My One Word 2018

It is January 1st 2018. This past week I have taken time to gratefully reflect on 2017, for which my #oneword was Breathe. It was on my lips at all times. I consciously took time to breathe, whether to take in a moment or simply to pause the busyness of life. I was able to manage the stresses of moving our family and taking on a new role in a new school district. Last year I need to breathe. Last year I used my own version of the process to find my word and it worked for me. However the challenges that I face everyday give me pause and as I contemplate my #oneword for 2018, I realize I need something more.

This year’s process was much more intentional than last December. I took some time to ask myself what I need. As I thought through what I need it became clear that in different situations I need different things, which led me to divide my needs into categories of work, family, friends, and faith. I was able to generate words describing what I need to be my best me. Some of the repeated words were love, caring, empathy and consistency. The next step for me was to answer the question “What is in my way?” I wrestled with this one as much of what is preventing me from having what I need is in my mind. I realized that my deficit-thinking can be a barrier to the important work that I do, as well as, the interactions that I have with my family. These thoughts led me to the next question of “What needs to go?” That was an easy one! Negativity, self-doubt and guilt all quickly came to mind.

I let all those words and thoughts marinate. I read. I spent time reconnecting with friends and family. I was present. I reflected. I prayed. All the while thinking about the questions I had answered. All the while seeking my word for 2018.

I considered many words including intentional, seek, hope, love, positive, give, and strength. If you have completed this process you will know that it is not easy! And yet in the midst of these potentially wonderful words, another emerged…

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Definition of Courage (Dictionary.com) noun

1. the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty,danger, pain, etc., without fear; bravery.

2. Obsolete. the heart as the source of emotion.

While the definition of courage alone is compelling the Latin root cor of courage held a truth I couldn’t ignore: “from Latin cor “heart” which remains a common metaphor for inner strength.” I need inner strength which comes from my heart.

Why courage?

I need courage to parent. I have to be able to face challenges with my children without fear. I must hold firm to my beliefs while my kids challenge me. Especially with my middle schooler! This is uncharted territory. Being brave is not easy. I also need to be vulnerable so that they can learn with me, from my mistakes. I will be courageous, to dare greatly, without shame, just love.

I need courage to carry out the work that I am passionate about. I need courage to lead with my heart. I have to be brave as we work together to change what school looks like. I don’t have all the answers, no one does. Courage will look different at different times. At this moment in time, I will have courage to stay the course.

I need courage to run. I may fail; I set goals anyways. I know that I am capable of far more than I have accomplished and to that end I will be courageous and train harder. I will have the courage to trust the plan, when temptations to veer off arise.

I look forward to living courageously through 2018. 

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Celebrate Monday?

#celebratemonday

This is not the typical way we ring in the new week. If you have a chance check out the hashtag either on Twitter or as a Google Search. American’s traditionally don’t celebrate Monday. Why not? I found an interesting take on this idea on a blog from the Huffington Post. Ed Harrold says,

“Monday is the “beginning” of another cycle of work/life balance; or imbalance. If your life is not moving in the direction you would like, Mondays really probably don’t feel very good. They could be a representation of everything that’s going wrong. If that’s the case, we’re reliving that weekly. And, the energy that it takes to bring us back to neutral is exhausting.”

Interesting perspective. I wonder if people feel this way, do they equally dislike Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday? Imbalance is not fun. I know. I seek balance each and every day. It is illusive. When I think I am really knocking it out of the park at school, meaning communication is timely, meetings lead to action, and I am able to be in classrooms, there is nagging worry that I am neglecting my family. When I feel fulfilled by my time with family, meaning we spent time creating a memory, talked openly and laughed together, I worry that I did not do enough for my staff and students. Do you see how this can be a vicious cycle? I digress, so what about Mondays?

There was a time that I did not like Mondays.

When I was in school: Mondays meant an end to the freedoms of my weekend; the need to tolerate the mundane tasks of school.

When I… Hmmm… When… No… Only when I was a student in school? Let me qualify that statement. It is true that when I was a student, I did not always like school, but not in its entirety. There were good years, really good years. There were bad years, especially when I had to take classes whose relevance to my life was unclear or I had a teacher who I did not believe cared about me. This topic could easily be its own blog post! Since I have been a working professional, however, I haven’t dreaded Mondays.

When I taught, I looked forward to the excitement of a new week! I loved hearing about my students weekend adventures during Monday’s morning meetings. I was excited for the lessons I had prepared, especially when there were lab activities. I enjoyed eating lunch with my team and hearing about their weekends. As an administrator I look forward to the possibilities each day holds. As each day is unpredictable, it is a wonder to see how it unfolds. I get excited to see staff and students. I enjoy the sharing we do in our advisory group! I look forward to seeing the team progressing towards our goals. It seems to me that I have been blessed! In my office you will find these words “Do what you love, love what you do.” No truer words describe my feelings towards my career choice. Which is why #celebratemonday was not something I thought much about.

What is celebrate Monday?  Here is an excerpt from Team ISTE’s article on 10/10/2016

Nearly four years ago, Sean Gaillard spent a snow day catching up on some reading. Little did he know that an idea that would come to him that day would spark a movement.

Gaillard, a former North Carolina high school principal, an ISTE 2016 presenter, a BAM Radio Network blogger and now an education adviser for Buncee, was reading School Culture Rewired: How to Define, Assess and Transform It when a few words in bold print struck him: “What if we celebrated Mondays?”

The authors, Steve Gruenert and Todd Whitaker, were writing about creating an uplifting school culture for students and teachers. Along the way, they raised a question about what it would look like if instead of anticipating the weekend (TGIF and the like), we flipped it, and instead looked forward to Monday.

After spending some time reflecting on the idea, Gaillard says he had a “genius moment.” He began to wonder how he might make that happen at the school he was working for at the time and how he could lead the movement.

“I was trying to get teachers involved in PLNs (professional learning networks) and using social media, and I thought about creating a hashtag and using it as a way to highlight the best practices of our teachers to uplift them and, by example, encourage kids to be responsible digital citizens,” Gaillard explains.

And with that, #CelebrateMonday was born.

This got me thinking… how can we #celebratemonday? How can we let our students know that we are thrilled to have them back with us after the weekend?

How can we make Monday the best day of the week?

 

Being thankful isn’t always easy

As I sit here, following a weekend full of family fun, I want to reflect about how much I have to be thankful for. I really want to reflect. I need to reflect, to focus on this thankfulness. I need to because I often forget to count the blessings that have been bestowed upon me. I need to because it is easy to not do. Right now, this is hard. I am fighting it. I. Don’t. Want. To.

There are days that I get frustrated. Frustrated at the challenging work I am engaged in. Frustrated with not having enough time with my family, to be a mom and a wife. Am I enough at home? Do I spend enough time with my kids and husband? Frustrated with myself for not being enough at work. Are we engaging in the right work? Is our focus clear? Do I make every decision because it is best for kids? That feeling of not enough is insidious. It pervades my thoughts. Am I ever enough? Right now? Probably not… yet. I am still transitioning to this next chapter in my life and I work at it everyday. Some days I make more progress than others. I surround myself with incredible people who lift me up and who I learn from. I ask questions, seek to understand and laugh along the way. And for that I am thankful!

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I am thankful for the people in my life, those who have been here for the long haul and those more recently acquired. I am thankful for my family who provides me a stable base from which to grow and explore. Who also cherishes our moments together and memories created over all else. I am thankful for their love of adventure and willingness to be in the moment. I am thankful for my friends, including those who have come and gone, yet impacted me in some way. Those friends who I don’t talk to as much as I would like, yet when we are back together, feels like yesterday that we saw one another. I am thankful for their understanding that life sometimes gets in the way, but they know that I value them. I am thankful for my education family, both near and far, old and new, who push my thinking and make me a better leader everyday. I am especially thankful for my newest education family at WMS for trusting me as we navigate these new waters!

I am thankful for change. That might sound strange. Who likes change? I do. Even as a teacher I liked that each year was a fresh start with new students. I enjoyed the challenge of keeping my teaching fresh and fun for our learning community. As an administrator, I enjoy the fact that everyday is different and I can’t predict how it will go! It keeps me on my toes! Change is good for me. I am not talking change for change sake. I am talking necessary change to improve our educational practice. Change that focuses on teachers and students building relationships with one another, exploring the best ways for us to engage our learners, and being brave enough to reflect on what we do and adjust course. I am thankful to work in a district that understands that “doing school” is not the work we should be engaged in; we need to transform school for our kids. Now that is an exciting proposition.

While there are times that I don’t feel I am enough, I am thankful for those around me who help me refocus on what matters. I am thankful for the opportunities that have been afforded me both personally and professionally, and I look forward to what is yet to come. I often say to my family, positivity is a choice, you can choose to be negative towards a situation or you can choose to positive. I think thankfulness is a choice too. I chose to be thankful.

What do you choose?

Every Opportunity

Everyday we are blessed with multiple opportunities to build bridges with other humans. These opportunities may be as simple as sharing smiley “Good Morning!” in passing, to greeting each student as they enter our classroom, to having a conversation about a family member’s ongoing health issues. Whatever the opportunity, take it!

Reflecting back on my teaching years, I did everything I could to meet the needs of all learners inside my four walls. Occasionally I would need assistance, but I worked very hard to build strong relationships with my students and we usually worked it out! As an administrator and lead learner, I am working my tail off to meet the needs of our learners within these walls, so why do I feel like I am coming up short?

When I first started out in the classroom we functioned in a pretty traditional manner. I worked with students to engage with my hands on science curriculum and only contacted home when I felt necessary. The majority of my students were compliant. They did what they needed to do to earn the grade that they wanted. I knew very little about my students. Therefore my curriculum lacked differentiation. It was a “one size fits all” model, I taught to the middle and it seemed to work for the kids and myself. Looking back I cringe at that reflection of my first four years of teaching. Bur before I beat myself up, knowing that hindsight is 20/20, I have to give myself credit for doing the best that I could with the resources I had.

At that time my PLN was the teachers on my team and floor with only a few whom I really sought advice from. The principal who hired me was let go my second year for questionable ethical practices. We had an interim principal for the remainder of that year, then welcomed a newbie principal the next. I would say three principals in four years makes for an interesting set of circumstances.

Four year later I moved into a new role, in a new district. I made some changes to how I approached teaching. Gone were the days of lecture, notes and labs. I wanted to know who my students were and what they believed about themselves. I was adamant that we needed to establish a classroom community and build strong relationships with and among my students. I greeted each student, at the door, everyday, shaking their hands when they entered the room. We shared good news everyday and most days I would launch them on their next hour with a quote or short story. We developed our classroom social contract together. I even incorporated a loose version of Monday Meeting along with weekly team building activities. I was evolving to meet the needs of my learners, who were also evolving. I also had a supportive and consistent Principal this time too! I took every opportunity to talk to my students, to learn about each of them and make it clear that I cared about them.

It was evident that my students needed a safe place. My students needed to know about me. My students needed to understand why what were doing was relevant to them in that moment. They needed to know that I cared more about them than about what I was teaching them. We were evolving together and having fun doing it.

I believe our team at Whitnall Middle School is evolving too! We have had quite a whirlwind year of changes between the new master schedule, larger class sizes, embracing a push-in special education model, team and content collaboration, as well as trying out co-teaching. Sometimes it is difficult to see what has remained constant.

Every Opportunity

We are still able to take every opportunity and make it meaningful. We have every opportunity to build a bridge and develop a relationship with our students. We have the opportunity to be in the hall or at our doorway during transition times to check in with students or have a quick conversation. We have the opportunity to greet each student when they enter our classroom so that they are seen and know that we care. We have the opportunity to launch students to their next class with a positive message. We have the opportunity in any supervisory role (lunch, recess, before school and after school) to engage students in a conversation.

It is up to us to take EVERY OPPORTUNITY to get to know our learners! It is up to us to be purposeful with every interaction. We need to take the time. It is worth it.

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Why Together is Better

I imagine most you have heard the acronym for TEAM – TOGETHER EVERYONE ACHIEVES MORE. I posted this acronym in my classroom and we used it as a sort of mantra. My students and I were a community of learners. We took time to share good news with one another everyday. I greeted my students at the door everyday. We held each other to our collaboratively derived social contract everyday. We knew that we could build upon one another’s strengths and come to a better product together, rather than alone. We truly lived the acronym Together Everyone Achieves More.

That acronym was played out this weekend while participating in #thefall50, a 50 mile relay run in Door County. 480 teams of two or more runners converged on the Door County peninsula to cover 50 miles at 1895 feet of elevation gain against 15-30 mph headwinds in under 10 hours!

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This event was a true TEAM activity

TOGETHER

Our team woke up and drove to the start. A quick photo of all five of us together was taken just before I dashed to the wave start. The first wave was off at 7:45AM. The course is beautiful! The fall colors were at peak intensity, the lake could be seen through the trees and I befriended a fellow runner who continued to pass me and be passed by me during our leg. 5.4 miles and 49 minutes later, I ran into the exchange point to the cheers of my teammates handing off the bracelet to our second leg’s runner. While I was happy with my effort, I knew that I had two more legs to go, so I rehydrated, lightly stretched and we were off to support our teammate. We found a spot along the route to cheer her on, so we stopped and waited for her to arrive. This was no idle waiting game, we rang our cow bell loud and proud for every runner who crossed our path! We cheered for the young and old, fast and slow, team or solo runner alike. When our teammate came we may have been a little more emphatic because we knew the together we would achieve more. We piled back in the car to meet her at the next checkpoint at which we exuberantly greeted her!

This cycle continued throughout the day. Any combination of four teammates in the support vehicle while one pounded the pavement. We strove to find opportunities to cheer one another on along the route. As the day progressed the wind picked up. We tackled each hill and each windy stretch with gusto. We came into each checkpoint with a smile, knowing that we were in this together. We began the day together and we would end the day together.   

EVERYONE

All along the course were brave solo runners, traipsing each of the 10 legs of this 50 mile course on their own. There 75 men and women who committed to completing the entire 50 miles as a solo entry. However, that designation may not be entirely accurate. The teams who entered were obviously together. You could see paint on cars indicating team names and progress. While solo runners came to a checkpoint, they did not hand anything off, rather they were wrapped in support by their team. Some had spouses, family members or friends meet them to provide hydration and energy options. A common theme emerged. Everyone had a team that supported them! Running 50 miles in under 11 hours is not something you can do on your own. These teams are critical for everyone’s success.

ACHIEVES

There were some amazing achievements at this event. Team members ran their fastest legs they have had. Solo runners finished in 7 hours. I conquered one of the toughest courses I have faced this year without letting my self-talk get the better of me. I stayed positive, counted my blessings and took in the beauty that surrounded me. I ran without any technology. I looked for inspiration in my surroundings and my fellow runners. Each leg I ran, I worked to catch up to others, and one by one I passed those unsuspecting competitors. I even struggled through a side ache, annoying enough that it would have forced me to walk a few years ago. I was able to achieve because I knew my team was counting on me and they would be there to support me when I needed it.

MORE

What is more? More is better. More is improvement. More to a runner is farther, faster, stronger. More is making the impossible a reality. More is running my last leg the fastest of the day! More is digging deeper than you think you can and achieving more than you dreamed. More is encouraging the runners you pass. More is being encouraged by the runners who pass you. Saturday #theFall50 morphed from 480 team and 75 solo entries to one team, united in the quest to conquer these tough 50 miles, supporting all participants along the way.

Teams achieve more than individuals.

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In all aspects of life.

Sometimes the support is obvious, sometimes it is subtle.

Embrace your team.

You will not regret it!

Leading by Example

Leadership is complicated. Leadership is a serious responsibility. Leadership drives change.

Those statements scare some away, as leadership is not for the faint of heart. And there are some who embrace the complexity, responsibility and change. I definitely fall into the latter category.

Last week I was asked if the job of principal is too complex? Initially I thought complex, yes, but too complex? It is only as complex as you make it! Being a leader requires you to know “who you are, what you stand for and lead by example,” a quote whose origin is unknown and that I shared with my students every Friday to launch them into the weekend.

So who am I?

I love my people. I am a firm believer in the need for a trusting culture to support the sweeping changes that need to take place in education today. I purposefully take time each day to ask staff how they are doing, leave positive notes, and make good news calls home. I value building relationships with all members of my learning community so that I am better able to serve them. I am a learner who has learned that our public educational system, which has changed very little over the past 100+ years, needs a major overhaul. We can do better for our children, but we have to be willing to step out of our comfort zones, take risks, and make mistakes. No longer can I accept classrooms where desks are in rows, worksheets as common practice and where one paper-pencil test is considered a valid assessment, as being best practices. Students need opportunities to struggle, ask deep questions and seek answers. Classrooms should be a hive of active collaboration where a teacher facilitates learning, rather than dispensing knowledge. It is imperative that educators today remember that we teach children, not content and what may be good for one may not meet the needs of all. I am a connected educator, who is constantly learning from my tribe. I read, ask questions, join Twitter chats and am part of multiple Voxer groups with educational leaders and experts from across the country willing to share advice at the drop of a hat. “Many hands make light work” and see some amazing things happening in education across the country! I am a collaborator who prefers to have multiple team members at the table. We are stronger together. The most successful changes that I have been a part of were when the many voices came together in consensus. It is a beautiful thing!

What do I stand for?

  • I stand for learning.

I LOVE learning. I value learning. I model the joy of learning. I expect teachers to make learning fun for our students. If learning is not valued and enjoyed, it is not learning. It is compliance, the enemy of learning.

  • I stand for kids.

ALL kids. ALL kids deserve a joyful education regardless of the color of their skin, religion they practice, gender, learning challenge they are working to overcome, or behavior they display. They are all our kids. Are the decisions we make based on what is best for kids? If not, then it is time to rethink!

  • I stand for acceptance, kindness and love.

I accept people for who they are, beautifully made through their life experiences, challenges and baggage. I hope others choose to accept me and all of my flaws. Kindness is essential in every interaction. We are all doing the best that we can, so the least we can do is speak kindly to one another. “Love wins, love always wins.” Words I live by, shared by author Mitch Album.

  • I stand for inclusion.

Inclusion in programming for our students. Inclusion in social groups, both students and staff. My dream is to work in a school where everyone belongs and exclusive groups don’t exist. We are better together. Period.

How do I lead by example?

I teach an advisory class. I supervise lunches and dismissal. I am in classrooms everyday. I make a good news call of the day to a student’s parents. I play with students at recess. I ask students how they are doing and greet everyone I pass in the halls. I check in with staff to see how things are going. I provide ongoing feedback to staff members. I challenge the status quo. I ask a lot of questions. I listen. I learn. Constantly. I work to be better and do better, always improving. I find ways to say yes.

So, is the job of principal too complex? Not too complex, but definitely complex! So all you leaders out there, (yes WMS staff, each one of you is a leader whether you realize it or not!) take a moment to reflect on the three questions identified above: who are you, what do you stand for, and how do you lead by example?

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The Importance of Relationships

Last week, Chris shared his answers to to an old blog post by George Couros called “5 Questions You Should Ask Your Leader”.  As I contemplated my blog post this week, I kept coming back to these questions and thought it might be nice for you to have my perspective on these questions too. If you recall at our last staff meeting, I may have mentioned that this year I am leading differently than I have in the past. One of my goals is to be very clear about my values and beliefs. Where in years past I may have held back sharing my truth, this year I am embracing vulnerability and being completely open. I look forward to talking more about these ideas

  1.  What are some ways you connect with your school community (fostering effective relationships)?

I believe that relationships are The Most Important aspect of our work! Relationships cannot be overstated. We need to connect to our students, their parents, and our colleagues. The best way that I have found to connect with the school community is to be available. I strive to be out of my office for the majority of the day, and I know I can be better! I also believe that effective communication helps develop relationships, which is why the Friday Focus and In the Middle are important for our front office team to develop. I hope to continue sharing my truth through these weekly communications.

 

  1.  What are some areas of teaching and learning that you can lead in the school (Instructional Leadership)?  Instructional leadership is such an important aspect of my position. I understand that there are also managerial aspects to an administrator’s role. Finding a balance between these responsibilities can be a challenge and when it happens I can provide leadership in the following areas:
  • Community Building in the Classroom (Capturing Kids Hearts, Love and Logic)
  • Establishing Respect and Rapport
  • Coaching Cycles/ Formative Feedback Loops
  • Curriculum Development (UbD)
  • Technology Integration
  • Relevance
  • Formative Assessment strategies
  • Student motivation
  • Transition programming

 

  1.  What are you hoping teaching and learning looks like in your school and how do you communicate that vision (Embodying Visionary Leadership)?  

My hope is that we, collectively and inclusively Love Our People, all of our people. This starts with our colleagues including teachers, aides, custodian, office and kitchen staff. This includes ALL of our students, students who are typically programmed, those who have a support program in place such as a 504 or IEP, and especially those who push us away. If we treat one another with respect, we are modeling a lifelong skill that will benefit our students for the rest of their lives. We also develop trust with one another. Trust is the foundation for success. We can do it alone, but it will be much better if we do the work together. I also want learning to be messy and uncomfortable. As I shared in our first round of grade level meetings, there will always be barriers to overcome, so let’s practice overcoming challenges in school. I believe in communicating this vision in everything that I do and say throughout my day. We will continue to develop these skills as a community through our staff meetings, class meetings and communication home to parents.

 

  1.  How do you build leadership capacity in your schools?  

Everyone in this school is a leader. Whether or not you realize it, you lead every single day. Your leadership has a profound impact on those around you both staff and students. I will strive to provide opportunities for you to channel your gifts through informal and formal roles in the building and for the district. I look forward to seeing some of you step into these roles as the year progresses and look forward to supporting your growth as a leader in this building.

 

  1.  What will be your “fingerprints” on this building after you leave (creating sustainable change)?

My “fingerprints”? I prefer our fingerprints. What will we do to create sustainable change? I believe we need to establish an inclusive, positive and supportive building culture. What do I mean by that? Peter Drucker wisely said “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” If we want to do anything well we need to be sure that our culture is inclusive, positive and supportive, otherwise all efforts of implementing strategy such as PBIS, will be for naught. At Whitnall Middle School, we struggle with pockets of positive culture. These pockets are exclusive groups within our building who support one another in ways that I would expect us ALL to support one another. If culture is defined as “the attitudes and behavior characteristic of a particular social group” then our culture is currently exclusive. Either you are in or you are not. I am not a fan of exclusivity. I believe strongly that as a public institution we need to be inclusive and inclusive across the board. The students that walk in our doors are ALL of our students and we will work hard to do what is best for ALL of them. The staff that walk in the doors are ALL of our colleagues, none better or worse than another, all bringing gifts and talents to share. We are all working towards the same goals and if we unite our efforts there will be no stopping us! If we remain divided, we will never reach our full potential. With a positive, inclusive and supportive building culture for ALL, we will truly be able to soar to great heights with personalizing learning!

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