Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Paper Chains

This week I came across a message from one colleague to another that referred to the paper chain countdown. Last year, this post came out at the end of April. This year, I share already. Enjoy the read and please, comments are always welcome.
Recently I joined in on the Alabama Ed Chat (#aledchat) hosted by Jennifer Hogan and Holly Sutherland. The conversation centered around how we as educators can finish the year strongly and maintain growth both for our students and for ourselves. That conversation inspired this post, Paper Chains.

"I can't believe the last month of school is already here!" she said as she walked down the hall with her friend to math class. "I know," she quickly fired back. "What are we going to do?"

It was in this moment that I was reminded that summer vacation may not be all that it is cracked up to be like many of us may think. Sure for some students and teachers, it is a much anticipated break. There is time with family, vacations and a break from the routine of traditional school. However, the reality is that many kids (and maybe even an educator or two) that would rather be in these halls with all the "rules, guidelines, teachers, homework, academic expectations and friends" than what the unknown other option may be. That other option, that unknown, is what many of us may not realize what awaits them.

And with that, I sent the message that the paper chain was going to take on a new meaning. The paper chain was now going to be viewed in a way that had not been considered before. This new view of the paper chain would have a sense of learning, not a sense of time passing by.

Instead of counting down the days until summer vacation by removing a link of the chain each day, we will remove a link of the chain that will be counting the days of learning remaining, of being with friends, of getting the most out of our academic journey. And with that, our outlook on the final month changed. It would change in a way that students and teachers would embrace. Our pledge:

We will commit ourselves to learn all that we can. 
We will teach like it was the first day. 
We will invest in ourselves and our students and our colleagues like we had just met. 
Our passion would be our drive. 
Our lessons will keep "selling tickets". 
Our expectations would continue to rise and our desire to connect with the learning will not reach an end. 
We will be there for our students knowing that this will be how they will remember how we taught them and how we cared for them. 
Our colleagues will feel the same.

I would end with this message and the message that I shared in the chat the other evening with this, "The last day(s) should be (and will be) as filled with as much energy and passion as the first." I challenge you to do the same. Rethink the Paper Chain.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Fun and Outrageous

She said what? “Fun and outrageous!” I am not sure either of those words would be used to describe who I am as a leader, a learner, a writer and especially not a parent. For those that know me, some would say I know how to “have fun” but I highly doubt many would consider me to be that “fun and outrageous” kind of guy.

But who knows. Maybe I am mistaken. Maybe it is my perspective. So I started to think of it in a different way.

I needed to reflect on not only who I am but just as importantly, what I do. As a Middle School Principal, maybe I wasn't giving myself enough credit. Maybe I am a bit more "fun" and can be a little bit "outrageous" at times.

This all came about when I was asked to be a part of a collaborative blog post. When I asked by my friend and colleague what direction we should, the response was “fun and outrageous”. After a quick head-nod, I shared that those would be the last two words I would have thought to describe not only me but also my writing style.

What I write is more of the straight-forward, get to-the-point with a twist of emotion now and again type of writing. Far from the “fun” and nowhere near the “outrageous” style I was now faced with considering.

But here we are. Thinking about a collaborative effort to see if I can collect evidence of my “fun and outrageous” side of who I am as a leader, a learner, a blogger and maybe even a parent. Not sure it can be done, but as we model to our colleagues, let’s give it a try.

So like any good teacher, I started the process through reflection. And as I reflected on this school year I generated a list that may in fact support my "fun" and "outrageous" side. 

Back-to-school Orientation and greeting over 850 students and parents.
Ice-breaker activities with students. 
Fundraiser kick-off and prizes.
8th Grade class trip to Washington DC.
Celebrating Winter Break with staff traditions.
Tubing at the local ski resort with our students.
Chaperoned our school socials, all four of them.
Student-Staff basketball game.
Attending countless sporting events, concerts and extra-curricular activities.
And the list goes on.

Do all of these fall under “fun and outrageous”? Not necessarily. However, I could go into depth on each one and find the laughs, smiles and even the craziness of a few. Each were amazing moments with teachers and students. Irreplaceable moments at that. 

So in the end my takeaway from this slice of events (like your own list of events) brings a sense of assurance. Or is it re-assurance? It is affirming to the time we spend, the lessons we teach and the relationships we have with those around us.We are provided the opportunities to have some pretty amazing moments with those we work and work for. And, some of them may even be considered“fun and outrageous”, with our students, staff and community.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Cover to Cover

As part of the blogging group, the #compelledtribe, we are sharing with our readers something new we attempted in our work this year to better ourselves as educators. I would encourage you to reflect on your year and do the same. We often times overlook the obvious so you may be surprised at all that you accomplished. 

Picking up that book and reading it from cover to cover earlier this year gave me a feeling of academic accomplishment that was unique to other work I had done in the past. As I reflected on my journey of being a student, this was a first. Papers had always been easy to write, notes simple to take, lessons came with ease. This, however, was new.

We are each life-long learners. Whether through undergraduate work or our masters degrees, or the professional development we receive with our jobs, the journey of learning continues for all educators. For me, each year has been full of continued growth and expanding my knowledge base to be a more effective teacher and leader. Like you, from conversations to conferences I have always invested time in deepening my understanding of teaching and learning.

Reading books from cover to cover however, was one particular style of learning that I can honestly say I had never actually enjoyed. Until now.

This year, like no other time in my life, I became a reader. A cover to cover type of reader. From beginning-to-end kind of reader. Not a "skimmer" or a "page flipper" but a highlighting, post-it note, marking up pages type of reader. And with this step, I realized that I was on a path toward self-improvement. This is where my growth as a leader officially rocketed me forward. My ability to lead more effectively, strengthen relationships with colleagues and make connections in instruction more purposefully would become just one way to measure the time spent in reading various books throughout the months to come. Proudly so, I was impressed with what I had started, and finished.

Here are just some of the books I have read (or finally read cover to cover) this year:

The list will grow and so shall I. I don't regret waiting so long in my adult life to become a reader of books from cover to cover. Rather I am grateful to have found this passion for reading when I needed it most.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

On Empty? Fuel Up.

Recently, my tank has been running low. My topics are few and far between. I am struggling with practicing what I preach. Routine has taken over.

Until now.

Pulling my staff together the other day, I shared with them my take on where we are as educators at this time of the year. With one quarter to go, this is crunch time. Testing, grades, content that needs to be covered and expectations continue to grow. We all know that there is much to be done before the end of the year.

Working through that list of work to do, we know that we still have the same number of minutes in an hour and the same number of hours in the day. The days seem to be getting shorter, not longer, as the calendar suggests. Time, as always, is working against us.

Regardless of the obstacle of time, we move forward. And, during this time together, I reflected on where we had begun months ago. I felt the need to remind them of this journey. We had introduced Teach Like a Pirate by Dave and Shelly Burgess. We have had some inspiring and uplifting conversations about passions. That led to sharing Rules of the Red Rubber Ball by Kevin Carrol. To start the year we talked about our goals, our dreams and our ambitions for the year ahead. Our conversation then, and my sharing with them on this day, were becoming one in the same.

And then, it clicked.

I quickly realized that the fuel that was needed was as simple as the conversations that had just occurred. What I needed most was the people that I get to work with each day. It was my colleagues that would provide me the charge. They were the fuel. Being a part of the conversation I learned this:

Don't overlook the obvious.
Recognize the little things.
Celebrations should happen daily.
Greatness happens constantly.
Inspiration is discovered.
Create your own story.
Dance at every opportunity.
Lean on others when you need them. Let them lean on you.
Listen to each other.
Be brave.
Take risks.

I am fueled up for the remaining weeks of this year and beyond. I am eager to see what is yet to be done. I am inspired, and the tank is full. May your final quarter of your year be as rewarding as the first. Finish strong for your student's and each other and most importantly, for yourself.