Dr. Seuss on Personal Kanban in the classroom

If you are a long time follower of this blog you know that I was a preschool teacher for 11+ years.  Last year I left teaching after relocating to a new area to follow other pursuits.  Over the course of 2 years I had implemented several personal kanban boards in my preschool classes that proved to be very successful.

Yesterday I returned to the preschool where I had taught for over 11 years for a visit and to spend time with my students from last year.  When I entered through those doors again I was immediately inspired.  It was as if I had never left.  As I sat looking around the classroom I began to think about my favorite children’s author – Dr. Seuss and how much I loved when February rolled around and we would spend a few weeks concentrating on his books exclusively, doing crafts pertaining to those books and how much he taught my students through his works.  Then I began to think about the personal kanbans I used to help the students learn and master benchmark goals and how Dr. Seuss paralleled that.  Thus this post was born.  So below are some of Dr. Seuss’ famous quotes and how they work so well with Personal Kanban in the classroom and beyond.

“Today you are You, that is truer than true.  There is no one alive who is Youer than You.”

Individual learning. Personal Kanban lends itself perfectly to this.  Each student works at their own pace.  It does not matter where other students are each one is doing their own task in their own time.  They bring their own individuality to their work.  This is what makes You, Youer than You!

THINK! You can think any THINK that you wish….”

Thinking! Yes!  This is what all teachers want, their students to think! Of course.  The beauty of using Personal Kanban is that when the student sees the task, they all may view it in a different way, they may even get to their goal – the completed task – through different means than others.  2+2 does = 4 but there are different ways of getting that value.  It’s important to learn the task at hand but it’s also important to learn that there are different avenues of getting there.

Individual learning

“If you never did, you should.  These things are fun and fun is good.”

F-U-N!  We all want fun.  We all want to enjoy what we are doing.  As a teacher I always wanted to make learning fun.  I wanted to engage my preschoolers fully.  By designing different personal kanbans for the classroom we had many ways to learn and to have fun!

stoplight kidzban

kite kidzban

“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.”

This ties in beautifully with the thinking quote up above.  There in many cases may only be one answer to the task at hand but there are many roads you can choose to get there.  Our classroom ABC’s Personal Kanban showed each student’s journey to completion differently.  Each student interacted with their task cards so differently but each completed the goal.

Individual cards.

“Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple.”

When the students looked at the whole alphabet from A-Z some said, “Oh I’ll never learn all those letters!”  However, when we broke up the overwhelming task for them,  from 26 letters at once to 2 or 3 at a time it became simpler.  Much simpler.  In most cases our students took the lead.  What was once overwhelming and complicated to them ended up being in a word – simple.

Personal Kanban ABC's

“It’s better to know how to learn than to know.”

When we give preschoolers the proper tools at a young age to encourage learning, collaboration and the experience of learning, that is something they carry with them all along on their educational journey.  All students want to do good work.  Laying the foundation at a young age helps facilitate doing their best work.

“The more that you read, the more things you will know.  The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

Visualization is key.  My preschoolers (age 3) were not yet reading but that did not slow them down one bit.  They listened, they engaged with board, they watched other students interact with the board and they learned from them.  They were soon learning and building their own goals by collaborating with other students.

Teaching about Thanksgiving using a Kidzban

Teaching about Thanksgiving using a Kidzban

“Think left and think right and think low and think high. Oh, the thinks you can think up if only you try!

I had a parent say to me that their child was fearful of writing letters.  As the year went on the child was observing the other students getting excited over writing the letters, comparing their work with each other on the board, collaborating on their papers, soon the child was no longer fearful but began to go above and beyond what was expected.  All the student did was to try.

“Today was good. Today was fun. Tomorrow is another one.”

Retrospect.  I started with ideas.  I put them on a board.  I designed the personal kanbans for the classroom with the intent of them all being successful.  However, not everything works on the first try.  While our personal kanbans were all successful, we certainly made changes on the fly as the year went on.  We had weekly meetings to talk about what was working on the board and what wasn’t, and then we made adjustments.  Having a retrospective talk on a weekly basis was key.  We were able to adapt with our students, continue on a path to fit their educational needs.

“Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”

Smile.  When I look at each student and what they learned from our classroom Personal Kanbans I can’t help but smile.  The look on each student’s face when they received a sticker or moved a task card over, that smile. Priceless.  Smile because it happened.

Personal Kanban in the classroom

As I read through these quotes it occurred to me that I could relate these quotes to my own personal kanbans that I have used over the past few years. To me Personal Kanban is such a great learning tool because it’s relatable across all lines, something that knows no boundaries.  It is teaching us about ourselves while helping us to learn or do a specific task(s).  I have yet to come across a situation where I have not been able to apply a personal Kanban to help me complete my tasks or achieve my goals.

Interested in learning more?

Follow me on Twitter: topsurf

Want to know more about Personal Kanban?  Visit the Personal Kanban Website.

Want to read an awesome book on Personal Kanban?  Purchase: Personal Kanban Mapping Work / Navigating Life  by Jim Benson and Tonianne DeMaria Barry
You can view my productivity photos on flickr:

Year 2 and Our ABC’s Personal Kanban Continues to Thrive in the Classroom

If you have been a reader of my blog you know that I implemented an ABC’s Personal Kanban first in the fall of 2009.  However due to circumstances beyond my control (I took a leave of absence due to a family member’s illness) that first try was not seen through the whole year.  When I came back into the classroom in the fall of 2010,  I knew I wanted to make changes to our original board and implement it again to see through the whole year with my students.  And see it through we did.  It was a huge success!

This year I took a position within my school that moved me into a new classroom with younger students where  I implemented more Personal Kanbans with my new 3-year old students that also became very successful.  I was very excited to find out last week that 4 of the Personal Kanbans I have implemented in these two classrooms over the past two years will be included in the curriculum again for next year.  This is so exciting because not only will the students benefit but the teachers will as well.  I have learned just as much as the students have from implementing these and watching them evolve, it has helped us all to become better educators.

I was thrilled when I found out at the end of last year that the Personal Kanbans I implemented in the 4-5 year old classroom would become a part of the curriculum for the next year.  Now that I was no longer in that classroom, I was asked to work closely with the teachers in that room, to help them set it up and continue to monitor and have retrospective meetings throughout the year to track the progress.

We knew we didn’t want to change anything about the set-up of our board, so we kept it basically the same as last year.

Our ABC's PK 2010-11 Version

ABC's PK Version 2011-12

This year we took the kaizen moments we had from last year’s Personal Kanban and implemented them right off the bat at the beginning of the students alphabet learning journey.

  • We did not put their names on the task cards.  Last year we did and then discovered some of the students wanted to write their names in themselves as they were learning to write the letters.  So this year from the start of the use of the Personal kanban we did not put their names.  This resulted in the students learning to write their name even earlier in the school year.

This year just 1/2 way into learning to write the letters, the students were now well practiced at writing their names on their task cards.

  • Last year the parents were very involved and this proved to be the case again this year.  In fact when there were holidays that pushed the ‘normal’ letter learning day off by a day, the parents were asking the teachers if they should make letter task cards up for their children, instead of waiting for them to be sent home from our teachers.
  • From the beginning, there was no student apprehension this year.  The students were very excited for their first try at ‘homework’ – taking their card home and working on their letters for the next day of class.

1/2 way through learning the alphabet not only writing their first name also adding their last name (pixelated out for privacy). Also adding many more practice letters to their card.

  • Last year one thing we learned from our retrospect meetings is that if we doubled the amount of example letters we wrote on the task cards the students would then double their amount of letters they practiced. So by the middle of the alphabet this year the teachers doubled the amount of examples on the cards and once again the students followed suit by writing more letters on their cards.
  • Last year we also were thrilled when we got to the last four letters of the alphabet on our ABC’s Personal Kanban that the students were not only writing their first names but a few were adding their last names.  That was the first year we had ever experienced that.  This year the trend not only continued but it showed up even earlier on several student letter task cards.  This is a big improvement over last year.

Whiteboards, magnetic letters, pictures, all related to learning and writing the alphabet.

  • Last year after implementing the ABC’s Personal Kanban we began to notice during our free playtime at the beginning of each class the students were utilizing the blackboard on a daily basis to practice writing their letters.  We knew they were eager for more.  So this year the teachers planned on bringing out more alphabet related materials during playtime, we were interested to see if this would be embraced by the students this year.  We started to focus on doing this on our letter learning days, and it was so well received that it morphed into being done on each day during free playtime.  The whiteboards (one pictured above with a student practicing writing his letters) were a HUGE hit with all the students this year.

Were there as many kaizen moments with the ABC’s Personal Kanban this year as there was last year?  I would say no.  However there were still kaizen moments throughout the year which will once again help us to evolve the board again for next year to be even better, to help the students become more effective and efficient in their learning of the alphabet. We will take the lessons we’ve learned this year and apply them to the board we set up for next year.  One theme from our students that proved true once again this year is that they all want to shine, they all want to do great work, and they all want to share their success with each other.  This ABC’s Personal Kanban has proven once again this year to be an excellent catalyst in helping our students to thrive in our pre-k classroom.

Next Post coming up this Wednesday:  How my family is using Personal Kanban to help my Dad recover from major surgery.

Follow me on twitter: @topsurf


Want to know more on Personal Kanban?  Visit the Personal Kanban website.  I highly recommend purchasing the book: Personal Kanban Mapping Work / Navigating Life by Jim Benson and Tonianne DeMaria Barry.

Top 200 Agile Blogs

I am humbled and honored to have this blog be included on a very comprehensive list of  the top 200 Agile Blogs for 2011.

Following the link above will take you to the complete list and comprehensive post including not only the top 200 Agile Blogs but also excellent information on Klout and Social Media Influence and the Best Social Media Tools.

Much appreciation and thanks to Peter – Agile Scout, for putting this extensive list together.  You also might want to check out this fantastic list of Women in Leadership – Top Women in Agile Thought Leadership.

If you are interested in all things Agile the Agile Scout website should be in your reader and be sure to hit up their sidebar to sign-up for daily email updates delivered right to your inbox.

Tracking Student Progress with LeanKit Kanban

When I began this year of school, there was one big idea on my mind all summer that I knew I wanted to see become a reality. I had a few discussions with my school’s director about it, just as when I came to her with the idea for our ABC’s Personal Kanban, she was excited and encouraging.

My online Personal Kanban- combining all areas of my life on one board.

I knew since I began using LeanKit Kanban for my own personal use at home that it would be a great tool for my classroom. If I could keep track of my professional projects, running my non-profit, my family tasks and extracurricular activities all by using LeanKit I knew it was a good fit for the classroom.

This year I wanted to use LeanKit to track my students progress with benchmark goals, have all the information in one place, easily accessible and highly organized. Doing all of this without multiple folders filled with papers was a HUGE plus. No more sitting on the floor the night before parent/teacher conferences with papers and folders spread out all over trying to organize each student’s folder and papers to go over with the parent. This year I have tried to become as green as I could in our classroom, I started all communications through email instead of sending papers home, I sent our monthly newsletters home electronically as well. This would be another way to help aid in the green effort and be a huge time saver as well.

This was my first time using the board purely for classroom use. Therefor my board went through many, many changes. I know what I will start out thinking will work, sometimes when you put the board to task, just doesn’t work how I intended it to work. So as I began to use the board I was constantly re-arranging it to suit my needs. I would set it up, begin to use it, find something not working well for me and then I would shift lanes around. I love how my board evolved with my changing needs as the year went on. I eventually would like to be able to use this board with all my parents having access to it. The parents can see exactly where their child is at in the classroom. Instead of putting the student names on the cards I could assign each child a specific number that way each parent would look for the corresponding number for their child and know exactly what their child is working on. I am excited for the parent/teacher/education collaboration I believe would come from that access.

After I initially set up the board I showed it to several educator and Personal Kanban friends to get their input. I knew this board was not going to be used as a ‘traditional’ Personal Kanban for me. The flow would be totally different from anything I have ever worked in before. When I first set up my board I did so with each student having just one task card. As I began to use the board I noticed right away that this was not going to be effective and so the changes really started to begin.

One of the first board set-ups I tried. It would later evolve into the board pictured below.

I decided I needed many task cards for each student. As the year went on and we moved on to more and more benchmarks I began to add more lanes. I realized rather quickly that each lane needed a card for each student, to track exactly where they were with each particular benchmark.

The 'almost' finally evolved board.

So as each card was added and the student was tested, their results were placed right on the task card and they were put into the proper part of the lane. I decided that each card would not be moved to the completed lane. I thought that would become to confusing for me when I was adding all the final results, therefor I decided I needed just one more lane.

Placeholder lane for all student cards after posted on completed card.

I decided to add one last card for each student that would go into the completed lane. On this card I would post all the benchmark results. As I added each benchmark result on the corresponding student’s card I moved that corresponding benchmark card from the original benchmark lane over to the Placeholder lane.

Once I had every student’s benchmark cards moved over to the Placeholder lane I knew their results were posted on the new card and completed therefor I could put that new card right into the completed lane.

The night before my parent/teacher conferences for the first time in 10 years I was not stressed out. The only task I had left to do was to open up my LeanKit Kanban board and look in the completed lane and make sure one last time that I had every student in that lane with a completed card. That took me less than 5 minutes. For each conference all I had to do was to open up the appropriate student card and read the benchmarks to each parent. Everything I needed was posted on each card.

This set-up worked for me in my pre-k classroom wonderfully. I understand that every classroom is different and has different needs. I wanted to share what I have done this year because my hope is that it gets other educators to begin to think about how they could use LeanKit Kanban to fit their needs in their classroom. It is so customizable the possibilities of use are almost limitless. Educators could use it to track any and all of the projects in their classroom. Taking it even another step forward in your classroom, this would be a great tool to have your students (at all age levels, K-College) use to track their project(s) as well. I am a firm believer that there is not any circumstance to which you can’t apply a Personal Kanban. It aids the learning process in such a positive way by helping students to become more effective and efficient in their work whether working on their own or in a collaborative situation.

My attempt to go green and become organized with much less stress this year in my classroom has been a complete success. 🙂

Follow me on twitter @topsurf

Coming up next week – A full wrap-up on this year’s ABC’s Personal Kanban we are using for the 2nd year in a row in the classroom.


Interested in finding out more about LeanKit Kanban? Visit the LeanKit Kanban website. LeanKit Kanban is also available for mobile use. Check out the iPad/iPhone versions via iTunes.


For more information on Personal Kanban visit the website. Want to learn more? I highly recommend purchasing the book: Personal Kanban Mapping Work / Navigating Life by Jim Benson and Tonianne DeMaria Barry.


Personal Kanban and Recovering from Major Surgery

At the end of February my father went into the hospital for a major surgical procedure. You might remember how I made sure nothing was going to be missed when we went to the surgeon for a consult by using a Personal Kanban to track all of the questions we were looking for the answers to right in my moleskine notebook.

My Moleskine Personal Kanban ready to consult with the surgeon.

The difficulty of aiding my father through all of this is that he lives in another state. This means that I was going to have to be highly organized in order to hold my job, hold my family here and help aid my Mom and Dad in another state all at the (almost) same time. I made arrangements for my job, and managed to organize my family here while I was away by making it a family affair.

Our ‘Kitchen Command Central’ Personal Kanban.

My Father though was going to be a very different story.

My parents have had no previous experience with Personal Kanban. That is until I showed up for the surgeon consult that morning and I opened my notebook. While we were meeting with the surgeon I was asking questions and writing the answers down and doing the same for my parents questions. Afterwards we sat in the waiting room and I went over all the questions and answers with them, they loved how the Personal Kanban had worked. They saw that we had every concern addressed and while my Mom and Dad were still trying to take in the answer from the previous question during the consult, I was writing down the question and answer the surgeon was addressing in real-time. So points they might have missed during our consult we covered completely afterwards in the waiting room. They were impressed.

When it was time for my father to be discharged from the rehab center, I knew it was going to a lot to juggle. Boy was I right. It was overwhelming. There were home healthcare nurse(s), Physical Therapists, Occupational Therapists, and Social Workers who would be coming to their home. That was enough to think about but then we were handed the prescriptions. There were 19 in all. That’s right 19 prescriptions. I have to admit, I was not only overwhelmed, I was panicked!

There were two major goals we had and my father had:

  1. His mobility. He needed to regain his strength. He needed to get up and move more and more with each day.
  2. His over all well-being. A big part of this health puzzle was going to be making sure he got all his medicines and all on time.

On the way home my mind was racing. I somehow had to pull all this together and put my Mom at ease, because she was going to be doing most of the work and to put my father at ease by letting him see that little steps in the right direction would lead him to his bigger overall goal of being the healthiest he can be. Helping my Mom and Dad be at ease would in turn help me to be more at ease, especially since I wasn’t going to be able to be there on a daily basis. That all led me to one thought – Personal Kanban.

So I sat down at the dining room table and I began to make a mobility Personal Kanban for my father. I thought if he was able to get up 3 times a day and be mobile (walking or going up and down stairs) this would help him greatly in achieving his goal for overall health. So I set up 3 times a week for a full week.

15 minutes each day 3 times a day.

We knew when he arrived home that stairs were not going to be mastered right away, all we wanted was for him to be mobile as much as he could handle. Stairs would eventually make it into the mix, but we had to patient, and that was understood.

WIP lane and Completed lane

I explained to both my father and my Mom that when he got up his first stop would be the Personal Kanban to move over a sticky note into the WIP lane. After he was up and moving as long as he could handle on his way back to where he wanted to rest he should then move the sticky note into the completed lane. I knew that there would be days that he might not move one sticky note over because he wouldn’t have the strength to exercise, but that was okay. He would be able to in effect grow into this Personal Kanban. Although I knew it was very ambitious to start off with, I had faith and knew he’d eventually grow into it.

Additional Workouts

By adding an additional ‘holding pen’ at the bottom of the ready lane of additional workouts this would be another way to allow him to grow into the Personal Kanban as he became stronger and stronger. If he didn’t get into these additional workouts for a long time, that was fine. I wanted them to be a visual goal for him to reach for.

This is the mobility Personal Kanban all set and ready to go.

Action on the mobility Personal Kanban

Since we set this mobility Personal Kanban up, my father has used it. Although he has not gotten the use out of it that he/we wished for because unfortunately he has been very sick and had several set backs. He has just had a second surgery to correct some complications and will soon be home again and this will be there for him. He has already talked to me about being excited to complete it and have my Mom take a photograph for me. 😀 This Personal Kanban is a huge visual motivator for him. Sometimes when people aren’t feeling well and go through a long period of being sick, they can’t see anything positive, this Personal Kanban has shown him visually that even 15 minutes of mobility (something we take for granted) is a positive step forward.

Now that we had tackled the first part of our overall goal, we needed to tackle the second part. After I arrived back at the house with the 19 prescriptions I knew this was Personal Kanban territory. I sat at the table for 2 1/2 hours sorting through all the prescriptions. Putting them together not only for each day of the week but also for the time of each day that they would need to be taken. As they sorted out it was apparent that the medicines were going to have to be done at 4 times each day. Once in the morning, at 12 noon, at 4pm and after dinner in the evening.

I went right to work designing the Medicine Personal Kanban.

Medicine Tracking Personal Kanban

I set it up with all days of the week listed and then the sticky notes each with the time of day the medicines were due. When the proper container (I had set up containers with the day and time on it and the proper medicines inside) was given to my father and he took them then the sticky note from the ‘med times‘ lane was then moved over to the ‘taken‘ lane.

You will note the orange sticky added, on this day he required an additional medicine added to his regimen.

Even when something unexpected popped up, like an additional medicine added to his regimen, my Mom would then add an additional sticky note in the proper area so that the newly added medicine would not be forgotten.

Almost completed, keeping every medicine on track.

You will notice there is no WIP lane on this Personal Kanban, that is because the taking of the medicine is an immediate task, therefore I decided to skip the WIP lane.

Keeping 19 prescriptions in order and given in a timely fashion is a daunting task. This by far has been one of the most successful Personal Kanbans I have ever designed. My Mom has told me repeatedly that she had no clue how she was going to manage all of the medicines he came home with and that this medicine tracker Personal Kanban has been a Godsend for her and my father. It eased her mind and I know it certainly eased my mind knowing that he was getting all the proper medicines at the proper times.

Going in to this experience I knew that health is not an exact science. But this is a lesson that is sometimes hard to grasp. It was very important to remember especially with the mobility Personal Kanban, this was not going to be like any previous one we had used. This board was going to depend on good health. I’ve been using Personal Kanban long enough to fully expect a board to evolve with my needs . I learned so much from the use of this board. Usually I set up a board, sit down and start tackling and moving tasks into the WIP lane and then over to the completed lane and ta-da I am done. This was not the case with our mobility Personal Kanban. There were tasks in the ready lane but sometimes because of ‘health complications‘ those tasks would not be done, but that was okay. We learned that even moving one sticky note over on a particular week was a step in the right direction. Small steps leading the way to a bigger overall healthy goal.

It is very difficult to help aid your family when they are not in the same geographical area that you are in, these two Personal Kanbans have helped my family immensely. I know that they will continue to do so as my father continues to regain his health back and that gives us a little more piece of mind moving forward.

Follow me on twitter: @topsurf


Want to know more on Personal Kanban? Visit the Personal Kanban website. I highly recommend purchasing the book: Personal Kanban Mapping Work / Navigating Life by Tonianne DeMaria Barry and Jim Benson.