Throwing Your Strength

Today I had the honor of helping to kick off New Tech Network’s biggest even yet — almost 2,000 educators striving for innovation! I volunteered to join in the fun by doing an Ignite talk – a 5 minute talk meant to ignite ideas. Below is the text of my talk and the accompanying slide deck. Enjoy!

Ignite Speakers @ NTAC 2015

Throwing Your Strength

In gathering my thoughts about what I am simultaneously challenged by and passionate about, the word “balance” kept making the rounds in my head. But I struggle with the articles, books, or endless pinterest boards that claim to have silver bullet lists for work/life balance. The word balance almost seems trivialized and doing an entire ignite talk on “balance” felt a bit icky to me. Then it dawned on me that perhaps I should take a step back and look up the actual definition. This is where it got interesting…


  • (noun) a state of equilibrium – this seemed standard, good but static
  • (noun) something used to produce equilibrium – this felt better and this definition shifts the word from something static to something a bit more active
  • (noun) the power or ability to decide an outcome by throwing one’s strength, influence, support, or the like, to one side or the other. This is both the definition that was most unexpected but also the one that I most need to see – a definition of the word balance that gave me the power, the wherewithal, to change or decide an outcome.

My first adult stab at balance, at determining a new outcome, came out of necessity, as these efforts often do. Heading into my not only my first year at a New Tech School, but my first year of teaching, like any good newbie I was anxious, excited, and ready to go! My co-teacher and I started out all smiles, but slowly went into a mode of scraping and clawing through the school year. Upon reaching Thanksgiving break, I simply unraveled. Looking at the calendar, the 4-weeks separating me from winter break seemed insurmountable. As a last ditch effort aimed at my desired outcome of self-preservation, I decided that from now on I would shoot for 85% perfection in my teaching. In effect, I set aside my want to go for the advanced score, and instead shot for proficient. This change allowed me to throw my strength at activities like getting a full night’s sleep, squeezing in the occasional workout, and having the time to make an actual dinner each night. In the classroom then, I actually had the energy and the wherewithal to be flexible and responsive in the classroom. By easing up on planning perfection, I actually hit a better outcome and was far more student-centered. What good is a perfect lesson if I’m not present enough to implement it?

This shift I now realize was structural in nature. I had become more aware of my time and threw my strength into re-structuring my daily habits to achieve a new outcome.

What new outcome I continue to tackle now, and what I find harder, is to throw my strength into balancing my moments. Again, I must admit this too has come out of necessity. As someone who lives with Bipolar Disorder, I am far more predisposed to focus on and highlight the sad and difficult moments I experience. But I doubt that I’m alone – it can often be easier to get caught up in the frustrating and the low moments of our lives, easier to wear how busy we are as a badge of honor. As I have grown into my adulthood living with this disorder, I have had to throw my strength into finding and promoting my positive and uplifting moments. I need this balance to sustain myself and even as preventive self care toward off a down cycle. That third definition I referenced earlier gives us all the power and ability to determine an outcome for ourselves. Instead of letting that innate power of choice drift me into a harried or depressed state, I work hard to hopefully choose a more balanced and calmer outcome for myself. It’s not always easy, but I make this choice every day, sometimes multiple times a day.
As we dive into NTAC and as the school year quickly approaches, most of us will first think about the outcomes we want for our students. But I urge you to also take a few moments to think about your think about your own outcomes, your own balance. During this time that promises to be fully of learning, stress, growth, collaboration, and long days, I’d like to gently challenge each one of you with the following, perhaps deceptively, simple question: where will you throw your strength?

Ignite Talk Slide Deck