Tuesday, October 8, 2019

You Matter. Every. Single. Day.

As an educator, you matter.

How you engage with your students, your colleagues and your families, it all matters.

While I have always been intentional in how I interact with others, I have been intentionally, and quietly, observing what those around me are doing in the days, weeks and months to start this school year.

While we have been saying for years that the power of relationships with our students (and families and colleagues) is at the core of our work as educators, taking it a step further and showing the depth of those relationships and exploring the mindset of how we make others feel and how they come and go each day, is what truly matters.

Creating a sense of community, matters.

Listening and supporting our students that experience known (and yet to be known trauma), matters.

Being willing to step up and step in to teach and learn with our colleagues, matters.

Leading with empathy, matters.

Growing alongside of your students, matters.

Being able to recognize and respond to our strengths, and our weakness, matters.

As an educator, every interaction of every day, matters. And, while we can't always be our best self of every minute of every day, knowing that we are impacting the lives of those we do interact with and how we respond to them, is what matters.

As you head home tonight after another long day of dedication to your students and your community, know that what you gave of yourself today, mattered. And, what you provide your community of learners tomorrow will matter just as much as the day before.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Back to School Checklist for Educators

By now, many educators are back into the new school year and off and running as they design their experience for students. Creating an environment and community that supports the learning is critical as students come through the school doors and find their space with the walls of your classroom and your school.

As we scroll through social media, parents and teachers alike are sharing pictures, quotes and motivational messages to ensure that this school is even better than the last. As an educator, the profession we have chosen is constantly evolving and once again we are reminded of the role that we have chosen and its impact is greater than ever before.

And, while some teachers are still a week or two out from the year starting, you get the added bonus of reading and seeing the very messages that are moving us to do great things in our communities from those that are already a week, or two, or more into the 2019/2020 school year.

For all educators, whether having started your year or still eagerly anticipating your first day of class, here are some reminders to help ensure and remind that it is how you start your year that will make all the difference in the eyes of those you serve.

1. Your #1st3Days (and beyond) are the Foundation. If you are on Twitter, I encourage you to search that hashtag and see what your colleagues are up to around the globe. And, check out the other hashtags that are trending around education. Being connected and learning from others is just the beginning of your own learning journey as you head back to school. Sharing out what we do to start a school year is an intentional movement of sharing ideas and experiences that will help in holding yourself accountable and make sure you are putting the content second and relationships first.

2. Create Your Space. It is not just a matter of what you learn but where you learn. An inviting space is a powerful space. While today's student continues to morph and learning styles grow over time, work with local businesses that could help you outfit your space to make it perfect. Create a space that inspires, fits and supports your teaching and the students learning.

3. Grow Leaders Starting on Day 1. While the teacher is often at the front of the room, make sure to grow the minds of those the come to your room and find the leaders within. Give your students a voice as you create your expectations for the year. Not just the "don't do's" but also the "must have's". Things like trust, communication, permission to take risks and permission to fail should be right up there with respect, kindness and compassion.

4. Model it. We have heard it hundreds of times over. Practice what you preach. Or in this case, model what you want from others and let your actions speak for themselves. Whether leading classrooms of students or a team of educators, being present and giving of your best every day is essential to what you are going to get in return. Remember, it is not a sign on a wall that is going to get the best out of your team, it is how you model what you want that will get your greatest return.

5. Emphasize Empathy. The Design Thinking framework begins with empathy. Understanding and applying Social Emotional Learning is all about empathy both for and of others. If you are familiar with the work of Tim and Brian Kight and the Focus3 team, they emphasize the need for empathy. This also leads right into the foundation of what we do as educators each day. Build trust comes from having compassion, building character and showing competence. If you emphasize empathy, your results will speak for themselves.

In the end, take everything you know, you have read, you talk about with others and that is right in education and apply it during these first few days of the year. Create that base, support others, lean on your colleagues and bring in the community to help you grow in who you are what we get to do each day. Whether it is the power of the team, doing the work or simply being the best version of yourself each day, let's own it and be all that is good, if not great, in education today. Our students and our community deserves it.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Explore. My #OneWord for 2019

For many of us, we have been selecting our #OneWord for as long as we can remember. For others, it may have been recently introduced. In sharing with colleagues and in hearing Jon Gordon speak a few year ago, the book One Word that will Change Your Life was introduced to me. It brought me the clarity I needed in my work, and within my home. The years pass and I continue the process. Doing so creates focus, adds an understanding of my personal and professional roles and brings purpose.

Now, it is time to choose a word, or rather as Jon Gordon writes and shares, a word that will choose me, that will guide me through 2019.

This past year brought change in my career. New faces, new spaces and a new challenge were presented. The first semester has been intense, supportive and full of growth. Push, pull and struggling along the way were common. Newly formed friendships, kindness and love stood side by my side. Each day gave way to a new opportunity to learn, to grow, to share.

Life at home is changing, too: kids getting older, chapters turning, decisions about next steps on the horizon. The number around the dinner table changes next fall with tassels turning in May. For years, we knew this day would come. Coming too quickly if you ask me. We will go from six to four. Just like that.

What next, then? What does the future hold? I'm scared and excited; it runs through my mind, my body and my soul every day. Change is good for me, for our children, for our growth. Time to see what awaits.

It is time to EXPLORE.

  • With the support of colleagues, I will EXPLORE what I can do each day in where I work. My future.
  • With the support of family, I will EXPLORE what is on the path ahead for my children. Their future.
  • With the support of friends, I will EXPLORE in the coming days and months, and grow in our relationships with each other. Our future.
  • With the support of my faith, I will EXPLORE and be steady in the face of storms. As heartache will inevitably be upon us, we will be there for each other. Our loved ones.
I am ready to take on this new year and the challenges, the opportunities and the experiences that await. Moving forward, my mindset will be one in which I explore what is around each corner and down each path. Here is to an amazing 2019 full of exploration!

Monday, December 31, 2018

Staying In Your Lane. Risk Versus Reward

Have you ever heard the expression "stay in your lane" at work or at home? The expression, for those that are not familiar with how it is used, refers to decision making and input about about various situations in your life and/or it can be about any opinion you may have about a certain topic. 

For example, in the education circle, if you are a teacher and a building decision is made, someone may say that you should “stay in your lane” and allow the building administration to make that decision. At a higher level within your company you may be encouraged to “stay in your lane” and keep that type of a decision to those that have the position to make the call.

As a parent, if you don’t like what you are seeing during your student-athlete’s sporting contest, you may want to share your opinion with the coaching staff. In this situation, you may want to “stay in your lane” and let the coaches coach and the parent parent.

Of course, this expression can be used thousands of times over. From parenting, to the way a grocery store is laid out, to decisions made at your place of employment, to everyday decision making under your own roof. Staying in your lane, however, is high risk versus high reward.

Ask yourself this question: How often do you “stay in your lane” where you work and live each day? Do you have an environment where it is encouraged to process, push back, offer input and give feedback to decisions that are made that have an impact to a greater audience? And, when you do offer feedback, solicited or not, how is that received by your colleagues or family?

Staying in your lane has both negative and positive connotations. Based on your answers to the questions above, you will know rather quickly whether or not you should stay the course (in your lane) or take the risk of stepping, or swerving (carefully) from side to side. 

Consider the following of high risk, high reward for staying in your lane versus not. Keep the following in mind as you consider whether or not you should offer input and step out of your lane: 
  • Is your input necessary?
  • What are you intentions? 
  • Consider your approach. Ask for a conversation.
  • Remember the goal in mind.
  • You are part of the team. 
  • Recognize that some decisions just need to be made.

There is no easy way to determine whether or not you should stay in your lane. Every situation presented will have its own response. If you read through this and realize you are always within your 12 feet and never cross over the dotted line (or worse, the lines where you work or live are double solid), you may want to take a step back and assess the very foundation of where it is you spend your days. 

In the end, it is the relationships you form that are essential and those will drive decisions within the organization. If you have not established trusting and purposeful interactions with those with whom you work and live with, whether or not you should stay in your lane is the least of your worries. 

Have critical conversations, build upon what you have and trust your instincts. If your work environment is anything like mine, you have powerful opportunities to grow collaboratively and with support. The team is the most powerful aspect of what we have. Believe in it, lean on it.

And finally, as you go into the second half of the school year have a goal of encouraging feedback and collaboration. And, take inventory of the relationships you have formed. Find balance on the road you are on going forward into the New Year. 

Thursday, November 29, 2018

With Gratitude - 4 Ways to Give to Others

Walk the halls of your school and listen to the exchanges between students and adults. Engage in a conversation with a teacher that you work alongside of on a daily basis. Hear how students talk about their hopes, dreams and even their struggles throughout the building.

What you are hearing is people giving of themselves in one form or another. Students give of themselves to their friends and teachers in how they listen, how they support and how they spend their time with each other. Teachers offer support and encouragement to their colleagues in their professional and personal lives. And, our cafeterias and hallways are filled with people both young and old that are constantly giving with their ears and eyes and hearts wide open.

As one holiday passes and another is just weeks away, we find ourselves in a state of constantly giving. Regardless of our individual obstacles and the curveballs that life continues to throw us, we are resilient in our desire to be their for others. We give.

Additionally, showing our gratitude does not need to be measured by dollars. And there is no way to determine who intends to give more than the next person. What we do know is that we are each able to be there for each other regardless of the time of day, the time of year or the money in our pockets.

As you think about how you give of yourself, consider these four ways to give to others:

1. Actively Listen. Do not just listen but listen with purpose. In other words - instead of hearing what someone else is saying and thinking of a response before they finish speaking, just hear them until the end. Pause. Think for a moment about what was shared and then respond. The person who is sharing will notice this subtle yet purposeful act in how you listen.

2. The Gift of Time. This is the one gift we have each asked for in a variety of situations many times over. In the spirit of giving, find a creative way to offer a colleague this very gift. Covering a class for part of the day is a great way to do this. Find a day that works and take over a lesson during your planning period. Or, if you are an administrator, build this into your week and encourage your colleague to use the time however they would like.

3. Use Your Muscle. The heavy work takes up much of our energy. If you are looking for a way to give to others, offer yourself, and your muscle, to pick up, clean up and even repurpose your teaching space. With flexible seating and a shift toward focusing on design, give of your muscle to make this happen. The transformation will be more than just furniture being moved.

4. Give Thanks. Especially this time of year, simply give thanks to those around you. Regardless of how well we know someone, seek out those you share your day with and simply let them know you are grateful for who they are and what they do for the organization. While using your words is the most meaningful, send a note. Write to someone and share your gratitude. You will be grateful of the feeling you will have for doing so.

The season in which we are in continues to be the one that many of us invest the most of ourselves when it comes to giving and showing gratitude. With that in mind, be creative in how you give. While financial support for those that are in need goes a long way, I would also share that time, muscle, how we listen and words of thanks are equally as powerful.

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.