Thursday, June 22, 2017

I Forgot His Birthday

Every day is filled with lessons in leadership. This day was no exception.

It was the second to last day of school, a Monday. The day was going to be filled with celebrations and activities. The weekend had been a busy one. I was at a basketball tournament in Ohio with the boys, which was fun. But typically, I take a few moments over the weekend to reflect and plan for the week ahead, however that didn’t happen since we were so busy with games and traveling. So, as I drove into school, I walked through the schedule of the day, all the places I wanted to be sure to stop by and see.

The morning started well, everything falling into place. The bell rang for school to begin, so I took my post in the office to read the announcements. I prepare the announcements a day in advance - one less thing to think about in the morning. The kids were all ready for the announcements, in their places to say the pledge for the whole school, when I looked down at the announcement paper and saw it. My youngest son was celebrating his summer birthday today and I forgot all about it.

Tears began to well in my eyes. I’m such a terrible mom. It was on our refrigerator. I had it marked on the calendar. My secretary saw the horror in my eyes, gave me a reassuring chuckle, and I pulled myself together for the kids in front of me, sharing the announcements with the school in my cheery voice.

When the announcements were finished, I quickly retreated to my office and broke down in tears. The world around me was spinning, my focus on everything but what really mattered. I forgot my son’s birthday celebration.

After pulling myself together, I quickly texted my husband to see if he was available to run to the store to pick up treats. No luck. Then, I texted his teacher to see when they were going to celebrate his birthday, trying to figure out in between the assembly celebrations and programs when I could possibly get to the store to pick up treats. His teacher texted me back with an early afternoon time, so I had a short window to make it happen. She shared, “He told me he didn’t have his treats, but also said that he knows his mom didn’t forget and the treats are in your office.” Wow, I’m glad HE had faith in me!

The celebration assemblies came and went, and I scurried away to pick up treats for the class. They were in my office at just the right time for my little guy to pick up, and so he never knew the true story. Crisis averted.

In the grand scheme of things, the situation is rather minor. However, this experience still sits with me, even after school is out and all has settled a bit. It sits with me because it was a very important lesson for me to realize. You can never be your best for others or be able to take care of others the way you need to if you do not take care of yourself first.

As a leader, I want to do all I can to take care of the people around me. I know that if I do this, they will be better for those they serve, our students. I want to ensure all the ducks are in a row, giving my staff less to worry about so they can focus on the students. As a mom and wife, I aim to do the same. Take care of it so others don’t have to worry about it.

The problem is I never gave myself time to stop. Every person has to stop to rest their mind, reflect, and rejuvenate. Without whitespace, we are not of clear mind to make good decisions or ensure we are our best for others. If all we do is fill the buckets of others but never fill our own buckets, then our bucket will run dry at some point. If our bucket is dry, then we have no more to give. I determined I was at that point.

Thankfully, all was resolved that day and my son didn’t have a clue what had happened. Minor issue that was resolved without too much trouble. However, there may come a circumstance that doesn’t end as well, and it will all be due to my absent-mindedness caused by a lack of necessary whitespace.

It is critical as leaders that we rejuvenate and recharge. It is imperative that we take time for ourselves, filling our own buckets, so that we can be our best for others. We need to fill those buckets often, not just during breaks or weekends. People depend on us, and I want those around me to know they can count on me at all times. And so, this summer, I plan to rejuvenate and fill my bucket, but also make a change so that I can continue this practice in order to be my best for others all days of the year.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

We Are Each Other's Best Teachers

Earlier today, I gave my very first Ignite speech! It was exciting, but my anxiety definitely took over at a few points, and so as I reflect, I continue to feel that my 5 minutes of talking did not do the topic justice. This is something I am passionate about, and therefore, I am going to do what I feel I do best - write about it!

We Are Each Other’s Best Teachers
We are each other’s best teachers. Right? I love educational conferences and workshops. Honestly, I am addicted to learning. I enjoy attending conferences and workshops, learning from expert educators in the field, as well as fellow local educators who have something amazing to share. Educators would not go to conferences if we didn’t love learning new ideas and strategies! But these are events, and these events only happen a few times per year for most people. They are great when they happen, but they are isolated, scheduled on particular days, with particular presentations. We walk away with great ideas, but often so many ideas that we cannot effectively implement any of it well.

However, through my years of experience, I also know that my teachers have great ideas, activities that they use in their classrooms and successes to share with it. At Ryan Park Elementary, we know there are experts all around us in various topics. So, we build intentional opportunities to share, collaborate, and learn from each other. In essence, we are teaching each other, coaching each other. Through gallery walks or making Monday meaningful with voluntary PD after school led by our very own, we teach each other.

So, if teachers have amazing ideas to share, and we must tap into each other’s ideas so that we can be our best for our kids, then are our four walls all there is out there? No way! There is a world of educators out there, ready to share and ready to learn, sharing their expertise in what we do. We help each other grow. Connections matter, and so why not tap into this global collaboration? If we are each other’s best teachers, then we need to build those connections, creating our professional learning network, growing and learning whenever we need it or want it.

The beauty of social media, like Twitter, is on demand learning and sharing. It is 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year learning and sharing. But here is the thing. I’m guessing most of us know this. So, my question is, why aren’t more of us actively on social media sharing, learning, and growing from each other? We need a learning revolution. We need to take charge of our own learning, not just through conferences a few times per year, but on demand, when we want it and need it.

I have met some of my closest educator friends on Twitter and Voxer. I listen and chat with them daily, and they push me to be the best I can be as an educator. They inspire me in who I am, and I can honestly say that I have become a better educator because of them. These are people I have never met face to face. However, I know them as if I worked beside them daily. My PLN continually pushes me to be better, and I hope I can do the same for them through my sharing as well.

I challenge all educators to grow their PLN, making it the inspiration needed daily, not just for cool ideas and activities, but also for the emotional and mental boost every educator needs.  Use hashtags. Take part in a Twitter chat. There is literally a chat for everyone. And grow friends around the globe.

We cannot wait for it to come to our door. The world doesn’t know what I need. I do. We must seek it. We must go after it. Educators need to build time every day, even if it is just 5 minutes, to reach out, share a great idea for the day, and grab one from someone for themselves.

The biggest question of all is this. Why? Why take time from our busy day to reach out, share on Twitter or Voxer, take part in a Twitter chat, and learn something new? Because our kids matter, and therefore OUR learning matters. When our learning take the forefront, we are better for our kids. We model learning for them, become better for them, and share the greatness that is working for us with others, helping ALL kids. We are each other’s best teachers, and we need to take control of our learning, expanding our collaborative reach, building the greatest network of learners ever created.

We are educators, doing all we can to help our kids be successful. With followers and those we follow, we grow and learn from each other, and we are experts at what we do on a daily basis.  We love it when the lightbulb lights up for kids. So, let’s do that for each other. Let’s be each other’s best resource, not relying on a few times per year, but focusing our efforts on daily, on-demand learning that will benefit everyone. We are each other’s best teachers!

Monday, April 10, 2017

The Wind & The Trampoline

This is a story of teamwork and determination. Sometimes the smallest events in our lives reinforce our greatest leadership lessons.

A cold, rainy, incredibly windy day in April. Gotta love the Midwestern weather. A typical Thursday routine. We left the house, heading for school. Bundled up and ready for a great day, we left the house in good spirits despite the undesirable weather.

It rained all the day. The ground was saturated. But more than that, the wind was nasty. It was nothing we hadn’t experience before, but combined with the rain, it was just ugly outside. Honestly, it was a perfect day for a warm fire and chicken noodle soup.

After a good day at school, the boys and I headed home for another regular routine for the evening. As we pulled in the driveway, looking at all the little pools of water everywhere, we noticed something was not quite right when we drove up to the house. Our trampoline was missing!

The wind today was nasty, but nothing we hadn’t experienced before. Typically, the trampoline doesn’t even move in these “wind storms”. But, as we looked around the yard more closely, we all saw the image at the same time. The wind won today! The trampoline was trapped in the woods!

The wind was still blowing. The rain was still pouring sideways. I got the boys inside, put on my Muck boots, and headed outside to check out the damage.

The trampoline took a bit of a beating, but not as bad as it could have been. It was wedged tightly in a small clearing just on the edge of the woods, finding its way on top of thorns and a bunch of brush and limbs we had just recently cleared out of another part of our yard. The jumping mat was still intact - no punctures even though the trampoline was stuck in trees, limbs, and thorny bushes. The enclosure poles were a different story. The wind definitely took them for a ride, twisting them around as the net became the parachute to carry the trampoline 100 yards away from its “home”.

I went back inside to check on the boys’ progress with their homework, debating on my next move. Should we wait until the wind dies down and move it? Wait until my husband gets home so he can help? Or should the boys and I give this a try?

I went back outside in the rain and wind to survey this a bit more. This was a tough decision. Sometimes decisions take an extra glance or two. In the end, I determined that we had to get this trampoline out of these nasty thorns, vines, and branches. This wind would bend the frame more and possibly tear the jumping mat. So, we couldn’t wait.

I went inside to break the news to the boys. “Boys, we have to move the trampoline now. If we don’t, we might not be able to keep it. Yes, you are going to get wet, but that is ok because we can wash your coats. Yes, you are going to get muddy, because there are pools of water and mud everywhere. It is cold, and we know the trampoline is very heavy, so it will take all of us. Let’s do this guys. We can do it.”

We all put on our gear - boots, coats, hats, and gloves. We marched outside together, rain and wind battering our faces, talking about the strategy we were going to use to get this heavy, 8 foot trampoline out of the muddy woods. It was clearly stuck, and we were going to get it out. Mom, 6-year-old, 8-year-old, and 10-year-old, in the 40 degree rain and wind.

I made my way through the woods so I could get to the back side of the trampoline. I was going to push while the boys pulled. I trudged through the swampy mess of sticks and thorns, getting to a position, as the boys were on the grassy side of the trampoline, ready to take my direction. I put all of the enclosure poles down so the wind could not mess with them anymore. Here we go.

“Ok boys, on the count of 3, you lift with all you’ve got and pull. I will lift up as high as I can and push. 1, 2, 3!” And we did. The trampoline went nowhere. “Ok, let’s try that again. 1, 2, 3!” This time, we put a little more kick into it. The trampoline budged a few inches forward.

We did this over and over again. At one point, we stopped as I pulled larger branches and thorns out of the way. We went inch by inch, moving branches and vines as they pulled and I pushed. We grunted and cheered each other on. At one point, I fell into the muck that surrounded me, but we pushed forward. Each of us stopped after 10 minutes of this, looked at each other thinking we weren’t going to make it, then we all said in unison, “We can do this. One more time. This last one is a big one. 1, 2, 3!”

Our final push/pull was an amazing one, as the thorns and branches fell from the bottom of the trampoline. We set it down in the grass not far from the wooded area, seeing the small bends in the main frame, but happy we pulled through. We grabbed a couple of wood pallets and bricks, using the tools around us to make sure that trampoline wasn’t going anywhere without us moving it again.

With high fives, exhausted faces, and drenches clothes, we walked back inside, ready to wash our clothes and eat dinner.

We didn’t think we could do it. Honestly, there was a point in time that I didn’t think we would be able to finish what we started. That trampoline was stuck and it was heavier than what we probably could have managed on a typical day. But, we knew we needed the teamwork to work for us, persevering through the challenge, moving something that probably wouldn’t have moved if our urgency wasn’t pushing it along.

I think of the many challenges we face daily. Alone, overcoming these challenges are truly impossible. The “wind” will win every time. But, when tackled with a team, with the urgency and tenacity to pull through, even the toughest obstacles can be overcome together. Then, together, “the trampoline” will move through the mud, water, thorns, and branches, because we are determined to make it happen.

As an educator, we face challenges head on, always striving to do what it takes for each and every child. It may be messy along the way. There may be thorns to step through or branches to clear from the path, but as long as we keep the clear goal in mind, we will achieve it. This is not an easy job, but it is worth it. I am so blessed to have an amazing team, who each day tackles “the wind” with me, moving “the trampoline” so we can help our students become their very best.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Something New

I love the excitement that comes with something new. There’s nothing quite like the anticipation and thrill that the mind and body experiences during a new event or activity.

Take my youngest son for instance. His first wrestling tournament was just a couple of weeks ago. He was literally counting down the days for an entire week.

“Is it our wrestling tournament tomorrow?” he would ask multiple times a day.

“No buddy. It is on Sunday. Just a few more days away,” I would reply.

On the morning of the tournament, he woke up without a fuss. He got ready without multiple prompts. And, as we waited for the brackets to be posted, he was right along side his brothers and teammates, warming up, taking it all in. This little 35-pounder had enough adrenaline rushing through him to hand it off to others who needed it. And I love every second of it.

I think about his excitement in this tournament and the excitement we bring to school each and every day. This is how we want our students to walk into school every single day. Anticipation and thrill for what is to come. What learning will happen? And how will it take place?

I think of a recent activity that was done with our 3rd graders. A parent and professor at our local university brought in water and clay so that students could learn about how boats float. Hands-on excitement. The students were not sure what they were about to experience, but you could feel that buzz in the air. Purposeful exploration and making. When I walked into the cafeteria, students were in full swing. There are no words to describe the conversation about how to mold the clay so that it would float in water. The pictures could not capture the jubilation when their “boat” did float. Problem-solving. Thinking. Intentional creating. Trial and error. And failure was not devastating. It was an opportunity to try again without worry or criticism. Labels were eliminated and every child was on an even-playing field. Awesome learning.

So the question is, are these moments or excitement, trying something new, limited to random opportunities? Are these opportunities solely created every once in awhile?

I do agree that it takes quite a bit of time to develop these kinds of learning opportunities. But, I believe it is worth it. I believe it is worth it to take time and create these units, activities, lessons, where discovery happens more often than not. We need to give teachers time make this happen. We need discovery and inquiry to be the norm.

We need to be intentional about building experiences for students to learn within. Worksheets aren’t experiences. Test prep isn’t an experience. These are chores. Experiences stick with us. We remember them, relate to them, refer back to them. Learning is an experience, and for educators, it is our duty to ensure our students are experiencing their learning.

However, this will not just happen by talking about it. I can write about it until my fingers hurt, but that will not make it happen. The resources are out there. There are teachers and schools who do this. Let’s share even more. Let’s carve time even more and make this “something new”, this excitement an everyday part of school.

No fuss getting out of bed. Only, “I wonder what we will be doing with our learning today?”

Monday, January 16, 2017

My 3 Hats

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We all wear various hats. These hats define our task at hand. It may be a work hat or a home hat. With that hat comes the responsibilities underneath it. At any moment, our hats change, rising in priority according to the time of day or issue at hand. There might even be hats within those hats that determine our immediate role or responsibility. We all have hats.

My hats are no different than any other, but I feel compelled to write about them since I’ve been thinking quite a bit about my hats and when and how I wear them. My hats define who I am, bringing different perspectives into what I do. This is not ground-breaking material. Just the reflective story of my three hats.

I am a mom of 3 boys, a hat I wear proudly.  I wear this hat 24/7/365. It never comes off. They are all boy, involved in sports and other activities, keeping them busy. When we are not at practices or games, my boys play, rough-house, and fight like brothers. Sometimes my mom hat is more of a referee hat, but it is one of those roles within the mom hat.

The best part of being a mom is watching them grow and learn on a daily basis. There is no replacement for the look that comes my way during t-ball practice after a great hit. Or the smile that comes after a music program showing the pride that comes from accomplishment. Or the question that spurs a conversation about our favorite team. Or the hug of reassurement that finds its way into my arms after a tough day.

Being a mom is awesome. It is not all giggles and smiles, as there are tough conversations and learning that comes with being a parent. Our fun family adventures never cease to bore!

Another hat I wear daily is the hat of being a wife. My husband is my best friend. He is my sounding board, someone I have fun with, can be serious with, and who shares similar passions as me. We have been married for nearly 17 years, and each day is still an adventure. While we can easily get on each other’s nerves, we know when to walk away and leave the other alone. We know when to help one another. I am here for him, just as he is here for me. We make a great team. We each have to make sacrifices at particular times, and that is what our good marriage understands and respects.

He is a high school principal and is often gone to events. His days are long, and so that leaves my mom and wife hat on at the same times many days. I love my family. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

My other hat is one I wear proudly as well, and that is of an educator/principal/lead learner. My daily quest is full of opportunity, different tasks and activities. Let’s just say, it is never dull, as I never know what the day will bring my way! I humbled by the responsibility on my shoulders, but also fully believe in those around me, the leadership of those around me as we have an awesome task at hand - educating the next generation.

This hat too stays on, or close by 24/7/365. I never know when duty may call. It is at 5:30 in the morning finding a sub for a sick teacher. It is at 9:30 at night responding to a parent email. It is on the weekend, reading a leadership book or working on tasks for the next week. It is during the summer, attending a conference to learn in order to share with others. This hat has multiple hats within it, from learner, leader, disciplinarian, coach, counselor. But all reside under this one hat.

All of my hats are never set aside. One may sit on top of the other at various times in the day, but they are always both there.

I once had someone ask me, “How do you balance it all?” I really am not sure how to answer that, other than, “I just do.” I don’t think of anything I do as a balance, however. Balance doesn’t exist in these three hats. Does that make me a bad mom, wife, or principal?

We often compare ourselves with others in our abilities. But each one of us is dealing with the cards we are dealt and create the best we can from them. I have battled with this for a while. How do others do it? Am I doing anything wrong? Am I giving all the people in my life what they need from me, or am I burning myself out?

It probably is not fair to my boys to take that phone call from a teacher during our dinner time. But it also would not be right for me to ignore my staff either. It is what it is, and how we handle those circumstances determines how well we wear and juggle those hats we take on in our lives.

I love my three hats. Each day is an adventure. I believe my three hats make me who I am, give me the perspective I have in order to be the person I am within those hats. Are these hats easy? NO. But they are definitely worth every moment I can give.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Heart - #OneWord2017


The courage and strength to push forward. Believing in oneself. Conviction and determination. Passion in purpose.

This may not be the true definition of “HEART”, but to me in 2017, it is the definition my #OneWord that I will focus my energies toward. Heart.

2016 was not an easy year for me. In fact, it is one that tested my inner strength in many ways.

Everything around me was progressing and thriving in 2016. We moved to a new house. My boys had great school years and were growing and changing in great ways. Our school accomplished some awesome and amazing feats in curriculum and instruction with our power standards and common assessments, and we built a Makerspace! In this sense, 2016 was an awesome year.

Yet, I’ve been troubled inside, trying to find my way and my purpose. I have no idea what triggered my inner struggles. I just know it has been there. On the outside, I was focused, determined, and energized, but on the inside, I was just the opposite. I saw the passion and purpose of others. I saw their strengths. Daily, my students and staff were outstanding. My PLN was continually inspiring. But, at every turn, I questioned myself.

I forgot to take care of myself, draining the life right out of me. I forgot my inner strength. I stopped believing in myself and my abilities as a leader. I doubted my every turn. It became unhealthy. And then, I stopped writing and conversing with my PLN. I stopped reading. I became quiet because I didn’t believe in what I had to offer anymore. I began comparing myself with others.

I have wondered if other leaders have gone through these feelings before. But instead of reaching out to them, I kept to myself. I poured everything I did have left into my family and my school, but something was definitely missing. I wondered if I could find the inner strength, the inner belief, the inner passion to pull myself back. I wanted it. I couldn’t rely on others to pull it back for me. This had to come from within me.

With winter break, I have had a lot of time to think and I started pondering my #OneWord for 2017. So many words to choose from that could bring me back to who I really am. Yet, I still struggled. Then, Christmas Eve, it hit me, like it always does, surrounded by my family.

We were baking cookies for Santa. The boys were “helping”, and I was simply enjoying this most meaningful time with them. Treasured moments.

My oldest asked, “Mom, is there really a Santa, or is it you?” I was clearly taken aback. My little 6-year-old can’t hear this! My next words were so important and would define our next 24 hours.
“Alex, I believe. I believe in Santa because of what Santa believes in. He believes in the good in the world. He believes in the children of the world, and they are good, and he brings them gifts of love to share.”

I knew after I said all of that, he was still skeptical. But my other 2 boys jumped in to say they believed in Santa and then went on to share which cookie they would leave out for him that night.

The next morning was pure excitement. We all believed in the magic. We were the magic of that day.  We played together. Built together. Cooked dinner together. Our day was filled with so much heart. We poured ourselves into each moment, and at that point, I felt it coming back. I felt the passion in my purpose as an educator and as a leader. My heart was filled with strength, in believing in all around me, and in myself.

In 2017, I will pursue all my quests and journeys with heart. My heart. Who I am, the person I believe to be. The inner strength that I create. The determination and conviction in all I do. The courage to take risks. My passion for what I believe in shining through every step of the way. While I may still question myself, I will do so in a healthy way, not filled with self-doubt.

With this renewed spirit and pouring my heart into all I do, I will continue to lead by example, building our team, inspiring others to pursue their passions. I want to be the best educator for kids, the best leader for my team. I want to be the best mom for my kids, the best wife for my husband. I give my heart to others through the life I live and lead. What I forgot was that those around me fill my heart with so much, giving me the strength and the belief to carry on and take on the next challenges that I may face.

I will lead with HEART. Be who I am with HEART. Believe in the strength of myself and all of those around me. More than ever before, my HEART will drive me in all I do in 2017!

PS - To my PLN - If I grow quiet, wake me up by reminding me of my heart!