Ideas & Innovators

A message from the founders of Just Start for Kids and Schools: "This site’s sole purpose is to ignite a powerful shift in what schooling looks like through the exchange of ideas and the sharing of powerful examples; a project, an article, or a volunteer activity. We wanted to create an online space where educators, parents and students could publicize their creations and experiences. This is an interactive space to think through challenges and offer questions, suggestions, or solutions. This is a place where what you want matters in your school and can be transformative to an individual, a classroom, a school, or a community."
- Allison Zmuda & Melissa McQuarrie, site founders

The Four Keys to Student Engagement

old-keys4By: Allison Zmuda and Robyn Jackson

This 90 minute webinar was designed with you in mind. Every educator wants to know how to get kids more excited, more motivated, more focused in their daily routines. As thought partners and friends, we tried to dig more deeply into the subject of engagement and how to unlock student potential through four keys:

Clarity. Context. Culture. Challenge. Click on the link: The Four Keys to Engagement to see each key and related questions. We then described what an engaged learner looked like as opposed to a compliant, dutiful learner. Click to see the 1 pager: Engaged or Compliant Learner 

Based on our ideas, we presented a session to over 400 educators two weeks ago discussing the “what” —secret to real student engagement...

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The Secret to Real Student Engagement

Session Materials

How do you know if students are truly engaged in learning? This session takes engagement from a buzzword to a clear vision of what it looks like and how to get more of it. Allison Zmuda and Robyn Jackson will share the biggest mistake teachers and administrators make when looking for engagement. Discover through a series of highly interactive exercises what real engagement looks like in the classroom. Learn the three most important actions every teacher can take to increase student engagement.

ZmudaJackson slides

The Four Keys to Engagement

Interested in learning more? Sign up for the free webinar on March 27th at 4:00pm E.S.T.

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A Reflection on TEDTalk21: Creating a dynamic and joyful environment

Golden light of evening over Torrey PinesGuest Post By: Craig Gastauer

Natural learning experiences are generated by observation and questioning.  As individuals share their different perspectives, each of us begin to make meaning of these experiences and deepen our understanding of the world.

Hiking on the cliffs above the the Pacific Ocean with my nine year old son creates for us a safe space to explore the world.  Questions abound as we come across animals, plants, rock strata, and even the wonderful variety of people we encounter.  And as a science teacher I may have an idea of much of what we come across, I hear from the nine year old perspective new questions and thoughts that may have never occurred to me.  There are no texts or assignments forcing students down a path that the teacher wants the student to focus...

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Tell Me More


Guest Post by Kathleen Cushman

This post was originally shared on Deeper Learning and the author has given her permission to post it here.

This is a guest post from Kathleen Cushman of What Kids Can Do, whose most recent books are Fires in the Mind and its sequel, The Motivation Equation.

What do you do when students just don’t seem that interested in a subject, no matter how hard you try to draw them in?

I recently had an interesting discussion about that question with teachers on the Deeper Learning MOOC.  And it got me thinking back on all the times that I’ve sat down with students to draw them out on a subject . . . and felt like I had failed.

In researching the book Fires in the Mind, for What Kids Can Do, hundreds of youth around the country met with me to investigate the q...

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Upgrading the Recipe for Learning

20110302-139879-bacon-chocolate-chip-biscotti-1By: Mike Fisher

Back in the early 90’s, my grandmother taught me how to bake biscotti in a traditional way. She was a baker by trade and taught me about the precision of measuring ingredients to get a perfect dough consistency, how to lay out the initial loaf, cut on the diagonal and re-bake until the cookies reached their optimum crunch. Over the years, I’ve experimented with the basic recipe, adding additional ingredients, replacing others, trying different thicknesses of the cookie, dipping the cookies in chocolate, etc. My ultimate goal is to get to the cookie, even though my path to get there changes every year.

Around this time of year, I start thinking about the biscotti (and Grandma!), and what I will modify, replace, upgrade, or delete for this year’s batch...

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Insight in the Early Morning


By Allison Zmuda

Here are three simple teachings that I continue to learn and relearn as part of my yoga practice. They are as inspiring in the yoga studio as they are in the classroom.

1. If you stay present in this moment, everything is simple. When we worry about what’s to come or get stuck in past thoughts, it clouds our attention and focus on the task at hand.

2. Continue to check in to see if you are moving mechanically (on auto pilot) or mindfully through your routines. Regurgitation of past performance or past thinking doesn’t open you up for new ideas or deeper capacity. It also has an effect on the people around you that look to you for collaboration and inspiration.

3. Strive for a balance between effort and ease...

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Using Talent Management Ideas from Netflix As Inspiration in Schools

netflixBy Allison Zmuda

Netflix, the multi-billion dollar company, created a unique talent management philosophy grounded in performance, freedom, and responsibility. Here are some of the key values and skills managers at Netflix use when evaluating performance of their staff that have real promise for growing talent in our schools. I would advocate that these values and skills are as important to grow in our students as they are in our staff (with a little bit of tweaking based on context). What I appreciate about this set is the straightforward, simple, and inspired language. I also admire the balance between individual and working with others in pursuit of excellence.

1. Judgment. You make wise decisions despite ambiguity. You identify root causes, and get beyond treating symptoms...

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Next Level Web Show: Extreme makers help kids bring ideas to life


Thanks to Will Richardson @willrich for sharing this great video. This is part of a larger organization called DIY, a place to connect with other kids that have similiar interests, tackle new challenges, and earn badges.

baker_253x292 copyFor example, under the “baker” badge, there are 17 challenges from making and tossing pizza dough to reviving stale bread to starting a bakery.

Click here to see the other 102 badges, look at the challenges, and start creating!

This is the type of community that gives me  that the power of collaboration will usher in an evolution of what inspired learning looks like. My 9 year old and 12 year old will start this weekend!

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How do we define student success?

Career-Choice-300x283By Allison Zmuda

As I was doing my daily troll this morning to search for old and new ideas worth sharing, I came across this post from Stanley Litow, IBM’s Vice President of Corporate Citizenship & Corporate Affairs and former Deputy Chancellor of the New York City Public Schools:

Skilled for Life?: The Training Americans Need to Succeed

He advocates for three goals that will have significant implications on school structures, policies, and curricular design.

  • It’s time to revamp career and technical education by embedding workplace skills training for 21st century jobs directly into challenging academic curricula, and tracking progress against high standards.
  • It’s time to align high school and post-secondary coursework directly with one another so students can progress seamlessly along t...
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Creativity is a Process

By Allison Zmuda

The creative process starts with the courageous question, “How do I do this?” and moves through the stages of creativity which include:

  • Preparation
  • Incubation
  • Illumination
  • Verification

In this 9 minute overview, the video shares what creativity is, how collaboration can amplify ideas, and how sparks of insight are grounded in prior knowledge and experience.


What creative acts are you doing both inside and outside of school? What do you think is required to make your ideas come alive? Your teachers and parents want to know so that they can support your endeavors.


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