Maintaining Balance for Learning During Crazy Times: A Thoughtful Guide for Parents and Educators

In honor of November being the month of Gratitude, Dr. Aili Pogust and Dr. Spike Cook will be hosting a 5 part weekly series on maintaining balance during these crazy times. There is no cost for the workshop and if you are interested you can sign up here. We are asking those who are interested to attend all 5 sessions. 

Promo Video 

About the series 
Is what you have been doing to maintain your balance working for you these days? You are living in a crazy time. Perhaps you’ve noticed that you can no longer follow the paths to which you’ve been accustomed. Creating new paths, however, requires a better awareness of how the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual aspects of your life need to remain balanced.

Your children and your students are counting on that. Before you can help them you have to help yourself. This workshop will offer you some thoughtful tools to get started. In closing, here’s something to consider. Our western culture has focused intensely on the physical and mental aspects of our lives. Notice if you have an urge to attend only a select date. What might that be saying about your state of balance?

Dates and times 
Tuesday on November 10, 17, 24, December 1, 8 (2020) Time: 7:00 PM EST – 8:00 PM EST (Zoom link will be provided to those who register.) Register here. Registration ends November 9 at 10:00 PM. 

Overview of each week 
November 10

  • You will assess how you currently utilize the four aspects of your life physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. You will also learn and practice a four-step balancing process: Set intention. Self assess. Select options. Survey progress.

November 17

  • You will learn and practice tools to balance your physical body. Application to children/students will be explored.

November 24

  • You will learn and practice tools to balance your emotional body. Application to children/students will be explored.

December 1 

  • You will learn and practice tools to balance your mental body. Application to children/students will be explored.

December 8

  • You will learn and practice tools to balance your spiritual body. Application to children/students will be explored.

Register here for the series

About the Presenters
Dr. Aili Pogust 
Aili has been an educator for over 40 years. She has taught elementary, middle and high school grades as well as graduate school. As an educational trainer, consultant and coach she has focused her work with educators on supporting effective practices in teaching literacy, communicating well and infusing curriculum with the social/emotional aspects of learning. Her focus as an educator is centered on the process of learning rather than the process of schooling. Aili received her doctorate from Temple University. She authored the book entitled: Communicating With Clarity: A Pocket Guide for Humans.   Aili is the co-founder of The Pogust Group: Mining the Gems of Human Potential

Dr. Spike Cook
Spike Cook, Ed.D., Principal, Lakeside Middle School, Millville, NJ. In addition to being a Principal, Dr. Cook published two books through Corwin Press (Connected Leadership:It’s Just a Click Away; Breaking Out of Isolation: Becoming a Connected School Leader). He is the co-host of the PrincipaPLN podcast and his blog, Insights Into Learning, was recognized as a finalist for Best Administrator Blog by the EduBlog Awards. Spike earned his Doctorate from Rowan University and is featured in their Alumni Spotlight. Dr. Cook is also on the Education Advisory Board for Whole Health Ed. Connect with @drspikecook via Twitter.

Mindfulness and Leading with the Heart

Spending time in nature can reduce stress

Life will constantly teach you lessons even when you don’t realize it. Using mindfulness on a daily basis can assist with life’s challenges and celebrations. There are many resources out there to assist with the daily practice of mindfulness. This is my humble attempt to share what helps me and what others have suggested.

How can you integrate mindfulness into your daily practice as an educator? Here are 5 suggestions:

  1. Take a daily temperature of your mindfulness. If you use a scale (like 1-5) how would you rate your day? A follow up question to that would be ‘what would have made it higher?’ Be sure to do this in a non-judgmental manner. This activity is designed to help you track days to maybe identify trends. For instance, if Mondays are always tough, this could give you an opportunity to focus on being pro-active when Monday rolls around.
  2. Daily gratitude list. Either in the morning or the evening be sure to identify at least 5 things you are grateful for. This could be a simple thing like sunshine or more specific. It’s your list so you can write whatever you want.
  3. Use your heart. It is very important to exercise and get your heart pumping. Another activity to get your heart going is meditate on your heart. Are there people in your life that you want to send love to? These people could be family members or friends, and it could even be people you disagree with. Send love for healing!
  4. Get out of your head. Thinking, over-analyzing and catastrophic thinking (thinking the worst case scenario) will not get you very far. If you find yourself in your head try to do something to get grounded. Grounding activities include working out, meditating, cleaning, listening to music or even talking with a trusted friend. Whatever “story” you are telling yourself has to be let go. Maybe just changing your perspective on the story could help. Tell yourself that whatever you are worrying about as already happened. Whatever the outcome it is important to remember, you can not control it. You can only control your reaction.
  5. Stop judging yourself. We can be the toughest critics on ourselves. This doesn’t help our mindfulness practice. You have to forgive yourself for mistakes, accept how you look, and send yourself love. Similar to number 3 (send live from the heart) it is imperative to send love to yourself.

Do you have any mindfulness activities? Be sure to comment and share your ideas.

Spike Cook, Ed.D., Principal, Lakeside Middle School, Millville, NJ. In addition to being a Principal, Dr. Cook published two books through Corwin Press (Connected Leadership:It’s Just a Click Away; Breaking Out of Isolation: Becoming a Connected School Leader). He is the co-host of the popular PrincipaPLN podcast and his blog, Insights Into Learning, was recognized as a finalist for Best Administrator Blog by the EduBlog Awards. Spike earned his Doctorate from Rowan University and is featured in their Alumni Spotlight. Connect with @drspikecook via Twitter.


How to Spread Gratitude at Your School

Spike Cook, Millville, NJ

Over the last year and a half I have been dedicated to practicing gratitude every day. Yes, every day when I wake up I reflect on the previous day and identify 5 things that I am grateful for.  After identifying these 5 things, I incorporate them into my daily meditation. In short, this daily practice of gratitude has transformed my life. No matter how tough my day was, I know that I can find at least 5 things to be grateful for. Based on this transformative work, I began to initiate activities at my school to spread this unique gift.

My first step in spreading gratitude at my school was sharing my personal journey with the staff. This wasn’t easy as I had to display vulnerability in front of 150 educators. Fortunately, best selling author and Ted Speaker Brene Brown gave me the courage to be vulnerable as she said, “Staying vulnerable is a risk we take if we want to experience connection.”

Staying vulnerable is a risk we take if we want to experience connection. Brene Brown

It got easier to share my experience the more I allowed myself to be vulnerable. In staff meetings, I continued to discuss my gratitude journey. I talked about how it transformed my perspective on life. In addition, I worked closely with the administrative team and we spent time in each meeting discussing our own gratitude. Encouraged by the positive feedback from the staff and administrators, I sought ideas on how to spread the gratitude throughout the school.

Based on the feedback from the staff, we implemented a Week of Gratitude at Lakeside Middle School in the fall of 2016. During this week, we delivered blank thank you cards to staff and encouraged them to thank someone, anyone. In addition, we gave blank paper to students and also encouraged them to write thank you cards to each other or staff. What may have seemed like a benign activity turned into an incredible buzz throughout the school. Teachers started spreading gratitude on their own by buying each other flowers, sending anonymous gifts and candy to each other.  

Over the summer I reflected on the impact of gratitude. It was clear from the positive feedback that gratitude was having an impact on the school. I could tell because of the conversations with staff at the end of the year and how they cherished the way their colleagues were treating each other. Some of these conversations brought me to tears. Who would have thought that seemingly random acts of gratitude could have such a profound impact?

I decided to take the gratitude to the next level. At the first meeting of the 2016-17 school year I distributed blank journals to each staff member. I talked with the staff about how they could use these journals to write 3-5 things each day that they are thankful for at Lakeside Middle School. I modeled how I use the gratitude journal personally and professionally. I shared that sometimes it is easier to find things outside of the school to be grateful for so that I was going to start a specific gratitude journal for the school.

After distributing the journals, I asked the staff to write their gratitude list individually and then share it with their small groups. I then asked for volunteers to share with the entire group. One teacher shared that she was grateful for her colleagues because her personal life had become very challenging. She then connected it to the experience that some of our students have and how important it is for us to create a safe space for them. This sharing brought tears and validation that we were going in the right direction with gratitude.

The teacher planted a seed with me as she shared her connection with the students. Prior to the Thanksgiving break, I decided to create a process for staff to share their gratitude with the students and families.

Here is what I did

  • Developed a Google Form for the staff with areas for them to identify about 3 students, why they are grateful for them, and the staff name.
  • Sent out the Google Form to the staff and gave about 2 weeks for them to fill it out.
  • I wrote a general letter for the parents and left space to add in the individualized information from the form.
  • Over a weekend, I copied each student name, staff name and gratitude into the letters. I would recommend doing a mail merge. 
  • We then printed out and mailed 140 letters the week before Thanksgiving.

Here is what I learned

  • The impact of these letters was incredible. Staff reported that parents sent them thank you cards, called, emailed or even pulled them aside at an event to personally thank them for the kind words. Many parents took pictures of the letters and posted them on Social Media, and their friends left positive comments on the activity.
  • The staff received the activity very well and were appreciative that I provided the platform.
  • As the principal, I learned about the identified students through reading the comments about them from their teachers.
  • I decided that this needs to be done several times throughout the year.

Since the gratitude letters had such an impact on the school climate and culture, I integrated this into my professional goal for the school year to hold myself more accountable. I then prepared another Google Doc for December. This time I allowed the teachers to nominate as many students as they wished and they responded. We sent 360 individual letters to students the week before the Holiday Break.

Blessed with another surprise in the mailbox today! The Staff at Lakeside Middle School nominated a total of 326 students they were grateful for. My daughter was nominated for her many fist bumps and positivity! Thank you to Mr. Williams for the nomination and to Dr. Cook for the awesome surprise. Michelle Asselta, Parent

One day as I was walking out to my afternoon duty, a student pulled me aside to talk about the gratitude letters. He said he was very thankful that we sent out these to the students but then he asked me this question, “How can the students do this for the teachers? Is there a way you could create a Google Doc so the students could tell the teachers why they are grateful for them?” I thanked him and told him that would be the next step in the spreading gratitude throughout the school!

Spike C. Cook, Ed.D., Principal, Lakeside Middle School, Millville, NJ. In addition to being a Principal, Dr. Cook published two book through Corwin Press (Connected Leadership:It’s Just a Click Away; Breaking Out of Isolation: Becoming a Connected School Leader). He is the co-host of the popular PrincipaPLN podcast and his blog, Insights Into Learning, was recognized as a finalist for Best Administrator Blog by the EduBlog Awards.  Connect with @drspikecook via Twitter.

What is your 2.0?


A few weeks ago I was on a hike with a good friend of mine. Throughout the conversation we talked about how people transition in life and work. She asked me a really tough question… What is your 2.0?

We are not computers, phones or even software but the analogy can certainly be made. As humans we evolve, transcend and we change. This is constantly happening whether we like it or not; sometimes life even forces you to change.

There are no rules or playbooks for change, of course there are countless books, podcasts and movies dedicated to the process of change. But, if you were to really dig down deep they only offer a few suggestions or ideas, and if you are fortunate one of those tools will help you with that change. Yet, isn’t personal change and personal developments just that… personal.

Back in January 2012 I jumped in with two feet into the world of Social Media. I made so many connections and the tools helped me to grow as a leader and a learner. I was able to present at local, state and national conferences. Published two books and co-founded a successful podcast for aspiring and current administrators. I spent the better part of five years maintaining two blogs (one for school and this one) as well as writing for other publications. One year I actually blogged every day (365 new posts). Yet there has always been something missing. Many times, I felt like it was a chore, constantly searching for something that I could not capture or contain. I was glued to my phone, laptop and whatever social media app I could find.


Over the past year I have benefited from the practice of mindfulness. Slowly developing a healthier work/life balance, being present and most importantly shutting devices off. I implemented a daily meditation and gratitude journal, practice yoga a few times a week and hike every chance I get. There are days that go by when I realize that I haven’t checked Twitter and weeks have gone by when I realize that I haven’t checked Voxer. I took my work email off of my smart phone, and find myself going through Facebook for the articles and events as opposed to trying to find out who has the latest and greatest application. I’ve even slowed down my personal blogging to only a post or two a month. I still read a lot but I am going back to buying real books. I’ve even considered going back to a flip phone!

So when I finally answered the question of “what is your 2.0?” I actually realized I had already started doing it over the last year. Slowly but surely I am developing the 2.0 of myself. This is what brings me to this post. Now I can actually articulate what my 2.0.

This is my 2.0:

  • Less screen time, more outside time.
  • Redesigned focus on my personal blog to reflect my new passion… hiking. I have even thought of a name “Take a hike with Spike.”
  • More focus and being present with my main job which is to be the best principal I can be for my staff and students.
  • Working with staff, students and others in the education world on mindfulness, meditation and gratitude.

So over the next few weeks I will be redesigning this site to focus more on what it can do to help others achieve a work/life balance. I will be evaluating the social media applications I use and more importantly, why.


I ask you again, what is your 2.0 and how will you get there?