Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Amazing World of Twitter!

Photo credit below

In the past week, I have embarked on an awesome, new adventure - co-moderating the #INeLearn Twitter chat and then presenting at the IASP Fall Professional Conference on the power of Twitter! It has been FANTASTIC!

First, Kim Hendrick @evolvewithkim, the official moderator of this week’s chat, inspired me to jump in and give co-moderating a try. She, along with Michelle Green @mrg_3, are edtech leaders with so many wonderful ideas and great questions that really push my thinking. Their confidence in my ability to jump into moderating is heart-warming!

Even though I have taken part in Twitter chats for a while, this took my professional learning to an entirely new level. Picture this - I am sitting at home in “my spot” on the recliner, 9:00pm, in my “comfies”, with my laptop, connecting and leading a conversation with passionate educators all over Indiana. Now how cool is that! Professional learning on my time, in my home, and with others who inspire me. The conversation was fast-paced, engaging, and everyone involved was sharing great ideas. It was like sitting in a virtual room of educators, brainstorming and sharing experiences, all in an effort to make each other better. Now that is the power of Twitter.

Then, on Monday at the IASP Fall Professional Conference, I stepped completely outside my comfort zone, giving a presentation to a room of principals about the powerful of Twitter. I shared how it can transform schools as a means to communicate and celebrate the great things happening in schools, as well as serve as a catalyst for our own professional growth, collaborating with great educators all around the globe. I call them the 3 Big C’s of Twitter - Communicate, Celebrate, and Collaborate. I hope the tips, tricks, and examples sparked more educators to continue to take a step in this direction, discovering the amazing world of Twitter.

As I reflect over this past year, I am literally blown away. It was about this time last year that my use of Twitter exploded. I used it to communicate and celebrate more happening in my school, and I truly made an effort to develop my PLN, using Twitter as a tool to grow and learn. I have quadrupled the number of people I follow, building connections with great educators everywhere. What was really great was actually meeting a few of these people face to face this past week at the conference! It was as if I caught up with an old friend, and we talked as if we had known each other for years.

As I have shared this with my staff, I have noticed more of my staff jumping into Twitter as well. I am so proud of them, making that leap into Twitter, sharing the great things happening in their classrooms!

Now, these connections have given me the tools, the growth mindset, and the courage to collaborate on a greater scale, co-moderating chats, presenting at conferences, writing this blog, and most importantly, connecting with amazing educators. My jump into the amazing world of Twitter made this possible. My life as an educator will never be the same.

photo credit: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/opensourceway/5364620846/">opensourceway</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/">cc</a>

Monday, November 10, 2014

Embrace a Mistake

image credit below

We’ve all heard the quote by Vince Lombardi, “It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get up.”  

Every moment is a learning experience. Mistakes are no different. We all make mistakes. We are human - it is bound to happen. If we are not willing to admit our blunders, then this world would be filled with pompous individuals, not willing to budge in their ways or their thinking. While we don't like making mistakes, they happen, and it is how we overcome them that defines their role in our lives.

I’ve determined that this is the perseverance we must instill in ourselves and our students. If we want to grow and be our best, we must get up from our lapses, make what was wrong right, and move forward. Panicking then dwelling on the mishap isn’t going to change anything and it is definitely not going to fix the problem!

If we chastise mistakes and mishaps, there is only one outcome - fear. Allowing fear to run our lives is a terrible way to live. We go through the comfortable motions and never try anything new. I've seen how this affects me, our kids, and my staff. For me, my anxiety runs high, I worry continually over the little things, and am truly not productive. I cannot accomplish any task, I dread my work, and eventually retreat to what I already know and am comfortable in doing.

When our kids are chastised for mistakes, they live in fear too. Think about a child who is continually belittled. Their lack of self- confidence and self-esteem diminishes their ability to think clearly or productively, and after a while, they tune it out and become numb to their mistakes, never learning to change their ways. Risk-taking in a classroom and their creativity has been stifled. They fear making a mistake.

Teachers often feel this way too. Unfortunately, the standardization of our educational arenas have built a culture of the fear of making mistakes. What if the lesson wasn't perfect? What if it didn't go as planned? What is my principal walks in a sees the lesson that didn't go quite the way I had expected it? Instead of taking chances and risks, teachers feel trapped in what they have always done because they believe it has worked.

Let’s take a different approach to mistakes. Instead of chastising them and feeling bad when they are made, we need to embrace them. By embracing a mistake, we accept what they are, move on, and learn from them. To do this takes courage and perseverance, because our society is ready to jump on those who openly admit their mistakes. It is almost as if some are ready to pounce, like a cat playing with a feather. But for me, I embrace them. I'm ready to take the high road, the positive approach, not making excuses, but accepting the mistake to learn and grow. Through my reflections, I learn what to do next time, and take another chance.

For our students and teachers, this can be a game-changing approach. Creativity will flourish, as students and teachers feel as though they can take chances, and they might work, or they might not, but no one is there to judge and make them feel terrible for what they tried to do, as long as it is made in their best efforts and judgment. Grades reflect growth, creativity, and innovation, not compliance. Classwork is no longer a script to follow, but a chance to try something new and learn from it.

We all make mistakes, but it is how we deal with them that matters most. As a lead learner, I know I will make plenty of mistakes for a lot of people to see. Trust me, I already have. But, I always want what is best for our students and our school, and so by embracing those mistakes and mishaps, I accept what happened, reflect and learn, and move on, trying something different so that our students and school benefit in a positive way.

photo credit: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/i-am-rebecca/6832568375/">i.am.rebecca</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/">cc</a>

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Our Professional Growth Tale

I'm giving a huge shout-out to my amazing staff! Once again, they have demonstrated their commitment to their own growth so that they can become the best for their students.

I strive to live my life with a growth mindset. If we are growing and learning the best strategies and ideas for our students, implementing those ideas and strategies in our classrooms, then our students ultimately benefit. Not only are they getting our best, but our students are also seeing us learn - we are modeling what we want our students to become, what many school's mission statements state - we are showing our students what it takes to be life-long learners.

And so, at our first staff meeting of the school year, I challenged my staff to model life-long learning, developing a growth mindset. This mindset can be overwhelming since there is SO much out there to learn right now. But, I knew my staff could do it, because they want to be the best for our students.

In just the first few weeks of school, the staff has taken this challenge head-on. They have been learning all about Google, developing their Google sites and collaborating on many documents in Google Drive. It has been a fast and furious transformation, but its use has transformed how we communicate and collaborate as a staff. It has been powerful! We had a lunch n' learn, where I just sat in the teacher's lounge and answered questions as they came in. Kelly, our technology coordinator, joined me after school for a couple days and met with teachers so they could work on their Google site. We had a mini EdCamp and shared insights together. But more than this, teachers have been asking each other questions, jumping into each other's classrooms to help each other, building strong partnerships to learn together. Now that is powerful, fantastic learning!

Last week, our leadership team came together to build an affinity diagram, all around the concept of our professional growth needs and wishes. They brainstormed quietly, placing one idea on a post-it. I knew they wanted to talk, but the important part of this activity is for ideas to come from within each individual. After our brainstorming session, we took a collective look at our post-its. We got out of our seats and categorized them, talked about what was written on them, and had meaningful dialogue about each post-it. 

At this point, we began to think about HOW we needed to approach each topic. What were our current priorities? How would this information best be shared or delivered? Together, we talked more and placed each post-it in categories, between PD Roundtables, Wednesday Collaborations, Lunch n' Learns, How-to Videos, and Other. Our PD Roundtables are voluntary before or after school sessions, open for sharing, asking questions, and discussing resources and ideas. Wednesday collaborations are one-hour after school sessions and a great time for the entire staff to come together. Lunch n' Learns just started this year, and while we have had only one, it was well-received. I've made a few videos this school year to flip staff meetings and information, and there is a desire from the staff for more of these! Our other category covered all topics that wouldn't "neatly" fit under the HOW categories already put together. 

The most exhilarating aspect of our conversation centered around how we can help each other grow and learn, sharing resources. We developed our big picture together, and through our conversation, we understood more of what it will take to truly unfold our growth mindset throughout this school year.  

This conversation was fabulous. If this is the what the development of our collective growth mindset looks like, I am so excited to see how it transforms into the future. We have so much to learn, grow, and share together. My hope is to further take these actions and ideas, and help the staff push beyond this list, building their PLN to seek answers outside of our school.  Even more than that, I hope to build time for reflection and conversation, as this is where the most powerful learning takes shape. With more tools in our toolbox, more opportunities to discuss and gain insight on these topics, our growth mindset will blossom for the betterment of our students. What an exciting time to be at our school!!!

photo credit: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/deannabeth/5616446797/">Asmaa Dee Photography</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/">cc</a>

Saturday, October 4, 2014

My Connected Adventure

It is Connected Educator Month. Today, I tell my story of how I have become a connected educator. It is journey of self-discovery and growth. It has been a marathon, not a sprint.

So what does it mean to me to become a connected educator? It means that I have connected with like educators around the world, learning together, reflecting together, sharing ideas together, and asking questions together, all to be the best we can be for our students and their growth. In this past year, my professional growth has exploded. It has been the most powerful learning I have found. Being a connected educator has changed my professional life for the better, and I urge every educator to take this leap and do the same.

My Twitter account was dormant for a number of years. I had it, scrolled through my feed every couple of weeks, and moved on about my day. My professional learning was grounded in workshops and conferences, reading articles that I happened to come across, and reading books I came across in catalogs.  Was there anything wrong with this? Not particularly, but my growth was slow.

I can't quite remember what pushed me over the edge with Twitter. But I do know that about one year ago, I decided to take a risk and jump on Twitter more often, retweet great insights and ideas, and follow more people. Overnight, my life changed. There was something exciting about getting new notifications, others following me. There was excitement when I posted an idea I found, and others retweeted it because they too found it interesting. And through this, I was learning at a greater pace than before, finding out there are others like me, who want to be their best for our students, and grow for the betterment of our school. I learned how to help my staff grow too. I learned new ideas to encourage stakeholder involvement. I learned, I learned, I learned.

However, I still was lurking, not truly active in sharing and contributing to others. My PLN was growing, but how was I contributing to their growth and learning? If a PLN is truly to work, ALL members must be a part of the discussion. So, I took another leap and took part in a Twitter chat. I had heard about these, saw them when I jumped on Twitter at night, but I was full of excuses to not jump in. One night, I hit a bout of courage, and jumped in, saying hello. All of the sudden, I was a part of this chat, sharing ideas, TALKING with other educators in real time about education. It was an hour that changed me. When I was done, I looked over at my husband, who was wondering what in the world had gotten me so excited, and I told him that was the best hour of professional development I had been a part of EVER.

At that point, I was all in this wonderful social media world of learning. Twitter chats, whether I took part or not, became a nightly ritual to review. I jumped in a few each week, and started growing my PLN like never before. While some might think I'm just playing around on Twitter, I'm really growing and learning, taking control of my professional growth, sharing ideas with fantastic educators around the world. My professional development was, and now is, anytime, anywhere, and designed for me. Personalized PD, invigorating and refreshing in every moment.

But this wasn't enough. One snowy day, I sat on the couch and wrote my first blog post. I really didn't know what I was doing, but felt compelled to write. I created my blog - very simple - and then hit publish. Talk about taking a risk. It was the best professional risk I have ever taken. Now, I wasn't just sharing and discussing ideas on Twitter with other educators, I was reflecting on them, taking my growth to a completely new level. And my professional career will never be the same.

To be a connected educator, you must take risks. It is uncomfortable, but if we aren't taking those leaps, then we are stuck in a traffic jam with no where to go. I decided to take the wheel and find a way, maneuver around the jam, and go to the places I want to go. Was it always easy? No. Going outside your comfort zone never is. But if I want to be the best for my staff, my students, my parents, and my school, it was an essential part of my growth, and I do not regret one second of those uncomfortable feelings.

We are all in this together, this magical adventure called education. We must take control of it, become connected, and build a stronger connection with other educators around the world in order to propel our students forward to be prepared for anything to come. During this Connected Educator Month, become MORE connected, take the plunge, and you will never regret it! Let this be the beginning of becoming connected EVERY month!

photo credit: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/opensourceway/5364620846/">opensourceway</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/">cc</a>

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

We Had an EdCamp! And it was AWESOME!

Last spring, I began reading about this growing trend of professional development called the EdCamp. Educators created what they wanted to learn on the spot and shared amazing insights, tips, tricks, and ideas in a fabulous, collaborative environment.

So, this summer, I had to try it out. I attended the Google EdCamp held at Wayne Township in Indianapolis, and I walked away pumped up and full of ideas. It was fun to learn from others, share stories, and jump up and share some of my ideas too! I met new people and learned some very cool tips!

And so, I wanted to bring this idea to my school and my district. This past Friday, we gave it a whirl. With my staff’s trust (and another school in our district joined us for the day), we embarked upon a new framework for professional development. Within our district, we were very lucky to have a full professional development day and each building built their own professional development plan. The first part of our day was designed for developing a writing unit with the help of our district literacy coach. It was a fabulous morning of collaboration.

After lunch, it was EdCamp time!

Prior to Friday, I sent out a Google Form asking about technology topics and interest. I was able to build a basic structure for our session board. Along with that, I knew this was the first most of my staff, and some had never heard of an EdCamp before. I decided to put together a few slides to briefly describe what an EdCamp was, how it worked, the “rules of engagement”, and how to build a session board.

Once I shared how the afternoon would work, we built our session board. Teachers grabbed little tags and they tagged which sessions they would like to attend. It was so awesome to see! Teachers were excited, anticipating what was to come, and the session board started taking shape.

After the tags were up and everyone shared their interests, TOGETHER, we moved sessions around, added and changed sessions, and made sure the rooms fit. I gave them a few more tidbits, shared the backchannel and how it worked through Today’s Meet, and we were off!

Sessions were conversations, asking questions. Teachers moved when they needed to, helped each other, and shared great tips and tricks! I walked between sessions, shared some ideas and tricks I have learned, and watched the fabulous discussions taking place all around the school.

After all was said and done, we shared a “smackdown” of cool tips and tricks from the afternoon, and teachers shared their thoughts of the day through their exit ticket (old school note card style!).

In reflection, EdCamp was a blast! I am so happy I took the leap and led my staff into the EdCamp, learning from each other. I am so PROUD of my staff for giving it a try, trusting me on this adventure, inspiring me to learn with them! 

One aspect I feel was missing happened to be too few facilitators for sessions, and so many teachers weren’t able to answer some of their questions or left sessions because no one was there to help propel the discussion. Despite this, it is something I want to do again in our district, on a larger scale, with more leaders/facilitators to lead the charge. My staff gave fabulous feedback, felt the experience was positive, and short of too few facilitators, learned quite a bit with the TIME to share.

Not everything goes perfectly the first time you give it a try, but it is worth it. For me, EdCamping our professional development was worth the risk and was an incredibly positive experience for my staff. Way to go!!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Be Brave for Our Learners

I am the proud mother of 3 growing boys. Everyone asks, “So, are you going to try for that girl?” My answer is always, “No. I’m done.” I guess I won’t take the risk of having yet another boy to fight, wrestle, and destroy, and then again, I don’t think I could have a girl - I simply wouldn’t know what to do with a girl, and she would have to be pretty tough with these boys of mine. Nevertheless, my boys inspire me. I wouldn’t have it any other way.  

What I find most intriguing about my boys is that they are all so different. I have one who wouldn’t touch finger paints and another who smothers himself in it. I have a picky eater, and one who just won’t stop eating! I have a planner, a go-with-the-flow kind of guy, and I also have a plotter. I have a musician and artist, and then I have a brute who will take anyone down, even though he is a mere 30 pounds. They question, create, battle, wrestle, and sometimes say the funniest things. Each one excels in different areas and in different skills. They are my boys, each one different than the other, but best friends.

From the same parents, and yet so different. And different is GOOD!

We need to remember all kids are different, learn differently, act differently, even when they are from the same family. Instruction designed for “one size fits all” doesn’t fit kids. It is not responsive to the needs and personalities of kids. While we want all our students to learn particular skills, our instruction should be different in helping each child attain those skills. We know children will be ready to attain and learn skills at different times and at different paces.

Needless to say, I often am frustrated by our current educational system. We expect every child to be at the same level, move through the “grade levels” at the same pace, and each child should show “mastery” of “grade-level” standards on standardized tests. Our system tells us daily that all students should be at the same level at the same time, while we know this is not true, not what research says, and not what best practices tell us. When we give kids the same worksheet, we know this isn’t best practice, but we still do it anyway because our system pushes us to conformity instead of celebrating and fostering individuality.

Our greatest challenge is finding the balance between the standardization of the educational system and fostering the individuality and creativity we know our students should develop in order to be successful adults. How do we design an environment that fosters this individual development, while not being stricken by the system of uniformity?

Educators everywhere must be courageous to step outside their comfort zone and try something new, taking a risk to push students thinking and build creativity everyday. Textbooks do not drive what we do; kids do. Be responsive to the needs of the students, meet them where they are, and push them from that point forward. Be brave to construct a different learning environment for kids to explore, research, read, write, problem-solve, and think.

We are not teaching ourselves in the environment we grew up in. We are teaching this generation’s children, a plethora of differing learners, being asked to do more and know more than ever before. Our current system will not be enough for them. We must work together, be brave together, to step outside this current system and try something new.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Learning for ALL!

Today, I walked into a classroom to find 23 students busy at work. I walked around, and each student cheerfully said hello and proudly showed off their work. I stopped at one table, and the little girl and little boy were just sitting. I asked if they were finished, and both said no and looked very sad. I asked them where their paper was, and they both said they didn’t get one. I told the boy and girl to go ask for one, and sometimes this happens, but they need to ask the teacher for a paper. They did, the teacher happily got them a piece of paper, and both got to work, smiles on their faces. Crisis resolved.

This instance got me thinking, as many events during the day tend to do. As educators, we are often so busy or not sure where to turn, so we never ask or step outside our comfort zone to try something new, taking a risk. Our professional growth is stale because our school day is so fast-paced, by the time we need to ask, the rest of the world has moved on, leaving us stuck with a comfortable teaching technique or same procedure. That little boy and girl were not sure what to do, despite knowing they could simply ask the question in order to get that piece of paper. But they both felt the time to ask had passed, and they weren’t sure what to do.

We cannot allow the opportunities for our professional growth slip by.

Professional learning is a passion of mine. There are multiple topics I enjoy reading and learning about, such as technology, literacy, leadership, and motivation. I often ask myself, “What do you want to focus on, learn more about?” And over the past few months, I am drawn to the development of collaborative communities within a school and throughout the wider educational community.

Think about this: A college student studies education, observing classrooms, and eventually completes a 12-week student teaching experience. That student then becomes a teacher, hired to guide a group of students through skills and content. Once hired, that new teacher works tirelessly on lesson plans, grading, and classroom management tasks. He/She will talk with other teachers during lunch, before or after school, might get ideas or share ideas with others during those times. He/She will likely search for lesson activities on the Internet.  He/She may even attend a workshop or two during the school year, learning about a particular teaching technique.

The above description, at least in my experience, is fairly common among teachers and even principals. Throw in a few college courses or even a masters degree, and this describes most teachers. Nothing wrong with this, as there is opportunity for collaboration and growth, but in today’s educational arena, this is no longer sufficient for true growth. We expect our children’s education to be a continuum in skills development, and yet our own professional learning is choppy and scattered at best.

So, what is the answer?

I wish I had the answer, and I have read about many schools trying different approaches, such as the 80/20 approach, giving teachers time back during the day for their own professional growth. I am trying some different approaches, and so far, I feel we are moving in the right direction.  As a principal, I feel it is my job not only to ensure students are learning, but also our teachers should be growing. How can I better support their development?

Over the past year, I have set to demonstrate my passion for professional learning. I facilitated two book studies, modeled and taught lessons in the classrooms, and held PD Roundtables - short bursts of information led by teachers on various topics before or after school. Our leadership team has led the discussion of what is needed in the school in order to grow. Our community of learners is now expanding beyond students, and now is taking shape with the staff.

And so, with a common vision and action plan at our school, we are pushing each other in our professional growth. A new approach I’m trying this year is a “lunch n’ learn”. Lunch time is a wonderful opportunity to learn in a more relaxed atmosphere. So, I recently hosted a “lunch n’ learn” in our staff lounge, leaving it completely open to questions about Google. There were only a few questions about Google, but I still feel it was successful in opening the door to asking questions and seeking answers. I hope to have more lunch n’ learns, opening the doors to questions and collaboratively seeking answers.

I want to take this even further now. I want to reimagine the staff lounge and resource room. How can these two spaces be more conducive to asking questions and seeking answers? How can these two spaces become more collaborative, supporting professional growth and learning?

Again, I don’t have the answers, and really, the answer shouldn’t lie just in me - it needs to come from my staff. How can we use what we have to grow and learn together, supporting one another when time is precious and there is little extra to give? We need to be able to take risks in teaching, so that our students continue to learn and grow like never before. Without professional growth and support, risks will never be taken.

Professional growth needs to be a priority to everyone. We not only model the amazing opportunity lifelong learning provides, but we grow so that we can reach our children more effectively than before. I love it when the sky’s the limit!

photo credit: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/wwworks/2908834853/">woodleywonderworks</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/">cc</a>

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Reflections on Week One

It is Saturday morning, and our first week of school is done. It is a whirlwind of meetings and greetings, seeming to fly past quickly, but in reflection the first day seems to have happened two months ago.  A busy, but very good week of school has past, and I am finally finding time to reflect on it all.

Reflections are an important part of learning. My blog has become my avenue for reflecting, empowering me to learn from others, in addition to my own mistakes and successes. I strive to model this type of reflection for my staff, so that they too can reflect on their teaching and learning. I am vulnerable in my reflections, which was quite scary at first. My thoughts are my own, and pushing “publish” for the world to tap into those thoughts was not easy. With each post, I am more comfortable with the publish button, but in this reflection, I feel most vulnerable.


The first week of school is such an important one. It is where we set the stage, the tone, for the school year. As a leader in my building, I set the tone for my staff for the first time in the school year, I greet the parents for the first time this school year, and I see our students in their new classes for the first time this school year.  It is a week of firsts and first impressions matter. So to reflect on these first impressions is quite difficult - I want the first week to be the most positive, inspiring, and uplifting week of the school year for everyone. I want staff to feel energized and ready for a great year.  I want parents to feel supported in their choice to bring their children to my school. I want students to feel excited and ready to learn in their new classrooms. If any part of the week does not go well, then I take responsibility for that - it is a reflection of my leadership.

So, as I sit this Saturday morning reflecting on the week, I wonder how my teachers, parents, and students feel about their first week of school. In my initial conversations, I have received extremely positive feedback.  Wonderful! My staff has been working so hard to build fabulous learning environments, and parents have been very open and honest about the school making a difference for their children. They are happy! Students are eager to learn and have done a great job through the first few days.

And yet, even though I have heard quite a bit of positive feedback, I always prepare myself for the negative, even doubting myself in how the first week has gone.  In the first staff meeting, was I positive and clear enough in our action plan and vision for the school year?  Did I go too fast? Cover too much?  Not cover enough?  Did I say what I really meant to say?  Did it come across in the way I had envisioned in my mind? What was my staff thinking during or even after the meeting? Did I attain my goal during that meeting?  At Open House, did our parents feel welcome and happy to be returning to school? Did they get the information they needed to start the school year? Are they still needing more information? Are the students prepared and ready for the start of school? Are they excited? Do they like their new teacher and classroom?

Face-to-face conversations are so critical to find these answers, and I hope they are as truthful as I need to them to be so I can continue to learn and grow as a leader. I strive to be a better leader every day, every year, so that my staff, parents, and students feel safe, supported, and eager for school. It matters to me because I know our schools are our future. I will continue to reflect, build relationships with teachers, students, and parents to find these answers. I will continue to seek feedback from my stakeholders so I can make it even better next year. And though I doubt myself, I am confident in my learning and growing, as I have empowered myself to do so.

Friday, August 8, 2014

My Challenge to You

School is about to begin for the 2014-2015 school year. It will be an exciting year of changes, growth, and challenges. Many times, a “challenge” is deemed negative, meaning it is a hardship or a problem. Challenges do not need to be negative. In the classroom, we give our students “challenges” all of the time. There, a challenge is a quest to overcome, to solve, and to learn within the task. Challenges define who you are, summon you to take on something new, and stimulate growth. In education, we need to challenge each other, to inquire, and pursue excellence.

For this school year, I challenge you…
  • to be proactively positive every day, no matter what negativity surrounds you
  • to grow and learn along side your students
  • to play games with your students
  • to laugh
  • to connect with other educators
  • to build relationships with students and their families
  • to collaborate with great educators and interesting minds
  • to create great lessons, great activities
  • to reflect on your practice and write about it
  • to share the story of your classroom through your website, a blog, and/or professional social media
  • to celebrate successes in your classroom
  • to try a new technological tool
  • to find a great resource and then share it with colleagues
  • to take a risk and know it is ok if it didn’t work out they way it was planned
  • to help students learn how to be digital citizens
  • to model what you want to see
  • to think about time differently during the day, maximizing what you have for constant meaningful engagement
  • to base every decision on kids
  • to engage students in questioning and inquiry
  • to ask WHY
  • to wake up, be amazing, and then go to bed.

I know this school year will be fantastic. I’m a bit partial, but my staff is the best! Together we tackle these challenges, becoming better, helping each other grow, thus pushing our students to newer heights!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Asking Why?

photo credit: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/russloar/3353617661/">Russ Allison Loar</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/">cc</a>

Kids are amazing.  So inquisitive and creative. I am intrigued by how they develop their thinking, constantly asking why. With three young children, this is often a question I am asked daily.  Why? And when I give an answer, I am asked another why.  While after 3 or 4 why questions, the dialogue can seem annoying, the inquisitive child just wants to know the answers for everything around him. He is driven for a higher understanding.  He simply wants to know why. This is a lesson for all of us.

I have recently been reading two great books by Simon Sinek, Start with Why and Leaders Eat Last. In Start with Why, numerous examples of individuals and companies are explained in their great understanding and belief in why they establish and market the products they do. For instance, Sinek gives the example of the Wright brothers and their first flight. While not funded like others, their ability to inspire their team behind the why of flying exceeded other teams trying to take flight. They started with why, then build the what and how around this belief. It is the belief and philosophy that is “sold”, not just the product. Sinek explains the driving force in starting with why, before getting to the what and how.

As an educator, administrator, and learner, I tend to look for information and for answers, but I truly wonder in the past how often I asked why. In all the tasks of the day, I look for what and how. How many times have I just followed the path of information, read the article or blog post and just kept clicking on the next link, or simply grabbed a hold of cool tools because others tried it without asking why?  What information do I seek?  Why do I seek it?  What is the purpose, the vision, and the drive behind the learning?  

Knowing WHY defines the vision we seek.

As adults, we tend to discourage why. I know I don't like to be questioned!  However, instead of becoming defensive, we need to embrace why. A staff member may ask about a procedure or address a particular instructional technique.  She may ask why. A parent may ask about a particular score or grade his child received.  He may ask why.  A student may ask about using her smartphone in class for an assignment.  She may ask why.  We need to embrace the question why, because it is an important question to ask and answer.  We need to be driven by why because it will clarify our vision for what we want our schools to be in the future. Sinek states, “Starting with WHY is what inspires people to act.”

We need to build classroom communities where questioning why is valued and embraced.  The greatest minds of our race have asked questions, have inquired the why.  We know and educational research states questioning is an important skill for our students to acquire.  We know that critical thinking, problem-solving, creativity, and inquiry are important skills to embrace in our classrooms.  However, as children get older, they ask less of why and more of what do I need to do to get the A.  

As educators, we need to ask why as well.  Often times, this is frowned upon, however, we need to know WHY we are doing something in order to effectively communicate it to others.  It seems crazy to tell my colleagues and staff that they need to embrace technology in the classroom if I cannot explain WHY it is essential.  How can we effectively communicate our vision if we cannot communicate the why behind it?

In all we do, we need to ask why.  Why should we use social media in education?  Why is technology important to use in schools?  Why should we teach our children digital skills?  Why are the standards important to teach? Why do we use the traditional school year schedule? Why are grade levels determined by age? Why do schools exist?


The answer should not be because that is they way it has always been done.
The answer should not be because that is the current trend.
The answer should not be because we should change.

The answers should be grounded in kids and their needs.
The answers should be based on best practices and current educational research.
The answers to why need to be determined by our vision for our schools and their future.


Our kids depend on our answers to why. Our kids are looking to us for guidance, for comfort, for development of skills, for everything.  They DESERVE good answers to why. They deserve the right to collaborate and communicate with one another to be successful citizens.  They deserve celebrations to show off THEIR answers to why.

We NEED to ask the hard why questions so we can build a better future for our kids. We need to be able to answer those questions thoughtfully and with purpose, driving our relationships and our vision for our schools.  We need to drive our reading, our learning, our reflections with why. To be truly visionary, we must be inquisitive. We must ask why and then answer it.

It is not just start with why. Why should be the question in all we do.