Sunday, November 20, 2016

Seeing the Light!

   I hung up the phone and heaved a sigh of relief while simultaneously plopping into a comfortable chair and taking a deep breath. Parent conferences completed- check. Follow-up phone calls made, and emails answered- check. Report sent to the office- check. Lesson plans made- not yet. For the moment, I just wanted to sit in silence and catch my breath. I closed my eyes trying to relax, but it was almost a futile attempt. The “to-do list” in my head kept getting longer. I was exhausted! I needed to get to work, but my body wouldn’t move...not yet. And so I closed my eyes, took some deep breaths, and tried to visualize my next steps.
   Now, I’m not saying that you can dream your life away, but visualization is powerful. The neurons in our brain that transmit information interpret imagery as real life action. You’ve probably heard the saying, “Believe it to achieve it.” Performers, athletes, and many successful people have used visualization to increase the likelihood of realizing their dreams. Mentally preparing a lesson, presentation, or using visualization to break down and see the detailed action steps required to achieve one of my goals is something that I’ve always done. If I could see it, I knew that I could overcome any barrier to achieve a goal.
   But what happens when you set a goal, like furthering your education, because you feel compelled to do it not because you can “see it” actualized? This has been my challenge.
   I couldn’t see it. I’d close my eyes and try to envision myself as a principal leading a school. It just didn’t happen. Faded snapshots of being a building leader quickly came and disappeared. I couldn’t hold onto the images. Whenever anyone would make a comment to me about how I should be a principal, I’d smile and joke about why I’d never “move to the dark side.” (We shouldn’t view leadership in that manner by the way.) My calling was in the classroom! So without any real motivation to ever become an administrator, I started down the path thinking that it was a way to further my education. Other options for leadership didn’t seem to exist.
   The last couple of years have been a journey. While others in my cohort spoke and wrote about their excitement of being a school leader, I often asked myself, “Why? Why would I ever want to leave the classroom to be a principal?” My dream job of somehow having one foot in the classroom and one foot with more leadership responsibilities wasn’t available. Friends often said, “Keep going, Sandy. Once you’re in a school around kids, you’ll love it!” And so I grabbed onto that tidbit of hope and stayed somewhat reluctantly in the program.
   Fast forward a couple of years. I’m now finishing up my internship, and all of the course requirements will be completed by the end of January (hopefully). And...I can honestly say that I found a new passion! I can see the light!
   One day while making several classroom visits to help teachers integrate technology into their lessons, I experienced an epiphany. I knew that I was in my “element” as Sir Ken Robinson describes, serving students, teachers, and the broader school community. At that moment, I realized that I had gifts and talents that needed to be shared with more than the students in my classroom. I knew that I could have a larger impact on education. I can’t say that I knew that I’d be a principal some day, but I knew that I was ready to serve kids in a different capacity. I knew that I was ready for the next step. And my heart would always be in the classroom.
   My fixed mindset about what a school leader had to be has changed quite a bit. I envisioned a principal as being hardly anything more than a manager who dealt with upset parents and misbehaved children all day. I have learned a lot over the past couple of years from the LED program, the books that I’ve read, the webinars and classes I attended, and from my students and colleagues. But with all sincerity, I learned more from my PLN about leading and leadership than from any other source.
   An important lesson I learned was that there are many types of leaders and leadership styles. (I’ve always known that, but I’d never made a personal connection.) Although I have many weaknesses, I also have strengths as a leader. I don’t have to pretend to be someone I’m not to lead a school. I don’t have to fit a mold. I can be true to myself. There is a light within me, and I need to let it shine. I can’t let fear stop me from reaching my potential. Although the negative self-talk critic on my shoulder has a pretty loud voice, I have a quiet confidence that I can be a school leader. There’s no denying that I have a lot to learn! But I also know that my strengths of being a people person, of having an insatiable appetite for learning, a love for kids, and a passion for excellent instruction in the classroom will benefit teachers and students. I know that I can help others discover their strengths and light within themselves too. 
   Now when I close my eyes, I smile because I can see myself as a lead learner. The images are clear and in full color! I’m surrounded by other great educators who are student-focused and working with me as a team. We have a shared mission and vision.
I can hear our enthusiasm!
I can see us collaborating!
This will be no ordinary school!

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Time to Listen

I’d seen her many times traveling down the road in her electric wheelchair. Wisps of gray hair poking out from beneath her bright orange beanie along with her Levi jacket and wooden staff across her lap combined to make her a curious site to the passerby. I always wondered who she was and about her story. As I was leaving the grocery store the other day, I saw her. Part of me wanted to introduce myself; the other part told me that I was too busy to stop. I almost passed her. Almost. I stopped and introduced myself.
For the next 20 minutes, I listened intently as her story unfolded. At 80 years old, she made the nearly 4-mile trek to the grocery store and other places because she was fiercely independent. She did have a son and some grandchildren, but they were an hour’s drive away from where she lived. (Their pictures were taped to her staff.) Lynn, originally from Tennessee, was a former teacher. She first taught fourth grade and then moved to the high school. Afterward, she spent most of her career teaching at a boys’ correctional facility in California. She was an obvious tough cookie packaged in a small frame.
As we continued to talk, we found that we had a lot in common like our birthdays being only a day a part. We talked about our love of kids and education. We talked about our passion for science, history and trying to make a difference in the world. It’s funny how I thought that by stopping and introducing myself that I could offer to help her in some way. Instead, she helped me. Her wisdom, experiences, and insight uplifted my soul and gave me strength. I will be forever grateful that I stopped and took the time to hear her story.
Meeting Lynn makes me think about how many times we don’t take enough time to get to know the people we work with on a daily basis and how much our lives would be enriched if we took more time to have face to face conversations. Everyone has a story. How many stories are going untold because we’re too busy to listen to each other? How many lessons are going unlearned? How many people, like Lynn, have so much to offer but no way of giving back and feel of little worth and value?
Now, more than ever, our country needs to show kindness to others. Taking the time to listen is the first step.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Getting My Feet Wet

Last week, I started as a full-time administrative intern. I loved it! For someone that has battled about the decision to even start down the administrative path, this was huge!

Sure, it was a little awkward at first. Anytime I jump into something new; it's a little uncomfortable. But, I've become so accustomed to being uncomfortable that this experience was no different.

My plan was and is to build relationships, be positive, recognize the strengths in others, support, and learn all that I can during my short stay. I started off by emailing the staff a couple of positive thoughts for #CelebrateMonday and an introduction to myself. Monday morning, I came to school early and walked around the school introducing myself and chatting with anyone in the building.  I honestly had a great time talking with the custodian, kitchen staff, a few teachers, and later with the crossing guards.

Throughout the week, there were some meetings that I attended, but my favorite part was going into the classrooms and interacting with the students and their teachers. IF that were the only responsibility of a school principal, it'd be my dream job! I learned so much from observing! I'm so grateful for the teachers who willingly opened their doors and invited me into their rooms. The opportunity to watch teachers teach spoke right to my heart! I know this is where I'm supposed to be!

My second favorite part was having a personal mentor/coach. Having an intern is extra work and not every principal is willing to take time to teach an aspiring administrator the ins and outs. But my mentor not only is taking the time to coach me but is also an excellent role model in many other respects. And the assistant principal is also someone that I admire.

I am so grateful for this opportunity to learn! I know that I was placed here at this school, with these great people, for a reason. My one takeaway from last week is that leadership is truly about service. I fell in love with serving this community!

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

High-5 Specialist

One of my (AS) boys came bouncing in my room after school really excited. I asked him what was up. He said, "Ms. King, today was the first day that you weren't at the door to give us a high-5 as we left. You had to grab your bus duty stuff.

But don't worry!!!

I gave everyone a high-5 for you as they left and reminded them to read."

I gave him a high-5 and made him my high-5 specialist (especially when I have duty). He left beaming with pride and excited to tell his mom.

Words can't even express what a big WIN this is! He's one of my biggest challenges and not very verbal.


Almost Back To the Drawing Board

I was so PROUD of my class today! We're FINALLY catching on about the importance of making quick and quiet transitions. We're FINALLY realizing the importance of keeping our classroom neat and organized. We're FINALLY being more independent and making good choices. And then....we went to an assembly.


My bad. I didn't explicitly talk about the expectations during an assembly. I didn't model. Modeling is a MUST DO with this class. They weren't terrible. But, I expect my kiddos to act appropriately for whatever type of an assembly that we watch. Usually, that means polite applause vs cat calling and other similar types of behaviors.

I love the Arts! Over the years, I've seen the expectations of behavior and dress standards go down the drain in the public arena. School assemblies are worse. Parents are often much worse than the kids. Call it old school, I still expect kids to act politely.

And so after the assembly, we came back and I modeled for them about what to do and what not to do. I had them laughing so hard that they cried, which made me laugh and I cried, which made them laugh harder! It was one of those experiences!

After we settled down, we had a good chat about how our class will behave regardless of what other kids in the school do. I think they got it!

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

An Apple A Day...

After Labor Day Weekend, I've always tried to ease kids back into the working mode by starting off with an art project. It gave the kids time to relax, and share with their friends all the things that happened over the long weekend. We made 3-D pop-up apples--an art project that I haven't done for a long time.

We also had a great class meeting, went to the media center, and finished our class book, Among the Hidden. We all started our next book, Pax. Kids are hooked already after reading the first chapter. And...we also had time for independent reading which is quickly becoming a favorite time of day for the kids.

The kids also really enjoyed the MysteryScience lesson about why apples are different colors. I used cooperative learning for the discussions throughout the lesson. They always enjoy the opportunity to talk and share ideas especially when there really are no right or wrong answers.

For part of math, I read the Apple Fractions book. It's a little Primary but I still have a couple of kids struggling with the basic concepts of fractions. It was a way to review the basics without drawing attention to those couple of kids who are struggling.

At the end of the day, kids wrote a descriptive paragraph about their apple. Normally, we don't do writing at the end of the day, but because I switched the schedule around a bit, we wrote and without any complaining. :) We put all of the apples back in the basket. Tomorrow we'll read the paragraphs and see if we can match their description with the correct apple.

I was really proud of my class today. We laughed, had fun, and yet when we needed to, we were able to focus and do our work. (most of us)

Monday, September 5, 2016

THAT Class! Keeping My Hair and Sanity!

Starting a new year is always full of excitement and anticipation! We dream. We hope. We look forward to a new adventure. This year was no different. In fact, the thought of beginning another year, and possibly my last, made me more reflective about my legacy. My intention was to blog every day throughout the year as a commemoration of my 30th year in the classroom. I was highly motivated and inspired to document all of the great learning. Keyword=was. I had to put the “great learning blog posts” on hold.

School started about six weeks ago for me. (We’re on a year-round schedule.) The start was incredible! The first day of school I taught the kids a quiet signal and what “ready position” looked like. And then we played! We created with Legos and shared personal stories. The next day we “took a field trip” to our recycling bin and participated in the cardboard challenge. Each day in our morning meeting, we talked about learning, growth mindset, treating others with respect, and how to build a community of thinkers and innovators. Throughout the first few weeks, we participated in various STEM and team building activities. We read, wrote stories, and started on our journey of learning together.

My focus was to know more about my students and to build relationships. I learned about my students through play and casual conversations. It was a pleasure to make a positive phone call home about each student and to surprise their parents with good news. (Although to be entirely transparent, it was easier to make some phone calls more than others.)

So waaaaiit!!! Why is the title of this post: “THAT class! Keeping My Hair and Sanity”?

On the outside, it appeared that everything was humming along like a typical school year. But on the inside, I was struggling! I’ve never had issues with class management. However, this particular group of kids was/is challenging me on multiple levels. I feel like I’m in a constant game of Chess or Survival and am being forced to out think, outwit, and outlast. I had no “honeymoon” week or so of school. There have been a lot of behaviors that I’ve had to address. I could play the blame game and send kids to the office like others do, but those are games I don’t play. Instead, I’ve had to be very intentional about my practices and have used just about every tool in my toolbox. It's been exhausting!

I was asked by a friend and principal to share my frustration and how I've worked through the challenge. I hope that by sharing, that others (especially new teachers) will see that we all struggle! Teaching is hard! My epic fail is that I didn't blog each day to show the struggle. No one wants to be negative (especially at the start of a school year), and no teacher (veteran or otherwise) wants to be viewed as incompetent. But, we need to share both the good and the bad and that's why I'm blogging now and will make more of an effort to blog about this year's journey. It may not be pretty!

First of all, my class of 28 students is a group of kids with many diverse needs and abilities (aren’t all of our classes like that now). Colleagues wanted to warn me about so and so and give me a heads up about so and so’s parents, but I really didn’t want to hear it. I believe every student deserves a fresh start. In fact, I think that many of my kids are beaten and battered down by the labels slapped on their foreheads. I took the time to write down the potential that I see in each student. It’s that vision that drives me and motivates me to push through the hardest days.

Secondly, I don’t blame the kids for misbehavior. I have high expectations. If the kids are not meeting those expectations, I blame myself. Somehow, I’ve not communicated clearly enough what the expectations are by modeling. For this group of kids, I’ve had to “break it down” more than I’m used to. I’ve had to model, model, model. They’ve had to practice, practice, practice. I smile. Practicing procedures and manners is not a punishment. Some kids have never learned the common courtesies that I expect. (Think Ron Clark) This whole process makes me sometimes doubt myself and I can't help but wonder if I'm doing the right thing. Some use the word "strict" which has a negative connotation. I prefer to borrow the brilliance of my PLN and call it being a warm demander. I have reflected a lot about "old school", compliance, expectations, empowering students, etc. Having high expectations for my students have never failed me. I just can't go where others have gone. (Topic for another blog post)

Thirdly, our class meetings have proved invaluable! It’s here in our meetings where we’ve shared honest feelings and thoughts, celebrated growth and achievements, and where we’re building community. 

My "Go-To" strategies include (in no particular order): 

  • Greet every student every day by their name and with a personal comment.
  • Plan/prepare engaging lessons!
  • Walk around the room and use subtle proximity to manage the class. There is no “front of the room” in my classroom.
  • Teach from “the carpet” or an area where everyone can gather together- Yes, I do this with older kids, and they love it. It alleviates kids playing with stuff in their desks and keeps everyone on task.
  • I started off the year with students sitting where they wanted to. Since then, I’ve had to change seating strategically a couple of times. Kids think I’m doing it only because we’re doing team building activities. I’m actually changing where students sit as a management strategy.
  • Ready Position: Cleared off desk, clean floor, quiet, hands on desk, and optional to put head down on the desk
  • Transitions: I give kids about 5 seconds, but I have fun with this. Sometimes I use fractions, decimals, skip counting, etc. They’re hustling, but I can give them a few more seconds by adding in decimals.
  • Quiet Signals: I use a bell if I need their immediate attention. Kids freeze and must be ready to listen within 3 seconds. I use a chime if we’re working in cooperative learning groups. The chime means to finish your sentence and then get quiet. I also use “Give me 5” because that’s what our school uses. My students also have the power to say, “Give me 5.” (This takes some teaching.)
  • Procedures: Plan a procedure for everything so that there is no wasted time. (passing in papers, bathroom, sharpening a pencil, etc.)
  • Teams/Partners: I divide my class into groups of about four students. Each member has a number. Team member jobs rotate each day. I also use partners a lot. I use a variety of ways for kids to find and work with a partner.
  • Modes: I teach my students about different modes- work mode, relaxed mode, play mode, etc. We can laugh, joke, and have fun but when we need to get in “work mode” we have to focus quickly on completing a task.

These are the little tricks that I use- usually without thinking about them. I’m sure that I left many ideas off of this list. What would you add?

The bottom line is that a little “training” for lack of a better word at the first of the year, high expectations, practice, and preparation have huge pay-offs down the road. I’m a little behind teaching the required curriculum. I’m not panicked, though. I’m not quite to the state of pulling out my hair and going insane. My students have learned a lot about respecting others, working collaboratively, the growth mindset, effort, and what it means to be a good citizen.

The big picture is helping my students grow up to be productive adults who have a passion for learning.

So yes,

I have THAT class!
I have THAT class that is going to challenge me!
I have THAT class that will require me to model more!
I have THAT class that will help me to grow!
I have THAT class that will make a difference in the world!

There are many “tricks of the trade” that would help teachers when the “honeymoon” of starting school wears off. Refer to  Teach Like Champion by Doug Lemov

Sunday, August 21, 2016

A Nudge, Push and Kick in the Pants!

The Olympics have always held a special place in my heart. Having had the opportunity to be a performer for the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games ceremonies only increased my admiration for world-class athletes. I’m inspired by their work ethic, perseverance, determination, and drive to reach their goals and life-long dreams.
Educators, like Olympic athletes, are champions too. But, I can’t help but think that some have lost their focus, their drive, their work ethic, and determination to make a difference in the lives of kids. Too many educators are comfortable with the status quo and have the mindset that  “pretty good” is “good enough.” It doesn’t make them a bad person or even a bad teacher or administrator. However, I see many educators settling for average instead of continually striving to become better. Teachers and administrators don’t lack heart, but they sometimes lack the heart of a champion and need a nudge, push, or a kick in the pants.
A Nudge:  Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of all time said, “If you want to be the best, you have to be willing to do the things that other people aren’t willing to do.” We, as educators need to be willing to step intentionally out of our comfort zones to grow. We must be comfortable with being uncomfortable. Above average people, educational champions, take risks. Will there be mistakes? Of course! But, we ask our students to do the same every day. As educators, we need to model lifelong learning. Many of us know when we are getting into a rut, settling for mediocrity or making excuses for not trying something new. We know we are not growing professionally because we lack disequilibrium or the feeling of being unsure. We use “lack of time” to justify our being comfortable with the status quo and our lack of desire to change. The question is, “If you know better, why not do better?” You have to feed the fire! Read a book, attend a conference, listen to a podcast, or participate in a Twitter chat. Don’t wait! Do it now! You won’t experience growth without action. Get an accountability partner or better yet, build a PLN (personal/professional learning network)! As a professional, you have the responsibility to stay current with best practices.
A Push: I think of a “Push” in two ways. The first is surrounding yourself with people that will push your thinking to a different level. Do you have a circle of trusted colleagues that question your thinking and push back with different perspectives? Do you engage in conversations that are more than polite affirmations? Have you found your tribe that will not only build you up but challenge your thinking? When you do, and when you have these types of regular daily interactions, you will experience astronomical growth personally and professionally.
The second type of Push is for those people who eventually move forward but come along kicking, screaming, and usually complaining. First of all, to you I want to say how much you matter as a person and human being. You obviously care/or cared about kids, or you wouldn’t be in education. At some point in your career, have you been hurt, felt a lack of support, or experienced a betrayal of trust?  Does it seem like there are more expectations with less time and support to implement all of the changes that come? No one wants to feel incompetent. Fighting change can be a cover and cry for help. I understand the feeling of being overwhelmed. As a 30-year veteran teacher, I’ve seen many initiatives come and go. I know the challenges of change, and it seems that more change has happened in the last decade than in the previous twenty. Admittedly, I sometimes want to close my classroom door and leave a sign on the outside that says, “Leave me alone!” But I know better! We know better! An attitude like that is not what’s best for kids! When teachers collaboratively work together, our practice improves. We’re aware that “good” teaching is not enough. We need to consistently and intentionally try to be “great” teachers/leaders. We know these things. Now, because I know that you know, there is no excuse for being stagnant. If you sincerely love kids and want to provide them with the best education, then you have to adapt to change with a positive attitude. If you’re not willing to do that, I’ll be bold enough to say, “Get off the bus.” If great teaching is not in your heart, if you lack energy and don’t love coming to “work”, don’t drag other people down with negativity and an unwillingness to do what’s best for kids. Teaching is no longer the profession that you should be in, and you need to think about other options. I know it sounds harsh, but someone has to tell you the truth. With over a million kids dropping out of school each year, there is no time to waste! Our very democracy depends on well-educated people. If your flame has been snuffed out, you can’t light the fire in others.
A Kick In The Pants! I can only guess about the enormous amount of stress and pressure to be a school leader. But many administrators need a Kick in the Pants! Now, I’m not talking about the many principals and central office personnel that I look up to as leaders in education. These tirelessly working educators are true champions leading change because they love kids and care about their education. No, I’m talking to the principals and other administrators who hide in their offices, who never visit a classroom other than for formal evaluations, or who aren’t even present at their school because they’re attending “a meeting”. I’m talking to principals who don’t read and keep up with current research and practices, who fail to try anything new, who micromanage with a hammer, who have an inability to inspire others or who fail miserably at building relationships of any kind. Even worse, in my book, is the mindset of a principal doing “just enough” to stay under the radar, doing “just enough” to comply with district/state expectations, or doing “just enough” to not be fired but shows no actual leadership ability. You need a kick in the pants! To you I want to say, get your act together! Be the leader that justifies your paycheck!

Michael Jordan said, “I didn’t come here to be average.” Educators can’t afford to be average. We have to be great! If a nudge, push, or a kick in the pants doesn’t get you moving, doesn’t motivate you to do more for kids; step down. We need champions! 

Sunday, July 31, 2016

"My Bad"- An EPIC Fail!

Inspired by fellow #Compelledtribe blog members, Jon Harper and Starr Sackstein, and Jon’s podcast, My Bad, our tribe of edubloggers are taking on the leadership challenge to “Mess up, fess up.” The hardest part of this challenge was to choose which mistake to write about and share. I make mistakes all of the time! Since so much of my focus is on learning to be a better leader, I thought I’d write about one of my epic fails as a “leader”.

As a new teacher, I had the opportunity to be a team leader, and I made a huge mistake! I made being the “leader” more about me than those I was supposed to serve. My motives were selfish. I wanted to prove my leadership ability and competence as if it were some sort of competition. I failed to trust my team. I neglected to see their strengths. Instead of learning from their experiences, I judged them and didn’t give them credit for the good things happening in their classrooms. My whole mindset was, “If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself!” I was not patient, and I became more of a micro-manager. UGH! The thought of that just makes me cringe! My ego also got the best of me. I “knew” I was a good teacher and the accolades and recognition only fed my own ego. Perhaps I was an okay manager, but I was a terrible leader! I needed some serious intervention!

Life is a good teacher. The challenges we face and overcome mold and shape us. I’ve learned a lot about leadership over the years. And the more I learn, the more I realize I need to learn.

Leadership is not about a title, position, or authority. Leadership is about influence and serving others. It’s about inspiring greatness, empowering, and developing more leaders. Leadership is about learning and growing together. Leadership is about people.

I learned a painful lesson about what leadership is and isn’t. I’m lucky that I learned it quickly and early in my career. But, I have so much more to learn! I’m grateful that I’m surrounded by leadership giants who are teaching me through their modeling, vulnerability, and commitment to helping others (me) grow. 

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Breaking the Silence: Why ALL Educators Need to be Advocates

An advocate? Who? Me? I’m not THAT person. I’m not an eloquent public speaker. I’m uncomfortable sharing my thoughts and opinions with others I don’t know. The fear of saying something “wrong” keeps me quiet. The last thing in the world that I’d want to do is be in the media spotlight. I’m not an administrator. I’m not really involved in politics. I’m a classroom teacher. I’m not sure that I have anything valuable to share. And besides, who’d listen to me?
That was me and let’s be honest; it still is me in a few respects. This journey that I’m on is taking me way out of my comfort zone! It’s scary! I feel vulnerable. Why am I blogging and speaking out about the importance of being an advocate? Even more importantly, for the many educators who are like me, why you should break your silence too.

An advocate- a champion, supporter, backer, proponent, spokesperson, a person who publicly recommends or supports a particular cause or policy

I believe that there is not one great educator who isn’t ALREADY an advocate. There is not one great teacher who isn’t ALREADY a leader of their classroom.

Dozens of times over my career I’ve shared my opinion about providing more resources and opportunities for my students. Multiple times I’ve shared ideas about how to make our schools better for our students, families, and teachers. The difference now is that I’m sharing my thoughts with others than just my closest colleagues. Why now? Recent personal experiences have opened my eyes, and I've seen the overwhelming need for those willing and able to speak up for those who are not in a position to advocate for themselves. The truth is, I’ve always been an advocate for my students. I've always been an advocate for teachers. I’ve just never given myself enough credit.

Educators, by their very nature, want what’s best for kids. We enter the teaching profession for many reasons, but a common one is to make a difference in the lives of our students, to have an impact on their future, and to make the world a better place.

What I’ve come to realize lately is that being an advocate is telling a story. It’s the story of someone whose voice remains unheard by the masses, a story of someone less powerful, and a story of someone in need. Every educator can share a story. So every educator can be an advocate for kids! Being an advocate means that you share your story with a larger audience and with those who make decisions like our legislators. That’s where it takes a little courage.
We’re not blind to how policies, laws, and even deep-rooted traditions negatively affect students in our classrooms. Can we hide in the background forever and depend on only a few to lead the way towards change? If we say nothing, do nothing to improve education, are we equally guilty as those who are making the changes that we feel are hurting kids? Teachers? Schools? How long can we tolerate the injustices we see? Isn’t it our moral imperative to ensure that ALL kids are learning at high levels in a supportive environment?

How Can We Become Better Advocates/Story Tellers?

Listen and Understand A Person’s Perspective: The last three weeks of my personal life completely turned upside-down. My elderly mother spent nearly three weeks in ICU and a rehab center. How quickly life can change! What slapped me in the face, with so many decisions about her care, was the importance of listening and understanding her perspective. Experts, laws, procedures, documents, and medical jargon swirled around my head, with seemingly little concern for taking the time to listen to the wishes of my mom, the patient. The similarities to education were eye-opening and caused me to reflect upon my teacher behavior and language. I asked myself some questions. How can I provide more opportunities for my students/parents to express their feelings, challenges, and needs honestly? How sincere are my efforts to make sure that there is two-way communication? What have I done to ensure understanding?

Show Empathy: You’ve heard the advice to “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes” and not to make assumptions or judgments. Immersing yourself in the situation of someone else provides insights into the problems that they face. What issues do you see kids facing that gets you “fired up”? Speak from a place of passion! Your connection to an issue, person, or cause facilitates your ability to be a better advocate.

Stand Up for Rights/Concerns and Ask Questions: Some of the most vulnerable to the laws and policies that hurt rather than help are those with little to no voice. As educators, we can stand up for what we know is right, empower those without a voice and bring awareness to changes that need to happen. Understanding laws and policies is a definite plus, but you don’t need to be a scholar. Be informed. Make sure that decisions are in the best interest of those for whom you advocate. Ask questions! It’s a non-threatening way to find out information.

Teach Students How to Advocate For Themselves: Technology provides multiple ways for students to record and share their thoughts, feelings, ideas, and experiences. As educators, we should be empowering our students by encouraging them to share their voice with a global audience. To not give students a choice in how they access information and express their learning in the 21st century is malpractice in my opinion. Students cannot only learn to advocate for themselves, but they can also learn to advocate for others.

A story- it starts with the main character who faces a problem. Is there a single educator who cannot share a story of a struggling student? What would help them overcome their struggles? And are we as teachers and leaders advocating for ourselves? Or are we just accepting what’s given to us even though our hands are tied, and we’re often unable to do what we know is best for kids? Share your story publicly via a blog or other means and advocate for those changes we need. Be a leader. Know your impact. Collectively our voice will be heard. It’s time for educators to break their silence.

Friday, June 24, 2016

10 Surefire Ways To Keep Your Cup of Mojo Full This Summer

Mojo is the moment when we do something that's purposeful, powerful, and positive and the rest of the world recognizes it.
-Marshall Goldsmith

Summertime is the perfect time to fill your cup of mojo! Here are TEN surefire ways from the Compelled Tribe to keep or get back your mojo this summer.

Exercise - @Jennifer_Hogan
I find that when I get to exercise, it keeps me motivated, energized, and confident. Exercise is a time when I can disconnect from the world and just be “inside my head.” It allows time for ideas to percolate without interruption... time that I value and appreciate. It also provides the whitespace I need as an introvert. For me, it encourages creativity and problem-solving while the endorphins are being released! Done consistently, it’s a true mojo-maker!

Connecting - @jon_wennstrom
For me, I draw energy from being around positive people. Connecting with educators during summer learning sessions, sharing and learning from others on Twitter about books we’ve read, and of course blogging and reading blogs. I’m definitely an extrovert and being around other educators helps inspire me and always leads to new ideas to implement and helps me keep my mojo! 

Theater - @sandeeteach
I love Broadway musicals, plays, and other theatrical productions. It’s a way for me to escape and immerse myself in a story. One of my favorite theaters spoofs popular shows. For example, this year two of the shows will be “Indiana Bones Raiders of the Wal-Mart” and “Captain American Fork The Worst Avenger”. (American Fork is the city where I grew up.) The actors and actresses are masters of improvisation which makes for a night of laughter. Another favorite theater performs in the round which is always a delightful experience. There are beautiful theaters in downtown Salt Lake City for Broadway musicals and outdoor shows in many local communities. For a few hours, I can lose myself in another world. But upon further reflection, I always relate the experience to teaching because that’s just what teachers do. We get ideas that benefit our students from everywhere. 

Find a good read, or two - @Vroom6
There are lots of ways to find joy and rejuvenate during the summer months. And, I am all about work hard, play hard. With that, one of the greatest joys I get from the summer months, and a way in which I keep my mojo running full steam ahead, is by catching up on some of that much needed reading that took a back seat during the school year. Often times the days we are in session with students and teachers are filled with more scripted reading and writing. So for me, it is the summer months that I get to find that much anticipated new release on best practices in our field. Whether striving to become a better leader, or a better learner, it is the books that I carry with me to the beach, the pool or the park that I enjoy the most.

Dream big together - @allysonapsey
When my mojo needs a pick me up, I dream about what could be for our students, but I don’t do it alone. Just like everyone else, I find myself focusing on the trees rather than the forest from time to time. When monotony sets in, I push back by collaborating with the amazing teachers I work with. I am astounded after each conversation--we feed off each other, we divide and conquer, and we multiply our creativity for the sake of our students. Through these type of conversations this year, we came up with an amazing service learning project, we started plans for a Makerspace, we piloted new 
reading initiatives, we shared professional reading that has inspired us and so much more. While we are dreaming big together, we are building stronger relationships, laughing, and challenging each other. 

Pause and Reflect - @KarenWoodEDU
When my mojo needs some rejuvenation, (and it sometimes does), I first take a few minutes to reflect.  I find that sometimes my initial desire to “rejuvenate my mojo” may have my efforts focussed in the wrong areas or in areas which may not be productive for educators or students in the long run.  Reflection leads to focus and clarity.  From clarity goals can be set and then the fun begins!  Once my goals are established I jump in full force and do so with collaborative efforts.  It is very important that the shared vision of success is truly understood by all.  The last strategy I feel is essential for rejuvenating mojos is time to step away from work.  I admittedly do not do this well, however I find when I can clear my head (by going to the beach, going for a walk, kayaking, swimming, or practicing yoga/meditation, etc.) I return refreshed, focussed, and ready to ramp up my mojo and the mojos of others around me. 

Get into some music! - @PrincipalStager
I was a music major in college and a music educator prior to becoming a principal. Whenever I need to get my mojo back or need to decompress, I find a piano and PLAY. I play in a group at my church so I have the opportunity to play rather often. I understand not everyone has the ability to sit down and play a musical instrument, but when I don’t have a piano to play, I drive in my car or just put my headphones in and JAM! There is nothing like a great playlist of uplifting and energetic music to get your energy back and your cup overflowing! This is my sure-fire way to get back on track.

Make a “bucket list” - @jodiepierpoint
I decided to make a “bucket list” of things I wanted to accomplish within a year, but I’m finding summer is a perfect time to accomplish them.  Things such as volunteering and baking cookies for friends have been real pick me ups! Training for a quarter marathon has led into a half, simply because I’m out with great friends chatting while I’m doing it.  I check my list all the time, call a friend, and pick an activity to do - it’s a great way to rejuvenate not only myself, but others too!

“What if People” & Quiet Time - @Debralcamp
I do my best thinking when I am with people that like to say “what if”.  There is something about the words “what if” that allows walls to come down.  When discussions are lead with the words “what if” it takes away the threat of there being wrong answers and allows for brainstorming to happen in a way that doesn’t in a lot of conversations.  I find it very motivating to be pushed and pulled by other people’s thoughts and ideas.  Positive energy comes when people work together and create as a group. There is a collective product that is created as well. I find on the flip side that quiet time and reflection after being with “what if people” takes me to a space in my head where more ideas can be generated.  Revisiting and reflecting again with the same group consistently allows for new ideas to develop and to be tried. (They don’t always work but the process sure is fun and motivating.)

Balance - @Abond013
Often times when I am feeling overwhelmed, I find that I need to prioritize. It is important for educators in any role to find time to take care of themselves. We need to give students our best and that is challenging when we are running on empty. Besides exercising, traveling, and spending time with family or friends, I find that fueling my passion keeps me going. For example, if you are passionate about literacy, continue to take interest and learn more. Surround yourself with people who share your passion.