Tuesday, November 6, 2018

A Book Worth Reading - What Made Maddy Run

Educators across the country have known for years that the social emotional well being of their students is a critical component of knowing their learners. The importance of understanding a students background, their life story, and what events have shaped their journey to date are essential to the progress we make in our classrooms each day.

Even with all of this knowledge and the desire to shield our children and our students from the cruel realities of society, students are more fragile than ever before. Self-harm, anxiety and depression continue to be a topic of teachers and administrators to not only start a school year, but also is a weekly point of conversation with counselors, social workers and most importantly, parents. Anxiety is real. It's impact is life-changing.

Now, connect this to your own personal story and your own struggles as an adult growing up and taking on your role to teach. And/or, for those of you that may have your own children, how has your parenting evolved into something that you most likely didn't recall as how your own parents raised you? Times are changing. Children are living in world that many adults are not familiar with. The days of "ignoring it" are gone. We must take action.

Last year about this time I was handed a book from a colleague that was authored by Kate Fagan. It was a read that I was not familiar with but one that I was encouraged to dive into. Especially having two high school seniors beginning their journey of their next chapter of their lives. The decision of college, athletics at the next level and more were on my horizon, and theirs, and it was coming quickly.

The book, What Made Maddy Run, is an unbelievably challenging book to read. Not because of the level of vocabulary or the fine print, yet due to the hard truths of young adults and the struggles they face with depression, anxiety and the fear of failure. What was equally as powerful (and painful) was that I was reading this through the lens of an educator and as a parent. And, as hard as it was to read, I could not put it down. I was drawn in. I was learning. My own response, reaction and support would soon grow.

The statistics state that too many times over the story of Maddy is a common one across campuses. While Maddy had an amazing family, supportive friends and she excelled in the classroom, there was a side of her that was never fully understood. Or worse, never heard. Part of that was due to her control. Part of that was due to the adults not necessarily recognizing the signs. And, on top of all of those previously mentioned favorable life factors, she was an amazing athlete. Maddy was a "picture perfect" image of a young adult who had the world in front of her and dreams that couldn't be stopped.

And then it did. Abruptly and suddenly and to her family and friends, shockingly.

Where are you in your understanding of social emotional learning in your space? If you are anything like me, you are still learning and growing and searching for resources to make you that much more responsive to our students needs. With that in mind, I would encourage you to pick up this book and give it a read. It won't be easy. It gets uncomfortable. It is painful. Yet it is also a look into the life of a young person who seems to have it all but the truth was far from the reality. You will be better for having read it. And, you will be better prepared to support your students and your children along the way.

We must continue to get a deeper understanding of the social emotional state of the young people coming to their classroom door each day. It is essential. Understanding their hope, their sense of belonging and even their grit, should now be a part of our daily work. While Maddy on the surface may have had many of these attributes, we discovered in the end she was lacking many. It was the layers that were not peeled back that could have revealed a different ending to her story.

So, continue to explore and continue to learn. Connect with others and keep the conversation going of social emotional learning in schools. Continue to locate the vast resources that exist. Especially from within your district and from your colleagues. 

Same articles of interest on social emotional learning are:

The Future of Eduction depends on Social Emotional Learning: Here's Why From EdSurge

No Place for Social Emotional Learning in Schools. Are You Sure? By Peter DeWitt

How "Kindness Contagion" improves lives, especially now. From The Washington Post

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Collaborative Effort - 5 Qualities of an Impactful Meeting

Have you ever left a meeting where you were completely and positively energized from the work that was just accomplished?

As you think back to those meetings, were there any attributes that repeat themselves?

Many times we take the structure and the success (or failure) of a meeting for granted. Often times we give credit to one or two people (deservingly so) who organized the time together or we just assume that good leaders have good meetings.

While that may account for the success of some of these times we come together, there is more. Much more. Meetings that have us leaving with excitement and eagerness have a few (very) specific qualities in common.

In the last couple of weeks I have had the opportunity to be a part of a few different collaborations that were absolute game-changers. I left these conversations ready to take on the day and the week ahead. Hard to think that a "meeting" could be this energizing and exciting and leave the lasting impact that it did. In fact, they did just that.

Here is what made all the difference in each of these conversations:

Input for the agenda. Not to be taken for granted, asking for agenda items in advance goes along way with those in attendance. Not only would this upcoming time together be about what the leader felt significant for us to discuss, they also took the time to ask us what was important to share with the group. Call it buy-in or call it input, this is the epitome of being collaborative.

Respect the time. Too often we sit in meetings wishing it would be over so we could get back to the list of items awaiting us. Just like asking for our agenda input, our time was respected and it was shared up front how long we would be away from the building. This allows for a clear ending time so that others, including ourselves, would know when we would return.

Stay on task. Personally, this can be the most difficult attribute for me in many aspects of my day. I am the master of a tangent. In meetings, however, much like the ones of these past few weeks, the group understood the task at hand and stuck to the agenda. While mini-break-offs are one thing, sticking to the agenda is another layer of respecting the process.

When it fails, own it. While we would like to think that all meetings can go off without a hitch, it is unlikely to say the least. So in the event that things do get heated or opinions begin to splinter, be the one to take charge and own any missteps along the way. The best leaders own their mistakes. The even better ones own them in front of others.

Give praise. Recently I left a meeting that I was confident went rather well. What made that crystal clear was that before I even got out of the parking lot I found myself in a group text chat of gratitude. This made the time, energy and effort that much more worthwhile. While we don't do what we do for praise, it sure feels great when we get it. So, next time you have a chance to offer praise to a colleague, do so. It feels just as awesome to give praise as it does to receive it.

While the list could go on, these 5 qualities capture a few of my takeaways from my most recent experiences. Some of these meetings I was a guest and others I co-led. It takes commitment to ensure that time together is powerful and purposeful. The challenge has been placed in front of me. Continue to grow in how I lead others.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Ready, Go. Welcome to August!

My hope is that all educators took time these past couple of months to pause, rejuvenate, find balance and give back to family and friends the time, energy and love that many devote to their schools throughout the year.

The calendar has turned, August has arrived. I truly believe that having this time away is intentionally designed into our work. We each know what we give of ourselves when students and staff are present. The weeks away are a needed period of time to reset when they are not. These months are intentional, they are purposeful, they are essential.

Today is a new month on our calendars. For many, if not most, it is the month in which we officially get our mindset on the return of school. It is the time in which we tell ourselves to get (officially) going.

The reality is, however, if you are an educator like myself, you most likely never truly took time "off". Instead, you stayed connected via social media through twitter conversations and gathering of information. Many of us dove into the latest book(s) about the world in which we work. And each of us picked up the phone on more than one occasion to meet up with a teammate or colleague that inspires us every day we walk into the school buildings we serve. Learning never took any time off these past few months. Our growth continued.

Today, however, we officially begin. Emails from administrators will begin to hit our inboxes. Invitations for professional learning events will come from the districts we serve. And our own children, if you have them, will start asking the inevitable question, "how many days of summer until school starts?" For my children, the answer is 21.

To each of you reading this - it is time. It is time to be thinking about our classroom design and how we will be purposeful in building our relationships with students and staff. It is time to be thinking about lessons and instruction and how we will reach our learners where they are knowing where they need to be. It is time to ensure we are reaching the social and emotional needs of every child, every day, to the best of our ability. Today, it begins.

Good luck in the days and weeks ahead. You are committed to what you do and how you do it. Make this school year your best of all. Take on new challenges, embrace opportunities and be inspired and motivated to be at your best. Welcome to August, friends. It is time to do the work. 

Ready, go.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Why We Tribe - The Reasons Behind It

I don't even remember when it actually started. I know I can go back and search for a first post or try to put my finger on when I first tweeted my blog through social media. However, I am not sure that gets to the bottom of why I even started on this journey to begin with. We can each answer the when but can we each answer the why?

Blogging for me has been a rocky relationship. Some weeks and months I feel like I have so much to share and grow from by putting my experiences in writing. Then there are weeks, months and even the past school year in which I hardly wrote at all. There was guilt for not writing. Disappointment at times. I was not modeling everything I had encouraged others to do. I stepped back. Stayed quiet. I was trying to redefine my place.

As the school year went by and the seasons passed, my reflection on the year unfolding was getting louder. While I had stopped writing and posting, I hadn't stopped growing. I gave myself permission to step away from blogging. It wasn't until this spring that I found some answers and realized I needed to go back to the beginning of my journey. I needed reminded of my why.

June passes and now into July. The Compelled Tribe (a group of educators from across the country) were given a task and a challenge of sorts by writing to a prompt, a shared topic. We asked them, and therefore I ask myself, "Why [do] We Tribe?"
Our suggestion for your post this month is to use the power of reflection to move forward. Simply, "Why We Tribe". Each of us has committed to this group for one reason or another. Whether we are writing and reading as suggested or fall short due to the realities of life, why are we here? The goal is to tell our story and recommit to the group. Hopefully this post will encourage just that!
Now I find myself sitting here today gearing up for a new year, new challenges and many new faces. Relationships continue to grow and knowledge continues to expand. I find myself eager, yet scared. 

It sets in. It all comes back to the question that motivated and inspired me along with so many others to get into the world of blogging to begin with years ago. It answers the question. I am re-discovering my "why". 

While simple by words, it is not always simple to see. The reality is that it is our Tribe that is at the core of our why. And it is our Tribe that reinforces our reasons for blogging, reflecting and growing. 

Our Tribe:

... gives us an open and honest platform to REFLECT in our practice. Therefore, we get better at our craft. Our PLN is transparent and does not judge. Reflecting on what we do is essential to grow forward.

... is about RELATIONSHIPS first and foremost. When we find our tribe and commit to them whole-heartedly we grow. We live the model we preach in our school districts and in our classrooms. Relationships are at the foundation of everything that follows in teaching, learning and leading. Our tribe reminds us of this daily.

... provides an opportunity for each of us to RECOGNIZE our strengths and weaknesses. It is this group of people, our community, our tribe, that helps us see what otherwise we may be unable to recognize on our own. No rose-colored lenses here. Just honest feedback and an opportunity to expand who we are.

... energizes and REENERGIZES our passion for the work that we do. We all stumble and we all have days that are harder than others. The tribe is always there. We stand with each other in our best of times and our worst of times. We feed off the stories of each other. The tribe brings the energy.

... gives each of us the opportunity to REJOICE in our work and the work of others. The power of the professional learning network is more than a passing moment. Connecting with others and sharing our story is part of our growth and our way to celebrate the work of others. We rejoice in what we see in others. 

There are thousands of bloggers in all aspects of work and life. There are hundreds of educators that take the time to write about their journey.  And many of them are better at their craft than me. I am content being a small fish in a very large pond. 

At the end of the day, being a part of a tribe and many different tribes at that, it is what allows me to grow in what I do each and every day. Whether my tribe is the building I serve and the community within, the district leadership team I am blessed to be a part of, the Compelled Tribe of educators from coast to coast, or my family at home, it is the experiences of each of these that allow me to give to others and therefore answers my why. My why is my tribe(s). And for that, I am grateful.

Why do you Tribe? Check out what Seth Godin says about finding your tribe.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Back to the Beginning

We each have our own version of what reflection is, what it looks like and what the intentions are. For me, writing about my educational experiences had been my path for so long. For years I had taken to the keyboard to share the journey I was on with the work that I do.

And then I stopped.

The passion for writing fell short. I struggled with this and internalized whether or not I could even have the word "blogger" in my online description of who I was as an educator and as a professional. Defeat set in. Failure loomed. Certain relationships went silent.

As the months passed and the lack of sharing my journey through blogging continued to have zero presence in the online world, I came to the realization that it was my own fears that had been holding me back. And most importantly, it was the fear of failure that had become the barrier to my desire to write.

Some of us are better than others at putting our thoughts, emotions and stories onto the canvas of a paper through the movement of keys on a computer. Others of us have found that sharing our journey is often done more effectively through the simple art of listening and conversing face-to-face. It is the relationships that we form through personal interactions that inspire us to do the work we do.

In the end, maybe we are one in the same. Maybe we should focus more on the "why" and less on the "how".

The reality is that we each have a story worth sharing. Our outcomes in our work are a series of responses we have made in decisions, actions and purposes of each day. Maybe it is time to rethink the vehicle in which we share our own story. Simply put - if we share, we grow.

I have always believed, and still do to this day, that written reflection can be one of the most powerful tools in our growth. Pausing, sharing, refining, editing and publishing our story can be transformational and inspirational.

It is our commitment to reflect that will guide each of us on our leadership paths.

Giving myself permission to step away from the keyboard is what has motivated me to return to it. Spending less energy on how I write and refocusing on why I write has been the difference.

My voice is back.

The story is just beginning.

Learning Through Observing

Mesmerized by the passions of others. Writing, sharing, teaching. Educators striving to make an impact with students, with colleagues and with a community. Learning does not happen in isolation. 

Learning is not a moment in time, learning is constant over time. 

Watching others contribute to ones growth in knowledge has no specific formula. There is no specific way. We stumble, we attempt and we stay firm in our belief that in the end, we are better than where we started because we believe in each other. We believe in our growth.

Our convictions are strong. Anchored through the conversations with others and built on the foundation of trust and a goal to be committed to the organization in which we serve and to learn ourselves. 

Learning occurs through observing. And, doing. We must have a willingness to let go of what we may have thought was once the only path and find the path that will make us better tomorrow than we were today. Sometimes looping back, paths are meant to be blazed through the daily challenges in life. 

Not every step has one that follows. Your path is just that, yours.

Watching, growing, breathing. Being the best version of ones self. 

Always learning. Always observing. 

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The End.

By now we are all heading into the home stretch of the school year with our students and staffs. Celebrations are taking shape and students and teachers alike are getting restless as the days pass by. Undoubtedly, the year is coming to an end.

Before you put all of your thought into your ending, let's reflect back to the beginning. Do you recall that first month? Do you remember what you did to kick off your year to set the tone for the teaching and learning that has happened these past 8 months?

My (obvious) guess is that you focused on the power of relationships.

Your beginning, like mine, was consumed with getting-to-know-you activities, completing learner inventories and, of course, simply learning the names of your students. You were engaged and invested. You were discovering who you would spend your year with.

Now that the year is almost over, how will you finish? Will you remain as engaged and invested until that final bell on that final day?

Personally, I am fully entrenched in our year-end celebrations. We have planned out those special moments in which we acknowledge the accomplishments of the year. Change is around the corner and we are nervously excited for the next adventure in our journey.

Whether graduation for our kindergarten classes all the way through our graduates of the class of 2018, we must end as strong (if not stronger) than how we started. We must bring the pomp and circumstance and celebrate each milestone of our year.

Build your ending as strong as you built your beginning. This is the end of our year. Remember, your ending is their ending.

Laugh, cry, reflect, share and take note of all that is that you accomplished this year. Find ways to stay connected and stay engaged. There will never be another ending to the one you are about to embark on.

Enjoy, the End.