My heart put me in education. Their hearts made education the perfect fit.

Mike Azzalina

If I could go back to an alternate universe and meet the 16 year old version of myself, I would warn him of what was coming. He would be annoyed at the cautionary tales that he has heard since he was eleven, causing them to be met with an eye roll directly back to the baseball and glove undoubtedly attached to my young me’s hands. But I would persist in connecting, assuring him I knew how he felt.

Embarrassed. Aware, but shamed. In my head, the heart condition that haunted my every thought only existed to torture me slowly, but I was promised it wasn’t life-altering. Easy to say when you aren’t a teenager who collapses in front of his peers multiple times a week. And then, in 2004, it changed everything about my life. 

But it actually improved my pathless plan toward hope and purpose. Because of the educators who stuck by me, it helped me to understand that I too was called to be an educator.

Fast forward 19 years, I was in a weird place on my journey. Heading into my second year of the job I saw as my dream, the doubt and stressors began to creep into my head. The life of a principal was taking its toll on my physical health. The heart condition that had been buried deep in the alleys of memory lane had once again turned on their headlights and taken me captive. It was about to change my life…yet again.

Six episodes in three months. Why is this happening?

I poured my heart (pun sort of intended) into the job. The need for people to feel loved, supported, and valued at our school was paramount on the list of goals. It stood, in bold letters, underlined again and again, above test scores and which curriculum we would be using. Please know that I never turned a blind eye to those items, but my belief was always that if students connected with us, they would learn and perform. 

After another heart episode taunted me around this very time last summer, I met with a friend of mine who had recently left public education. She was traveling the country, delivering professional development in the work she was most passionate about, making her mark in a different way.

“Mike, it is an impact larger than you can ever imagine,” I remember her beaming as she talked about her new life. 

Three months passed after that conversation under the setting August sun. The leaves changed, snow fell, but my heart was steadfast in its messaging to me: Mike, it’s time.

Leaving was the most difficult decision that I have ever made. Walking away from a culture of love, accountability, and support tasted like spoiled irony. But it was a choice that needed to be swallowed.

Mike, it is an impact larger than you can ever imagine. What would my impact be? What could I give back to the world of education that it was either missing or a piece that needed a reminder? I owed the public sector of education an enormous “thank you.” Education is a true enigma. It brought me some of the most challenging days with big things that sometimes made me loathe it, while allowing me to grow simultaneously. However, it also brought me thousands of little hearts to impact and love. So for that, I would be forever grateful.

My heart put me in education. Their hearts made education the perfect fit. And when my own took it all away, I would be damned if I would be held back from finding a way to reconnect to the world I loved so much.

Sitting here, seven months since my last day as a principal, I feel like I am still searching for my impact. As someone who led with a relationships first mentality, working with the International Institute for Restorative Practices felt like the perfect fit. Traveling around the country, I have had the honor of meeting with educators who are so passionately engaged in connecting with their students. Hearing their stories continues to be the reminder of why this work matters. 

After spending a couple of days with educators, I have heard about how our time together changed their lives, professionally and personally.

“I had this conversation with my wife last night and it is going to change how we interact with one another.”

“My son was shocked when I did something restoratively with him last night instead of for him.”

“Mike, I am going to coach in a very different way now because of this. Thank you.”

And I love hearing that, but I am missing that direct link. I crave the energy of a building on a sunny Friday morning. The ability to make the student smile after a morning I could never imagine is no longer. Positively impacting staff members who are having trouble believing in anything they do has fallen off a cliff. The chance to open a child’s eyes to accomplishing goals they never saw attainable has disappeared. I enjoy what I am doing, but honestly hope to find the building again when the time is right. My impact came from long-standing relationships.

My journey has been entirely rooted in those exact relationships. It is a story of hopelessness turned hope because of the people who devoted themselves to connecting with me during the most difficult periods of my life. The people who made an impact larger than they could ever imagine. Since leaving my building, I have had multiple opportunities to share my story with schools, students preparing to be teachers, and many others. Watching their eyes go from sadness to hopeful during the span of that story has given me some of that missing vigor.

My story, Heartbeats, will soon be hitting shelves, giving a spotlight to the educators who saw me when I was unable to breathe on my own, and provided me with oxygen. The new purpose is to serve as a walking reminder of just how extensive an impact educators can have on students and one another. In our current world, the noise can make it incredibly difficult to believe that we matter. I am here to drown it out with a simple message of hope: You are loved. You matter. You’re really freakin’ important. 

So I go back to that question I asked myself earlier. What would my impact be? What can I give back? It’s my story, the simple reminder…

To make an impact greater than we can ever imagine.


Mike Azzalina spent 16 years in public education as a second grade teacher, assistant principal, and principal across elementary and middle schools. During this time, Mike found his passion in learning the stories of his students and using those to build effective, engaging learning opportunities for them. He found that his investment in their stories allowed for him to better understand their experiences and what made them tick. Mike has turned his passion for stories and their impacts into a podcast called The Prequel.  During his time in schools, Mike was trained in restorative practices and worked to implement it into his leadership. He was able to do so while also traveling as a contracted instructor for the International Institute for Restorative Practices. 

Mike currently works full time as an Instructor and Implementation Coach for the IIRP. He earned his Bachelor in Elementary Education from Elizabethtown College, Master of Curriculum and Instruction from Penn State University, and Master of Educational Leadership from the American College of Education. He is currently working toward his graduate certificate in Restorative Practices through the IIRP.  Despite having to step away from his principal role for health reasons in 2023, he is dedicated to the world of education and providing an environment in which students are confident in their abilities to learn because they feel they are loved and that their voices matter. Mike is a rising author and public motivational speaker with the goal of passing along his passion to educators everywhere.

Disrupt by Amplifying Artificial Intelligence Skills

How will artificial intelligence disrupt teaching and learning in schools?

Dr. Erik Youngman

ChatGPT has increased conversations about artificial intelligence. ChatGPT is a trained chatbot processing tool driven by AI technology that can provide a thorough human-like response  to questions or instructions. First released to the public in November of 2022, ChatGPT continues to be a hot topic among educators who passionately investigate, discuss, and dispute positives and negatives associated with this emerging technology.

AI could be interpreted as complex, dangerous, miraculous, and/or exciting. With that being said, AI and automation will drastically change processes, expectations, education, life, and human job opportunities.  Jobs such as telemarketers, tax preparers, insurance underwriters, legal secretaries, loan officers, and credit analysts have a much higher probability of automation drastically impacting their jobs compared to those in education. However, educators can disrupt by amplifying the impact that artificial intelligence has while teaching and learning.

Demands for AI will increase as benefits are realized. We need to appreciate evolving needs and opportunities to understand technology changes for both ourselves and our students. Educators should also discuss criteria for when students or staff could use AI as well as criteria for when and how they  should not use AI.  We must also investigate how or when AI can help make better decisions based on recommendations from data; simplify information; enhance productivity, efficiency, and impact; understand complex tasks; or carry out complex commands.

How will you empower educators and students at a time where the usage, speed, strength, and impact of AI are greater than ever before; while simultaneously and ironically also being the least used, slowest, weakest, and least impactful it will ever be? Rather than focusing on the challenges and ambiguity associated with teaching and learning with AI, appreciate the benefits and maximize the opportunities.

Educators (and people in general) continue to learn more about AI which rapidly evolves daily.  This independent and collaborative learning can be enhanced with specific skills.  The guiding words for artificial intelligence skills can be framed around the acronym A.R.T.I.F.I.C.I.A.L.  The resulting guiding words are adaptability, resilience, teamwork, inquisitiveness, focus, improvement, communication, interpretation, application, and learning. 

Adaptability:  Recognize, embrace, and celebrate reasons and opportunities to change mindset, thinking, expectations, plans, strategies, communication, and commitment. Creatively demonstrate cognitive flexibility by making modifications, pivoting, or tinkering with iterations.  Tweaks can happen earlier or later in the process, by focusing on inputs or results.

Resilience:  Courageously understand and control emotions, effort, and problem-solving while resourcefully learning from mistakes, challenges, and ambiguity with a growth mindset. Focus on what you can control such as your thinking, actions, reactions, energy, attitude, and enthusiasm when not successful YET.  Manage stress, brainstorm solutions, and build momentum while not taking criticism personally.  Appreciate growth and progress to inspire persistence through challenges and mistakes.

Teamwork:  Collaborate by empathetically understanding and respecting others while adding value to common goals by focusing on interpersonal relationship-building skills. Enhance collaboration by focusing on belonging, connections, integrity, organization, and open mindedness  to different perspectives and ideas.

Inquisitiveness:  Curiously imagine, investigate, brainstorm, invent, create, dream, and question. Construct your own meaning by engaging in reflection and active questioning. Wonder why while evaluating what could change, increase, or decrease. Know where and how to find information as well as how and when to ask for help.

Focus:  Focus on impactful variables, timing, and reasons. Reduce distractions and multi-tasking, focus on the moment, and take breaks.  Focus independently and collaboratively to identify values, goals, and growth indicators that can be shared and celebrated. 

Improvement:  Ethically and proudly enhance short- and long-term effectiveness, efficiency, and quality based on feedback and reflection. Appreciate the journey, conversations, incremental progress, and small wins, not just the goal or perceived destination.

Communication:  Clearly, thoughtfully, and accurately exchange information with computers and humans via effective word choice.  Communication could be written, verbal, or non-verbal and could serve different purposes such as persuading, presenting, negotiating, networking, or teaching.  Enhance impact with appropriate body language, tone of voice; listening (or reading) to understand; and aligning with shared goals, purposes, or visions.

Interpretation:  Seek to understand ambiguity, nuances, and opportunities with logical, efficient, and resourceful reasoning, analysis, and critical thinking.  Leverage statistics, probability, and mathematics skills to categorize, classify, apply, process, predict, adapt, analyze, and explain algorithms, systems, graphs, applications, structures, and models.  Reason by logically and creatively problem-solving to break into smaller problems, steps, and goals.  Calculate risks, challenges, implications and impacts to determine causes and effects to maximize productivity and success.

Application:  Enhance the understanding and impact of concepts, skills, and topics by building on prior experiences and making connections.    Application can move beyond the classroom, schools, and school districts with reflection before, during, and after activities.

Learning:  Develop a deeper understanding through learning, feedback, practicing, and training.  Seek, share, and learn from feedback while learning, unlearning, and teaching others.

When we appreciate the strengths and possibilities of AI, we can amplify possibilities by maximizing educator use of artificial intelligence to help students learn, grow, and lead in an evolving world.  We must recognize and embrace the ambiguity and challenges associated with AI while ultimately enhancing the impact and effectiveness of teaching and learning.

The acronym A.R.T.I.F.I.C.I.A.L. empowers educators and learners to disrupt by leveraging these artificial intelligence skills by adapting resiliently with teamwork while being inquisitive and staying focused on improvement as we communicate interpretations and applications to learn, teach, and lead. 

What different ways can we enhance the power of artificial intelligence?


Dr. Erik Youngman is an education leader who is passionate about topics such as homework, growth mindset, grading, and leadership.  His first book, 12 Characteristics of Deliberate Homework, defines what deliberate homework looks like and provides relevant, actionable suggestions to guide homework decisions. Erik has also written numerous blogs about growth mindset. His latest project is a children’s book about growth mindset, The Magic of Growth Mindset, focused on maximizing the power of yet.

PVNC Press Release

Canada’s Fastest Growing EdTech Consulting Company To Teach 1500 Ontario Students How To Code

Artificial Intelligence and ChatGPT are quickly consuming classroom conversations all over the globe but without much talk about assessment and evaluation, Code Breaker’s Brian Aspinall doesn’t predict much to change.

“We continue to preach risk taking and embracing failure but so many students and educators live, breathe, and work within systems in which failure is punished and there is far too much risk in not getting the grade.”

The Code Breaker team, lead by Brian Aspinall and Daphne McMenemy, recently spent three full days working with educators from the Peterborough Victoria Northumberland and Clarington Catholic School Board to develop multiple ways to integrate Computer Science learning into elementary classrooms. 

“This was the most meaningful pd I’ve attended in a while,” said one participant. “Their knowledge of curriculum connections was outstanding and inspiring!”

Following the onsite visits, the team from Code Breaker is on schedule to deliver 8 virtual coding workshops to over 1500 grades 2 and 4  students from 70+ classrooms from the Peterborough, Ontario area.

“If you can learn to code, you can code to learn,” Aspinall says with regards to starting coding as early as kindergarten. 

The vision of the Peterborough Victoria Northumberland and Clarington (PVNC) Catholic District School Board is to create a culture of faith, hope, and love to ensure equity and well-being.

Code Breaker Inc. has become a consulting and publishing powerhouse in the education space across the globe. Offering professional development from an array of backgrounds, experiences, cultures and climates, and providing quality leadership, consulting, keynotes, and workshops, the company embodies its mission statement in every way.

Official Press Release