Seven Mantras to Start the School Year

On Monday of last week, I officially started my new job as Director of Technology and Innovation for Centennial School District (Warminster, PA). While I’m really excited to get started with school, and learn from new teachers, new leaders, and a new community, it’s been a crazy summer both personally and professionally, filled with lots of highs and a few lows.

It was bittersweet leaving Upper Perkiomen School District, where a lot of amazing work continues to happen. I was blessed to have an awesome team to work with in my few years, and we accomplished a lot of work focused around creative opportunities for EVERY student while I was there. The great thing about 2016 is that we are only a call, text, tweet, or email away from talking, sharing, and collaborating once more. I know those connections will last, and I won’t stop learning from my friends and colleagues at Upper Perk anytime soon.

Change, the great constant, is at work once again in my life. And if there is anything I’ve learned about myself in the past few years, it’s that I do extremely well when I have a clear focus on what is ahead (and really struggle when there is not path).

Last year I wrote a post on my mantras for the school year. These quotes were framed and hung right above my desk area in my office. I could glance at them daily as reminders of what to focus on during the year. This year I’ve got some new ones ready to share with you! They are tailored a bit to my situation, but my goal is to share a process I’ve been using to keep coming back to principles that matter both in and out of work.

1. The Problem…


2. What do your actions inspire?


3. It’s all about the habits


4. Our mindset drives what is possible


5. If Elon Musk likes failure, so do I


6. Stop fighting, start creating


7. Don’t let the opinions of others impact your creative work


What’s your mantra(s) for the new school year? Leave them in the comments below!

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Join the discussion 17 Comments

  • Melody Drawbond Drawbond says:

    Keep your end goal in mind, but keep your eyes and hands working to smaller, more manageable goals.

  • Dawn says:

    Life is like riding a bike – you need to keep moving to stay balanced.

  • Inge Wassmann says:

    Hi A.J.

    I love these! I am so happy you shared these, as I am in a new position as well as Director of Innovation this year. The first one speaks to me a lot: “The problem is not the problem. The problem is your attitude about the problem.” I believe that innovating our learning community is a team effort where we constantly look for making things better. It can be driven by need, through curiosity, building upon something that is already in place, or it can be a new thing. The team will leverage new methodologies and emerging technologies to encourage risk-taking and foster student-centered learning, yet never forgetting the human aspect. We all know it is a mindset. The right attitude towards problems and hurdles will move us forward! Thank you!

  • John Bennett says:

    Great list. I particularly like the quote from Buckminster Fuller. It reminds me of the advice / book of the late Stephen Covey: “The Third Alternative.” He argues in the book that differing approaches to the same important situation should not be approached in a way that seeks modifications to them (compromises). Rather, all people with existing approaches should come together with a belief that there is a better way to approach the situation. Covey, thinking two existing approaches, calls this better approach ‘the third alternative.’ As I’ve discussed this thinking with others, I’ve acknowledged a point that seems obvious: there very likely are more than two existing approaches – meaning the outcome will then be “The Better Alternative!” The key point is that all individuals / groups coming together agree that the third / better alternative is better than the one each initially promoted!!! No compromises, just better…

    Of course, there are at least two requirements for this to happen: (1) Each individual / group must decide themselves that a third / better alternative does exist. And (2) the assembled large group must work together effectively in order to identify the third / better alternative. Certainly neither one is simple or easy… But Covey’s book, “The Third Alternative,” provides great input and support to getting there: … A NEW MODEL THAT MAKES THE OLD MODEL(s) OBSOLETE!!!

    As for a new mantra, I’ll stick with Covey: “Seek first to understand and then to be understood.” OR any of his original seven or his eighth habits of ‘highly successful educators.’

  • Kathy Gephart says:

    “Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be. ” Abraham Lincoln For me, this quote encompasses all your wonderful mantras, well except #5, and especially #1 and #7.

  • Ana says:

    The Director of Innovation! What a wonderful title and mindset!
    I love what you share and always take the time to read your posts. Your posters are wonderful goals for my position.
    Thank you.

  • Theresa Curry says:

    A mantra I have always used as a guide, and as a long distance runner myself, is “Run the Mile You are In.” Be sure to focus on the goal, but never lose sight of the wonderful, amazing, innovative, challenging, and even stressful moments that happen in pursuit of the goal…for it is in these moments where our learning and growth occur; it is these “moments” that ultimately make attaining the overall goal that much more worthwhile and successful!
    Looking forward to your presentation at Manhasset School District on the 1st!

  • Hi A.J. –

    Thanks for sharing these! My favorite is Henry Ford’s quote: “Whether you think you can, or think you can’t, you’re right.” It’s all about mindset!! I work with Inge Wassmann, who commented earlier. We are LAUNCHing Genius Hour with our 4th and 5th graders tomorrow, and are excited about the possibilities! I will share Ford’s quote with the children. Thanks!!

  • Paula Weaver says:

    To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.-S.Prefontaine

  • Lockie Archie says:

    I like the quote by Captain Jack Sparrow
    The problem is not the problem. The problem is your attitude about the problem. Do you understand?
    I believe attitude plays an important role in how you handle situations and circumstances in life everyday. A positive attitude is always best to have no matter how bad the situstion is.

  • Ellen says:

    The mantra I like to use when I am starting something new is to “be brave, be bold, be strong.” When a student or the whole class is struggling with a new concept, I wil recite this for them. Eventually, the kids started using the saying for themselves.

  • Jim Nelson says:

    I used to use this quote with second graders before starting a big writing project. “What’s the best way to eat an elephant? One bite at a time!”

  • Christina L. says:

    I took the 16 Habits of Mind and turned them into affirmations for my students. (Paraphrased from Literacy Loves Company on Teachers Pay Teachers).
    They are on my Haiku Deck located here:

  • Tom Dillard says:

    From Isaacson’s The Innovators: Innovation requires communication.
    Thank you for your list. I am going to post it in my classroom!

  • Louise says:

    “You don’t have to be great to get started, but you have to get started to be great.”
    We had this in our first chapel service for the term and it truly resonated with me- it’s being printed and laminated today 🙂

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