When “Quick & Easy” Becomes “Powerful & Meaningful”

Note from Dan: The following lines were composed as part of a fellowship application.  It’s a little more self-congratulatory than I’m used to expressing in a public forum like this, but you know what? I’m proud of what my colleagues have been doing and I’m proud to be part of that story.

Each fall, I challenge myself and my colleagues.

One year, I dared us hold off discussing classroom rules and policies until the third day of school.  Another, I suggested students write letters addressed to themselves at year’s end, describing their successes.  Two years ago, we read about barefoot running and Canadian hockey leagues as metaphors for meaning making and problem solving.  Last year, I convinced three co-conspirators to embrace a student-initiated and designed, interdisciplinary customized learning pilot.

I cannot take full credit for these challenges, each inspired by a TED Talk or article, documentary or New York Times nonfiction bestseller, even a pile of reform-minded ninth graders. This year’s efforts developed from my recent immersion in design thinking as well as our newly adopted school code of conduct, the former providing a human-centered means of better implementing the latter.

“How might we better engage our students and make them want to ‘be here’ at Mt. Blue Campus?” I asked.  Entering a faculty meeting, participants first brainstormed on butcher paper.  Later, having processed, staff put resonant ideas on Post-Its and mapped them to a 2X2 grid, the X-axis running from “quick” to “long term,’ the Y-axis moving from “easy” to “challenging.” In the days that followed, and with some help from student aides capturing and sorting the data, I shared the “Quick & Easies,” across four domain charts, spread upon the floor: “Teacher/Student Connections,” “Food Related,” “Different Ways of Learning.”  At the next faculty meeting, staff then expressed their interests, polling via tossed bean bags borrowed from the student council’s pep rally supplies.  Before leaving this meeting, staff wrote their names beside specific activities and efforts they intended to pursue.

Staff showing interest in quick and easy ways to engage students via bean bags, Post-Its and markers; Plus, bottled waters are great anchors.

Since then student/faculty music jams have taken root, teachers have asked to borrow my LEGO bricks for science lessons, and the school witnessed the best Homecoming rally in years.

10 Minutes of Brick PD: At a recent staff meeting, everyone picked a cup with ten LEGO bricks. Then they had 3 minutes to make anything, 3 minutes to share with a colleague, and 4 minutes to brainstorm ways to use LEGO bricks in meaningful ways in the impact/ area.

But nothing, nothing compared to seeing teachers and administrators doling out free breakfast to all who passed, announcing a “free donut flash mob” to thank the school community for respecting our brand new building and a successful first quarter.  


Stunned,  I started tweeting pics of the event while my Humanities co-teacher sidled up to me.

“Nice job,” said Sam through a mouthful of donut.

“Dude, this is awesome.  But I didn’t have anything to do with this.”

“Yeah, buddy, you did.”  And I got a little choked up.

This is what I do.  I get an idea in my head that I believe will make our school a better place, our students better learners, ourselves better educators.    And I do what I can to make it happen because, well, why not?

It only takes a moment to start a movement.

About Dan Ryder

Dan Ryder & Jeff Bailey, co-founders of Wicked Decent Learning, a blog, podcast, Twitter feed and who-knows-what-all-else devoted to teaching and learning in Vacationland and beyond. Teachers, dads, actors, writers, geeks, buds.

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