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If you think about it, every book ever written requires explanation. Even the most popular book in the entire world, the Bible, needs A LOT of explanation. The chances are good that your book does not represent the exception. Readers always like to get more information about particular sections, chapters or statements within the books they read.

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could create a place for them to get these explanations through an online course? If you’ve already invested countless hours in writing and publishing your book, it can be disheartening to see low sales numbers. If this is you, this is another great reason to look at turning your book into an online course.

What would it be like to charge $100 to $5,000 for your book? That might seem impossible, considering it’s already difficult enough to sell your books at a low price. However, online courses designed from books can sell for 50 times as much as the original book!

Your readers may love your book, but the chances are good that they have specific questions on applying certain portions to their lives. If you can answer those questions, you add a ton of value for your readers, a value that they will pay for.

So How Do You Get Started? Take A Look At These Important Steps!

Step One: Understanding The Differences Between An Online Course And A Book

Online Course

Before you get too far along in the process, it is essential that you understand the differences between books and online courses completely.

Here Are Few Key Points To Get You Started:

1. Tone

Any good writer understands the importance of tone and how to develop it throughout a book. Tone is the key to keeping the reader connected to the story. In an online course, your tone should be very different. Think about how an audiobook “feels” to a listener.

An audiobook simply translates the written word into audio. There should be no change in tone, and the individual reading aloud should be focused on maintaining the original tone throughout. Online courses portray an entirely different feeling than audiobooks.

While tone remains very important, it will need to be altered when you transition to the course. That means that tone should be a major point of focus for you as you proceed through the next steps.

2. Focus

Another major difference between a book and an online course revolves around the depth of the content. Books offer value by fully exploring a topic in its entirety, while online courses create value by making actionable points. An audiobook maybe 15 to 20 hours in length, while the course behind that audiobook maybe 4 to 6 hours long.


This means that you will need to spend a lot of time considering the best ways to focus your content on making the best online course. Where you may have written 20 pages discussing the history of a topic in your book, you will need to provide a few actionable points relating to that history of your online course.

3. Specificity

A good book contains tons of great ideas and intriguing stories. These ideas and stories help readers to grow and learn. They change the way people think about the topics. However, the application of these ideas can be quite difficult straight from the book. This is where an online course comes in.

An online course’s value is directly related to how well it can turn these stories and ideas into actionable points. Basically, your book plants the seed, and your online course shows readers how to grow that seed into something that actually impacts their lives.

For example, an online course about the power of networking should include software tools, step-by-step guides, and even email templates. The book that the course was based on may discuss general networking concepts and why certain steps are important to an individual’s career.

The course just turns these concepts into immediately actionable information. To learn more about the differences between books and online courses, check out some example courses based on books you’ve read in the past. Obviously, you should make sure that the online courses you choose are successful and popular.

Step Two: Building Your Online Course

Online Course

There are many different ways to build an online course from a book, but this proven process is straightforward and practical. It can also be applied to almost any book in almost any industry.

1. Choosing Your Format

The right format of your online course depends on your content and intended audience. While a text-based course can be successful, it may be best to mix in some other format styles. You can also focus on video throughout your course with live filming.

This format gives you a lot of flexibility and adds a personal tone to the course. If it makes sense for your content, you could also use screen recording sessions that allow you to teach the audience through a program. You can also use slide recordings with audio to teach the audience.

The addition of bonus content (like expert interviews for example) and PDF handouts can add value to the course. Most successful online courses use a mix of these formats. You will also need to decide on your course length. This also depends on content and audience.

If you can accomplish everything the audience wants to learn in two hours, go for it! If not, set-up your course to last as long as you need. As you consider the length and structure of your course, start thinking about how you can create modules that bring the audience through one major milestone each.

Each video or section of content should focus on a single clear step in the process. For example, you could have one module for setting up a website, another for writing initial content, and another for marketing the website. Then, video #2 for your first “setting up a website” module could discuss web hosting set-up, and video #5 could be about the configuration of WordPress.

2. Transforming Your Manuscript Into Your Course Script


This step is all about cutting the fluff and altering the tone as we discussed earlier. The course you create must be able to get your audience from point A to point B. It should take them from where they are now to where they want to be. Your entire course script needs to reflect that simple process. If you maintain good focus, you can turn a very long book into a week-long course.

3. Script To Slide Plan

Before you start designing actual slides, you should create a document that matches the main ideas of your script with your slides. This step helps you organize your thoughts and solidify a plan that allows your content to flow seamlessly from beginning to end. It will pay big dividends in creating a good flow throughout your course.

4. Designing Your Slides

After you’ve completed your slide plan, you can start designing your slides. Find a template that you like and then customize each slide to match the slide plan. Since you already have a slide plan, you can easily outsource this step of the process to a professional if you’d like.

5. Recording Your Audio

Recording Your Audio

The next step is to start recording audio for your presentation. Basically, you just need to read your script in an enthusiastic manner that will engage the audience. Here are some tips to help you along the way:

  • The quality of your audio recordings will be lower if you try to record it with your screen and slides simultaneously. It is always best to record the audio as a separate file and match it up with the slides later.
  • Pause between slides and say “Slide __.” This will make the editing step much easier.

6. Combining Your Audio And Video Recordings

This one is pretty much self-explanatory. Unless you’re an audio/video professional, you should probably outsource this step. The professionals can provide better quality and get the job done much faster than you can. It’s worth the investment to get this step done correctly the first time around.

7. Adding Extra Material In Useful Places

Throughout your online course, each time you say something along the lines of “do this,” you should be asking yourself how you can help them “do that.” These are the best places for added content such as templates, PDF handouts, new examples and expert interviews.

8. Final Revisions


Before you upload your course for the masses to see, you need to make sure everything is structured correctly, well edited and cleaned up. Make sure that your course is easy to follow and that the different modules keep the audience moving in a clear direction.

9. Uploading Your Course

There are many different options for uploading your online course. You should take the time to do some research on all the different options so that you can choose the one that is the best fit. You can start with Teachable as a simple option. Take a look at MemberMouse as a more sophisticated method.

Step Three: Cementing A Connection between Your Book and Your Online Course

Once you’ve built your online course, you need to think about how you can get your book readers to start your online course, and how you can get your online course audience to read your book. The easiest way to accomplish this is to provide links from your book to your course and vice versa; however, there will always be some who complain that you’re just trying to sell another product.


A less direct method involves sending readers to a companion site that offers additional content and downloads for no added cost. You just need them to provide their email address. Then you can set-up an email campaign that provides added value and guides people through the process of moving from the book to the course and vice versa.

Don’t wait until the very end of your book to provide this download link. Add the link to the beginning and a few places throughout the book to make sure every reader sees it. This link should even be available to those who read only the “free preview” of your book at the online store.

What Results Should You Expect?

  • You can expect about 20 percent of your readers to check out the download link.
  • From that 20 percent, you should get about half of these to provide their email address.
  • From that list of people who provided their email address, you can expect about 10 percent to purchase your online course.

What Do Those Results Mean?

Let’s say you get about 3,000 initial purchases from your book launch and an additional 500 purchases per month after that. That means that you would start out with about 300 people on your email list, and 50 more to add each month. 30 people purchase your online course during the book’s launch, and five more buy it every month.

If you price your online course at $250, that is another $7500 in added revenue during your launch period, and $1250 added revenue each month. THAT is the power of turning your book into an online course, and these numbers are on the conservative end! Writing a book on its own is difficult.

It is a draining process, but the addition of an online course will make a major difference. If the writing and publishing of your book wear you down and you don’t offer an online course for it, you will almost definitely regret it. An online course gives you the chance to grow your business rapidly.

Maximizing your book’s value is all about leading your readers to all the different parts of your brand. These people enjoy your work, and they are willing to pay to get more opportunities to work with you. At the end of the day, you won’t just have readers; you will have true followers!


jump from a blogger to author featured image

If you have ever thought of becoming an author, be prepared to work, and hard. While it won’t be easy, the reward for once you finish your first book will be amazing. The possibilities are endless if you think about it. You can potentially:

  • Be published
  • Start enjoying a career that you love
  • Be able to impact others with your writing
  • Get media attention
  • Start collecting royalty income every time your book is purchased

So if your goal is to become an author, here are some tips and advice that will get you going in the right direction. Now, the chances are that you are already writing for a blog (you’re a blogger) and you more than likely have a following that loves the content you create. This is great news as you already have a loyal following that more than likely wants you to become an author and put out even more content for them.

However, it is still going to be a challenge making the jump form a blogger to author. But when you follow the tips mentioned below, you will be well on your way to one of the most rewarding careers you can possibly be in. So here is what you need to do…

  • Don’t Do Anything Until You’ve Done This

You’re ready to jump in with both feet and get started on writing your first book, right? Well, pump the brakes right there. Before you can become an author, there is one thing that you must do first, to study the craft. More than likely whatever you plan on writing about has already been written about. This means that your best bet is to follow the methods that have been proven to work.

The best authors are also the best readers. This is especially true, as the competition to become an author has become so fierce. Do yourself a favor and learn from the authors that have already had success before you. Take some time and determine what it is you are doing before you try to become an author. And since you are already a blogger, you have the perfect platform to practice. Yes, practice through your blogging platform.

blog image

By practicing through your blog, you should be writing things that are shorter than a book. For example, maybe a blog post. You see, you shouldn’t start out by writing a book. That would be like enrolling in grad school after graduating from kindergarten. The book is where you want to arrive at eventually.

What you need to do is to start small, learn the craft of writing, and then try and hone your skills with your blog. Use this to perfect what your writing and then try to get some articles or blog posts published in some magazines, an ezine or even a newspaper. Try to get some guest blog post opportunities with larger blogs that have a ton of followers. You can even take an online course or go to night school for creative writing or journalism.

competition between two groups image

It’s a lot easier to get published when you already have a community of loyal followers who want to read whatever you write. So what better time to start building it than right now? Start with smaller writings and try to build up some steam and get your name recognized as a writer. Build a fan base and your transition from blogger to author will be much, much smoother.

Essentially, what you need to do is work out as many clichés out of your system, find out what it feels like to be criticized and edited, learn to be an expert at something, build a loyal following and then you should start thinking about writing the book that you want to write.

  • Get Involved With Other Writers

Is there anything easier than writing a book by yourself with no help? How about doing it with a community of other publishers to help you out? When you surround yourself with a community of helpful people, they will be able to help get you through wanting to quit, discouragement, frustration and even procrastination.

There are going to be times when you get writer’s block, get frustrated and want to quit, but with a supportive community of people behind you to pick you back up and re-motivate you, you will be more likely to not just finish your book, but make it even better.

frustrated women image

If you are just starting out, having some extra eyes on what you produce is priceless. The more eyes that you can have on your work, the better. This is why being a blogger first is such a great opportunity. It gives you plenty of opportunities to share your work with others and get feedback from them. Plus, with a blog, you have the potential to reach hundreds, thousands and even hundreds of thousands of people.

With that kind of reach, you should be able to get some feedback on how you’re doing. And just in case nobody is telling you anything on their own, you can always do it the old-fashioned way and ask them for feedback.

Other things you can do are to join writers groups or try to find an established author to mentor you. No matter which direction you decide to go, be sure that you stay open to criticism and embrace it with open arms. Remember, you’re not writing stuff so that you can read it; you are writing stuff so other people can read it. This means that you have to appeal to them. There is no better way of doing that than accepting their criticism and moving forward from there.

writing group image

And if you do decide to join a writing group, just be sure that at least one person, ideally the leader, has been published and can teach you about what the publishing landscape is all about. If nobody in your group has ever been published before, it’s almost like the blind are leading the blind.

  • Time To Write Your Book

More often than not, a lot of people plan to become an author and write a book, but never actually get started writing their book. Whether it’s due to procrastination, fear or anything else, most would-be authors never even make it to the first page of their book.

girl writing book image

But don’t worry; you can easily avoid becoming one of these people by putting a simple plan into place. Now depending upon how much time you spend blogging will dictate how long the schedule is, how much time you can dedicate to writing your book, etc., but with a plan in place, you have the blueprint for success at your fingertips. When you are coming up with your plan, be sure that you create a schedule that you can stick to.

  • Create A Schedule You Can Stick Too

If you want to make the jump from a blogger to an author, writing is no longer a hobby; it’s your full-time job. So for you to be successful, you need to treat it as such. Whether you feel like it or not, you need to show up and be sure to do the work. There needs to be no excuses here: not writer’s block, not that you are ‘busy’ that day.

schedule calendar image

Think about this for a second, in what other profession are you able to leave early because you have worker’s block that day? Do that and chances are that you will be posting your resume online looking for a new job.

Your best plan of action to get started would be to set aside a minimum of at least six hours to write your book per week. Be sure that you lock these in like it’s an actual work schedule because if you really want to make the jump from blogger to author, you pretty much have to. When you think about it that breaks down to one hour per day, six days per week.

If you have no ideas what to write during your six hours per week, then you can edit. If you are unable to edit, then you can spend that time planning. The whole idea here is to simply set some time aside and just get started. Once you get started, everything will get flowing, and you will have no problem getting stuff done.

  • Research And Plan

While you do have the option to skip this step and just kind of start writing, preparation is going to be the one thing that will either make or break your book. With that being said, there are two different ways that you can prepare.

research image

  1. Create An Outline – whether you outline your blog posts or not, you have to have some kind of idea of what you are trying to do from start to finish. This outline doesn’t have to be super detailed but should be something for you to fall back on in case you hit a wall and get hit with writer’s block.
  2. Do Some Research – there is a saying that all exceptional stories have been rooted in some type of solid research. This means that if your research isn’t very good, your story won’t be very good. So what you want to do is to immerse yourself in all of the details of your setting. Most characters would prefer not to be wearing ski jackets when it’s 100 degrees outside with 85 percent humidity.

planning a marketing plan image

  • Keep Your Day Job

While you may have plans on writing a book and having it go straight to being a National Best Seller overnight, that isn’t really how it works. While there is always the chance that you will get lucky like that, most authors need to write several books prior to really ‘making it.’ That is exactly why you need to keep your day job. If you make a living from blogging, keep blogging and write your book on the side.

workers during day job image

As a general rule of thumb, you should be making at least 3x’s more from writing than your day job before you quit it. Why so much more you ask? When you are self-employed, you have many more bills. You will no longer have any type of insurance provided by your job, any retirement going into savings or even any medical or dental benefits provided for you. This is not to scare you, but just to let you know that your expenses are going to go up a lot.

But at the same time, don’t let your day job prevent you from writing and finishing your book. Simply keep your day job, and you can always do your writing after you get off work. This is the best way to get started on making the jump from a blogger to an author for two reasons.

  1. You will still have an income
  2. You will have to be more productive with fewer hours of ‘work’ time

Time To Get Published

Once you have an outline set up, you still have your job, so you can continue to live, and you know what you’re writing about; you can now write your book and try to get it published. Once your book is complete, pass it around the writing group you’re part of and get some feedback. Once you feel that it’s as good as it’s going to get, start sending it off to the publisher to see if they are interested in running with it.

ready to get published image

Just remember, to be picked up after your first book submission, or even after your first book, is extremely rare. Just be sure that you try to get as much feedback as you can and no matter what, keep moving forward.

Remember, every time you fail, all you’re doing is finding out a way that didn’t work. You didn’t really fail at all, but more of learned what not to do.

Call to Action

If you’d like to talk to someone at our team about making the jump from blogger to author. We are ready to set-up a call. You just have to watch this video first (and make a decision on whether you want to make this jump).

Make the jump! Check out the video here.


Each year after holiday break I told my students their writing would change forever. It was simple statement, but most of them did not take it seriously. What ensued was “Writer’s Boot Camp”. A 10-day writing program I put my students through each year. It didn’t matter if I taught 8th graders or 11th graders, the rules and guidelines stayed the same. Each day we would cover a new rule. Each day they would write 250 words in class, and 250 words at home. At the end of writer’s boot camp students had to produce a piece of analytical writing, and they had to demonstrate an understanding of the rules.

What I loved about Writer’s Boot Camp was the simplicity…but also the feedback I received from students. They complained when I assigned the writing project, but as the days went on the complaining stopped and they realized that writing wasn’t all that hard, or all that boring! In fact, many students continued to write each day and keep the journal they had built through the boot camp.

I made it a ten day period because we often focus on writing “here and there”. By deliberately focusing my students’ (and my own) attention on writing, it became a challenge that we all had to overcome together. At the end of boot camp my writing had drastically improved…and my students felt a new confidence about their craft.

Here are my 10 lessons to make anyone a better writer.

Lesson #1: Behind every great piece of writing is a great story.

I don’t care if you are writing a letter, email, essay, book, or company memo…if it is boring, no one will care. Furthermore, it needs to tell a story. Human beings learn better through stories than anything else. If you want people to learn from your writing (however big or small the piece) it needs to be a great story.

Lesson #2: You become a better writer by reading. You become a better reader by writing.

This generation of students reads and writes more than any other before it. However, much of that reading and writing is text messages, Twitter/Instagram/Facebook posts, short blogs (like Tumblr), and other online pieces. The type of reading you feed your brain is also going to end up in your writing. If we want students to write analytical pieces, they must read analytical pieces. If we want them to write a narrative, they must read a narrative. Make sure you are on a good “diet” of reading, and try to read what you’ll be writing. It will make your writing better than you could have ever imagined.

Lesson #3: Vigorous writing is concise.  Every word should tell. Make your point well and once. Then shut up.

Every word should have a purpose within the sentence. Every sentence should have a purpose within the paragraph. Every paragraph should have a purpose within the piece. It’s that simple.

Thanks to Strunk and White for that lesson!

Lesson #4: Learning to use words effectively will be the most valuable tool you’ll ever need.

Want to get a job? You are going to have to speak and write well to even get an interview. Want to ask that girl/guy out on a date? Make sure you use the right words! Want to be a better thinker? Build your vocabulary…we think in words!

My good friend Anthony Gabriele used to have this lesson hanging from various spots in his classroom. In fact, many students already know how to use their words to effectively persuade parents or friends…but they fail to transition this type of persuasive language into the classroom in their writing. My job as a teacher was to make that connection to “real world” language use, and how it applies to even the smallest writing task in school.

Lesson #5: Always be prepared to write. Always be prepared to think critically.

At this point of Writer’s Boot Camp I would give my students a Bourne Identity writing moment. What does that mean exactly? I’d quickly surprise them with a critical thinking scenario that require them to not only “think on their feet” but also “write on their feet”.

Why do I do this? Because you never know when you’ll need to use your writing skills for a specific moment. Prepare to write and think when you are unprepared. Success will follow!

Lesson #6: Style = Your grade.

Maybe you’ve got great content. Your structure and grammar are perfect as well. Yet, whether it is a teacher, a blog reader, or a boss…something is still missing when they read what you write. That’s because your writing style is what takes readers from passively absorbing your work, to actually believing in you.

Style is in short…your personal writing voice. It separates you from everyone else. In order to improve your style you must write, write, and write some more. Once you find it, you’ll know…because your readers will want to talk with you.

Lesson #7: Cheer up, great writing isn’t laborious, it’s tedious.

I used to landscape during my summers while I was in college. One of the first things I learned to do was mulch. Taking hot (and smelly) mulch from off the truck, into wheel barrels, and spread it all over huge properties was no fun task. It was a workout!

I also had the opportunity to do some gardening as a landscaper for a huge estate. I’d spend all day walking around the grounds picking a weed here or there, and pruning different plants. It took a lot of time, but I never broke a sweat.

Great writing won’t make you sweat. It isn’t laborious like mulching, it is much more tedious like pruning and weeding a big estate. Great writing takes time and you have to keep working at it. Think about writing as a journey and you’ll continually improve.

Lesson #8: Write to entertain, not to impress.

Big words, fancy sentence structures, and deep thoughts aren’t what writing is about. Writing is about conveying an emotion, and your focus as a writer should be to entertain the reader through your words. Many time we think about “entertainment” as something that is fun…but, in reality to be entertained is to care about what is happening and be connected to the words.

When’s the last time you read a book, watched a movie, or listened to your favorite song and said, “That was impressive writing…?” We don’t think about the actual writing, we think about how we feel and connect to that book, movie, or song. We’ll end up liking the book, movie, or song because we are entertained by the words and story. Aim to do the same with your writing.

Lesson #9: Know the difference between revising and editing. Then do both.

As a teacher I have a few opportunities to improve and change my lessons throughout the year. The recent snow days force me to make quick rearrangements of what I would teach, and cut out some of the content I would bring to my students. Various choices have to be made throughout the school year in terms of what I would teach, but I have to be flexible enough to make it work for the students and fit the curriculum.

During the summer I can look (often with a colleague) at the entire year. We can change and modify entire units and add or take away new projects, papers, assignments etc. The process goes back and forth each year as big changes are made during the summer months and small quick fixes are implemented throughout the school year.

Chances are you rarely edit…or revise. I’m here today to tell you that both are necessary! Editing your writing is similar to what we do during the school year as teachers or leaders. Changes sometimes need to be made. Cuts need to happen. And every once in a while we’ll add something new of value. Revising is similar to the work we do in the summer when we look at the entire structure and flow of the content and curriculum. In order to improve the teaching and learning, the changes made during the year and during the summer are necessary. In order to improve your writing, revising and editing are also necessary.

Lesson #10: If you want to improve, you’ll continue to improve.

In the end, it’s all about attitude.

For the final lesson of Writer’s Boot Camp I’d ask my students to write down the biggest challenge they ever had to overcome. For some students this was very personal, and for others it often was about a sporting challenge or related to one of their activities they do outside of school. The students were very open about this question and it sparked the same debate in class every single year.

Do your circumstances make you who you are? Or, does who you are impact your circumstances?

When it came down to it, every one of my students believed they had the power to improve their life in some way. Many didn’t know exactly how they would do it, but they had hope in their own individual power to move their life forward.

I left them with a simple message: Life, just like writing, is all about attitude. If you push yourself to constantly be better, then you’ll eventually get there. If you sit back and hope that you’ll improve, chances are you’ll never improve.

The Writer’s Boot Camp was about a lot more than just writing, and as a teacher it taught me that helping my students’ develop successful writing habits, is no easy task. But it can be done with the right attitude.


I had dreams. I had goals. I think we all do. But the same thing kept happening to me. Big idea, after big idea…new goal, after new goal. I didn’t succeed.

Sure, there were small wins along the way. I learned a lot from every failure. My problem was pushing through the tough parts of the creative process…where there is no adrenalin and anticipation moving you forward. In reality, I wasn’t good at finishing what I started.

Then I read about Nathan Barry writing 1000 words a day. He had a great blog. He had two books published. And it instantly made sense…he accomplished similar goals that I had by focusing on what would lead him to success. The great Tony Robbins has an interesting perspective on this exact point:

“In essence, if we want to direct our lives, we must take control of our consistent actions. It’s not what we do once in a while that shapes our lives, but what we do consistently.”

That quote made a ton of sense to me. So, I sat down and looked at some of the professional goals I had for myself:

  • Create a blog that mattered
  • Write and publish a book
  • Make some real change in education

I have many other personal goals, and life goals, but I wanted to focus on what I could change professionally. Nathan’s work on writing 1000 words a day really motivated me to do the same thing. If I wanted to create a blog, write and publish a book, and make change in education…then I had to create a system to get me through the tough times when inspiration was lacking.

Creating Systems for Goals

I was recently interviewed on the Edu All-Stars podcast. It was a great discussion, but Chris Kessler asked me an interesting question at one point on the show: What’s your process like? This post is really a fuller explanation of what I shared with Chris on the show, because I hoped to talk about how my goals were never accomplished until I had systems in place.

Almost 500 days ago I started to write regularly. I decided to “commit” to the writing process and a system and see what would happen. As I began to write 100 words a day, it became easier to write 250 words a day. My system allowed for constant improvement because I wasn’t focused on the end goal (writing a book or building a blog) but instead just the act of writing. Last March I set up this blog for the first time and started putting a blog post up every now and then. Here’s what the last year looks like in terms of growth:

Ajjuliani.com Growth

This past summer I started writing 1000 words every day. It’s hard to do some days. I’ll only get 500 one day, and have to make up for it the next day. I’ll miss a day here or there and have to catch up over the next week. But I’m committed to the system.

Here are a few of the things I’ve worked on with my 1000 words each day:

  • Blog posts
  • Guest blog posts
  • Website copy
  • Book proposal
  • Inquiry and Innovation in the Classroom manuscript
  • Teach Above the Test eBook
  • Teacher’s Guide to Tutoring eBook
  • Curriculum writing
  • Unit and lesson planning
  • Grant writing
  • Emails (lots of them!)
  • Weekly Newsletter
  • The Best and Next in Education (digital magazine)
  • 20% Time MOOC (this past summer)
  • Coaching
  • Consulting work
  • Video scripts
  • Random thoughts

Since October I’ve been focused on building a system for my blog. I’ve posted two blog posts per week and two guest blog posts per month. Instead of focusing my blog as only a place for reflection (which it sometimes is) I’ve tried to make my posts as useful and helpful for other teachers, writers, and learners as possible. Really, I try to teach with my blog as much as possible.

The Power of Habits

Habits and systems are something we don’t talk about nearly as much in education as we should. If we want to improve student engagement and performance, the trick is to work on systematic change. As the quote above said, “take control of consistent actions”. What do your students do as soon as they walk into your classroom? What does your staff do as soon as they walk into a meeting? Are we building good habits?

My system of writing everyday isn’t necessarily a habit. The habit part comes when I tell you that the writing almost always comes around 5:30am with a cup of coffee next to my computer. Habits have triggers, specific times, and repetitive actions. James Clear gives “3 Rules For Actually Sticking to Good Habits” and I think they are spot on:

Here are the rules:

  1. You have to start with a version of the habit that is incredibly easy for you. It must be so easy that you can’t say no to doing it and so easy that it is not difficult at all in the beginning.[1]
  2. You have to increase your habit each day, but in an incredibly small way.[2]
  3. Even after increasing your habit, all repetitions must remain easy. The total habit should be broken down into easier pieces if needed.

As a teacher or leader how could you implement these rules? As a writer I used these three rules to keep improving my system. So, even when I have days when my writing stinks (happens a lot), I’m still going through the motions and working.

When you ask yourself what your goals are, do you have a system of how you’ll reach those goals? For a long time I didn’t…and I thought they might magically happen with hard work. It’s not enough to have goals…everyone has goals. The systems and habits you create for yourself are where the magic happens.

What’s been really exciting for me is seeing how talking about “systems” can help other people I’ve worked with in the last year. Whether it is working with teachers, students, leaders, or other authors…I’ve seen the power of systems at work! In two weeks, I’m opening up my first ever coaching program to help five people go from an idea to a finished book, product, or course that they want to launch. I’ve been doing this type of coaching on an individual basis for a while, and truly enjoy it. If you’re interested and want to learn more, sign-up here.

And there you have it. Another 1000 words for the day. What are some habits or systems you’ve built up over the past few years to help you reach a goal? Please share so we can all learn!

Photo Credit: tonyhall via Compfight cc


 “Science, by its own definition, doesn’t give us meaning. It just provides us with facts . . . Our lives gain meaning only when we tell our story.”—David Steindl-Rast

A few years ago I was lucky enough to teach the book, Things Fall Apart, to my 10th grade English class. It’s a great book…but that’s not why I was lucky.

I had recently been to Africa two times and learned so much from the people there, and now I finally had a book that related to my experiences. Each day in class I had another story to tell, and when we missed a day of storytelling in class, my students eagerly asked me if I had any more stories, or if we were “just going to have a regular class”.

That comment opened my eyes to the power of stories in my own classroom. My students wanted to hear about my experiences because they connected to those stories. As we read through the book and discussed Okonkwo’s (the main character) motivations and actions, there was a deeper understanding taking place.

Soon, we were all sharing stories that related to the book. Okonkwo had wanted to be a different man than his father was, and now his son wanted to be different than he was. Young men and women in my class spoke about the pressures they put on themselves to live up to their parents, or be different than their parents. We began to relate to the deeper conflicts in this book, because our stories connected with them as well.

I’m a big believer in project-based learning and inquiry-driven learning…but there is something special about “story-driven learning”. My students ended up scoring better on their quizzes and projects for Things Fall Apart than any other book I’d ever taught. From that moment on, I knew there had to be something to the power of story.

The Science Behind Storytelling

Every night before my daughter goes to bed I tell her a story. Sometimes it is based on the day’s events, and other times it is a story about when I was a child, but usually it is completely made up…and she loves it. She also vividly remembers the stories later on.

If I hit on a similar theme or topic in my bedtime story the next day, or next week, or even next month…she calls me on it. She lets me know that I talked about that before, or that this sounds like the other story I told her… She’ll also relate our bedtime stories to real events that happen, and many of the same themes and topics that come up in our stories…come up in our lives.

This is not unique to my daughter, instead it is based in science and research. “A 2010 study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showed an intimate connection between the brain activity of speakers and listeners in conversation, demonstrating how the brain of an engaged listener “syncs up” with a speaker. By engaging students with compelling stories that impart important material, teachers reach students both emotionally and biochemically, increasing the potential for rich learning experiences.”

Sherrelle Walker – a teacher, administrator, and professor of 30 years – wrote about the science behind stories:

Scientists have long known that human beings are storytelling creatures. For centuries, we have told stories to transmit information, share histories, and teach important lessons. While stories often have a profound effect on us due to emotional content, recent research also shows that our brains are actually hard-wired to seek out a coherent narrative structure in the stories we hear and tell. This structure helps us absorb the information in a story, and connect it with our own experiences in the world.

So, if you are like me, maybe this is all starting to make sense. I know that I learn best through experience and stories. If I think back on some of my best learning experiences they were often either having to do with hearing a great story…or creating a new story. When I look at what articles I enjoy, they almost always teach me something through a story. That is the initial hook of many great learning experiences.

But yet, so often in our techno-focused world we fail to take the time to actually teach through stories. I’m guilty of this, you might be too. Technology is a great tool for learning, but guess what, storytelling might be a better tool.

Stories, Technology, and Innovation

Pamela Rutledge is a Professor and Director of the Media Psychology Research Center. In an article she wrote for Psychology Today, Rutledge says:

Even with technology’s increasingly sophisticated and jaw-dropping capabilities, the tools are becoming simultaneously more accessible and user-friendly. So much so, that the boundaries are blurring not just across technologies but also across the people who are creating, using, producing, augmenting, distributing, hacking, mashing, and every other ‘-ing’ imaginable.

In spite of all the excitement, however, the human brain has been on a slower evolutionary trajectory than the technology. Our brains still respond to content by looking for the story to make sense out of the experience. No matter what the technology, the meaning starts in the brain.

The research has shown that stories fuel understanding of all types of learning objectives. If you want your students to…

  • understand mathematical principles
  • write better essays
  • learn through inquiry
  • apply scientific theories
  • tackle real world issues
  • innovate in the classroom

…then teach them with stories.

Leo Widrich, the co-founder of Buffer, wrote a fantastic article on the science behind storytelling. He explains that our brains can’t help but function differently when we are being told a story:

When we are being told a story, things in our brain change dramatically. Not only are the language processing parts in our brain activated, but any other area in our brain that we would use when experiencing the events of the story are too. And yet, it gets better.

When we tell stories to others that have really helped us shape our thinking and way of life, we can have the same effect on them too. The brains of the person telling a story and listening to it can synchronize, says Uri Hasson from Princeton:

“When the woman spoke English, the volunteers understood her story, and their brains synchronized. When she had activity in her insula, an emotional brain region, the listeners did too. When her frontal cortex lit up, so did theirs. By simply telling a story, the woman could plant ideas, thoughts and emotions into the listeners’ brains.”

Anything you’ve experienced, you can get others to experience the same. Or at least, get their brain areas that you’ve activated that way, active too.

What does this mean then for our teachers and students?

First, it means we should spend some time rethinking the “best practices” in instruction. Stories are often told in History and Language Arts classes, but are they used effectively? And are we ever thinking about teaching with stories in the STEM subjects? For example, John Spencer’s book, Wendell the World’s Worst Wizard, teaches “making” and “STEM” concepts through the story of a young wizard with no magical powers.

Second, I’d argue that one of the most innovative ways to teach may be to slow down, and tell a story. Figuring out what story to tell, and how it connects, is the job of any great teacher. If we want our students to change the world, they’ll need some inspiration from the stories of those that have already changed the world.

Finally, books like Kendall Haven’s Story Proof, need to be must-reads for anyone who is teaching anything. Haven’s book explores more than 150 qualitative and quantitative research studies that discuss the effectiveness of stories and/or storytelling on learning. Let’s use the research we have to improve how we teach. I know I took the time to change a lot of my guide, “The Teacher’s Guide to Tutoring“, in order to add more stories. I hope that type of teaching benefits my readers.

Somehow I was never told to “teach with stories” when I was starting out as a teacher, even though that is one of the best ways in which I learn. However, “story-driven learning” may be one of the most underused and oldest methods of teaching…and the most effective.

What’s your story?

PS – Thanks to Nick Provenzano for inspiring this post with a story of his own.

PPS- I’m debating between a few new book ideas and I could use your help. My purpose is to provide the most value to the readers of this blog, so if you could answer this one question survey, it will help me get the clarity I need!


Having a blog can be like standing in a packed street corner with a megaphone. You can be as loud as you want to be…but usually everyone is too busy to listen. With almost 2 million blog posts published everyday (yes, that’s a real stat) how can we as bloggers reach our audience without the megaphone…

It’s simple. We must teach with our blogs.

Think for a moment about the last blog post you read all the way through to the end. Why did you keep reading? Sure, there must have been an inviting headline that captured your attention. The beginning of post also hooked you into some sort of interest. But what actually kept you reading?

Chances are the writer was teaching you something. Teaching through our blogs comes in a variety of forms, but when we teach, we are actually helping our readers. There is an aspect of blogging and writing that is self-reflective, but if you are only writing for yourself…then a journal will do just fine.

If you care about helping your readers, spreading a message, and making an impact with your words…then you must “teach with your blog”. Here are seven ways I’ve learned to teach with my blog, and some examples from others who do a great job teaching with their words.

1. Explain a new idea or concept

We often think that “everyone is already doing it” but that is just wrong. Yes, what seems simple to you may be extraordinary to others, and a blog is the perfect place to share what you, your school, and your colleagues are doing that is special.

The key to this type of “teaching” blog post is to explain the idea in a way that invites readers to try it out for themselves. You want to not only keep their interest, but also share the secrets that made it successful in a “how to” approach.

Example: Innovation Day by Josh Stumpenhorst

2. The Step-by-Step Guide

This takes #1 to another level. In a post I recently wrote on “How to Gamify Professional Development in Your School” I made sure to write down every single step we took in the gamification process (soup t0 nuts). This is the type of post that people search for on Google and when they stumble on your page, scream “Yes!”.

The step-by-step guide is also valuable to your blog readers. It’s a chance for you to actually walk them through the learning process by doing. Unlike a list post or reflection, the step-by-step guide is begging for action to be taken . This usually takes longer to write, but your readers will thank you again and again.

Example: How to get 120 people to read your first blog post by Bryan Harris

3. Interviews

Some of my favorite blog posts have been interviews. It teaches the reader about both the interviewer (what types of questions do they ask and why) and whoever is getting interviewed. This is almost as good as listening to a podcast, and sometimes I actually prefer the text version.

The key to doing an interview on your blog is to make sure you either go all-in with the full transcript of the interview…or have a post based on the interview that has some quotes pulled in. I tend to do the latter type of post because it gives great support for whatever argument you are trying to make.

Example: 5 Things Innovative Schools Do Differently (based on an interview with Eric Sheninger)

4. Reviews

Whether you are reviewing a book, an app, website, tool, program, or just an experience (think conference)….reviews are a powerful teaching method for blogging. I’m a big fan of reading reviews online before buying something. I try to gauge the overall feeling of the product from people who have used it.

However, if my wife, or one of my siblings, or friends recommend something…I’m twice as likely to buy it or check it out than a random person’s review. As a blogger you are no longer “some random person”. Chances are you’ve built up an audience of readers who see you as someone they can trust. Therefore, your reviews carry more weight than any Amazon or Yelp person. My rules are to be honest, but not slander (or overhype). Try to keep an even keel with your words no matter how excited you are (which can be tough either way).

Example: 3 Good Books About Crafting Stories by Richard Byrne

5. Reflection

What worked. And what didn’t work. Reflective pieces can often be all about the author, but when you open up your successes and wounds to your readers…it again teaches. For a long time when I first started blogging, reflection pieces are all that I wrote. Once I realized this, I became “anti-reflection” on my blog. This was wrong for many reasons…but mostly because reflection is helpful for both the writer and the reader. If you can touch on a success or failure that someone else is going through, you’ve done more with your words than you can ever imagine.

Example: What Motivates You (Probably Not Grades) by Kristen Swanson

6. A Different Perspective

As I browse Twitter and social media it is easy to see where the “mob” mentality comes to play. People love jumping on an idea and building on it (this is not always a bad thing). Often there needs to another voice, and another perspective shared on topics that everyone is taking for face value.

One of my favorite bloggers, John Spencer, does a great job of giving a different perspective in many of his posts. They don’t have to be long, but they make you think. The purpose of the “different perspective” post is to teach your readers that all ideas have multiple vantage points. Be careful before labeling the “next best thing” as “the best thing”.

Example: My Thoughts on Homework by Justin Tarte

7. A Shared Experiment/Challenge

I want to do more of these types of posts. Last spring/summer I ran the “Summer of Twitter Challenge“. It was a simple way to challenge teachers and schools to join Twitter and get active online. Over 100 schools joined the wiki and started sharing. I’m not sure how many followed through (it was tough even for my school) but the challenge excited people, including me.

A share experiment or challenge allows you and your readers to go through something together. Then you can discuss together, and when it is over, reflect together. Some of my favorite blogs do this with their readers on a regular basis. You could survey your readers and see what type of challenge they are up for, or just spring it on them and see who joins in the fun. And that’s what this is…fun. Let me know if you are running a challenge or experiment and I’d love to join in!

Example: Tim Grahl’s 10k Experiment

I hope this gives you some ideas for new blog posts and ways to teach with your blog. If there is one thing I’ve learned over the past year of writing, it’s to mix it up and try new things. If you’ve taught with your blog in the above ways share your experience below in the comments. We can all learn so from each other, as long as we are putting it out there to the world!

Photo Credit: außerirdische sind gesund via Compfight cc


How To Read More Books

After writing my post on “100 books every teacher should read” I received a number of emails about finding the time to read all of those books (without going broke or insane!). There is something to be said for enjoying books (I am still an English teacher at heart), but it can also be easy to slowly fade away from reading as we take on more and more responsibilities in life. The past two years I read 42 and 43 books respectively. This year I’m going to read a book a week. 52 books in one year.

Here’s how.

To put it into some context. I’m the proud dad of 4 kids (age 6 and under), in an administrative job launching our 1:1 initiative, have published two books (and releasing three more books this year!), and still spend most of my time at night binge-watching Netflix with my wife!

I love creative work, and quite frankly, probably spend too much time thinking of new projects and ideas (as well as books and blog posts!). But, I’ve found that spending time reading every day has helped ground me in high-quality content and information. There is something special about a book that a blog post or article cannot replicate. Maybe everyone does not feel this way, but books (to me) are one of the purest forms of creativity and thought.

Here’s how I find the time (and money) to read 40+ books a year. And how I plan on changing it a bit to read over 50 books this year. I call it the “nerdy way” because it’s built on reading the most amount of books, in the shortest amount of time, for the least amount of money (can’t beat that right?).

1. Be Intentional to Make Reading a Habit

As a teenager I used to binge read books. I’d spend hours a day sometimes reading a book (or a series) and the go weeks without reading. When a book or story caught my attention, that was it…I was hooked and would not stop until I finished.

In college, I slowly started to read more non-fiction. I was interested in how the world worked and wanted more information on specific topics. Again, I would read a book start to finish in one sitting sometimes.

When my family started growing, and job responsibilities began to pile up…my binge reading quickly stopped. I’d start a book…then pick it up again in a month or two…and I remember going on vacation one week thinking, “I have six books I want to finish because I started all of them at different times in the past year!”

That’s when I decided I had to make reading a habit. Even if I read a tiny bit each day, I could make progress on the books I wanted to read, and finally finish all those great books I’d started during the past year.

Then I came across a post by habit-guru James Clear. James wrote about how he reads at least 25 pages each day. I did the math…

If an average book was 250 pages I would finish a book every 10 days by reading 25 pages a day. That 25 pages a day would lead me to read 36 books a year!

I started reading 25 pages a day as a daily habit. Two things became quickly apparent:

a) It didn’t take long to read 25 pages.

b) I usually went over the 25 page mark because I was into the book!

I read over 40 books that first year, all by using a method that I had repeatedly told my high school students to do as an English teacher (but never followed the advice myself).

Now, I’m increasing the habit by just a little bit, and it’s going to build over time. I’m challenging myself to read 40 pages each day. That 40 pages will ultimately lead to one 280 page book each week.

The trick is that I’m not reading all those pages with my eyes, I’m spending a lot of time reading with my ears.

2. Read With Your Ears

This year we moved into our new home and my commute got a bit longer. I now spend around 1.5 hrs in the car each day (45 mins each way). That gives me on an average week 7.5 hrs of commute time to listen to audiobooks.

But that’s not the only time I have to listen to audiobooks. There are also the ‘in-between’ moments of life. This could be a long drive, waiting for a train (or on a plane), while working out, or while doing chores around the house.

Most audiobooks are between 5.5 hrs and 7.5 hrs long. But a book I just listened to this week, Anything You Want by Derek Sivers, was only 1.5 hrs long. One week. One book down.

I blame Audible.com for my audiobook addiction. I signed-up for free and got two free audiobooks downloaded straight to my phone (Try Audible and Get Two Free Audiobooks). Reading with my ears has only increased the number of books I’ll read this year. It’s also a different type of reading/listening experience. Often I’ll have to rewind the past minute of audio to catch a quote or insight or story that I want to remember. It’s almost a form of “close-reading” while listening.

3. Find Great Deals

I love BuckBooks.com for great Kindle book deals. Sometimes they will have free books, and usually the site features books on price for 99 cents. This is a completely free service to sign up for and then they’ll send you emails with featured books that link directly to Amazon (Kindle store). In essence, they do all the hard work in finding books that you’ll like to read…and that are cheap. BuckBooks recently came out with a new Audiobook promotion (for a dollar) each week as well and I can’t wait to check out that feature (sign-up here!).

Other ways are to borrow books from your friends and colleagues that they have recommended, go to the LIBRARY, or get ebooks from your local library. When you’ve built the habit of reading into your daily routine, you’ll have no problem finding recommendations and talking to other readers. These deals let you read without going broke (hint: that’s still my problem with Barnes & Noble).

Try apps like Hoopla or go to websites like NetGalley to get free books (audio and digital) for your reading pleasure!

So, what are you waiting for?

Find great book recommendations, make daily time to read, read with your ears, and find deals…after that they only thing left to do is spread the word on books you think others should read!

Do you have any tips or tricks you’d like to share with us? Leave them in the comments!