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.