Start. Right. Now.

Maya Angelou is one of my favorite human beings to have ever walked the earth. It was one of my top bucket lists items to get to see her speak in person and I was thrilled to fulfill it at an ASCD conference in Chicago in 2013.

She did not disappoint.

As her introduction was read, she was nowhere to be seen until a riser carrying her wheelchair was lifted and she was rolled on stage to thunderous applause. For myself, and many others in attendance on that day, we didn’t just greet her with applause…I had this strange watery sensation in my eyes. I don’t cry easy. In fact, my son saw me cry for the first time last week and he is sixteen. Maya made me cry before she even spoke. I have rarely been so moved or emotional about just being in the same space with another person. The power of her authenticity and the weightiness of her sheer significance were almost overwhelming to me.

She opened by singing the line, “When it looked like the sun wouldn’t shine anymore, God put a rainbow in the cloud.” And then said, “Imagine that.”

Goose bumps.

Many people have asked me if you have to be a “cartwheel and somersault” type of educator to Teach Like a Pirate and to engage kids. That may be my style, but the answer is a resounding “NO!”

I saw Maya sit still in a chair in front of an audience of over 10,000 people and completely mesmerize us with the power of her words and masterful storytelling. She wove back and forth through stories from her life for 45 minutes and ended by bringing them full circle to demonstrate the power of a teacher in the life of a student. As she put it, educators, at their best and most empowering moments, are “rainbows in somebody’s cloud.”

Wow. When she ended…more tears. Words can move people…and people can move mountains. A little over a year later (May 28, 2014), I received news that Maya had passed away and that moment in time came flooding back. Don’t let anybody ever tell you that the ability to write well, tell captivating stories, and speak exceptionally can’t change the world. It absolutely can.

As it turns out, that conference was life changing for more reasons than just getting to hear one of my heroes. Shelley and I met George Couros there and we would go on to eventually publish his incredible book, The Innovator’s Mindset. I met Joe Clark, Joe Sanfelippo, Kathy Perret, Tom and Leah Whitford, and a whole host of others that I am now personally and professionally connected with.

It was also at #ASCD13 that Shelley and I met Jimmy Casas for the first time. Jimmy makes an impression because he is one of the truly authentic and genuine guys in this business…and he is a great connector of people. Those connections usually take place around food! He invited several of us to dinner at a restaurant that had deep significance in his family’s history and we enjoyed great Mexican food, great conversations, and great fellowship.

My relationship with Jimmy has grown over the years. I can still remember pacing back and forth across the room during a phone conversation with him as I relayed how angry I was at some stuff a hater had written about me. He shared that it was an indicator that I was making an impact. We chatted about how if you aren’t ruffling at least a few feathers, you probably aren’t doing much of significance. We swapped some stories and I hung up the phone feeling better and more willing to let the trolls stay under their bridges where they belong.

Now it has come full circle. We are honored to become the publisher of his amazing book, Start. Right. Now. Teach and Lead for Excellence, co-authored with the incredible Jeff Zoul and the unbelievably prolific, Todd Whitaker. This is the second book they have written together and it is already creating a buzz throughout social media. It is topnotch stuff!

The book is partly a riff on a John Maxwell quote, that leaders know the way, show the way, and go the way. They have fleshed out three hard hitting sections on that quote and added a fourth…grows each day. It would be hard for me to imagine anyone reading this book and not wanting to get better at whatever their role is in this mighty profession. It will inspire you.

One of my favorite features of the book is that at the end of each part there is a LEAD 4, TEACH 4, LEARN 4 section. They have found 4 powerful educators in leadership roles and 4 powerful educators in primarily teaching roles and had them contribute to the conversation. You will immediately be able to add many new names to your professional learning network. The LEARN4 section gives you 4 action steps, resources, or links that will help you move forward and go further in your pursuit of excellence.

You can’t ask for more…powerfully written chapters, 8 additional contributors to connect with and learn from in each one, and then multiple more ways to continue to improve. Get this book in the hands of your people!!

Thinking back to that ASCD conference and the connections I made, it reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from Start. Right. Now., “The best in our profession intentionally surround themselves with the best.” Jimmy Casas, Jeff Zoul, and Todd Whitaker definitely represent the best of our profession. You can bring them right into your life through the pages of Start. Right. Now.




PS: Speaking of ASCD…Shelley and I will have a DBC, Inc booth at ASCD in Anaheim this coming weekend (March 25-27, 2017) and all of our books, including Start Right Now, will be on display and available. Come by and say hi if you are attending!!


Virtual PD Course Based on The Innovators Mindset

After the smashing success of the first #IMMOOC, George Couros and Katie Martin are back with an all-new course on educational innovation. The course starts on February 27th and is based on ideas from George’s amazing book, The Innovator’s Mindset. This book has taken the educational world by storm and is currently the #1 best-selling book on Amazon in Education Administration.

This is a HIGHLY interactive experience that will incorporate multiple channels of participation from YouTube Live videos, a Twitter chat component, a Facebook group, and blogging. Simply put, this course could be just what you need to take your educational innovation game to the next level. I HIGHLY recommend participating and encouraging others in your system to join along with you.

Take a look at the guests below to get a sense of how incredible this experience will be.

Actual Date Topic Guests Twitter Chat
February 27, 8pm EST Introduction AJ Juliani and John Spencer March 1, 9pm EST
March 5, 8pm EST Part 1: Innovation in Education Sarah Thomas  March 8, 9pm EST
March 12, 8pm EST Part 2:  Laying the Groundwork Amber Teamann and Matt Arend March 15, 9pm EST
March 20, 8pm EST Part 3: Unleashing Talent Jennifer Casa-Todd March 22, 9pm EST
March 26, 8pm EST Part 4: Concluding Thoughts To be announced March 29, 9pm EST

If you miss the original YouTube Live session, you will be able to watch the recorded version or listen to the podcast.

If you are interested in joining, please do the following:

  1. Buy a copy of “The Innovator’s Mindset“.
  2. Sign up for the course .
  3. Get your blog ready to go! (I suggest either or
  4. Share that you are joining to the #IMMOOC hashtag on Twitter and share this link for others to sign up.
  5. Join the Facebook group.

How could this get better? You can win prizes!!! Participate in the #IMMOOC Selfie Giveaway and possibly win 3 books of your choice from our Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc line. Currently 22 choices!!

Imagine a fully developed and collaborative professional development experience created by two of the top educational thought-leaders in the world and designed to move your system from pockets of innovation to a culture of innovation…and then imagine that it was COMPLETELY FREE! This is an absolute no-brainer. Join #IMMOOC and get as many people from your system as you can to jump in with you. This could change the whole conversation and transform your school and district. See you inside #IMMOOC!


PS: Join here now!



How Cancer Helped Me Bond With My Students

A guest post from Justin Birckbichler

I’m honored to share this amazing post from awesome educator and valued friend from my professional learning network, Justin Birckbichler. Justin is a 4th grade teacher from Fredericksburg, VA. After being diagnosed with testicular cancer, he made the incredible decision to document his journey and use his blog and social media to raise awareness and hopefully save lives. Follow his story here: A Ballsy Sense of Tumor

Learn how Justin turned this challenge into a powerful opportunity to build high levels of
rapport with his students even in his absence.

Here’s Justin:

In November, I was told I had an aggressive form of testicular cancer. The good news – it’s not a death sentence. I have over a 90% chance of survival, and I’ll find out if I am cancer free in early March. However, this silver lining came at a price: nine weeks of chemotherapy.

Some cancer patients get chemotherapy once every few weeks and are able to work throughout their treatments. Since my cancer was so aggressive, I would need chemotherapy nearly every day, which meant that continuing to work during treatment would be impossible.

Once the shock of hearing my diagnosis subsided, my thoughts turned to my fourth-grade students and how this upheaval in my life would affect them. I decided to be honest with them. After returning to school post-surgery, I told them that I had cancer and would be out of school from November to February. Obviously, the students were upset that their teacher had cancer, but I shared that my prognosis was good. Their compassion and genuine worry for my health showed that we had created a community of caring students, which has always been more important to me than any academic goals.

I also told them that we would stay in close contact while I was gone. On Google Classroom, I set up an assignment for students to create individual Docs to write back and forth to me. I left it open ended; students would write about whatever they wanted. I didn’t want to frame their thoughts for them. This was to be a way for me to continue to bond with them while also developing their writing skills. Giving prompts felt like it would just be another task for them to do, rather than a genuine experience.

This freedom resulted in a wide array of writing to read every day, instead of reading 25 canned responses. I got to see each individual student’s ideas. Some days, students would ask me how I was doing. I did my best to answer them honestly. If I had a good day, I told them. On bad days, I shared what was making me feel unwell if they asked.

Other days, students would tell me about what was going on in school or at home in their lives. I heard about Super Bowl parties, sports and extracurricular accomplishments, what they were reading, problems at home, and what subjects they were struggling with. Even though I was sitting in a chemo chair dozens of miles away, I felt like I was right there with them.

I can honestly say I learned more about my students during my time away from the classroom than I had before leaving. I always like to think I know my students well, but I got to know each of them on a deeper level. As much as we would love to sit and talk to each of our students, we often can’t in a typical classroom setting because of time constraints, large class sizes, and content that needs to be taught. Despite all of the negative aspects of my diagnosis, cancer did give me and my students something positive: time to focus individually on each kid every single day.

Choosing to have my students write to me each day also let me hear voices that I wouldn’t normally hear throughout a regular classroom day. My introverted students wrote far more than they would ever verbally speak. Some students may only say a few sentences all day in class, but now I was getting paragraphs of information from them. When communicating with their parents, I found that these quieter students loved the time to write to me. It helped them to express themselves in a way that they might not have otherwise had the ability, confidence or desire to do.

Writing daily letters wasn’t the only we used writing to stay in touch and build relationships. We also did a “Choose Your Own Adventure: Active Engagement Edition” writing activity for a week. Students chose which paths to take in a story and justified their answers, and I provided the what happened next in the story for them. It was a nice change of pace and allowed me to see the inner workings of their decision-making skills, as well as their creativity.

Beyond using writing to stay in touch, we also did a Google Hangout on one of my “good days” in January. It was the first time the students had seen me since leaving and the first time they saw me after my hair had fallen out. I got a chance to speak with each student individually. I must have looked significantly different, because many of them acted shy, like it was the first time meeting them. After breaking the ice with some “no hair” jokes, the students were all smiles and more at ease. I hadn’t seen them for months, and it was great to see their little faces again.

I head back to work at the end of this month, exactly three months from when I left my students. I am excited to get back to them, but I will honestly miss having a large amount of time to bond with them on an individual basis each day. Writing to each of my 29 students takes anywhere from 60-90 minutes a day, and I simply don’t have time to do that every day during a normal school day. I know that, as we finish out the year together, our relationships will continue to grow, thanks in part to the groundwork we laid while I was out of the classroom. Seems contradictory, but being gone helped bring us closer together.

Part of handling a cancer diagnosis is finding small victories. Instead of being down about missing so many moments with my students, I consider this absence from the classroom as a time to get to know my students, which is a huge win. Each day, it gave me something to look forward to and something to fight for. I know I will be a better teacher who is more attuned to their needs and interests because of this time. I know these are the memories they will remember about their fourth grade year, memories much more valuable than any lesson I could ever teach them.

Justin Birckbichler

Wow! Thanks to Justin for sharing his journey here. I have been inspired by how he has navigated these tough challenges and obstacles this year. And…honored that he asked me to give him head shaving tips, too! He now uses a race car razor just like me! Feel free to share thoughts on this post with Justin in the comments below.