Am I sad the school year is ending? Nope!

And that’s the truth. I’m not sad. That’s because I’m looping with a phenomenal group of learners with my good friend Jennifer Nusbaum.

flickr photo by buistbunch shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

This year I’ve had the pleasure of learning with and learning from 111 5th graders, creating relationships, building trusts, developing common languages, and doing our best to “figure it all out.” And while we might be losing a few students to moves out of state or moves to other schools, I am super excited for the prospects of continuing to develop established relationships, while creating relationships with students I might have missed this year.

Through conversations with student and parent, I’ve discovered one of my students is obsessed with George Washington and fake nails. How cool is that? But what else don’t I know about this student? And more importantly, what else don’t I know about the rest of my students. I’ve just started to peel back the layers, and I hope this continues next year.


The way I see it is I have been given another 180 days to be the best teacher, guide, mentor to all my students.

However, I am sad to lose Andrea Gallegos as a teammate. She has been one of my many rocks this year, helping me see myself from different perspectives and helping me better understand my purpose. I am also sad to lose Albert Notley as a teammate. He has taught me how to be a better person, a more relaxed person. He’s taught me to not take life so seriously.

And while I’m losing two fantastic teammates, I get to continue to be with Jennifer. She’s one of those rare people who understands you, challenges you, questions you, laughs with you, laughs at you, expects more of you. The two of us will build the foundation for the 6th grade leaders at Knox Gifted Academy, along with Erik Earl (currently a Chandler Unified teacher at Galveston Elementary) and Stephanie Leggio (coming to Arizona from New Jersey).

Stay tuned as we develop a dynamic 6th grade experience with help from students, parents, and the Chandler community.

flickr photo by buistbunch shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

In the end, what impact do we have on children?

Apparently a lot.


It’s a complicated story. But one worth telling. Let’s go back almost 10 years. I was teaching a group of gifted learners at Ryan Elementary in Chandler, AZ. It was August or September and I was reading aloud The Gifted Kids Survival Guide. I got to a part that went something like this: “At some point in your life you’ll need advocates for the type of person you are.” I jumped out of my rocking chair, struck a superhero pose and proclaimed, “I am Super CATS Man. Defender of the gifted!” (CATS is Chandler’s Academically Talented Students.)

A few months later, around the holidays I received one of the most heartfelt gifts ever. A cape! But not just any cape. Super CATS Man’s cape. Thanks to Tony Vitritto for listening. Thanks to Wendy Vitritto for listening to Tony. Thanks to Wendy’s mom for her masterpiece. I remember wearing the cape for the rest of the day, maybe even for the rest of the week. Super CATS Man has made many appearances in classrooms and other District events, much to the embarrassment of my own children.

Unfortunately, Super CATS Man has been retired for at least five years. His cape and mask (a recent addition to the uniform) have been hanging in B1 and E1 of Knox Gifted Academy, catching dust on the shoulders. But last Friday was National Superhero Day and thanks to Jennifer Nusbaum, Super CATS Man emerged once again – in full regalia, including tights because superheroes wear tights.

Now here’s where it gets a bit complicated so stay with me. While I was portraying someone defending the rights of the academically gifted, someone else was portraying me. In September of last year I was diagnosed with prostrate cancer. And thanks to my wife suggesting I go for a full battery of blood work, I am six months cancer-free. One of my students made blue ribbons to show her support of my fight, which turned into a tattoo to honor her.



Now here’s where the story takes an interesting twist, an interesting take on how we define superheroes. Talia walked in on Friday morning. She came up to me and said good morning. I noticed she was wearing the blue ribbon her classmate had made for her, which was odd since I haven’t seen many of the students wearing them for months. Then I noticed she was also wearing a blue ribbon pearler bead necklace another classmate made in October. What happened next blew me away and will always be imprinted on my brain for as long as I live.


Talia was “dressed” as me, her superhero. Blue ribbons and tatted up!


Now I might be her superhero and I hope she’ll have so many more as she grows up. But Talia and her classmates – present, past, and future – will always be my superheroes. It’s because of them that I wake up every morning, and dedicate my life to enhancing my craft and designing interesting and innovative learning experiences.

Thank you, Talia. You are my hero. And you are super.

Rant and You Shall Receive

In Everyday Use flickr photo by CarbonNYC [in SF!] shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

While I don’t condone rants as a way of getting your way, I do support speaking your mind and not being afraid of the backlash. So I went on a rant earlier this week. And there was no backlash. Just support, ideas, innovation, more questions, communication, new connections.

For weeks I struggled keeping my Twitter chat head above water, trying to manage #ARVRinEDU and #IMMOOC feeds in Tweetdeck. The former was a bit easier, because of the number of people participating and Tweeting. The latter? Not so much. With over 3,000 Tweets in an hour, I found it impossible to stay afloat. I was drowning in information and couldn’t listen to the innovative buzz that is #IMMOOC. I could respond to the questions. But that just became speaking. Where was the listening and, consequently, the learning?

So I wrote “Connected Yet Not Connecting”, posted it on this blog, Twitter, and on The Innovator’s Mindset Facebook group. I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know what my PLN would think. How they would feel. What I received from them was inspirational, helpful, and transformational.

Inspirational and Helpful

annick response

judy response


George response

And then this…

Tara was so right. If I filtered my Tweetdeck with Q1, Q2, etc. I wouldn’t have been able to listen to people’s A1, A2 (assuming people used this Twitter chat convention). And it wasn’t just transformational to me. Others found value in this suggestion.

Being connected educators has obvious advantages. But it also has challenges. Too much information exchange in too little time causes me anxiety. But thanks to George and Tara, I’m able to filter and process this information much easier. I became a better listener in the last #IMMOOC Twitter chat. This tip will certainly help me in the future. And I’m glad it helped others.

Connected Yet Not Connecting

Multiple Tweets Gradient flickr photo by mkhmarketing shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Please don’t take this the wrong way. I love #IMMOOC. I am fed by the connections, the conversations, the creativity, the collaboration. But I just can’t do another #IMMOOC Twitter chat. I just handle it.

My friends Tara Martin and Katie Martin (aka, “The Martin Girls”) have done a fabulous job running the Wednesday Twitter chat for the past several weeks and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it…


Except for last week’s chat. It hit me about five minutes into the chat. I just couldn’t keep up. All I could do was wait for Katie’s Tweet with the next question and answer it. The Tweets were coming in so fast that I thought my Tweetdeck was going to explode – turns out there are about 3,000 Tweets tagged #IMMOOC during the 60-minute chat.

Let me go back to the beginning. Don’t get me wrong. I love #IMMOOC. But a chat about innovation and connections with 3,000 Tweets in 60 minutes seems counterintuitive. I liked about a dozen Tweets and replied to even less. I was never able to get in the groove of connecting with and learning from my PLN. Totally frustrating!

Round 2 of The Innovator’s Mindset MOOC has once again altered my sense of innovation and my roles and responsibilities as a connected educator and teacher leader. But parts of the “course” just became too big for me to manage. Will I participate in this week’s chat? Of course, because it’s the final one. Will I be overwhelmed? Certainly, but if I change my strategy and listen to what others are saying rather than trying to speak and listen at the same time, then maybe I’ll feel more connected.

If anyone has any ideas of how to filter and participate in large Twitter chats, I’d love to hear from you.


Can’t Fake It

I have depression. I have anxiety. And I take medication and see a therapist to deal. There, I’ve said it. And it feels good. But it feels better when I get to tell those that matter the most to me. My students.


Last week one of my 5th graders asked me about my new tattoo. I was wondering when this was going to happen. I was also wondering what I would say. I had milliseconds to think of the story. And what came out of my mouth was the truth. Unrehearsed. Unfiltered.

I first told this growing group of listeners about Project Semicolon and how I’ve been dealing with depression and anxiety for years. I told them I took medicine every day so that I could feel less anxious. “So you can be the happy Mr. Buist”, one of my students asked. Yes, so I can be the happy Mr. Buist.

Then I told them about the significance of the word alive. I told them it was in honor of my wife for urging me to go in for a checkup. Turns out I had prostate cancer. It was in honor of Melissa for urging me to see a therapist to help me deal with whatever I was going through. I told them it was in honor of her because I’ve never felt more alive because of her.

I didn’t know how my story was going to come out. I didn’t know what I was going to say or how to say it. So I just told the truth. And that’s the most important lesson I’ve learned from this whole experience. Part of the healing process is talking about it openly.

Thanks to my student for starting the conversation.

In What Ways Might We Empower The Voices Of All Learners To Create A Culture Of Innovation?

This post was written by Michael Buist and Tara Martin as part of The Innovator’s Mindset MOOC (#IMMOOC).

Do yourself a favor. Watch this video, at least the first 45 seconds.

Why are these events unsettling? Do the actions make you frustrated? Of course they do. How dare someone cut a delicious cake into such random pieces. It’s downright criminal to mix Skittles and M&Ms. Who folds paper like that?

Or are you intrigued? Are you wondering who made the rules these people are breaking?

If you are intrigued, then maybe you’re an innovator, a questioner, a skeptic. And that’s exactly what our students need. We are in the business of creating the most memorable experiences for all learners – students and teachers – in our schools; therefore, we need to empower all the stakeholders to speak out and voice their opinions (arguments?) for innovative practices.

While brainstorming the ways we might empower ALL learners to create a culture of innovation, Tara and I asked the following questions:

  • What might the most innovative school in the world LOOK like?
  • What might the most innovative school in the world SOUND like?
  • What might the most innovative school in the world FEEL like?

For the purpose of this blog, I will consider the questions above from the student standpoint. While Tara, Curriculum Facilitator, from Lawrence, Kansas, will emphasize answers from the teachers, faculty and staff viewpoint.

What Might the Most Innovative School in the World Look Like?

For students…

The most innovative school in the world could look like a science fiction novel” (paraphrasing Mai Lihn, Knox Gifted Academy 5th grader)

Just imagine the classroom of the future. Interactive computer screens. Virtual reality pods. Transporter rooms. Imagine the furniture. Hover chairs. Tables that transform based on specific needs at the touch of a button.

If we empower our students to speak up and give them a voice, we can create this learning environment. It might not look exactly like the classroom described above yet. But if we don’t put our number one customer at the heart of the design phase of schools and classrooms, then we’re destined to create static, uninteresting spaces that meet the needs of no one.

“People collaborating. People blueprinting. People building. People planning.” (Nate, Knox Gifted Academy 5th grader)

For a second be a fly on the wall of Nate’s most innovative classroom. Do his ideas seem too far-fetched? Not really. In fact, Nate knows that collaboration and planning are what teams of people do everyday. He also knows that developing these skills at an early age will empower him to build upon these and utilize them in the workforce of the future.

For teachers…(from Tara)

I asked my professional learning network on Twitter, “What might the most innovative school in the world look like?” Here’s what a few of them had to say:

As the educators above responded, I couldn’t help but think of an article I read from The Business Insider The 13 Most Innovative Schools in the World in 2015. At the onset, the article Chris Weller describes how the “look” of an innovative school can vary quite a bit.

“It can be a floating school in an impoverished region, like the one in Lagos, Nigeria. Or it can be a school that’s blind to gender, like Egalia, in Stockholm, Sweden.” Click here to see the full article.

As I read the above article, I didn’t see any students taking long, laborious tests, or practicing with worksheets, but rather learning by doing and quite possibly the will, do as Jared Speight mentioned above, record their journey in a digital portfolio. Wouldn’t that be a nice shift from standardized tests? While the innovative schools might take on many “looks” one common thread seem to be ever present, the teacher was NOT at the front of the room lecturing but rather engulfed in the learning process. I believe the most innovative school will, as George Couros says, “operate as if we should all be “learners,” as opposed to the students being the only learners.”  

What Might the Most Innovative School in the World Sound Like?

For students…

It sounds like a beautiful hum of ideas.” (Mai Lihn)

“Planning. Collaboration. Communication.” (Nate)

Since our students have a voice in this innovative classroom, we must honor their ideas and let conversations happen, let questions be answered, let answers be questioned. We must allow them to collaborate and to struggle with disagreements and experience successes. This hum of ideas enables students to own their learning and take responsibility for the directions the classroom is heading.

For teachers…(from Tara)

The sound of an innovative school from a teacher standpoint, would be collaborating, sharing their learning via social media, blogging, developing podcast reflections, vlogging, etc. All of these mentioned outlets for sound require the teacher to reflect. Therefore, among the hum of an innovative school is one of a teacher reflecting and sharing their learning. I’d imagine this hum would sound much like what Tracy Sockalosky described above–that of the #IMMOOC Twitter feed.  

What Might the Most Innovative School in the World Feel Like?

For students…

It feels like a surge of excitement, inspiration, and a well of good feelings.” (Mai Lihn)

“Better than worksheets, like my classmates and I could do anything. Energizing. Positive. Exciting. Creative” (Nate)

It’s 2017. Everything should feel better than a pile of worksheets. Nate recognizes the importance rote learning, regurgitating information limits his potential. Remove the worksheets and the classroom feels alive. So let’s dip into Mai Lihn’s well of good feelings and sprinkle innovation in our classrooms.

For teachers…(from Tara)

The culture of an innovative school is one that not only students but teachers, staff and the school community feel empowered to, as Justin stated above, “pursue their interest, goals, and dreams.” All stakeholders would feel a “spirit full of energy, enthusiasm, and imagination,” as Tracy mentioned. In fact, Shelley Burgess and Beth Houf say it like this in Lead Like a Pirate, “Culture first, culture last, culture always.” In an innovative school, the culture of learning and risk-taking will be ever present and felt by those who so much as step inside the building.

Our Vision

If we want to create a culture of innovation that empowers the voices of all learners, we must be willing to embrace the idea that there are no one-size fits all. In fact, “innovation” in and of itself means as George Couros defines, “something new and better.” If our culture promotes and empowers all learners, it will be ever changing its “look.” However, the principles stated when answering the questions above, will likely be visible no matter what the shape or contents of the building.

For what are we waiting? This innovative culture in education is not something to hope for in the future; it’s something to attain right here and NOW! It requires us to ACT! Are you ready?

In what ways will YOU empower the voices of all learners to create a culture of innovation?

Bet You’re Looking Forward to That

BARBERSHOP flickr photo by michelle.boesch shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

The barbershop is and always will be a place where both customers and employees bare their souls. But sometimes it’s better to keep or mouths shut.

Taking a break from my #IMMOOC Buddy Blog with Tara Martin (@TaraMartinEDU) – stay tuned for that – I went to get a haircut. By the way, on Friday at 12:30pm in Queen Creek, AZ everyone is wanting a haircut. I waited. And waited. And waited some more. And while I waited, I played Pokemon Go and was excited to hear what new Gen2 Pokemon my students caught over Spring Break. It just one of the ways I connect with a handful of the 111 Knox Gifted Academy 5th graders.

After my name was called and I was summoned to the barber’s chair, the conversation went something like this:

Barber: “So what do you do?”

Me: “I’m a teacher.”

Barber: “Are you on break?”

Me: “I’ve been on break for nearly two weeks. I go back on Monday.”

Barber: “Bet you’re looking forward to that.”

Me: “Actually I am.”

Barber: “That sounds like work. I can’t stand working. Don’t get me wrong. I love the paycheck, just not the job.”

What’s not to get wrong about this statement? Here’s my takeaway from this conversation. If I ever start thinking, feeling, believing that being a teacher is less than a passion, that it becomes a job, it is time for me to go to barber college.

By the way, Team Valor FTW!


Al;ve #semicolonEDU #ProjectSemicolon

al;ve #semicolonEDU flickr photo by buistbunch shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

I’m alive. Not in the sense that I’m not dead. Although that is also true. I’m alive, as in full of life. And I owe it all to my wife.

She encouraged me to get a physical with a full battery of blood work. Turns out I had prostate cancer.

She encouraged me to inquire about medication for my moods. Turns out I have anxiety and suffer from depression.

She encouraged me to seek out therapy to help save our marriage. Turns out we’ll be married for another 18 years or more, assuming she’ll have me.

For the past ??? years, my mental health has been fragile at best. But Melissa has stood by me every step of the way. And all of her encouragement has finally paid off. I have made the decision to get help. To share my stories. To #stopfakingit, as my friend Joe Mazza writes. To not be ashamed to admit, as my friend Nicholas Provenzano writes in 2015.

I join a growing legion of educators who are telling our stories. I’ve joined the semicolonEDU Facebook Group. I’m following @ProjectSemicolon. I certainly don’t have all the answers, nor do I know all the questions. But I will listen. So don’t hesitate to reach out.

Remember, our story is not over.