Investing in a Child’s Spark: A Lesson from @DoRiteDonut Chef D’Antignac

Investing in a Child’s Spark: A Lesson from @DoRiteDonut Chef D’Antignac

Life is full of moments both big and small. The small moments, I’ve found, are the one with the greatest potential to become profound because we are living, laughing, and loving. We aren’t trying to force things. We aren’t overthinking things. We are being who we are.

I’ve tried to instill this in my kids that exploring, observing, reflecting, talking, and wondering in everyday moments are the absolute best moments that open the door of amazement.

Creating Conditions

So I try to create conditions where my kids can engage with strangers that have made their passions, their purpose. I have them write their questions in a Moleskine and bring it with them on adventures. I ask them to talk with strangers, engage with strangers, and observe strangers. This is where they learn! This is where they make connections.

One of the ways we do this is tours based upon whatever interest or spark has formed.

Investing in a Child’s Spark

But as much as I can do with creating conditions, there is a need for others to recognize a spark in a child. This is where the magic happens. When a stranger says, “I want to be part of making this moment matter for you.” They go that extra mile. They see curiosity and interest not a kid. They see fun and heart not a kid. They see happiness and joyousness not a kid. They see themselves and what they would have wanted. They see a child and the difference they can make in that soul’s life.

Recently, Faelin has expressed this unbelievable interest in being a chef. From helping me food prep to cooking meals from her creative spirit, she continues to wonder about this world. So we did a donut tour this morning as her curiosity about donuts continued to poke at her: how do they make donuts, how many do they make, how do they choose what goes on and in them, how are the shapes formed, and so forth.

A Model of What It Means to Live in the Moment


Chef D’Antignac at Do-Rite Donuts absolutely made my daughter glow. He didn’t just answer her questions. He didn’t just move past her. He took a transient moment and made it a lifelong memory even though there was a line out the door. He invested in a child’s awe, curiosity, dreams, and wonder by…

  1. Listening to her
  2. Talking with her
  3. Asking her questions
  4. Honoring her as authentic and real
  5. Engaging her in hands-on experiences
  6. Creating with her
  7. Investing in her interests and passions
  8. Connecting with her as a human

I’m not sure he knew that he was making dreams come true, bringing the greatest smile to her face, and creating a lifelong memory. She is glowing and outside sharing with her friends right now. This small moment on a tour profoundly changed her in ways that I believe will carry with her long after the glow has faded.


Thank you from the bottom of my heart, Chef D’Antignac. You saw a curious mind and extended your hand when you could have easily done the exact opposite! I hope you know the difference you made today in shaping this smart, strong, brave, creative, and beautiful soul’s mindset and future!




This is an educational blog for the most part. So I’ll simply ask these two questions:

  1. what if each student felt those aforementioned 8 things in his or her daily experiences in school?
  2. what if we embraced curiosity, interest, and wonder instead of dismissing an age

I can tell you it would look like this at the end of each and every day #livelaughlove.


Power of Process Words & Conversations

Strong. Smart. Brave. Beautiful. Creative.

If you spend anytime around me with my kids, you’ll either hear me or them say these words together, individually, or within some combination. Without question, there is a deep importance to them that goes beyond merely uttering the words.

I started off with just one word a few years ago but it has grown as I see their process flow. And I tell them what I’m seeing. I tell them when they are acting brave or creative. I tell them when I see them being and showing their beautiful side. I also tell them when I see them not displaying these traits, so they see these are pieces we embody but need to be constantly grown.

Because this is life, right? It isn’t about the win/loss, the praise and prizes, the grades, the programs, the life in hyper-drive, nor any one moment. It is about creating conditions that foster a foundation of constant growth. It is about developing a core that cannot be rocked by the failures, setbacks, hurt, and attacks they will encounter in life. It is about them knowing that awareness, effort,  process, and fail forward are your cores.

This past week, Finn lost another football game. He was frustrated and sad to say the least. As we went for a walk and sat upon a little hill, our focus was on the question, “what did you learn/what did this teach you?”.  This is a difficult question but the focus is on process, getting better, and rising to the challenge.

And when he struggled with this question because emotions were on a specific outcome, this is where those five words come into play. It is putting all five pieces together and seeing them as tools not permanent praise, seeing them as springboards into growth not as a permanent position.

Not a day/night goes by where I don’t follow the ritual of asking them what are you, what is something good that happened today, what was the funniest moment today, and what did you go out and learn today. It is Dweck-ian in nature but I see the impact on growth, optimism, fun, and joyousness.

The question I keep wondering about is how does this translate to the classroom, to leadership…

More than I’m Sorry: Power of Negative Connections

There are those moments in life where you just aren’t yourself. For me, these are rare but negative moments. 

But I’ve learned two lessons over the years:

  1. Awareness of Triggers that lead to these Moments 
  2. Importance of Reflection when these Do Happen

Recently, I was just not myself. I felt it. The triggers were there. And then it happened. I got done with a tremendous workout and was exiting the gym at 6:30am for work when I let a simple question of me turn into a snarky response.

So here is what I learned, a third lesson: there is great power in taking the time to look a person in the eye and not only apologize but express why an apology is necessary.

And this is what I did the next morning. It wasn’t just “I’m sorry.” It was “I’m sorry for x and y with the reality that you were just trying to be z”. 

The funny thing is that here was this situation where two people could have gone about their daily lives never thinking twice about that moment, never interacting again, and never understanding the other.

But by engaging, listening, and forgiving, something else happens: we grow from one another and connect now in profound ways.

I annoy people by my deep interest in sucking everything I can from those I meet. I liken myself to a magnet working hard to draw people close and harvest as well as share our collective wisdom. It is pure joy for me to be learning and exploring at the heart of the human condition. 99% of the time, these come from a positive starting point.

That 1% I used to dismiss because it started in the negative. This experience fundamentally changed me and taught me that I have the power to extend my hand towards those relationships that fall into that 1% category.

You never know what it means to the other person let alone what it means for your own growth.

Passion Propels

I’ve spoken about finding and pushing one’s passion for over a decade including numerous posts here on this blog. Whether it is speaking about adults or students, the idea of following your passion is vital to a happy and joyful framework of life.

But I get a lot of pushback mostly in two areas:

1. Passion is a buzz word and it is difficult to speak about it in pragmatic ways

I understand this and have over the years focused this blog on actual ways to focus on passion in education as well as life.

2. Recently, I’ve heard over and over that passion is overrated and that people can’t always do what they love. 

This brings me to my knees. If I’m exploring and pushing something I’m passionate about, I’m practically unstoppable. I wake up with unmatched hunger and focus. I live, laugh, and love.

If I’m doing something outside of my passion or even a potential passion (an interest), I am merely average. Yes, we all have to do these things but I tend to know that a) I need to link them to a larger vision of life or b) just get through them.

And that’s just it. I don’t want to just get through.  I can’t imagine a life where complacency and settling are the foundations of what I do. I want to wake up each and every morning alive. I want to prioritize around my passions. I want to be comfortable saying “no” because it isn’t moving me closer to bringing to life my vision. I want others to support and help me grow my passions, find new ones (expose me to new things), and breakdown barriers preventing growth within my passions.

And I want this for students. Strengths and passions maximized! Interests and possibilities explored. Wonderlust, a word I heard today, honored!!

Passion, after all, propels!

Stop Saying I Was Going to Do That

You have to stop talking and start doing or else be comfortable with always saying, “I was going to do that.” And that statement, no matter how good it makes you feel, is actually a statement of weakness.

Whether good or bad, I find it hard to stand still. Ideas are constantly flowing through my head at a rapid pace. While most I let flow past awaiting a possible future return with greater clarity, there are others that align so well with observations, needs, potential, and push that drives action.

Ideation and innovation, in other words, is one thing but execution is another. And on a daily basis, I hear some iteration of “I was thinking about doing that”.

The thing is that maybe you were, maybe you had the exact same idea. Yet, you didn’t act. You didn’t take the leap. You played it safe. You didn’t invest the time. You didn’t prioritize.

So I have little time for those that think it is positive or some how self assuring to let others know they had the same idea, the same intent, the same awareness but didn’t act. I believe in do now, fail forward, and work collectively to improve. I believe dream are important but dream chasing is the ultimate.

Don’t get me wrong. There are many ideas that I don’t act upon and then I watch someone else come up with something almost identical, execute it, and make the difference I knew was possible. In this situation, I don’t spend time letting him or her and the world know “I thought of that too” or “I was going to do that”. 

No, I support them. I put wheels on his or her idea(s). 

And I remind myself that at any given moment someone else is coming up with a great idea and it is the action, execution, and implementation that sets us apart. Become the person known for innovation and execution not the person known for never bringing dreams to life but feeling the air with wasted words of “was going to”.

Gift for New Teachers

Gift for New Teachers

As we wrapped up our new teacher orientation today, I gave our teachers a letter and three simple yet meaningful gifts connected to the themes of the week: engagement of the heart, mind, and body; you are not alone; the power of happiness and passion.

1. A Doorstop

These are hot commodities in schools so there is an immense practicality to a doorstop. But there is a metaphorical significance that is at the heart of teachers who are outstanding: opening and keeping your door open both physically and metaphorically. Keeping his or her door open physically let’s the world know what is happening in the classroom. It allows people to see the risks, rewards, failures, and successes. It is a welcome sign for visitors who can provide insights, share ideas, and offer perspective. This is an open invitation that waves colleagues into the room where their wisdom can be pulled.

But it is also a sign of being open to others, open to new ideas, open to feedback, open to growth. An open door is an open, growth mindset that is at the heart of the most successful, long-term educators.

We have too many one-room schoolhouses that are doing wonderful things that few know about. A doorstop is a sign of breaking down those walls. It is a gift that I hope each of them will someday give to someone else.

2. Letters from Students about their Favorite Teachers

Passion, joy, happiness… creative, energetic, and a little whacky… empathetic, aware, and caring… These are just some of the words that emerge with almost each and every teacher identified by students as most impactful. The gift of last year’s letters from students nominating impactful teachers serve as reminders that the classroom is about the engagement of heart, mind, and body. It is a human-centric endeavor. When we remember that and we focus on the service of all three aspects, the classroom becomes a powerful environment — one in which you walk in and feel the energy, the vibe.

These letters also serve as a connector. These are the teachers that are making a difference. Get to know them. Connect with them. Reach out to them. Go see them in and out of the classroom. Learn from and with them!

3. Lifesavers

Education can be lonely. When things get challenging, we too often close our doors and go it alone. Why? There is a sense of pride, a sense of not wanting to admit that things are challenging. When we free ourselves of the belief of perfection, we recognize that an extended hand will be met with many smiles. We are not alone unless we choose to be alone. The lifesavers serve as that reminder.


My Journey to the Bodybuilding Physique Stage

My Journey to the Bodybuilding Physique Stage

This is a post about education for the mere fact that it is about life. If you can bear with the length, you’ll see the points at the end (or jump right there). Nearly 20 years ago, I had a dream of being on the Mr. Olympia stage. Life has a funny way of working out and I took my athletic talents to the football field. But my dream never left me.

Three years ago, that dream began to haunt me. But I was 34 so I decided to get healthy. This past October, I saw how well my body was reacting so I set my sights on Men’s Physique bodybuilding Master’s class. A spinal injury brought things into perspective but also wasted away a lot of hard work as I sat dormant for months.

Entering Precontest Mode

With the doctors’ okay to begin,  I recalculated with the help of an amazing coach and my lifelong mentor/father figure. We plotted a 16-week course and went to work with reckless abandonment. I started at a solid 248lbs, a bodyfat well into 20%, and a waste line nearing 40.  Bottom line: I was strong and carried a good dose of muscle BUT I was an old School, off-season bodybuilder who was not in the ideal condition to begin a contest prep nor hit the Physique stage. However, hunger, focus, and passion can do amazing things.

Stress and Struggles

Precontest athletes are told and pushed to minimize stress, change, and problems as greatly as possible. It is the only way most say to be successful. As an agile person who thrives on problem-solving, evolving, and change managing, stress was something unavoidable. I just never realized the impact on one’s health, physique, and quality of life. That is, until this precontest phase where I saw dreams being destroyed by stress.

Mine was the antithesis of smooth:

  • 14 Weeks Out: Pneumonia
  • 11 Weeks Out: Bicep/Tricep muscle tears
  • 10 Weeks Out: Pinch nerve rendering left arm out of commission for 10 days and even then it came back with up to 70% reduction in strength on lifts. Not to mention, could not use dumbells for final 6 weeks leading up to show.
  • 10 Weeks Out: Interviewed and accepted new job
  • 8 Weeks Out:  Take on technical department along with already assigned instructional tech during transition
  • 5 Weeks Out: We discover there is no Master’s class. I either stay the course and go into the Open (all ages and primarily young, talented folks) or drop out for a later show.
  • 3 Weeks Out: Family member in accident and left on life support for 10 days. Two inches went on my waist during those 10 days despite no changes to training nor diet. Coritsol came visiting in a big way.
  • 12 Days Out: We are ready to pull the plug. Body isn’t responding and continues to go in the other direction. Injuries making things unbearable for everyone.
  • 10 Days Out: Minor fracture of left shin bone (unable to put significant weight on left leg while on stage)

Despite all of this, we still managed to get on stage…

Getting On Stage

The morning of the show, I weighed roughly 185lbs, had a 28in waist, and carried a bodyfat around 4% (estimated). I felt great the night before (photos in green) but we had a spill over the day of the show. I was furious and upset with myself for not listening to my body. So much work after so many setbacks only to have one small change cause water retention.

Right after prejudging, 1st, 2nd, and  5th hit a backstage shot together. You can see the water retention on my waste compared to 9 hours prior (photos in green).


Shots from the show after making a water/sodium manipulation error and then 90 minutes later after correcting it.

Evening show and the crowing of those that placed, the Top 5, who are now nationally qualified!

And The Results Mean…

I’m proud. My team is proud. I never expected to place in the Open. I was confident going into a Master’s competition but the Open is a different story. But I’m not satisfied nor am I happy. At 37, I chased down a dream despite every possible setback. But there is unfinished business. I have bigger dreams and I entered this precontest mode knowing this was a starter, a warm-up given 20 years off.

I sit now at 205lbs, nearly healed, holding bodyfat in check, and gaining strength every day. I’m going for it in a big way! Three years until 40 and I am giving it all I’ve got as I make a run at the Nationals.

I will also move forward with a much more transparent and active social media campaign during my run at the Nationals. I was confused, concerned, and reserved this time out of fear that personally and professional people wouldn’t understand. However, the outpouring of support personally and professionally tells me the journey can and should be shared.

Advice and Lessons Learned

for Competitors

  1. Build a Team #livelaughlove
    1. Contest Coach to Guide You (Mine, Bethany Halperin, is a master!)
    2. Nutrition Coach
    3. Stage Coach
    4. Posing Coach
    5. Stylist Coach
    6. Tanning Coach
    7. Chiropractic Coach (Dr. Clemens got me back in the gym and kept me there. Amazing!)
    8. Family Foundation
    9. Mentor
    10. Go To Person Over Everyone
  2. Trust and articulate the unique attributes of your body
  3. If you hire someone on your team, follow their program. If you have concerns, express them but never leave your coaches to believe you are following the program to the letter and your not
  4. Remove all stress.
  5. Patience! Patience! Patience!
  6. Don’t fix what isn’t broken
  7. Your mind and heart are your greatest enemies BUT the source of your greatest strength. Learn to be in harmony with these two
  8. Capture the entire experience in words, photos, sketches, and videos. I include a mood scale that I tackled daily
  9. Create a plan of action using Google and share with Team for ongoing tweaks, collaborations, and concerns
  10. Do a photoshoot a 1-2 after the show

For Teachers…

  1. How do we create conditions for students to dream chase?
  2. How do we help students understand setbacks, failing forward, resilience, and focus?
  3. How do we minimize student stress, a silent killer of dreams?
  4. How do we discover, embrace, and grow the unique passions of each student?
  5. How do we coach students through mistakes and setbacks so they come out stronger?
  6. How do we come to understand things seen as different, counter or sub cultures, that students have found interests and sparks?
  7. How do we encourage students to find themselves and mentors/life coaches to guide them?

For Administrators…

  1. How will you create conditions for teachers to dream chase?
  2. How will you help teachers to understand setbacks, failing forward, resilience, and focus?
  3. How do we minimize student and teacher stress, a silent killer of dreams?
  4. How will you discover, embrace, and grow the unique passions of each teacher?
  5. How will you come to understand things seen as different, counter or sub cultures, that teachers have found interests and sparks?
  6. How will you encourage teachers to find themselves and mentors/life coaches to guide them?
  7. How will you share and support your teachers’ passions that extend beyond the school – those living life-long learning but unable to model it?

Shout Outs

A big thank you to Coach Halperin, Dr. Clemens, Capitol Nutrition, AllMax, Met-Rx, Billabong, and X-Sport Fitness. And without question, my family, my mentor Jeff, my friends, and my colleagues  #horizon #livelaughlove

Timely Feedback in Age of Speed

I’ve been sitting here thinking about this idea of quality feedback. In education, it is nearly impossible to discuss assessments, homework, professional development, coaching, etc. without hearing it.

Timely, relevant, specific, targeted, etc. are all descriptors associated with quality feedback. But in an age of speed where feedback is +1, Like, Retweet, favorite, and so forth, how are we adjusting our approach to quality feedback? How are we managing expectations for that quality feedback?

Worthwhile discussion for teachers with students, administrators with teachers, and professional development specialists/coaches with peers.

My Mission Means #educator4life

I’ve heard it murmured a time or two: “he will leave education for some big private sector role”. I didn’t know that this was a “widely” held belief until the past few months when I heard it over and over.

I don’t know which is sadder: 1) that speculation or 2) I didn’t know it was there.

Truth be told, I almost did leave a few years ago. In fact, I neared the main office to turn in my resignation and accept an #edtech position within the private sector. Funny thing happen though that was the wake-up slap I needed: a student stopped me to share what a difference I had made in her high school career and that she had made it to the college she wanted. I turned around, walked into my office, and shredded the resignation letter.

I haven’t and never will look back on the best professional decision of my life. 

So let’s put this speculation to bed publicly. I’m writing my story and our story in the walls of schools. What is that story? Like I’ve said in so many ways, my mission is to make this change

Innovation, Happiness and Smiles. I want the spirit of schools to be such that everyone is happy and smiling. If everyone was happy and smiling, I’d know the conditions for engagement, passion, interests, agency, agility, human-centered, loving, and living were in place. I’d know that these were capable of being alive and well. I’d know that education wouldn’t be about just content and skills but mindsets, dispositions, and experiences. When I look at educational leadership, I’m worried. I see hyper-standardization. I see a focus on the mundane and trivial. I see a landing mindset that fears changes, fears risk-taking, and fears innovation. Very, very few are smiling in that type of environment.

The only way that I believe and want to do this is by being in schools, in education. I am an #educator4life.

Why Ethnography and Leadership

When I get in full-blown Ryan mode and the edubabble starts flowing, one question I’m often asked is, “what the heck does ethnography mean in relation to leadership”?

I admit. It sounds a bit awkward and definitely not a common word tossed around when pontificating about leadership.

To put it simply, I’m saying…

  • Learning about and from people is core
  • Balancing heart and mind keeps us soulful
  • “Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast”
  • Decision-making is first and foremost human-centered
  • Exploring, questioning, and wondering should never cease
  • Empathy reigns supreme
  • “Data with a heart is a story” (boy, oh, boy have we forgotten this one in leadership)

That’s it. It isn’t magical. It is just being deeply curious about people, cultures, climates, and environments. Because that curiosity and “learning from people” (Spradley) can grow a better world.

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view …
until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” To Kill a Mockingbird