Start a business

I have a student with a very strong personality. He is strong willed. Another term is “spirited.” My son is a “spirited” child, which took my wife time and training to catch up with. I’ll come back to that in another post.

This student of mine has had serious behavior issues in the past. He’s one of my project students. He’s made tremendous growth this year and is holding himself accountable to the expectations I’ve placed on him.

This kid has one heck of an interesting mind. For all of his academic challenges, ELL & low socio-e to scratch the surface, he, at times, has an almost overwhelming vision for how he wants and needs things to be (a characteristic of spirited or strong willed children. Anxiety is another.)

The other day, he asked me for some money so he could go buy paints. I told him to go to the dollar store. He told me he didn’t have any money. I told him, “Get a job. Start a business.”

He asked, “Doing what?”

Flashback to Christmas.

He is Muslim and his family doesn’t celebrate Christmas, but he loves art and knows I celebrate Christmas. So, like Buddy the Elf, he single handedly decorated our portable with drawings of candy canes and Santa Claus, hand made snowflakes, ribbon and garland on borders around the room. He bought and brought small plastic Christmas trees to place on tables and a short strange of lights for ambiance.

With this in mind, I reminded this student of the powerful decorative force he was and how much he loved it. I told him to consider selling art to people.

“Start an Instagram account and share your creations with the world.”

I told him to launch a free, commerce based website. Immediately curious, he asked me all kinds of questions for how to get started.

This was Tuesday.

Today, he told me is going to start selling custom birthday cards for $3 a piece. He said he posted a couple pictures on Instagram and people were interested. He was able to borrow enough money from friends to get a set of nice, new markers to decorate his creations.

This kid will still have his challenging days, but at age 12, he’s already launching his own business. I’m excited to see where this student and his business are in 10 years and tomorrow, I’m placing an order for one of his custom birthday cards.

The boy on the floor

To say that I had a challenging and dynamic class of 5th graders when I arrived back into the world of education last year is an understatement. Their complexity was Hall of Fame worthy.

One student in particular, Bishal*, was as unique as any personality as I’d experienced. He and his family were refugees from Nepal. He arrived to our school in second grade, speaking no English, and with little personal belongings. To hear him tell his story, he did not attend school in Nepal, but was raised in a rural village, wandering the hillside without shoes, or supervision, from the time he was a toddler, until moving to America.


A husky build, with a slight lean, at times he appeared to waddle like a penguin. He wore the same black and red sweatshirt everyday. His head, round with thick black hair, already sprinkled with gray, was perhaps an indication of the determination he put forth each day just to function. 

As you might expect, his transition was challenging. He struggled to learn English. Naturally, curse words came first. He would call our previous principal “King Kontos” and proclaim, “King Kontos I’m not doing dis shit.”

Ms. Kontos would firmly reply, “That’s right Bishal. I am the King, and you need to get to work.”

Fast forward to 2016. Bishal is multiple grade levels behind in math and reading. He has numerous gaps to fill in his reading comprehension and mathematical fluency. His eyesight is terrible, but he doesn’t like his glasses and “forgets” them, often. This leads to sitting with his face mere inches from his work, or only a few feet from the screen on which we share and showcase student work and instruction. Bishal, moody and sarcastic, lacked confidence in his ability to learn and solve problems. He confused failing with failure.

Bishal wasn’t always a fan of my incredible lesson design and activities. How did I know? Because he would tell me. As we would discuss an assignment or activity, he would exclaim, “I’m not gonna do dis shit!” with a slight Nepalese twang.

I would reply, “You are going to try to do this work. And watch your mouth.”

And he would reply, “I don’t like you.”

And I would say, “That’s ok. I like you.”

And he would say, “Okay.” And he would try.

As the days passed, Bishal began talking to me more and more, circling the room to seek me out. He would tease me with a dry sense of humor that only a few students understood. He would ask about my own children and what we did together, before telling me, with a sideways smile, that I’m a “horrible dad,” as he laughed to himself and walked away. He began asking to stay in at recess to play computers and chat with me.

He would attempt work. He would get frustrated. He would murmur and cuss, at times, under his breath. On his darkest days, whether I was up front instructing, or working with a small group of students, he would stand up from his seat, walk to the carpet in the middle of the classroom, and lay down, with his eyes closed, as if it were nap time at the local preschool.

As you can imagine, I was taken aback the first time this happened, dumbstruck even. “Bishal, what are you doing?”

“Laying down.”


“I’m tired.”

“You can’t lay down in class.”

“Why not?”

“You have work to do. You have information to learn. Laying down in the middle of class during instruction or work time is not one of our class expectations.”

“I don’t care. I’m going to lay down. My teacher last year let me.”


With that information in mind I sought his 4th grade teacher to get a bit of a scouting report on this unique puzzle of a student. I learned that she let him lay down, as a sort of reset for him. She’d designated a safe space for him to do this in their classroom. These moments of leisure appeared to help him channel his frustration and fuel a productivity, of sorts, in her class.

I appreciated her creativity in facilitating a safe and functional environment for Bishal, however, my job was to help bridge the space from “little boy” to “young man” and to prepare him, to the best of my abilities, for sixth grade, which was quickly coming. My goal became to ween him off laying down, which was a bit of an exaggerated reset.

You may ask, or be thinking, “Draw a hard line. Tell him he can’t. Write him up. It’s your classroom.” or “No harm, no foul. Let him continue. He needs the reset.”

Truthfully, I fell somewhere in the middle. Of interest to me was his motivation to lay down. Did he need a reset? Was he tired? If he was tired, we needed to set goals to get sleep. Was the work difficult? If so, we needed to look at which work was causing the behavior and develop interventions. Was he acting out because of a number of traumatic life circumstances? Probably and those aren’t going away anytime soon.

I would continue to push Bishal. I saw the potential in him. We would continue to develop our relationship upon common ground. He began drawing wacky comics and reading them to me. He began calling me “Mr. Baldy,” which cracked him up.

He began asking more and more questions about topics and concepts that demonstrated an awareness and understanding of his intelligence. His output, on daily work, assessments and standardized tests did not always reflect this intelligence. 

By June, Bishal was no longer lying down in class. He made slight progress in math and reading. He began to show glimpses that he cared about himself and his education. He impressed many of us with his effort during our standardized tests, which were a massive strain on him. By mid June, I learned that he and his family were moving to Kentucky, of all places, because there was a large enclave of Nepalese families there. His parents wanted to be closer to family. I’d intently to recognize his effort and positive behaviors throughout the year and was disappointed at losing the opportunity to continue supporting his development in sixth grade. He was the last student I said goodbye to on the final day of school last year and tears filled my eyes as his bus drove away.

I wonder what happened to that kid.

Well, I didn’t have to wonder long. Two weeks into this school year, Bishal and his family arrived back from Kentucky. Something didn’t work out. I, for one, was elated to see Bishal and gave him a big handshake and hug when I did.

His adjustment back to life at Meadow Ridge was not easy. I did my best to give a scouting report to his sixth grade teacher and soon, his sixth grade teacher began coming to me for ideas and strategies of how to get Bishal to care…to try…to not disrupt.

Our classes had the same lunch period and I made it my mission to say hello and give him a high five and handshake everyday. I’d slip in as many positive affirmations as possible in 30-60 second span in an effort to counter his own negative self concept and help re-ignite his potential.

While behaving during our interactions in the lunchroom, I caught wind that he was acting up in the classroom. No longer laying down, Bishal was taking to leaving class and wandering school grounds. His teacher, at a loss, was growing wary and frustrated with this stick of dynamite, tossed into his already explosive class.

But then, a miracle. After walking out of his Walk to Read class, he asked to go back the next day. He wanted to go back.  He began working hard. First in Walk to Read, and then in his homeroom class. He began making positive comments about his teachers and peers. (And maybe, soon, himself)

Finally, last week, he took a computerized assessment, increasing by nearly two grade levels. While the growth is impressive, his desire to care and give effort is the compelling component of the situation. Bishal, sixth grader, took ownership of his education.

News of his effort spread like lightening throughout the school, electrifying the staff, because Bishal is a student that every staff member knows. The following Monday, his effort and progress was highlighted and recognized during morning announcements.

Then there was today. At 3:30pm, Bishal arrived in my classroom to translate for the mother of one of my Nepalese students. She spoke almost no English. He did an excellent job communicating the successes and challenges of her son, one of Bishal’s closest friends. I was dazzled by this young man, who was confidently emerging before me.

We invest vast quantities of time, effort, creativity and emotion in our students. We plan for and expect them to succeed, just as any coach or engineer wants of their team or creation, and if we’re lucky, we get to observe the successes in real time.

Bishal’s road ahead will be curvy and bumpy. He will have failures. He will grow frustrated and wary. He will want to escape through the door and lay on the floor. He will not want to do “this shit.” But he will. He will try. He will work. And I know that, with a little bit of support, effort, dark humor and muttered swear words, he will succeed.

*Bishal is pseudonym used to protect the identify of this student.

Inspired by

People inspire me. And puzzles. Opportunities and areas for improvement. Students with social inabilities. Students with little interest in learning from limits imposed by themselves or others. Students who face challenges and hardships, but despite the storm, show up everyday.

I am inspired by students with a drive to absorb every last ounce of knowledge possible in a day. I’m inspired by the opportunity to develop character and confidence in kids. Personal discipline, not punitive punishments.

I’m inspired by my immigrant and refugee 11 years olds, some learning their second and third languages, who criticize their work, far too much, even the beautiful art they pour onto paper.

I’m inspired, not by buzz words and “teachers should,” but by experiences building relationships with my school’s most challenging students. Secret handshakes. Whispers of confidence I plant in them, urgently, camouflaged, while they’re friends aren’t looking.

I’m inspired by progress. By a continuous increase in kindness. By the “bully,” who offers up his umbrella to students to use, as they take turns walking to and from our remote portable, into the school, to use the restroom, during a Pacific Northwest monsoon.

I’m inspired by the light in the eyes of my students when they make “the” connection.

I’m inspired by my sense of duty, to show up each day – for them. Because these kids need consistency and kindness, to maximize their character and confidence.

I’m inspired by the little loves of learning that happen through the year. The moments when they forget to be embarrassed and shout out loud that they’re having fun and want to learn more.

I’m inspired by knowing that I make a significantly positive impact on a kid’s life, everyday. Even if the student is wearing armor. Even if the student is resisting. I can control my output and hope they absorb some of the positive input.

I’m inspired by the opportunity and responsibility to better myself and the community around me.

There are tough children and tough classes. Complex with conflicts. Depression. Resistance to progress. Apathy and anger. Still, we chart our course, board our boat and set sail into the unknown of the school day. For how can we make great discoveries, for ourselves and others, if we don’t first step into the blue?

First Day Feelings

Today was my first “first day” of teaching in almost 10 years after returning to education. A few thoughts from today.

1. Flexible Seating Works

I’d read about flexible seating over the summer and wanted to give it a try. I brought two chairs from home and free up shelf space for “standing desks.”

With a small discussion of expectations, students naturally ebbed and flowed from their “home desks” to other areas. They regulated each other and were responsible in talking to me 1:1 if they thought someone wasn’t following the guidelines. Flexible seating is one element that made today a great first day for my students and I.

2. Proximity and Soft Talk

As much as I’d intended to not shout over disruptive groups or individuals last year, at times, I did. To me, I’d failed to model appropriate behavior and leadership. This year, I’m getting into close proximity, kneeling down and lowering my voice for students who need a reset, reminder or redirect. This was successful today and removed any perceived conflict, competition or embarrassment from the student perspective. I felt like a better model and leader.

3. Questions. Questions? Questions.

Students had three options during writing for their “guided free write”: 1) Write about their summer experience, 2) Create a story based on their upcoming year of 5th grade, 3) Student choice. After a brief discussion of story elements, they began formulating and writing their thoughts. I circled the classroom to check in with students and for each student who “didn’t know what to write” I asked them questions, rather than give them advice, ideas or insight.

“Who are the characters in your story?”

“Where does this take place?”

“Why are your characters behaving this way?” “What motivates them?”

“What is the problem that they are trying to solve?”

For each of my students, I asked, then sat silently, looking and waiting, while they searched the realm of their mind for the ideas that fit their inspiration. Sometimes that silence hung and when it was clear that the struggle was too much, I’d rephrase, or follow with a question I knew for which I knew they had the answer to generate confidence and momentum.

Questioning our students is nothing knew or groundbreaking, but I was reminded to the power and impact on student outcomes and thinking when done well.

Today was a great first day. I’m fortunate to have a kind group of students who give ample amounts of effort. I look forward to getting back in the classroom tomorrow and building off of today’s effort.

Back at it

The Kent School District’s 2017-2018 school year is about to begin. Today was the first of two professional days for teachers, ahead of Thursday, the first day of school at Meadow Ridge Elementary, where I teach 5th grade.

Today was also “Meet the Teacher” night. 15 of my 25 students showed – with mothers, brothers, fathers, cousins, aunts, friends and uncles. The students demonstrated an array of emotions – excitement, nervousness, trepidation and eagerness. For some, a new school. For all, a new teacher.

For me, back at it, for the first time in nearly 10 years, as a teacher beginning the school year, after coming home to education last November.

Putting faces and personalities to names was a true delight, as was welcoming the families into our classroom. I am relieved to begin the year with my students. To set a tone of exploration, kindness, curiosity, and respect.

I’m thankful to have thousands of little lessons from last year, still circulating fresh in my mind.

I’m thankful to begin the school year with my colleagues and admin team. To take these shared steps together, lockstep in our understanding and expectations ahead of us.

I’m thankful, excited and confident to know the students and I will have more fun this year. I have greater clarity of my classroom vision and feel more able to cultivate the environment that these kids need to thrive socially, emotionally and academically.

I’m excited to teach science, writing, reading, math, art and history, but more importantly, I’m bouncing off the walls to develop scientists, authors, readers, puzzle solvers, artists and historians.

I’m thankful to have a deeper understanding of the social emotional needs of my kids, yet still scratching the surface to truly understand the immigrant and refugee experience and dynamics of the families I serve.

I’m eager to empower. To inspire. To challenge. To lift up and instill confidence. To inject and infect my students with the idea of “yet.”

“I don’t know…yet.”

“I can’t solve that…yet.”

“I can’t write that well…yet.”

I’m thankful for a talented team of educators around me, from which to draw endless ideas and knowledge.

I’m excited for students to utilize the “Kindness Wall” by recognizing kind acts performed by their classmates, because I can’t see everything.

I’m excited to help students level up in reading and math, while learning how to unlock the puzzles of their academics, behavior and personalities.

I’m thankful for the opportunity to focus my energy this school year, to dive deeper, and to, hopefully, make a more significant impact on outlook, attitudes and academic achievement of my students.

I’m excited to be a champion for my students.

Every Kid Needs A Champion

The words above reflect a great amount of “what” with a sprinkle of “why.” I look forward to diving more into my “why” and “how” I hope to accomplish these desires and personal expectations in the days to come.

I’m excited and thankful to be back at it!


Night seems to be the time when I have time to clear my mind and send thoughts from my head to share with you.

A common theme of late for me has been consistency. As I transitioned back into teaching, I made a commitment to myself not to miss a day of work, and I didn't. I was there, every day, ready to roll with the feeling of the room, with the rousing variations of thoughtful, frustrated, energetic, lethargic, anxious, happy group of 5th graders. They needed me there and I wanted to be there for them. I was their teacher and I had to make every day count – academically, socially and emotionally.

I'm finding now how fortunate I am to have had the opportunity to teach, leave (for 10 years), and come back. There are many differences between the worlds of business and education, but there are more similarities than most tend to realize. I will expand on these differences and similarities in stories and posts and poems to come.

A critical similarity is consistency. The foundation of reliability. Consistence of presence. Consistence of mind. Consistence of calm admits chaos. Consistence of attitude.

One definition of consistency, from Medieval Latin is "firmness of matter." Does your word matter? Do your words matter? Do your actions matter? Does your character matter?

Whether at the office, in the classroom, or on the field, relationships, responsibly, trust and success are driven by a consistency to perform; to achieve; to come through in the clutch; to keep your word.

I've had the good fortune of working with many consistent peers and leaders. The effectiveness and success were accelerated and amplified because of shared understanding of the task and because of an underlying platform of trust in how each person would think, speak and act.

Some days in the classroom are a punch in the face. You might be tired or sick. You might be stressed out or upset. But those kids are coming, like waves to the shore and you'd better have your boats ready.

You have to be ready, every day, consistent in mind and message. Consistent in character and communication. Consistent in actions and demeanor.

Be consistent in your actions. Be reliable. Be trustworthy. Do this for your students, your peers, your players, your customers, your family, your friends and yourself.

Hello BlueShift

I quietly launched BlueShift a few months ago.

I launched BlueShift because I want to help people realize their potential and achieve the visions and goals that they see in their mind and feel in their heart.

I launched BlueShift because I want to empower others to empower others. I want to share what I've learned and what I'm capable of, while absorbing, processing and applying new ideas each and every day.

I launched BlueShift as my vehicle to make the world a more creative, welcoming and positive place.

A "blue shift" is a process used by astronomers to discover new planets; to locate formations that already exist, but are not yet seen. This is the goal of BlueShift – To bring your ideas, the swirling, stormy and forming visions, into focus.

– JY

My Way

I love to build things. Not fences, or dressers, or kitchen tables, but organizations and products. I love to develop and mentor people. I love to help people #AdvanceTheConcept, something I will touch on often as my mind and this blog evolves.

I’m obsessed with helping people achieve their dreams and reach their goals.

BlueShift Strategy was launched to help people bring their visions into focus, or, more powerfully captured, Your Vision, Focused. If you’re not familiar, “blueshift” is a technique used by astronomers to find distant planets. Essentially, wavelengths shrink and the vision of the planet comes into focus.

Your Vision, Focused.

For me, there is additional, deeper meaning to the name. I come from a blue collar family. They grind, persevere and put in the hard yards through physical labor to this day. My path was different. For me, I was fortunate, with their support, to shift, from Blue to White, and use my mind, rather than my hands, to build, as my natural gifts and talents required.

I’ve been at this for sometime, quietly helping those I know in the non-profit, startup and small business world get their ideas off the ground and now I’m ready to focus the vision of you, your family and your friends.