Thursday, October 27, 2016

King of the World

“Mom, when I go to college, what do I need to learn so I can be king of the world?” said my 6-year-old son one morning as we were driving to school.

I was a bit taken aback. First, a 6-year-old is thinking and talking about college and what he wants to be when he grows up. That is pretty cool. Second, I don’t want to squash his dreams because there is no king of the world. However, there is a leader in those aspirations, so my next words are important.

“You study the world, big guy. And you learn all about how to be a great leader,” I tell him. He satisfied with that reply, continuing to think and then move on to the next topic swirling in his head.

I tell this story for two reasons.
  1. It is just awesome how kids think and dream. They are ready to take on the world and learn all about it. It is not our place to squash those dreams, only foster and develop them so our children can pursue their passions.
  2. Each child is different, and we need to celebrate and develop it, not standardize their thinking.

I have three boys. I tell the many stories of my three boys because they bring me back to thinking and dreaming. While these three boys have been raised by the same two parents in the same household, they are each very different. Call it birth order or whatever you want, but each of my boys has a completely different personality and different passions and strengths.

My oldest is my debater and analyzer. He is my mathematician, rule-follower, and perfectionist. The world is black and white with very few shades of gray, and those shades of gray better have some reason for being there. He loves sports. He pours his heart into it all, wanting to be the best he can.

My middle son is my easy-going, fun-loving, hard worker. He doesn’t mind putting sweat and tears in the work that needs done. My heavy-lifter, put your head down and go guy, he is loved by everyone for his humor and work ethic. He is built like a little athlete and does well in the sports and activities he plays.

My youngest son melts everyone’s heart with his sneaky little grin. He is a smart, but quiet little guy, who has a hilarious sense of humor and a loud cackle to go with it. He is perfectly content to play with friends or play by himself, and will do so for hours on end. He builds, constructs, but also watches and learns from others.

Each child is different, has different likes and dislikes, and completely different personalities. And while this is my reality at home, they enter an educational system that expects each one of them to reach particular milestones in learning and skills at the exact same time. I am not saying anything against their school, because I know their school is amazing with each of them, noting their strengths and weaknesses, differentiating for them. I know this because I am the principal of that school, and I know their teachers and our school is fantastic.

But, this isn’t about their school. This is about our educational system. We have constructed an educational system that touts differentiation and telling kids to pursue their passions, but bleeds standardization and conformity. Our schools are publicly judged on test scores and flawed accountability systems, thus pressured to conform to teach in this manner. The cycle is defeating as an educator, and many are clamoring to find ways to bring the joy back to teaching and learning through this system.

We have more knowledge and pedagogical know-how today than ever before. And we know that our system is not what is best for kids. We have brain research that tells us about learning and growing.

It is time we throw out the old lesson plan books and take a good look at the students in front of us, designing learning experiences for our kids in the way we know is best. We need to stop worrying about the test and focus on building skills our students can carry on toward their future, listening to them, developing their strengths, supporting their areas for improvement. We may feel like first-year teachers all over again, but isn’t that exciting? It will rejuvenate the school of the past, bringing it into today.

I don’t have the answers. But I believe our educators together will. We are an insightful group of people who want to do what is best for kids. That is why we became educators. While we can each continue to try different tactics and programs in our schools and districts, we are not changing the greater system. We are infusing what we know works for kids into a system that is still riddled with problems.

Today is a different age than when we grew up. And our system looks the same, but with more standardization. Change needs to be huge, not small and incremental. It is time we throw out the lesson plan books and start over. We can get excited for education again. We need to throw out the old “box” that we continue to pile more “stuff” into, and build a new box for an educational system. It is time to revolutionize education, change “the box” entirely, because that is what is best for kids.

Then, if they want to dream to be “king of the world”, we actually have a place where they can dream and flourish.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

What Does It Mean, Really?

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On a hot, fall day, I am sitting in the lawn chair, watching football practice. Clusters of boys lined up, running drills, listening to their coaches, sweating under their gear. Quite the sight! I could be bothered by the little sweat bees that swarm my feet, or the humidity that stifles the air, making my hair fizzle and make-up melt. Instead, I am in awe of the new perspective that has rushed over me. A perspective that is now pulling me to reflect on a particular word that seemingly has infiltrated all aspects of education.


A buzz word in education. We hear it all around us. We even have meetings called “collaboration”. I hear that word in interview questions, in standards. We expect it from the staff and students. In order to become better, we must collaborate!

But what does it mean, really?

During football practice, I saw it. This is not to say I haven’t seen this level of collaboration before. However, before me, I saw kids working together for a common goal - to become better individually so the team would become better. I am a sports enthusiast, so it was striking to me that I have watched many practices or games, not noticing it before. This is what collaboration is. Collaboration is teamwork and learning, all in one. Using our individual talents, sharing those talents while also listening and learning the talents of others so that the whole can become better for all.

Collaboration is defined as “the action of working with someone to produce or create something”. (Webster’s Dictionary) We need collaboration in our schools in order to become better, creating the schools we want for our kids.

So, how do we lead and foster the level of collaboration we seek in order to better our schools for all?

Build Trust
Anyone would say relationships are absolutely critical in every walk of life. If we want to get something done, we must first invest in the people who are involved to get that work done. We must get to know them, learn their strengths and areas for improvement, being a listener and one others can trust to get the job done. I have found that the greatest practice I can offer to my staff is to lead by example, trusting my staff to do what is best for students. I do not want to micromanage them; they are professionals and I believe in all they do for our kids. I go to them for answers, not have all of them myself, as I trust their experience and judgment. I pull teams together to problem-solve, working on a common goal. All of this is done in order build trust, not only of me, but of each other. When we trust each other in our schools, we can have frank, open conversations. True collaboration cannot happen without trust. When I look out at the football field, players are building trust for one another, trusting that each person will do their part on the field, putting in effort to get it done, and encouraging each other along the way. They have trust.

Share Openly
With trust comes sharing. Once we trust each other, believe in each other’s capacity and ability, we can share what we are doing with each other. This is yet another cornerstone of collaboration. More often than not, teachers WANT to share ideas with each other. What worked? What didn’t? How did your students do on that quiz? What activity were you doing because that looked like fun? How do I help this student? What curricular goals are essential for this grade? With so many questions that flood our minds on a daily basis, we cannot do it alone. We must seek others for ideas and comradery, as this is the only way anyone can positively impact our educational realm these days. Our sharing has a great impact on our kids. They see it. When they see our positive interactions and sharing, they have great role models right in front of them, building their own collaborative skills to use in the classroom. We can have a great impact on our students by simply sharing what we do with each other. Not only does it support each child academically, but we become what we wish them to be.

Intentionally Create Opportunities for Teams to “Practice” Together
Without time to collaborate, we become isolated silos once more. While isolation is a choice, we also do not want to make it impossible for people to come together to share. Building trust and sharing are the foundations of great collaboration, but without the time to actually practice this sharing, teamwork, and problem-solving, the idea of collaboration only happens in moments throughout the day. We need collaborative opportunities built intentionally throughout the day and week, not just quick exchanges during lunch or in the hallway. This can come through creative master scheduling or simply designating a specific time each week for 30 minutes either before or after school for the staff to come together and focus on the work. That time together should not be a laundry list of things to do or housekeeping. Those tasks are left for another time, or even flipped for the staff. Collaboration is give and take in conversation, and that conversation needs time to develop and grow. As a school, it is my job as a leader to protect collaborative time so that teachers have time to share and build the experiences we want for kids. If we have a shared vision that we are striving toward, our time must be set aside to get that work done. It will not happen by chance. It will not happen in mini moments throughout the week. We need time to practice our collaborative skills, sharing, building our teams to be open and trust one another.

Build Capacity for the Leaders Within to Lead It
I am one person. While I may be the leader of the building by title, I will have a greater impact by building other leaders throughout the school. I cannot meet with every group at the same time, but each collaborative group needs a leader. By having clear expectations and the same group norms throughout the building, the leaders within ensure we are continuing to strive toward our shared vision. They will have a greater impact than I ever will have. Our collective efficacy depends upon the leaders within to model and build our collaborative capacity. Just as a coach leads the team, there are other players on that team that lead as well. Together, they work to achieve their goal.

Collaboration may be a buzz word, but it is an essential component in making our schools better. Every school and every person can grow and improve, and together, through collaborative efforts, we can make that happen. We must build each other up, support one another, intentionally creating the time for our school teams to “practice” the art of collaboration. When we do this, our students will benefit most of all. Not only will they have fantastic models for what great collaboration looks like, but they will also have amazing learning experiences to expand their minds.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

The Move

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Moving 16 years of 5 family member’s accumulated “stuff” is quite a task, but we did it. This was not our first move, but it was our largest, since we had more to move than ever before. It is quite a story, one I have to write down, but a day I would not like to repeat any day soon.

The move was more complicated than most, as we were swapping houses. The person we were buying the house from was also buying ours! It just happened to work out that way, and we were up for the task. Since the move of both houses had to happen at the same time, we exchanged phone numbers and began planning for the move weeks in advance.

The seller was quite gracious, allowing us to move some storage items into the barn before the official moving date. We rented a U-Haul and moved quite a few small truck loads of “stuff” to the barn, soon realizing we were not as young as we used to be, and we would need some help. We hired movers that night, a company that would help us load and unload the truck on moving day.

A few days before the official moving date, my husband and I moved as much of the house into our garage as we possibly could. Everything but mattresses, big furniture, and our kitchen table was piled into the garage. I cleaned, repaired walls, washed windows, and trimmed bushes. We were ready.

Moving day was here! We were up bright and early, excited but also anxious for this day to be over. My husband and I had moved plenty of times before, so we knew the hard work that was in store. The day was going to be a hot one for June - 90 degrees with high humidity. We would need a lot of water.

We picked up the U-Haul trucks - 2 large trucks - at 8:00am. We also borrowed a horse trailer from a friend knowing we would need this for our lawn mowers and other odds and ends. The movers were set to arrive at 9:00am, so we needed as much in place as possible to make this happen. Move-in time was 1:00.

At 9:00, our movers arrived and went right to work. They were very appreciative that we had moved everything from our upstairs and basement into the garage so that they wouldn’t have to deal with stairs. The doors of the house flew open, and the boxes, furniture, and stacks of personal items started filling the trucks. The family didn’t just sit back and watch. We loaded our vehicles and the horse trailer as the guys filled the U-Haul trucks.

At 12:30pm, the last few items were loaded into the trucks. We were done! I swept the floors one last time, and we said good-bye to this house. It was a good house, one where many memories were made.

The U-Haul convoy was on its way, driving through the country roads to our house. The seller and I had been texting all morning, so the swap was about to begin.

We arrived at the new house around 1:00pm, but we had not had lunch yet, so our plan was to drop off the vehicles, eat, and then start unloading. We were greeted with a bustle of activity, and their movers had only moved boxes at this point. So our lunch plan was perfect. This would give their movers time to get some furniture out so we could unload ours.

However, there was a kink. The air conditioner in the new house went out. A call needed to be made to get someone there right away, or it was going to be an even more miserable move. The heat and humidity of the day were already overwhelming us all. So I made the call to get someone there to fix the air conditioner as we went to lunch.

Upon our return, furniture was moving out the front door, and our movers were unloading our items into the garage and the house. We went right back to work, moving boxes and furniture in as the seller’s movers were moving furniture out. In the middle of it all, the air conditioning repairman arrived, and worked around movers, boxes, and furniture, trying to get it working once again.

At 5:30, our movers were nearly done. They were amazing. In stressful conditions, they were hard-working and light-hearted, demonstrating that no matter what the circumstances, you can have fun!

The seller’s movers were still working hard, but they only had a couple more trips to go. We decided to take the U-Haul trucks back while they finished.

With one U-Haul returned, we made our way back to our new home, ready to pick up the other truck. I stopped at the end of the lane to check the mail, and when my husband opened the door, we heard a loud hissing sound. The back tire had a large metal trailer pin sticking in the middle of it. Oh no...

I drove to the top of the lane, close to the house, so we could get a better look. We pulled out the pin, and Fix-a-Flat wasn’t going to fix this! We had a flat tire in fairly new tires. Through trial and error, we figured it out with a little help from a YouTube video on how to get the spare tire out from underneath the van with the special tool we found. By now, it was 8:00. We had to get that other U-Haul back - time was money at this point.

We were all hot, tired, and hungry. My boys were amazing troopers through it all. So, I called in a pizza to their favorite place as we dropped off the last U-Haul truck. We took care of the truck, and went to pick up the pizza. I told the boys to wait in the van while I went in to get it. 9:00pm. We were hungry. We were tired. We were sweaty.

I couldn’t wait to get our pizza and get home. We still had to put together beds, and all I really wanted was a shower.

The lady at the front counter asked for my name for pick up.
“Heavin,” I said.

“Um, someone already picked it up,” she said.

“What? I’m the person who called it in. Who picked it up?”

“Some guy came in to pick up a pizza. We asked if it was Heavin and he said yes.”

“Well, he just picked up our pizza.” I walked out in disbelief. Who in the world would pick up our pizza? Seriously?

I opened the van door and started crying. “I’m done. Between moving our entire house, getting an air conditioner fixed, dealing with a flat tire, and now someone else picked up our pizza, I’m done.” I sat in the front seat and cried. My husband, in disbelief, went into the pizza place to figure out what was going on. He came back and said they were remaking the pizzas - it would be 15 minutes.

Patiently, we waited the van, sitting in the parking lot, still in disbelief. It was quite a day.

9:45pm. We were finally home. We found some paper plates, eating picnic style, surrounded by boxes. It felt good to sit and eat. It felt good to be in working air conditioning. It felt good to be done with the day.

The boys showered as my husband put together beds around the house, and I cleaned. I am glad I labeled all the bedding, finding it quickly so I could get those hard-working little guys to bed.

12:30am. Shower. I don’t even remember my head hitting the pillow.

Why tell this story?
When I look back and relive the day in my mind, I cannot believe all that took place. I could solely focus on all the negatives - the tire, the pizza, the air conditioner, the heat, the timing of the move. I could focus on all the wrongs of the day.

But, I remind myself of this. We moved! We did it! Everything was moved from our old house into a new house in one day. No one was hurt. Everyone pitched in and did an awesome job. Our movers were fabulous and were a pleasure to work with. No fighting. Nothing broken. It was a success.

Too often in our lives, we focus on the negative. I see it every day. We are surrounded by what is wrong. I think about my life in education, and we often hear what is wrong or negative.

Is everything perfect? No. But there is a lot that is going well, and it is time we see it, acknowledge it, and value it. There is good happening. There are positive outcomes. Students are not only learning, but excelling. Kids are doing amazing things! They are creating, growing, contributing to our communities. Teachers, principals, counselors, support staff - all doing amazing work with kids each and every day.
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So, the next time we think about what mistake was made during the day or what went wrong, we need to learn from it and move on, focusing more on all of the positives of the day. The negative default needs to be challenged and changed, so that the default in our minds is the positive. The more we can share our positives, our celebrations, and the good of each day, the better we will all be!

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

It's Been a While...

It’s been a while. My last blog post was in April. It is not that I haven’t had a TON to write about. I have plenty of blog posts that float through my brain on a daily basis. But, as life happens, my blog and my connected adventure has truly taken a back seat.

My family recently moved - which is another blog post in the works - and my presence was essential as we made this transition to our new house. My presence was not only physically needed as we made this move to our new house - packing/unpacking, cleaning, painting. My presence has been essential emotionally. Our boys are older now, and while it was great that they could actually carry boxes for this move, it was also harder for them mentally since our old house was the only house they really knew!  But we grew stronger because of it. Over the past few weeks, our family has grown strong together, spending time unpacking together, playing and running around together, jumping on our new trampoline together! My presence with my family has been a gift.

While I have been unplugged, unpacking, and painting, I have had a lot of thinking time. I have had to listen to my own words and truly take charge of being present. Present for my staff. Present for my students. Present for my family. Present for my connected tribe as well. We each have moments where our presence is needed, shifting our focus from one place to another.

For me, there is no balance between school and family. I’ve tried to balance the two for years and have always felt guilt and defeat. So, I’ve adopted a new frame of mind, and that is being present in the moments throughout my day, focusing my attention where I am and who I am with. Being present with my staff, my students, my family, my tribe, has allowed me to not only keep up with it all, but truly focus on what matters in that moment.

Our presence impacts those who matter most, and in the moments that our presence is needed.

Each day, I focus on being present with my family, talking with them, playing with them, simply hanging out with them.

Each day, I focus on being present with my tribe and connected educators who continue to push me professionally and inspire me daily.

Each day, I focus on being present with my staff and students, focusing on their needs, helping them grow.

Each day, I focus on being present in my own reflections, spending a few solid moments to reflect in order to move forward.

In all of these moments of presence, it is not about time, but rather about my focus. My full attention is placed with those individuals I am currently present with. That is the moment that matters at that time. That is where my presence will be.

Now as I move forward and gear up for the upcoming school year, I will focus on being present in all the moments of the day with those people I am with. It is when we are truly present in those moments that we can make a difference in the lives of those we care about most.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Driving Discussion

A meeting...

The agenda  is placed at each chair. Topics listed in the order they will be shared. Different people are at the meeting to report findings or topics. Each person goes around the table, sharing their information about the topic. A little discussion. Meeting adjourned.

Sound familiar?

This is the type of meeting I have been a part of and have also led. The meeting ends up becoming a laundry list of items to cover with little discussion. If a solution needs to be created on a particular topic, there may typically be a solution already at hand presented, discussed, and then agreed upon. I had created agendas and meetings like this for years. But I felt something was missing.

It struck me one day when creating an agenda for my leadership team. I would create the agenda about one week ahead of time, listing topics we would discuss, send it out to my team for comments, and then move on. However, this was not inspiring the discussion I wanted to have with my leadership team. I didn’t simply want a meeting where I would share information, push out a few questions to the team for us to brainstorm, and then walk away. I wanted a meeting where it was collaborative, all of the team contributing ideas and solutions to the questions we wanted to ask as a school.

So, how would I build this collaborative meeting culture?

I decided to create an agenda of questions. No more topics would be listed. Everything would be posed as a question to be discussed. The questions are broad, yet driven from our school action plan topics, opening conversation to solutions.

I still send out an agenda a week in advance, but now, my team can think about the questions ahead of time, pulling together thoughts and ideas to bring to the meeting. Once the meeting is started, I pose the question and then open the table for comment and discussion. Sometimes, we even have post-its for an Affinity activity or a Google Slides document so we can jot our brainstorming down, breaking into smaller groups.

Within one meeting, the vibe of the conversation changed. It was no longer one-sided. Yes, there was still some delivery of information, however, mostly each idea was discussed and the solution was collaborative. Our discussions have been more vibrant and collaborative, filled with meaningful discussion, ideas brought to the table, and it is much more inclusive. 

One simple idea - changing a list of topics on a meeting agenda to questions - has transformed the culture of our meetings. Even more than that, when anyone has a question regarding our action plan or vision for the school, all I have to say is, “That is a great question. Let me put that on our next meeting agenda!”

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Experiences to Learn From

Experience 1
It arrived in the mail, a flat, folded piece of cardboard. Nothing spectacular to look at. Just cardboard.

“What’s that Mom?”
“It is something very cool. Let’s find out!”
“It doesn’t look very cool. It is just cardboard.”
“Well, sometimes the coolest things come in very small, ordinary packages. It is what we do with it that matters most.”

Together, we opened the piece of cardboard, folded it according to the directions, and this is what we had. Google Cardboard!

“Mom, I can’t see anything through it. What do we do?”

I put my phone in the cardboard viewfinder, opened a demo Google Cardboard app, and then just watched my boys experience virtual reality. Their faces and comments were priceless.

“There’s a whale!”
“Look at that dinosaur!”
“What is that tall building?”
“You are in Paris at the Eiffel Tower!”

No picture in the world could capture their awe, their excitement, their discovery, their learning. Who knew a simple piece of cardboard could transform the world around them? And it wasn’t just for the kids. The adults were in awe by it too!

Experience 2
We entered the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle museum exhibit, noisy, almost chaotic atmosphere with different hands-on stations, all with other children touching, jumping, playing, and interacting with the tasks at hand. The boys took off, feasting their eyes on the many options ahead of them, each going their own direction, immediately gravitating toward a task that interested them most.

One decided to try to figure out how to build a bridge around a rug using only 4 puzzle pieces, another went to figure out how to balance on a skateboard, one went to climb through ropes without touching them, and my big man went to figure out a puzzle. All ages engaged, problem-solving, collaborating with others they didn’t even know. I wanted to bottle up this anticipation, excitement, and learning. Learning was happening, even though no one realized they were learning.

Experience 3
I walked past our new Makerspace, finding a class of students in the space, spread throughout the room in small groups. Each group had different materials, discussing and building something together.

“Come look!” One group wanted to share what they were doing.
“What are you trying to build?” I asked.
“We have to build a simple machine to move this roll of tape from the floor to the table. Look at what we built!”

They showed me their simple machine, moving the roll of tape from the floor to the table. Every student engaged. Every student talking and building. Each machine was different as I walked around the room. Levers, pulleys, even a catapult.  The teacher came up to me to share.

“Instead of everyone creating the same simple machine I show them or reading about them in a textbook, I thought it would be neat to see what they would build on their own and document their results. And the best part...if it doesn’t work, they are trying something else without me saying a thing.”

Experience 4
Two-hour delays are not sleep-in days for my boys. We go into school at the normal time. They build in Minecraft while I catch up on some work at school. But this day was a little different.

Out of the blue, one asks, “Mom, where is London?”

I decided to hop on Google Maps and show them. We looked at the map together, figured out where we were located and how far London was from us. Then, I decided we needed to see London, so I opened up Street View, and off we went.

“That is Big Ben. It is a huge clock.”
“Mom, they drive on the other side of the road.”
“There are some really old, big buildings there!”

Two weeks later while watching a movie together, one of my boys said, “Hey Mom! There is Big Ben! That is in London, England!”
“You got it, buddy.”

Experiences to Learn From
These moments of experiences are all around us, filling each day with amazing opportunities. The commonality among these 4 moments is this - children are EXPERIENCING the learning, not just having it handed to them. Children are interacting with the opportunity in front of them with excitement and anticipation, asking questions, figuring out solutions, visually, auditorily, and kinesthetically experimenting in that moment with what is around them. These are the experiences that we remember. This is the learning that immediately sticks.

I often ask, “What if school was like a children’s museum?”  “What if school was a never-ending Makerspace?” Children would continually interact with content and opportunities around them, creating their own meaning, building their skills through interactive experiences.

Children are not meant to sit at a desk all day. They are meant to explore, create, play, tinker, manipulate, and build. Instead of reteaching concepts year after year, those concepts would stick when embedded into daily experiences, facilitated by the teacher, differentiated and scaffolded on the spot. Every child would be on the same “playing field”, moving at his/her own pace, not judged by a compliant grade, but instead offered feedback and growth opportunities based on their trials and successes as they experience the skills and content around them.  

Learning is an experience. Within the experiences we create for our children, they learn. We may not see the traditional learning that we were once a part of, but our children are in fact learning with every experience we can provide them. My children and the students at our schools are so fortunate to have experiences all around them, experiences they are learning from daily. Whether it be utilizing the digital tools in our hands, or in the spaces that we build for exploration, learning does not have to come from a traditional textbook and worksheet. What experiences can we create in our schools so that our students learn and grow, building their foundational skills?

We need to continue building experiences for our children, not lessons. The lessons will be embedded within each experience we create. Let them explore. Let them discover. Let them build. Let them create. Their experiences will create lasting skills and opportunities.

Picture taken at Indianapolis Children's Museum, Indianapolis, IN on March 28, 2016

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Take a Chance

I remember the day very well. It was 2002, and my husband and I lived and worked in a small community in southern Indiana. I had just finished my English teaching licensure after I had received my Bachelor’s degree two years prior, substitute teaching as much as I could, and I was looking for a permanent teaching position. There were no open positions in the area, and since we were young, without children at that time, we decided to go to a job fair to see what was out there in the state of Indiana. While at that job fair, we met Ben.

Ben was a former Hoosier, now living and working in Pasadena, California, as the human resources director for Pasadena Unified School District, and he told us that he always made a trip to Indiana to recruit teachers, as there was a shortage of teachers where he was and he loved Indiana teachers. He was a former teacher and building administrator himself.

At the job fair, we stopped by his booth, just curious. What we didn’t realize was that Ben was about to change our lives.

He wanted to interview both of us that same afternoon. What?!?! I had my resume and a short version of my portfolio with me. My husband had the same. I did not feel prepared for this at all! We interviewed with him together - not separate interviews - and he drilled us. We answered question after question, truly walking away feeling like we were not ready for this job hunting process to begin! We started the drive home, both concluding that that was good practice, and we would continue to see what opportunities may arise.

After the two-hour drive home, I went about my business unpacking our suitcase and getting laundry going. Then, the shout came from upstairs. “Amy, you need come listen to this.”

Since we lived in a small farm house in the country, we had only one phone, a landline, sitting on an end table in our bedroom. I went upstairs to our bedroom, quite apprehensive, because I wasn’t sure what was going on. On our answering machine, (yes, answering machine because that was 2002), Ben left us a message.

(Not exact quote): “Amy and Travis, thank you so much for talking with me at the job fair. I would like to offer both of you a teaching position at Pasadena Unified School District. Please come out to Pasadena to visit our schools and we can talk the specifics.”

We sat on the floor in disbelief. I remember my husband’s face like it was yesterday. I’m sure my face looked the same. Was this for real? Were we just offered positions to teach in California? That interview was “just supposed to be fun”, a “what if”, not a reality. Now the big question, what do we do? Were we really going to consider this offer?

We talked for hours. We had no children at the time. We were both young. But our families were in the Midwest, which would mean leaving everyone we knew. We only knew two people in California, Ben being one of them. But, we always went back to the question, “But what if we never tried? Would we regret not trying this experience?”

It was not an easy decision, but we hopped a plane to Pasadena, eventually taking the positions at different schools, living and teaching there for two years. While it was only two years, I have to say that I will NEVER regret taking the chance and enjoying every moment of the experience. It was an AMAZING opportunity, truly making me a better educator right out of the gates. It was life-changing.

Many of our decisions are calculated and well-thought out. We have data to support our decision, we have talked with many people, and the decision to make is quite clear.

And sometimes, there is uncertainty. Sometimes, there is no clear answer. We are unsure of the outcome. We have the vision, but the path is not always paved for us.

Yet, we have to take a chance. We say, “Yes”.

Whether the opportunity is a big chance, like a new job, or small, like a new activity in the classroom, opportunities are all around us. In some, we play it safe because that may be best in that circumstance. But in others, we take a chance, because it may reap more rewards in the end. We have all taken a chance or two in our lives, a chance that we truly did not know the outcome, or are still awaiting the finality. I know I have taken a few chances in my classroom or at my school, planning and calculating the activity or decision making sure it aligned with my vision, and finally carrying it out, not knowing if it really would work.

We have all had those lessons as well. Will this go as planned? I could play it safe, following the plan from last year or the prescribed outline from the textbook, because it seemed to work before. Or, I could take a chance, try a different activity or set up, or even venture on a new outlook on how I want to build my lessons all together, taking a chance, not knowing if it will work or not.

In my professional career...
I took a chance jumping into a Twitter chat for the first time.
I took a chance joining the #leadupnow Voxer group.
I took a chance starting my own blog.
I took a chance becoming a principal and even changing school districts.
I took a chance gutting our computer lab.
And this is just a short list of chances I have taken in the last few years, let alone those from before this and those I will continue to take from this point forward.

In the end, we have to ask ourselves, what is best for our students and our schools? Will playing it safe all the time be best for them? Or, should we start taking more chances, pushing boundaries to try something new? Will that reach the goal of building skills for our students’ futures?

Playing it safe may be easier, but it is not always the best way, especially in the global economy that we live in today. Great inventions were not created by playing it safe. And this is the same in our classrooms and schools today. Innovation and change comes with taking a chance. Any time we begin a new initiative or venture, while there is a vision in place for the outcome, the path to that outcome is not crystal clear. It may mean taking a different path, one not traveled, taking a chance to try something new to accomplish the goal.

If we continue to play it safe, never taking that chance, we will continue to build compliance-ridden tasks that do not meet every child’s needs at that point in time, never truly capitalizing on the opportunity we have in building skills for OUR student’s futures. Compliance is not engagement, and no where close to empowering lifelong learning in our children.

You see, their future is different than ours. Yet, in many ways, we are preparing them in the same way we were prepared. This is not good enough any more. We must start taking chances, pushing our comfort zones, trying new approaches, bringing new experiences and opportunities to our classrooms and schools, seeing classrooms and learning differently. We must learn differently as well, taking it upon ourselves to grow, pushing our own selves to be better than the day before.

When my husband and I took the positions in Pasadena, we did not know the outcome, but took a chance. We took a big chance on our careers, and in the end, it made us better. Was it perfect? Absolutely not. But we learned, grew in our skills as educators, and have learned that taking risks, when designed with a clear vision, can truly reap rewards.

In our classrooms and schools, this is the mindset we need to shift toward. Standards, accountability, and standardized tests are there and always will be. But, I do not plan to allow this to dictate how we educate our children. That is playing it safe to an extreme. With a clear vision for what we want for our students, our why for being educators, we will take some chances along the way, learning and growing WITH our students, learning the skills necessary to be successful for a future we have yet to see.

Take a chance on an activity. Take a chance on a lesson. Take a chance on a new classroom configuration or “schedule”. Take a chance on your own professional learning journey. These chances may not work out perfectly. But, our students will benefit in not only seeing you take a chance with them, learning with them, but may grab ahold of some of the most necessary life skills you can share with them - the perseverance, fortitude, and empowerment to take a chance.