’s no mobile app for it. It’s only a web app.

Jamboard is very touch based, but you could use your mouse for most of its functions. So it’s more artistic as far as sketching or scribbling words. And you can scribble words or use the handwriting recognition. It’s a lot more tactile and artistic. Think of drawings as kind of a posterboard, and Jamboard as tactile drawing plus integrating content such as images from the web or or images from your webcam or something like that.

Vicki: Cool. So this is 2D, not 3D.

Tom: This is 2D, yes.

Vicki: Cool. And is it easy to share, like Google Docs and other things are? Or is it easy to share with other — what do you call them — jammers? (laughs)

Tom: Yes, now of course, this is so new. There’s no Google Classroom integration yet.

There’s no Google Classroom integration yet, but there are ways to share

At the same time, when you start a jam, you click the three dots — you see them in a lot of Google apps — and you see “Add people.” That’s where you would add people. You just type in their email address.

That’s where you can also connect to a meeting and make it a Google Hangout, which takes place inside the jam, which is cool. Think of the collaboration possibilities for that — for homebound students, for guest experts that want to collaborate with your class, or vice-versa.

There are so many different ways to collaborate in this space. It’s really fun and new and different and exciting, for sure.

A practical example of a way to use Jamboard

Vicki: OK, You’ve talked a lot about Jamboard. Tom, if you had a teacher who said, “I teach history. How can I use it?” What would you say?

Tom: I would say a few things. So let’s say we’re studying Andrew Jackson, just to throw an example out there. So what I’d probably do is I would divide the subtopics of that for the unit, amongst the class. “So you guys, you’re 1824 election. But you guys are his Native American policy. And you guys are Bank War,” and so on.

And what I would do is say, “As we go through the unit, I want each group to continue creating and putting things into their jam for that topic. So in a few ways, that can be beneficial. If you get a new student, the new student becomes a collaborator in each of the jams, and they’re caught up in a nice visual way.

Also, at the end of the unit, you could have a gallery walk. Another way you could do that is you could say, “Alright, this group has this project, that group has that project. Then use Jamboard as the kind of storyboarding and idea generation space that the teacher is also a collaborator in, so they can collaborate in that space in real time and give feedback.

Vicki: OK, lightbulb! So it’s like SketchNoting. Right?

So it’s like Sketchnoting?

Tom: You could. So if you have the Jamboard app, it’s not designed for this, but I will say this: I like jotting notes on Squid or on Google Keep. But I actually prefer jotting notes in Jamboard because I have a little embedded web browser, where you get your web content. I can put emojis in there. I have handwriting recognition, or draw shapes in there. As a jotting/sketchnoting tool, it actually is really robust and fun.

Vicki: Neat. OK, and so when you’re done, you export it as a PDF and you can put it into Google Keep? Can you also export it as a JPG or PNG, or just a PDF?

How do you share the content if there’s no Google Classroom integration?

Tom: So, the entire jam you can do as a PDF. So you can do it that way, and then once you have that you can submit that as an assignment.

I would say that jams are kind of “messy,” so if I was assessing a jam, I wouldn’t assess on neatness. You get messy. You just do. It’s fun. It’s part of the process.

As far as images… So it will save an individual frame of a jam — think of that being like one slide of a Google Slides — it will save that one frame as an image. And that can be brought into Google Keep, where more things can happen with it.

Vicki: Cool. Well, we’ve learned all about Google Jamboard today. I’m going to be playing and taking a look at this. Remember, it doesn’t integrate with Google Classroom quite yet, but if you can pull it out, you can pull that content in in other ways.

Tom: That’s correct.

Vicki: Thanks, Tom! This has been fantastic!

Tom: You’re welcome!

Contact us about the show:

Transcribed by Kymberli Mulford

Bio as submitted

Tom Mullaney is a Digital Learning Integration Designer for the San Francisco Unified School District. Tom’s education experience includes Special Education, Social Studies, and educational technology coaching in New York, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina. He is a Google for Education Certified Innovator and Trainer. Tom hosts the Sustainable Teaching Podcast where he interviews teachers about their careers and passions. Connect with him on Twitter, @TomEMullaney.


Twitter: @tommullaney

Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a “sponsored podcast episode.” The company who sponsored it compensated me via cash payment, gift, or something else of value to include a reference to their product. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I believe will be good for my readers and are from companies I can recommend. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” This company has no impact on the editorial content of the show.

The post Google Jamboard appeared first on Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher helping educators be excellent every day. Meow!

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What Do You Wear? A Bib or Apron

Day 43 of 80 Days of Excellence

From the Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis

Follow @coolcatteacher on Twitter

Garrett Grubbs, the Youth Minister at Sherwood Baptist Church, said something in a recent sermon that has me rethinking about almost everything in my life. Before you jump off the page, this quote has non-religious applications as well if you’ll read on for a moment.

Now, Pastor Garrett was talking about prayer when he said this, but it can apply to so many things. He said something like,

“You need to ask yourself if you’re wearing a bib or an apron when you pray.”

So, in other words, are you looking to get something (be fed and wear the bib) or to serve God (wear the apron.)

But this “big and apron” metaphor applies to everything. Let’s put this in another context.

Your Job. When you’re approaching your job, are you wearing a bib or an apron? Are you coming to your job for what you can get out of it? Money. Prestige. Power. Or are you looking at your job for what you can give to others? Service. Legacy. An example of excellence. Relating to and knowing others?

Relationships. When you’re approaching another person are you wearing a bib or an apron?

Now, let’s park here for a moment. Amazing people are everywhere. More than once I’ve been drawn into a conversation with a fascinating person at a conference or via email. And then, shortly, they’ll let it slip. They want something. Free promotion. Sharing on social media. For me to blog about them. These folks are wearing bibs.

And perhaps I’m wearing a bib too. However, to so quickly find out a person has an ulterior motive can be disheartening. If somebody puts on a bib too fast, it makes you wonder if the apron was just a charade.

Once I heard a person talk about relationships like a gas tank. You’re either filling the tank (wearing an apron) or causing the person to expend energy on you (bib.) If you use too much of their energy without putting anything back, people will eventually no longer want to be around you.

So, the bib and apron holds true here as well.

Social Media. I think social media is separate from relationships. We need to be the kind of people that make social media a better place. Some people wear bibs – they just want attention. They want likes. They want people to talk about their topic.

But you can wear an apron as well. You can go on social media and decide you want to offer genuine encouragement to five people tonight. You can decide you want to share something positive that will encourage others every single day.

You can use social media for what you get out of it (bib) or make the world a better place (apron.)

And so it goes on.

I agree with Garrett, though, the people who wear aprons as a habit tend to be the kinds of people who leave a legacy and make a difference in the world.

For when we serve others, we think less about ourselves and often live a happier, more exciting life. (And if you don’t believe me, listen to today’s show about Compassionate Achievers and the neuroscience behind compassion and empathy.)

This post is day 43 of 80 days of excellence. I’ve created an email list below for those of you want to be emailed the full posts written as part of this series.

The post What Do You Wear? A Bib or Apron appeared first on Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher helping educators be excellent every day. Meow!

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The Compassionate Achiever: Understanding Empathy and Compassion So We Don’t Burn Out

Chris Kukk on episode 256 of the 10-Minute Teacher Podcast

From the Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis

Follow @coolcatteacher on Twitter

Dr. Chris Kukk, author of The Compassionate Achiever, combines neuroscience with social sciences to discuss why compassion helps us achieve more. He also shares the difference between empathy and compassion and why one of these is a recipe for burnout.

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Enhanced Transcript

The Compassionate Achiever: Understanding Empathy and Compassion So We Don’t Burn Out

Link to show:
Date: February 19, 2018

Vicki: Today we’re talking with Chris Kukk @DrChrisKukk, author of the The Compassionate Achiever.

Now, Chris, you’ve really spent your life’s work combining neuroscience and social sciences. You even work with the Center for Compassion, Creativity, and Innovation.

How do these two combine? How do you combine neuroscience and social sciences?

Chris: That’s a great question.

It happens every day, Vicki.

I was really interested in how people — and why people — make the decisions that they make.

People who are Optimistic Literally See the World Differently than Pessimists

So for me, it’s not just the context that you’re in, but also what happens inside your brain that matters — what you’re thinking, what matters, what perspectives you’re coming with, what kind of neurotransmitter are floating around in some people’s brain?

For example, if you’re highly stressed, cortisol is going to frame whatever you see in the world. Therefore, that will decide or help you decide what actions you’re going to take.

But if you have dopamine flowing around — that high rewards neurotransmitter — you’re going to see the world a lot differently.

Some people used to call me the guy with the rose-colored glasses. My glass is always half-full. They’re like, “You’re so naive. You don’t see the world the way it really is.

Studies have shown now that people who are optimistic, who have that dopamine flowing through, actually have a wider peripheral vision than the people who are negative.

Vicki: Hmmmm.

Chris: So guess what? The people who have rose-colored glasses? You see more of the real world than the people who are negative and are down.

Science has show over and over again that what happens in our brain — you know, we see with our brain, we don’t see with our eyes — and so we really should know what’s going on inside the brain if we want to understand actions and decisions that are being made.

We don’t see with our eyes. We see with our brains.

Vicki: But you know, Chris, these are difficult things.

You’re talking about The Compassionate Achiever, so you obviously care about achievement. I have people in my life — I tend to be positive. My mom says I was a positive, happy baby.

And you know there are some people who — they’re kind of born, and they’re a little more negative. What’s the research by helping us change that? Can we?

Can we change people who are born with a negative outlook rather than a positive one?

Chris: Yes. There are many ways, Vicki, yes. The short answer is yes.

And compassion can be taught, over and over again.

And we talk about that in The Compassionate Achiever.

So even Charles Darwin said that we’re born with compassion. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who is famous for the Social Contract, says that we were all born with natural compassion. But this is the trick, Vicki. Both of them say that we unlearn it through the way we structure society.

Just as an example — kids on playgrounds? When I was teaching overseas on a Fulbright in Estonia, I had 119 European students from all over the place, and I was explaining this theory called realism in international politics. Basically, if you push somebody down, you get to go on top. The world is a zero-sum game according to realism.

So I used the example of playing King of the Hill, that we play in the United States. I said, “You guys, when you play King of the Hill…”

The Games We Play Don’t Have to Be a “Zero Sum Game”

One young scholar… I’ll never forget her. She raised her ahd. She’s from Poland. She said, “Dr. Kukk, what’s KIng of the Hill?”

So I had to explain to a 119 European students that in the United States on the United states playgrounds, we actually have our kids play games called King of the Hill or Kill the Carrier.

That was shocking, and seeing their faces. They were like, “What?”

She raised her hand and said, “Thank you, Dr. Kukk.”

And I felt like, “Alright! I explained that really well!”

And then this is the kicker. My mouth then dropped.

She said, “That explains so much about the United States.”

Vicki: Oh!

Chris: Yeah, because they don’t play that there. Right?

And so this idea that Darwin and Rousseau say — that we were born with natural compassion and we unlearn it.

Unless, Vicki, you’re a psychopath. Psychopaths actually don’t have — and it’s actually been shown that — their brains are wired differently.

So we can teach that. And one of the ways we do it in the American school system is through social-emotional learning programs.

This is the other kicker! When you have social-emotional learning programs, and compassion is flowing through your school day and through your curriculum, you increase dopamine. Dopamine has been shown by neuroscience to be the “Post-It Note” for memory for all of us.

When you have more dopamine flowing through your classroom, you have better memory skills.

Dopamine improves learning and memory

Vicki: So, Chris… some people mis-define compassion.

You know, a student doesn’t have their work, or they don’t understand. “Oh, have compassion. Give them 100.” That’s not what you’re saying, right?

Chris: No.

What is Compassion?

Vicki: Can you define compassion for us?

Chris: Sure! Compassion has two parts.

One is this 360-degree holistic understanding of the problem or suffering of another. So the first part is basically understanding, but a holistic understanding.

The second part is then you have a commitment to take action to address that problem, to solve that suffering.

So, it’s this understanding and then action to take some kind of committed action to help solve that problem.

So, yeah, even my boys… I have 10, 12, and 14 year old boys.

And I discipline them, right?

And they’ll say to me, Vicki, “Aww, you’re supposed to be the compassion dude, right?”

Vicki: (laughs)

Chris: When I’m telling them they can’t (do something)

Vicki: (laughs)

Chris: So I tell them, “You guys are mixing and misunderstanding the difference between discipline and compassion. You can have compassionate discipline, yes.”

You can have compassionate discipline

Vicki: And that is so important to understand.

So, Chris, I know that you have a lot of research and information in your book. But give us an example of how schools can teach kids to have compassion.

Chris: Awww, there are so many fun ways. Let me give you an example.

This just came out in one of the schools there was this teacher that said a 7-year-old boy, “has not empathy, so he can’t have compassion.”

First off, empathy and compassion are not the same thing. You can have compassion without having empathy.

Empathy and compassion are not the same thing

I want to make sure that’s clear. We could have another whole show on the differences between empathy and compassion. But it’s clearly been shown in neuroscience that it’s different.

So I said, “If you don’t think he can have compassion — you know those pigeon books, the pigeon that rides the bus? Mo WIlliams drew the pigeon so that everyone could copy that pigeon. H said, “Ruin my copyright! Just take it.” He was on NPR, literally saying that.

I used that in classes. I said, “Draw a problem with the pigeon and the bus for that young man to try and solve. But leave the next slate blank.”

So we draw that one frame of a problem happening, and then ask him, “How would you draw the next frame?”

And he came up with two or three different solutions, compassionate solutions — not by talking, but by simply drawing it.

Then you can talk to those students about what they were drawing, about compassionate action.

So sometimes, our young students don’t have the words yet, to frame or to say what they want to say in terms of helping somebody. But trust me, they have it. They’re born with it. We just have to unleash it. One way we can do that is through comic drawing.

Vicki: So, Chris, why is it important for modern achievers to be compassionate? I mean, there’s research behind why compassion is needed, right? It’s not just a “nice to have”…

Chris: Right.

Vicki: … through character education. Aren’t there some real tangible benefits to being a compassionate person?

Tangible benefits to being a compassionate person

Chris: YES! Health!

There are so many.

If you look at one, just for your internal self, health. When you are having compassion, you are actually releasing a lot of endorphins. You’re releasing neurotransmitters, like dopamine (that reward level)and serotonin (that calming level).

You’re releasing and triggering a peptide hormone called oxytocin, which then releases all those great chemicals in your brain, lowers your blood pressure, reduces stress and chances for s heart attack. Those are just some of the health benefits.

But for team building, and for working with your colleagues and other teachers? It creates trust. It builds trust. When you have trust running through your team, you’re apt to do more. People are more apt to give more to each other.

The benefits are internal as well as external, and they go on and on.

There have been recent studies, and the Wall Street Journal just had this, in places in medical facilities where rudeness and incivility and the lack of compassion were high, there were more misdiagnoses. Wrong medications were given.

And when you increase compassion, the increase in health — less hospital time stays, people recuperating faster.

I mean, the benefits are all over the place, not just intellectually speaking. We have research, not just from the United States, but also places like Sweden, that show you that what happens when you have a compassionate classroom set up, what happens to those students in terms of their learning capabilities and abilities.

There are just so many wild benefits. You’re absolutely right, Vicki.

Vicki: So as we finish up… I have heard teachers or others say this before.

“Well, I have compassion all day long. I have compassion for everybody else. But nobody gives it to me.”

What’s your answer?

Prevent Burnout by Having Compassion, Not Empathy

Chris: They’re doing something other than compassion.

The reason I say that is that Dr. Tania Singer from Leipzig, Germany has shown us over and over. She was the first one in a September 2013 article. When we think in a compassionate way, we use the same neural circuits as love.

But when we think in an empathetic way, we use different neural circuits — the neural circuits of pain.

You get burned out. When you give compassion, compassion is given back to you over and over again. People come to you, even when you don’t even ask for help.

When you think in an empathetic way, you’re stepping into the shoes of another. A lot of people confuse empathy and compassion. They even confuse sympathy with compassion.

Sympathy’s not the same thing. That’ll burn you out. That’ll take you down.

But Vicki, when you’re in love? Like I’m going to be married to my wife this May for 30 years. When I give more love, I’m not burned out. I’m not feeling like I’m not getting love back. It comes back threefold, fourfold.

And compassion is that.

Vicki: So, I’m going to add on one more question even though we’re the 10-Minute Teacher. This is as much for me as for others.

When I do tests, I am off the chart empathetic. That’s me.

Chris: (laughs)

Vicki: And it can burn me out. I have to be careful, because I tend to feel the emotions of others.

Chris: Yes.

Vicki: Help me understand, in a healthy way, the difference between empathy and compassion.

Chris: And I’m glad you brought this up, because most teachers are attracted to that profession because they do have high levels of empathy. Same with nurses. Same with doctors.

Alright. So the basic difference. Think of empathy as having the same feeling as somebody else.

When someone else is down and depressed, you get down and depressed. Your brain doesn’t know the difference. That burns you out.

Having compassion. You’re feeling kindness toward somebody else. There’s a difference.

You can actually act to solve a problem without having to feel that problem. You can understand that suffering without having to feel that suffering.

So, it’s a lot like… for me, like a lifeguard. Before I was trained as a lifeguard, I thought, you go out there, right Vicki? You swim to them, and you save them, and you bring them back in.

But you’ve finally trained as a lifeguard, you don’t necessarily do that, because when someone’s drowning, they grab for you.

Empathy versus compassion: The lifeguard analogy

You know what you’re taught as a lifeguard in order to save them? You’re taught to take them down. Because they release you, they go back to the surface, and then you can go around and grab them — to then bring them in.

Vicki: Hmmmm.

Chris: Compassion takes that extra deliberate step of understanding, where empathy you’re just falling into the feeling. And you get lost. You can get stuck in that emotional quicksand.

Vicki: As we finish up, there’s a great old movie called Warm Springs. Kathy Bates is actually in it, and it’s about FDR. He’s feeling sorry for himself because he has polio. He doesn’t want to run for President because he said he was going to run for President when he could walk again. Obviously he couldn’t walk again. Kathy Bates in this scene says, “You are down in that hole. But I refuse to get down in that hole with you, but then I can’t pull you out.”

Chris: She’s avoiding empathy, and taking compassion.

Vicki: That’s right.

Chris: That’s right. You don’t get in the hole.

Oh, I love that! That’s a great line! (laughs)

Vicki: Oh, and I read it because I needed it!

You’ve helped me understand it, Chris.

So the book is The Compassionate Achiever by Chris Kukk.

Do check out the Shownotes. I’ve learned a lot! This is yet another example of how — when you share, when you blog, when you podcast — how it not only hopefully changes the listener, but it also changes the host, the person who’s involved.

So thank you, so much Chris, for helping me understand the difference between compassion and empathy. I think sometimes I get so empathetic, I become pathetic. (laughs)

Chris: (laughs)

Well, thank you for having me on. It’s an honor.

I’ve been following your work for quite a while, so this is an honor for me, Vicki.

Contact us about the show:

Transcribed by Kymberli Mulford

Bio as submitted

Dr. Kukk is the HarperCollins author of The Compassionate Achiever, co-host of The Compassionate Achiever Podcast, founding Director of the Center for Compassion, Creativity and Innovation, Professor of Political Science/Social Science at Western Connecticut State University, a Fulbright Scholar, Director of the Kathwari Honors Program, founder of the University’s Debate Team, and member of Phi Beta Kappa.

He received his Ph.D. in political science from Boston College and his B.A. in political science from Boston University. He was also an international security fellow at Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. His research and publications combine neuroscience with the social sciences and focus on education issues, the political economy of natural resources, and the creation and sustainability of civil society.

Dr. Kukk was also a counter-intelligence agent for the United States Army, a research associate for Cambridge Energy Research Associates, and has provided the Associated Press, National Public Radio, The Economist magazine, NBC-TV, CableVision, and other media with analysis on a wide range of topics and issues. His forthcoming books are based on the idea of weaving values such as compassion into our learning, civic, and business communities.


Twitter: @DrChrisKukk

Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a “sponsored podcast episode.” The company who sponsored it compensated me via cash payment, gift, or something else of value to include a reference to their product. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I believe will be good for my readers and are from companies I can recommend. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” This company has no impact on the editorial content of the show.

The post The Compassionate Achiever: Understanding Empathy and Compassion So We Don’t Burn Out appeared first on Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher helping educators be excellent every day. Meow!

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Get Rid of Excuses and Get Ahead

Day 42 of 80 Days of Excellence

From the Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis

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A fictional account of what happened in Daniel captured my interest tonight. Taken from the book Agents of Babylon by David Jeremiah, on page 169, the fictionalized Daniel talks about the peace in the districts he manages and says,


“Unrest always has an underlying — and often legitimate — cause… it serves us well as leaders to listen and learn. In most cases, a simple compromise can appease the people and protect our interests while costing us nothing. And when we work for an agreeable resolution, the people begin to trust us and become cooperative, which eliminates the need for force.”

How to Get Rid of Excuses with Other People

In the fictional example above, Daniel talks about listening. Well, after fifteen years of teaching, I typically know the excuses students make that keep them from learning. So, my strategy is hitting it head-on.

Today is a perfect example. Before I started teaching the hardest thing of the year in my advanced Computer Science class today, binary numbers, I got the excuses out of the way. Those excuses are typically:

  • This looks too hard
  • I can’t learn it
  • I won’t learn it
  • If I pretend to learn I can just not understand this and she’ll eventually move on without me having to learn it
  • I’m not going to pay attention and then blame it on her
  • It is going to take me too long to learn it and I’ll fail the first test so why try?
  • I’m going to make a joke out of it and try to get a laugh

How do I handle this?

Deal with excuses up front

Well, I give an excuse-killing speech that goes something like this,

“We’re going to learn the hardest thing of the year right now to get it out of the way. In all 15 years I’ve taught, every student has learned how to do binary numbers. All of them. And unless you think you might be the first, here’s how this works. I teach it until you know it. When the whole class is making A’s, then we move on.

Sometimes I’ve taught a class in 7 days with 4 or 5 tests. Other times it has taken me two weeks and the all time top record was 14 different quizzes or tests to get to where we knew it.

I’ve got four different ways to teach binary numbers. Eventually I’ll get to the way you learn. If I don’t we’ll spend one on one time making sure you get it. If you’re worried about all of these quizzes and tests, there’s no need. I do something called formative assessment.

This means, I’m quizzing you while knowledge is forming. So, I give lots of little quizzes so you can see how you’re doing. I don’t give a real quiz or test until all of you are answering the formative quizzes with over 80% right and I know you understand it.

Some of you will look at it and think it is too hard. But then, there are some of you who will learn it and it will be ridiculously easy. Don’t say anything to make the others feel bad – it looks really hard until the light bulb goes on and it is really easy.”

Now, yes, that takes a good five minutes and in reality, is a tad longer. However, since I’ve started setting their frame of mind for this, the kids will learn how to convert binary to decimal within 15 minutes of giving this speech – and that time includes a 5-minute movie.

No Excuses Can Mean Real Progress

You see, once they know that I accept no excuses and everyone will learn it and I will teach everyone, they’ll relax and learn it.

But here’s the cool thing, they not only finished in my class, but they went to math class and after they finished started working binary problems “for fun.” I praised the class for how quickly they all learned it as each person showed me their answer.

The first class took 5 problems before everyone got it right. My second class took 4 problems! The previous record was 8 problems!

Who You Excuse Says A Lot About You

I can tell a great teacher by who they blame.

A mediocre or average teacher will usually blame the students or parents or society. They’ll make excuses for themselves, however.

The greatest teachers are always striving to do better. They hold a very high standard for themselves first — but also a high one for their students.  These teachers focus on what they can control — themselves.

I like to stay away from the blame game.

As an aside, every sort of “blame” can be a problem if taken too far. (Who doesn’t know the person who is always saying “I’m sorry” when they haven’t done anything wrong! You can say, it is cold today and they’ll apologize!)

Accepting Responsibility

However, taking responsibility for what you can do is important.

Today’s challenge is to look at areas of your life and see who gets your excuses? Who gets most of your blame?

I have a sign Mom handed down to me in my classroom.

“No Whining”

If I find myself whining, then I do something about it. Either a swift self-kick in the pants or I face facts about a situation and do something to change it or move on.

I just loved how Daniel in the opening didn’t make excuses for poor governing. He showed mercy for his people. And he held the government officials responsible as well as himself.

Today’s Excellence Challenge

Think of the biggest struggle in your life.

Are you making excuses for yourself? Are you blaming others? If others are truly at fault, how will you respond?

The post Get Rid of Excuses and Get Ahead appeared first on Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher helping educators be excellent every day. Meow!

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