Monday, January 2, 2017

Push - It Makes Us All Better

Moved by progress. Inspired by frustration. Apprehensive by misunderstanding. The time to push in teaching, leading and learning is now. There is no time like the present to re-shape education.

As educational leaders (classroom teachers to building administration to district personnel) we are surrounded by colleagues that fully grasp the need to move the pendulum in eduction in a direction that enhances and excites the school experience for all stakeholders. And for so many of us we need to PUSH. Even when it is uncomfortable.

Reading the various One Word posts for 2017, I am intrigued by what you have selected as your word. As I am reading I am drawn to your "why". For me it is this that means the most in my search for my word. For it is our WHY that is so important for the year ahead. Like you, when I commit to this notion of selecting a word that will guide me in my daily life both personally and professionally, I could not take on the task lightly.

Therefore, the time is now. There needs to be a PUSH in the work that we do.

PUSH for innovation in instruction. Demand that instructional best practices are in place in the teaching and learning of and for students. It makes us better.

PUSH for your own professional growth. Ensure that you are growing at the same rate that we ask our students to grow. We must keep pace with the changes occurring in our profession. It makes us better.

PUSH for opportunities for students in their school experience. Beyond the academics we need to extend the school day and provide enrichment opportunities for students within our schools. It makes us better.

PUSH for a positive climate in our buildings that reflects our vision. Whether modeling expectations of colleagues or protecting a safe and caring environment for students, the climate is at the core of how schools function. Do all that you can to ensure a positive climate. It makes us better.

PUSH for the attributes of a positive culture. PUSH out negativity. Engage in crucial and critical conversations with all stakeholders. Model what is the expected behavior. Build Trust. It makes us better.

PUSH the boundaries of the work that you do and the work of others. Do not settle for anything else. It makes us better.

PUSH (and pull) others to embed best practices in teaching and learning. It makes us better.

When we push each other in an attempt to grow, there is no denying we will be better. We will be a better teachers, administrators and in the end, a better organization.

Thank you, Rich Czyz, for the inspiration and for helping me select my One Word for 2017. Even though we are each seeking our own powerful and personal word to guide us through our year ahead, it is the power of the PLN that helps us grow as leaders and learners. Thanks for the push, Rich. Here is Rich's post on "Push".

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Looking Back on 2016. The Journey to Elite.

This past year has been quite the journey in teaching and learning. There have been ultimate highs and forgettable (yet teachable) lows. The most euphoric moments have been affirming to the great things happening with the teachers, students and community in which I serve. The dips I have faced, some more recent than others, have been a reminder of the amazing growth that awaits me. One of the qualities I strive to maintain is that I am teachable. You each coach me up. We serve each other on a journey to elite.

And with another year coming to an end, part of the process is to take a look back at where we have been. Reflection is essential. The method and platform in which we do is personal. Some engage in conversation while others take to the keyboard and write.

Personally and professionally this year has provided me with once-in-a-lifetime experiences that will not be soon forgotten. With great excitement, some moments and experiences in 2016 will be welcomed back in 2017 via the "red carpet". These moments are the ones that define us and help us grow in our depth of our leadership as teachers and administrators. The moments that will not return, the good and the bad, are what refine us. Those moments are equally as important in our growth.

Here is a look back at 2016 via the posts that I have shared. Not every high is reflected nor is each of the lows. What I have shared are the moments in which I was inspired to write. Here is looking forward to another year of growth in 2017. I hope you join me, and the #CompelledTribe, on the journey we are all on.

  • Let's Finish where it started in 2016. I am ecstatic to report that the goals that were established in this post one year ago have been met with fierce intentional passion. Our culture defines us. It is what makes us relentless in our pursuit of excellence.
  • One of the most read posts of the from 2016 came from a post written in March. The title, So You Want to be a Principal speaks for itself. There was great feedback from what was shared. And, as a principal myself, so much yet to learn.
  • An essential element of being a driver of the culture of your school community is the power of being connected. I have written more than one post about my belief in this professional growth but this post in particular this year, Rules of Engagement - Being a Connected Educator, resinated with many of you. This post is worth coming back to time and time again. 
  • The most shared post in 2016 was one I least expected. There in lies the lesson itself. When writing A Back-to-School Checklist for Educators (And another post for those aspiring to be an Administrator) there was one thought that kept racing through my mind and that is, "How would I want to remember my year as a learner?" My focus for 2016 was relationships. This post, like so many others over time, continue to come back to the theme of "purpose". Do you know your purpose? I continue to learn mine.
  • My most powerful moment of 2016 was months in the making. The staff at Hilliard Weaver Middle School provided a back-to-school experience like never before. Our #1st3Days for students focused on these core essentials in teaching: relationships, passions and identifying who we are as learners and where we were going as  to head on this journey. Not Your Ordinary Start to School gives an overview of this experience we are excited to bring back in 2017!
An just like that 2016 comes to an end. A simple post, What I Have Learned So Far This Year, brings it all together. Relationships, environment, best practices and drive all resonate with each of us as leaders in our classrooms and in our buildings. Continued growth is essential.

Remember, the journey to elite is not done alone. You need the power of a team, you need trust and you need a desire to grow. Passion must be present and the peaks and valleys of your year will only make you better at what you do and how you do it. 2016 is in the past and I am excited for what awaits in 2017 and the learning that will occur.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Pushing Boundaries

I have always considered myself a rule-follower. Whether as a teenager under my parent’s roof, a young adult on my own starting a career or to this day in my 23rd year in education, I understand the importance of rules. Rules, as we know, are essential. 

While some rules are needed by society, others have been created by the changes over time. When it comes to education and instructional best practices, how do rules come into play in our profession? The reality is that in the world of teaching and learning, educators are not only consumed by "rules" but they often fall into the trap of "that is how it has always been done". 

Times are changing. Rules, and the way we do business in education, is transforming. We are working our way out of that mindset. We are growing. Innovation is taking hold. The mold is being broken, the lines are being blurred, the rules are changing. 

As we reflect on our journey in leading and learning, many of us have found ourselves on both sides of the equation of how rules impact our roles. More and more each day we as teachers and building leaders are acknowledging the importance (and need) of having certain rules but also embracing the importance of blurring the lines of those rules for the sake of student experience, student engagement and teacher growth. In each of those there needs to be creativity, risk-taking and a passion for growth. We must be the change. We must break the conformity in education. Being innovative is essential.

In the leadership role in which I serve, I have been fortunate to work alongside educators that want to push the boundaries of the comfort in their work. Many times it is others, myself included, that do the pushing. We challenge each other, we support each other and in the end, we trust each other in each step along the way. In teaching and learning we need to be thinking about what it is in education that has not evolved and ask tough questions and get uncomfortable. We are here to re-define education for today's student.

We know we don't get better by staying the same. Pushing boundaries brings change and change is welcomed. It is inevitable that change is going to happen. Let us control the direction in which it goes.

And when we are pushing boundaries, let's again make sure that we push with purpose. We need to be intentional. We need to be mindful.

Education is anything but a constant. Our best educators are asking the tough questions, challenging the norms and offering instruction that is anything but traditional. As you think of your leadership in the classroom, in your building or have the amazing opportunity to be in front of an entire community, promise yourself that you will push the boundaries of education. We all will benefit from this.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Beyond the Game - Lessons in Winning and Losing

My youngest son turns seven tomorrow. Nothing melts my heart more than watching and listening to him read at the kitchen table. It is a powerful and moving moment in his development. Tonight is a little different though. Tonight I was provided with a rather simple, yet significant reminder of the importance of both tears and laughter in the process of learning. Let me explain.

Just moments before he was reading in the kitchen, he and I had taken up a heated game of Madden on the gaming system. (Keep in mind I am by no means a "gamer" as I leave that up to the older kids. Yes, I have those also.) Also worth noting is that my youngest picks up on the older siblings talents, traits and their habits almost to a fault. We will leave that to be for now.

To my surprise I quickly found myself in a position to "win" the game with only a minute on the clock. A couple of throws down the sideline, a quick run up the middle and the taste of sweet victory would be mine. I could sense the "W".

Here is where the simplicity gets not-so-simple. I was faced with a decision that any parent has experienced as they raise their young children. And for most of us it is one of the toughest decisions.

Simply: Do I let him win the game?

My decision, and one that came at the expense of learning the hard way with my almost 16 year-old, was answered with one quick pass down the field. And just like that the clock struck "zeros". The tears came almost instantaneously. Not mine of course. Rather his. My response in this moment would be the most important lesson of the night. I could either coach him up (as parents this is what we do) or simply walk away knowing he would eventually pull it together. For me, I chose something somewhat right down the middle. This would become a lesson in winning and losing.

Rowan and I agreed that winning is by far the greater (and more enjoyable) feeling of the two. However, we also talked about losing and that there are some much needed lessons with that as well. What happened over those next few moments was the most important teaching of all. Once the tears had subsided and we had processed how things played out, he soon realized, even at his young age, that there are significant lessons on both sides of the ball. We talked about sportsmanship, being a good competitor and above all else, having a relentless pursuit of working toward success. For him that meant "not quitting".

Hopefully the next time my child is faced with winning versus losing he handles it with his head held a little higher than the time before. He has room to grow and it won't come easy and not overnight. He has years of successes and failures ahead of him. And for that reason alone, we have to let them fail. Remember, if you give it everything you have, you try your best and you play fairly and positively, losing can posses some amazing moments in learning even more than winning itself.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Unity. A Choice.

As part of The Compelled Tribe, we set a challenge this week to our group to write about Unity. We asked the tribe to share through their lens what this looks like and feels like. This is my reflection this week of unity.

It is Monday morning. You walk the halls of your building. You peer into classrooms. You listen to teachers starting their day. You watch as students arrive to school.

Kids are hustling to begin the daily routine. Pencils are sharpened, devices in hand. Teachers are settling in. The smell of coffee consumes the first period classroom.

Smiles come from each corner of the room. Sharing of weekend adventures are spoken across the table, the halls. Laughter is felt, laughter is heard. Chairs shuffle, book bags open.

You are reminded of the great things that happen in your school. This is a space in which teachers can teach and students can learn. Parents are at ease because their children have entered an environment of trust and care. There is warmth. There is comfort.

You are unified. You are one. Pieces move seamlessly. Even though not always perfect, there is direction. There is focus. There is purpose. Your culture speaks loudly.

The day ends. You turn away from your school. Your lens shifts to the world outside of your four walls. Reality sets in. Hurt replaces joy. You sense division, frustration and pain.

Unity needs to prevail.

Even though there is an undeniable divide in the world around us, we need to model the power of coming together. We need to move as one.

I, like so many of you, chose unity. I chose to come together and be a part of the solution, to move forward, to learn and to grow. As leaders and learners we are reminded of the power of unity as we peer into our classrooms within our schools. Let that be the lens of the direction we are headed.

Let us be whole again.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Meant for the Middle

I am awkwardly comfortable. I make mistakes, I fail. I am picked up by others and I pick myself up. I am always learning. I yearn for more. I have a drive to dive deeper, not always wider. Sometimes I am lost. I embrace others helping me find my way. I listen.

I am meant for the middle.

Middle school teachers and administrators are a unique type of educator. We are quirky. At times we struggle with balance. We do as our students do. We strive to do right. We apply common sense when tempted by impulse. We offer control when others are lost.

I am meant for the middle. 

As we head into another season of instruction I would ask you one simple question. Have you found what you are meant for? If not, what will it take to get there? And, are you willing to get there?

As I have found my way to the middle, I would encourage you to think about where you are. While you reflect on that, check out these middle level traits I have found over the past nine years of my own middle level journey. As always, you are encouraged to add your own thoughts below. 
  • In the middle we must acknowledge we are awkward. The sooner we do, the better off we are. My parents and students at my middle school are often taken aback when this is one of the first disclaimers I make at back-to-school orientation. They are extremely glad that I do share this. It takes the "elephant out of the room" right out of the gate. Let's face it, we are awkward in every sense of the word.
  • Embrace what we don't know. And, there is plenty of that to go around. As we begin with rules and expectations, keep in mind that this is a new beginning academically, socially and emotionally. So much is happening our young lives we must grab on to the notion that there is so much to learn in all aspects. Keep relationships in the forefront and you are sure to have an amazing journey of learning.
  • We need guidance and direction. Life experiences are few. They are happening at each turn. Our job as the grown-ups around them is to model the right things. If we step out of line, put us back. If we fall, pick us up. Our actions and behaviors will set the tone for years to come. Be the best example possible.
  • Connect with your community of parents and support them.  Our middle level parents need reassured, supported and verified just as the students do. When at a school event or cars streaming into the parking lot before or after school, being seen is just the beginning. Engage and converse. Know your parents as well as you know their children. You'll see the impact immediately. Guaranteed.
  • Learning. Always. Academics are just the surface. Social interactions, relationships, maturity and overall emotional levels are all over the board. Our role is to be the steady. Be the constant. Model your own learning and you will see them respond in a way that shows in the classroom.
  • We need to fail. We need to be corrected. This makes us a better us. Whether with a strong voice or a conversation of "next time", we can't buffer the inevitable. We will all fail at something. Instead of always providing a soft landing, let it hurt once in a while. You'll know when. And, after the thud, carefully and strategically pick them up. Learn each moment of the way.
You know your calling. When you chose to become an educator you did so with purpose. Whether in your first year of teaching or your 30th, stay true to your purpose. Make sure you know your "why" and always be the student and the teacher. Learn, grow, repeat.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

It's Been Too Long - 6 Tips to Get Back to Blogging

I took a break. I needed one. I felt that I had been burning at both ends. Something had to give.

For the past couple of months, my presence in blogging has been minimal. Other than sharing a few interactions here and there, not much has come from Fueling Eduction. I was seeking balance and it was not as easy to find as I would have thought.

However, it is now the end of October. The first quarter of school is complete. Teachers continue to deliver quality instruction and explore innovative ways to reach their students in teaching and learning. Students themselves have grown leaps and bounds as they find the balance in all aspects of being who they are. And, our community of parents have been an essential part of the process as they support their children at home while also being an essential piece to the learning process at school. Learning is taking place everywhere we turn.

As for writing, the reality is, it's been too long.

Albeit the break was intentional. It now needs to be just as intentional to return. The rush of sharing the experience is an essential element to my growth, our growth. Writing is more than just about sharing facts, figures and tidbits. Writing is about growing ourselves as leaders and learners. As much as I enjoy reading the posts of others, my own writing is key to my own path in education.

With that, if you have taken a break from sharing your work through writing like I have I would encourage you to join me in the return. Here are some suggestions that I will follow to make sure my return stays permanent in the weeks and months ahead:

1. Prioritize. Now that you are in somewhat of a routine to your year, think forward to when you have time throughout your week. For me, Saturday mornings are often best. Already have activities at that time? Think about the beginning of the week when typically things are slower. Carve out time right after students are dismissed to sit at the computer and reflect and think forward. If you make writing a priority, you will make it happen.

2. Jot it down. Technology hasn't complete engulfed us. Whether getting ready in the morning, heading into work or just a part of the day, I often turn to the good old fashioned note to write down ideas, happenings or thoughts that might become part of a reflective post. Have a pen handy and just get some ideas down. Once that happens, the posts will become a passionate part of the day.

3. Might as well take a picture. As I go in and out of classrooms there is so much to take in. Whether a teacher sharing best practice, watching students collaborate in the learning process or a candid moment of the learning community enjoying their day, take a picture or two and use that as a source of inspiration. Also, use that picture as a reflective tool. As an administrator I sometimes text and often tweet that image to either compliment or provide feedback to what was observed.

4. Don't overthink it. Often times educators are turned off from writing because they have thought so hard about what they want to write that they convince themselves it is easier just not to write. I have done this myself and realize that instead we need to simplify the process. In the end, just write. The format can change and length is unimportant. The purpose of blogging is reflection. Embrace it.

5. Your audience is one. Each year I talk to a group of students at my middle school and remind them that the blogging journey is intended for one person - the writer themselves. The truth is, however, that when we share our story through social media, others grow from what we have written. Start with knowing that writing is for you, embrace the reality that others are learning with you along the way.

6. Enjoy the ride. When I bring my staff together one of the essential components of any professional learning or collaborative time is to enjoy the moments we have together. Even though learning (and writing) isn't always easy, it should always be positive, upbeat and enjoyable. I know, not everything is life is "fun" but at least set the tone and go into the process with mindset of growth and excitement.

As you reflect on your journey in teaching and learning, determine if it's been too long for you in some aspect of your work. I already feel rejuvenated and excited about the week ahead now that I have shared this with each of you. Please take a moment and share your thoughts in the comment section below. Feedback is essential.