Thursday, August 24, 2017

Rusty

I haven’t posted a blog post since last April. Even the few blog posts I published back then didn't make me happy. I’m struggling as a writer. It’s not that I don’t have plenty of topics to write about because I do. I’ve reflected and thought quite a bit about a whole host of subjects. But, when I’ve sat down to write, the words haven’t come. Sometimes I’ve written some thoughts and deleted them. I shouldn’t do that. I should keep them to revisit them later. Sometimes I've composed thoughts in my head with just the right words, but my critical voice rebelled and pushed them out of my mind quickly so that I couldn't recall and write them down.

I’m rusty now. I’m out of practice. I’ve worried about things that I shouldn’t worry about like who will read my posts and what will they think. I know better. Blogging is about reflecting and growing as a person. It’s a place to jot down thoughts about where I am in this space and time. Opinions change. My views have changed considerably about a lot of things since I’ve become a connected educator. It’s good to ask, “Why?” It’s good to have my ideas and practices challenged. It’s good to go back to read about where I was and where I am now. This journey is an "edventure, " and I need to share my story.

This blog post is bland and unimportant. But, I’m posting it. It doesn’t matter to me if anyone reads it. I need to take this step to help me get back in the routine of reflecting and writing down my thoughts.

I don't feel like I'm living true to my one word. Maybe that's been a roadblock too.


Sunday, April 23, 2017

Swim!


I nearly drowned as a second grader! A couple of the other kids had their arms around our coach as she walked closer to the deep end of the pool. I followed closely behind her. But before I knew it, I could no longer bob up and down and touch the bottom of the pool with my toes. I panicked and tried desperately to keep my head above water. At the moment before I knew my life was about to end, I looked up into the stands and saw my mom motioning to me to put my head down and swim. “Swim, Sandy!” she yelled. I looked to the side of the pool, and my coach was doing the same thing. No one was running to save me! “Swim, Sandy!” their blended voices hollered. It wasn’t the most graceful American crawl, I’m sure. But, I did make it to the side of the pool and am still alive to tell the story.
I’ve often thought about this experience when I’ve faced changes and challenges throughout my career. When I start to feel a little self-doubt, I hear the voices in my head saying, “Swim, Sandy!” I know then that I need to FOCUS and swim! It isn’t always pretty getting to the side for a breather, but I make it. My coaches don’t jump in and rescue me, but I know they’re on the side cheering me on because they believe that I’ll be successful. As a result, I have a stronger sense of self-efficacy. There is a need for some basic knowledge, but the application of what I’ve learned is up to me.
“Jumping into the deep end of the pool” can be a little scary, but it’s also where we’ll experience the most growth. Being in the deep end of the pool forces us to leave our comfort zones and apply our new learning. While many educators heed the advice of starting small when it comes to change, I’ve always jumped in and have swum for my life. I’ve grown very accustomed to being comfortable with being uncomfortable. Making mistakes and learning from those mistakes is part of who I am. It’s part of my creative spirit. Although I can envision where I need to go and want to be, I don’t always know the “how-to’s, ” and that’s where there’s risk-taking. It’s often through play, experimentation, and collaborating with others that the best ideas come about and benefit kids.
Regardless of whether educators jump in the deep end of the pool or start at the shallow end, the point is to move forward and start making the changes that our kids deserve. It seems that our profession is the only one where those who remain stagnant are allowed to keep their jobs. We would never go to a doctor or dentist who was not current with the most updated medical practices. We would never board a plane of an untrained pilot and seek advice from a lawyer who did not know the current laws. Businesses that don't continually change and adapt go out of business. Yet, educators who have children's lives on the line, continue to hold onto old mindsets and traditions.
There are times when initiating change where it’s better to start small and gradually build momentum. But there are other times when we need to just jump in and start somewhere. It most assuredly won’t be perfect. It’s inevitable that we’ll make mistakes, but we won’t drown. Focusing on our “WHY” will help us “swim to the side” so that we can catch our breath and reflect on what is working and what needs tweaking. Over time, the little tweaks will lead to transformational change. Our ability to “swim” will get easier.
We have a great work to do! We have a lot of work to do! We’re not going to benefit our kids much by splashing around in the kiddie pool. We cannot keep educating our kids in old tired traditional ways. Our kids deserve better and more opportunities that will prepare them for their future. 



Friday, April 14, 2017

Transitioning from Teacher Leader to School Leader: What I Learned From My Intern Experience


This month, my compelled blogger tribe is writing about Spring Break. Officially, our Spring Break came much later than other schools and was much shorter. But I'm in a year-round school, and I've had a couple of weeks off. The past few weeks have been a time for a lot of self-reflection.

What I've Learned From Being An Intern

Everything about school leadership, for me, comes down to one thing and that is the relationship that you build with the people you serve. Most of my intern hours were completed when I was off-track. It was a blessing and a curse. It was a blessing because I was officially able to complete my required hours. It was a curse because I had very little time to build trusting relationships with the people that I worked with every day at my assigned schools. To their credit, I was able to quickly build positive relationships with the staff, students, parents, teachers, and other community members easily. I feel like a family member at both schools and am so grateful for such a positive experience! I genuinely love the people at both schools!

I learned the importance of listening and leading by asking questions. I'm naturally a pretty good listener, and I treasure the 1:1 conversations that I have with people. But as an intern with a different role to play, I caught myself several times wanting to give answers rather than helping the teachers discover their own answers. Thankfully, I hear daily from my PLN the importance of leading by asking questions. It's something that I've worked hard to improve in my classroom and something that I was very conscious of as I observed teachers and gave them feedback.

Communication is always important, and you can never seem to communicate enough! Email is a common way to communicate but for me, one of the least effective ways to share a message. But I learned to meet people where they are at and communicate the same message repeatedly and in multiple ways. I'm grateful that I already had worked on building better lines of communication and had experience with using social media, tech tools, and other traditional forms of communication. Communication is much more than an email or newsletter. I learned more about the importance of clearly articulating your values and beliefs as a leader. It really came back to listening and clarifying what was shared with me. I think that communication can always be improved!

Another leadership lesson that was reinforced was the importance of being visible. It would be easy to be trapped in an office all day. There's always plenty to do! But my favorite thing as an intern was to visit and observe classrooms! I loved watching and interacting with the students, having them tell me about their learning, and why it was important. I enjoyed watching the different styles of teaching and talking to teachers about their instructional choices. I gained a lot of insight and tons of ideas! One of my favorite times of the day was being outside greeting kids and parents in the morning and then wishing them a goodnight at the end of the day. Lunchtime was also a time when I had a chance to get to know the students and engaged in some fun conversations. To my surprise, I actually enjoyed going to school board meetings and other meetings with various community members. I learned a lot and built a larger network. I enjoyed conversations as I worked with support staff members. It was a pleasure, and I sure laughed a lot! It was clearly evident throughout my intern experience the amazing people working for the benefit of kids!

It was an odd sensation at first, but I was acutely aware of people watching me all of the time- of how I acted, talked, interacted with students and others. I was myself but aware that I was wearing a different mantle of stewardship on my shoulder even as an intern. Intentionally or unintentionally, I was modeling behavior for students, staff, parents, others in the school community. I felt a need to be "professional" but personal. I also learned, even more, the importance of walking the talk. If I encouraged a teacher to take a risk, I also had to be willing to do the same. It was new to me to be so vulnerable in such a public way. I take risks every day in my classroom with my students and give it very little thought. But to risk in front of colleagues was a little scary.

Thankfully, I had great mentor principals and vice principals, and I learned a lot about management. I feel very comfortable being an instructional leader and working with students and teachers. But, I'm less comfortable working on the management side of being a leader in a school setting. I'm grateful to my mentors for taking the time to show me the "paperwork side" of school leadership. There is a lot for me to learn!

Another lesson that I learned is the importance of confidence and self-efficacy. Although a lot of the intern experience was new to me, I did have a calm confidence that I could do the job and be successful. Although, I will admit that going to the middle school was a complete culture shock and I was a deer in the headlights for a couple of days. I can laugh about it now, but at the time I was stressed! Did I make mistakes during my internship? Yes! My mentors were very kind and patient as I learned. And I have so much more to learn! But, I know that I can be a successful administrator. I know I'm ready for a new challenge. I know that I'm ready to transition from a classroom teacher to a school leader when the opportunity comes. Being in the classroom for as long as I have has helped me to develop a certain skill set that most administrators don't have. I have classroom experience, but I've also had to adapt to the many changes that have happened in education- especially during the last seven years or so. I've adapted to the Common Core, more testing, and accountability, integrating technology, PLCs, and many other changes. I have a degree of credibility and instant rapport with teachers, and I know that I can leverage that to improve student learning in a school. It's always much harder to implement new initiatives in a classroom than it is to just read and learn about something from a book or conference. An opportunity for me to be a school leader for the next school year likely won't happen- which truthfully hurts my heart. But, I will remain positive and take advantage of the time to continue learning and growing.


Sunday, April 9, 2017

Renewal


Renewal. It means to make like new. Synonyms include words like restore implying returning to an original state after depletion, renovate as in repairing or rebuilding, and rejuvenate suggesting a restoration of youthful vigor, powers, or appearance. We renew library books, licenses, acquaintances, and vows. Holiday breaks renew our spirits; exercise renews our energy. Spring is the renewal of life after a long spell of winter. Our world is in a constant state of change and adaptation. Change comes in cycles of birth, growth, death, and renewal. Renewal is the acceptance of change.

John Goodlad said, “Most of us generally don’t pull up stakes and move simply because the paint on the windowsill starts to peel. And we don’t destroy our old garden and start over from scratch each time the blooms begin to fade. We do better when we exercise patience, ongoing care and while monitoring the effectiveness of that care, make adjustments where necessary. Such an approach, when applied to schooling, is what we call educational renewal.” In the words of John Goodlad, educational renewal is primarily designed for two purposes. First, renewal is to prevent current conditions from deteriorating and to address problems that arise. Secondly, school renewal aims to effect and sustain the changes that are desirable.

Educational renewal is never on a checklist as something that can be “done.” It is not a program, mandate, or initiative. It is not a mass produced package with instructions on how to fix problems by replacing what is currently happening in a school. Renewal is a way of being. School renewal includes all stakeholders- teachers, parents, secretaries, administration, custodians, librarians, students, bus drivers, etc. that collectively look at the school experience and inquire about what is working and what is not working. Everyone has a voice and ideas are shared on a regular basis. Alternatives to the status quo are examined, put into practice, and assessed to determine their impact. The responsibility for change lies with those who can and must make the changes and who will also be affected by the changes. In a school setting, renewal may look something like providing more support and training for literacy instruction rather than replacing a whole reading program. It is different than a reform. School renewal is more about the continuous tweaking of behaviors that over time lead to a greater transformation much like a gardener prunes, weeds, and tends to other tasks that nurture the plants within a garden. And just as the soil must be primed and ready for a fruitful garden, a school’s culture must be primed and ready for risk-taking, open discussion, and change.

Unfortunately, developing a school culture that fosters school renewal doesn’t happen quickly and easily. It takes a courageous leader to clearly articulate and communicate a shared vision. Leaders must model and embody the values that they want to instill in others. They must be resourceful and understand how resources and budgets can be used to influence change strategies. Strong leaders must develop leadership skills in others by identifying strengths and finding opportunities for their staff members to lead. They must examine data, determine next steps, and evaluate the impact of those next steps. Leadership for school renewal can’t just be positional if long-term changes are expected to take root. Teacher leaders can influence the thoughts and actions of their colleagues to improve their practices. A culture where renewal thrives is created when engaging in inquiry, and reflective behaviors is a norm.

       One of the greatest responsibilities of leaders is to foster a strong sense of self-efficacy in teachers and the belief that their purposeful actions can make meaningful changes in the lives of their students. Leaders must trust their teachers and communicate the belief that collectively, SMART goals can be achieved. They instill hope despite the obstacles and empower their stakeholders to create the conditions that will make educators more successful. The optimism, confidence, and determination of great leaders to persevere are infectious. Strong visionary leaders passionately inspire their staff to focus on what students are to learn and be able to do. Feedback about each student’s progress is timely and ongoing so that teachers can use the embedded structures to give students more support. Professional learning communities provide timely feedback to each teacher regarding student learning in comparison to other students so that teachers can identify their strengths and weaknesses with instruction. A PLC becomes more than just another educational acronym. The school becomes a place focused on learning. The school and the people within the school improve simultaneously. The message of “We’re all growing, learning, and improving our ability to ensure that every student is learning” is loud and it’s celebrated!

       An ancient Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, said: “There is nothing permanent except change.” As educators embrace the concept of renewal in their school, changes won’t seem so daunting. Those things that work and are valuable to a school community can be retained while at the same time promote the changes that will improve educators and their practices. Small consistent changes for improvement over time lead to a level of transformation and lasting effective change. Perhaps the most common metaphor for transformation is the metamorphosis of a caterpillar. Maya Angelou said, "We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty." Simultaneous educational renewal is a transformation that benefits all stakeholders as they change and grow together.
         Successful leaders in educational renewal efforts must rise above the common standard. As Goodlad stated, "Our schools today desperately need innovative leaders who can dust off the narrative that implores creation of a thoughtful public, as proposed by Thomas Jefferson, Horace Mann, John Dewey, and many other distinguished scholars. We need innovative leaders who are ready and willing to challenge the status quo, leaders who can influence others in pursuit of schools that engage all students in meaningful learning toward the ultimate purpose of creating a thoughtful public willing and prepared to work toward a healthy and just democracy."


Monday, March 20, 2017

The Calling, the Work, and the Miracles



Educators everywhere immerse themselves into the work of impacting young lives because they love kids! Teaching is no ordinary job, and it takes an extraordinary teacher to overcome the many obstacles that children face. It takes an exceptional school leader to create a culture where children and adults have high expectations and can learn in a positive, safe, environment. I believe, like many others, that teaching and working with kids is a calling. We are called to serve the youngest population, to provide an education where young people are taught to rise above mediocrity and to think for themselves, to collaboratively problem solve and make the world better. We are called upon to teach students how to be leaders, readers, learners for a lifetime and changers of the status quo. The challenge is great, and the responsibility is immense, but educators everywhere accept the challenge and in the words of Marva Collins, “Make the poor student good and the good student great with no excuses in between.” Teaching is not for the faint of heart. It requires hard work, dedication, and unceasingly love.
It is not uncommon for school administrators and teachers to work long hours, weekends, and holidays preparing their lessons and learning how to improve their practice. It’s not uncommon for teachers to have sleepless nights worrying about students, to purchase granola bars so kids can have something on their stomach, or to spend extra hours away from their own families to attend extracurricular activities. It’s not uncommon because those who enter the teaching field know that “the pay” is knowing they can have a positive impact. Administrators and teachers know the negative public perception of schools, and yet they dig in and serve their students and communities day in and day out. They know that their talents are gifts to be shared with their students. Educators not only believe but know that they can make a difference!
Great educators refuse to let students fail! They teach children that difficult doesn’t mean impossible. Mistakes are opportunities to learn and stepping stones to success. Children learn about having a growth mindset and how to overcome challenges. Teachers give students hope and a belief in themselves. Michelangelo said, “Inside is an angel trying to get out” about a piece of marble. Teachers know that every child has something wonderful and special inside. They know that every child can learn. And they know that they cannot meet every child’s needs alone. The challenge is too great! Great educators know that it takes collaboration and a commitment to action that will ensure that every child succeeds. Their focus is the learning of each student. They roll up their sleeves and delve into the work!
In those rare moments of disappointment and despair, great educators are inspired to further the work. They know that just one more time, one more attempt might make a connection and difference for a child. First, it’s the work and then the inspiration. Thomas Edison did not give up on his vision. He learned hundreds of ways not to make a lightbulb. It was only after hours of focused work that his team was inspired and found a way. And the “miracle” was light.
There is a light in every child! Educators dedicated to the collaborative effort of ensuring a quality education for all, who immerse themselves in the right work, who love unceasingly, are called and inspired to make a difference in children's lives. They are Miracle Helpers! (a post by @bethhill2829) Courageous educators everywhere are #inspiringthelight by acknowledging a higher calling, loving the work that they do, and making miracles happen every day.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Second Chances



I walked into PetsMart with the intention of adopting a dog that I’d seen online, but then I saw a different dog, and we had an instant connection. She was beautiful! She was considered as “unadoptable” because she was shy, withdrawn, and had emotional scars from being abused. Being at PetsMart that day was her last chance which makes me a little emotional just thinking about it. All she needed was a little love! I named her Kyra which means “sunshine.” (Earlier that day, I’d adopted a Siamese cat that I named, Sachi, which means “joy.” The names were from my initials- S & K. Sachi and Kyra also had an instant bond and took care of each other from the moment they met. My “fur babies” became my joy and sunshine.) It took only a very short time before Kyra exhibited all of the characteristics of a happy dog- full of life and love!
I’ve reflected a lot about second chances. I teach my students about having a growth mindset and the value of learning from our mistakes. I’ve abandoned many traditional grading practices such as giving zeroes. My students have learned so much more since I started to focus on better feedback during the learning process versus end of unit quizzes and tests. The classroom culture is more about learning!
In life, adults are given many second chances without penalty. Any major test for a professional career can be retaken multiple times. Teachers are often strict about due dates for student assignments but have various excuses for not meeting a deadline for submitting information that they’re required to enter. Students have negative consequences for being tardy, but adults sneak into meetings late without an apology. There seems to be a double standard.
Although I understand about wanting to teach kids “responsibility,” because I too was one of those inflexible teachers, I’ve seen so much more growth in my students since making some changes to traditional practices. During the last decade, my students have been much more focused on their growth as a learner rather than a letter grade. In turn, I’ve also focused on seeing their growth over time, and it’s improved my practice.
I can’t help but think about how I would like an opportunity to have a second chance sometimes, especially when the stakes are higher. Opportunities and second chances don’t always come. Mistakes can replay in my head enough to drive me crazy! I feel embarrassed and disappointed in myself. I don’t always meet my own standard of excellence and let myself down. I could list some excuses, but I’m not an excuse kind of person. There’s still an opportunity to learn and to keep moving forward if a second chance doesn’t come. It’s just not always easy.
Students feel the same way. A little more empathy and understanding goes a long way. Students want to do their best both academically and behaviorally. Sometimes they need a second chance and maybe even a third and fourth chance.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Sometimes You Won't Feel Like Singing the Song in Your Heart



Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly!

You are the most positive person I know! Day in and day out, you fill other people’s buckets with sincere compliments, words of encouragement, hugs and high fives. Regardless of how jam-packed your schedule becomes, you take the time to listen to people and offer a helping hand. You inspire and lift others up. Positivity radiates from you, and it’s contagious! Everyone is happier because of your devotion to serving others.

But underneath that huge smile of yours, I know your heart is hurting right now. Others can’t tell, but I know you. Someone needs to fill your bucket! First of all, know that sometimes you won’t feel like singing the song in your heart. Sometimes life throws a curve ball when we least expect it. The door of opportunity seems to close just as we anticipate our dreams coming true. Circumstances don’t always seem fair. Our cries of  “Just give me a chance!” fall on deaf ears. It’s hard to understand “the why” behind all that happens. But I believe this: everything happens for a reason, and when one door closes, another door opens. This challenge that you’re facing now will make you stronger! Don't lose faith.

I wish I could take away some of the hurt that you're feeling. I wish I could see into your future and assure you that your dreams will come true. I wish I could comfort you with words of encouragement. But using words is not my strength. Just remember the old proverb: "Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly."

And so my friend, keep singing! Take care of yourself so that you can renew your spirit and have more of you to give away. Read a book, listen to music, take a long walk in the park, and do something for you. You always do so much for others.

The world needs your contribution! Let the music swell! We all need to hear your song!