Relationships. As educators we often talk about the importance of building relationships with children and families. We work hard at the beginning of the school year to get to know our students. We have kids and parents fill out surveys. We have students share pictures of their families and tell about themselves. Then, the hustle and bustle of the school year takes over. And, certainly not on purpose, it can be very easy for relationships to be pushed to the wayside.
We are faced with state mandates, standardized tests, SLOs, RTI, data team meetings, professional development sessions, teacher evaluations, progress reports, parent teacher conferences and much more. Let’s be honest, we get busy and something has to give, right? We are laser focused on helping our students grow and succeed. We want them to be the best they can be. But, we must remember that we cannot forsake relationships with our students and their families in the midst of everything else that we’re expected to accomplish during the school year.
Next week, my teachers and I embark on a week of parent teacher conferences. This can be a stressful time for teachers as they prepare for 25 to 30 conferences with parents. However, it is important that we don’t lose sight of how important these meetings are to families and how crucial they can be for educators as we continue to build a bridge between school and home. As we move into conference week, I encourage us to remember:
As the great Maya Angelou said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
I’ve always believed in the power of words. I enjoy writing and reading. I love to see the joy on children’s faces when they discover that they can pick up a book at read it all by themselves. But, over the past few years I’ve realized the power of One Word. That’s right, the power of how one word can actually change your life.
Four years ago, I read One Word That Will Change Your Life and that’s exactly what happened. A few weeks ago in my blog, I shared my One Word for 2017-JOURNEY. This word is causing me to reflect more than ever. I’ve been reflecting on my journey so far and on what I want the next steps in my journey to be. As I’ve reflected I’ve realized just how much my words have changed my life. Think about it, in four years I’ve chosen four words; just four words! And, when I look back over those four years I can cite hundreds of specific examples of how my life changed because of those four little words.
If you haven’t already done so, I encourage you to pick a word for 2017. It’s not too late and it can truly change your life.
Here is a list of my past words:
This was my first word. When I chose it I was just learning about twitter and the power of building a professional learning network. Since choosing this word I’ve collaborated with educators and authors from across the world. I’ve made connections that have helped me grow professionally and personally.
Thoughtful was my most difficult word. I needed it to be my word though. This word came at a time when I was overwhelmed with the quantity of decisions I had to make every day in my role as a building principal, wife and mother of four. I felt that I was making quick decisions to “get things off my plate”. I needed to remind myself to take a step back and really think things through. This word also taught me about failure. I struggled to be thoughtful. I failed multiple times a day. I still have to work on giving myself permission to think things through. This word helped me learn more about myself and how I handle stress-I’m still working on this one.
Celebrate was my most fun word! I had the best time celebrating all of the greatness around me. This word taught me how important it is to take time to let people know how much they are appreciated. This word helped me strengthen the relationships I had with people and also helped me connect with colleagues, family and friends on a deeper level.
I am already loving my word for this year. I can’t wait to see how this word changes my life.
So-what’s your word?
Over the next few weeks I challenge you to “look in, look up, and look out” and discover your One Word. After you discover it, you must share it. Write about it. Tweet it. Post it. Live it!
“Look in” to prepare your heart for your word.
“Look up” to discover your word.
“Look out” to live your word.
“Research has shown that most people choose negative and use up to 80 percent of their days preoccupied with unproductive thoughts…Choose the positive, the constructive. Optimism is a faith that leads to success.”
-Coyte G. Cooper, Ph. D. -Make Your Mark
By Wednesday I had professed that I was having a crappy week. I felt like bad stuff just kept happening. The week consisted of a few angry parents, kids and families in crisis, the lack of substitutes for professional days, a student who said he wanted to kill himself, phone calls from the lawyers of parents in nasty custody battles, and more. I seemed to have forgotten that I had a choice. I allowed myself to get bogged down in the negative. I could have chosen to find the good in the situations that occurred, but instead I complained; I rolled my eyes; I had a “woe is me” attitude. I was exhausted. Everything felt chaotic.
I shared my frustrations with a good friend and colleague of mine. To my surprise, bright and early the next morning he showed up in my office with hot chocolate for my secretaries and me. He told us that he hoped we had a better day. Those few kind words and that small act of kindness changed my mindset. When my mindset changed I was able to see the good in the events I encountered. That small act of kindness allowed me to reflect on the week and realize that a lot of good came out of every situation:
-The angry parents just cared about their kids and needed an explanation. Then everything worked out.
-The family in crisis had just moved to our school from a terribly unsafe situation. We were able to help them get back on their feet with new coats, new clothes and connections to resources they needed.
-We rescheduled our professional development.
-We kept a child safe and made parents aware of how sad their son was. We were able to direct them to resources so they could help their child.
In the midst of a bad day or a bad moment it is hard to stay positive. It’s a skill that I need to build. Positivity is powerful. Small acts of kindness are powerful, too. This week I learned so much. I’m thankful for the difficult situations that helped me grow. And, I’m thankful that my friend Herb reminded me that the littlest gesture can make a big impact.
Spread a little joy. Choose positive.
Educators are given a special gift each and every school year. Each year of our teaching career we meet new students and families. One of the most amazing blessings in my life have been the way in which so many of my students have touched my heart. I’m sure that every educator can look back over his or her career and think about all of the students from whom you have learned so much. While we love all of our students, there are always a few who touch our hearts in special ways.
Six years ago I met a little 6 year old boy, he touched my heart because of the pure chaos that was his life. When I met him, I was a working as a full time literacy coach and was completing an internship with my principal for my administrative license. This little boy was troubled. He was angry. He was covered in flea bites and his clothes were dirty. He wore glasses but they were broken. This little boy threw chairs and yelled at his teacher. And his teacher, who is one of the kindest people you have ever met, bought him new glasses and gave him clean clothes. On several occasions this little boy became so angry that my principal had to restrain him. He called Children’s Services in hopes of getting help for this sweet child. This little boy’s teacher and principal tried hard to help make his life better.
The next school year I was at a different school as the principal. However, over the next few years, I often thought about this sad little boy. I wondered what had become of him, and prayed that his life had improved. I hoped and prayed that the system worked for him.
Just yesterday I sat on my living room couch reading his obituary. He was 11 years old. He killed himself.
He had no voice.
The teachers, principals and caring adults in his life tried to give him a voice. The system failed him.
Educators I implore you to continue to be the voice for the voiceless. Fight the fight worth fighting. Our job is so important. Academics are just a small portion of the impact we make in the lives of children. Don’t let our current political debates distract you from the important work that we do each day.
We couldn’t save this child, but hopefully we can learn from this tragedy.
Fight the fight worth fighting.
Have you ever taken time to connect the dots of your life? Have you ever sat back and thought about all of the steps that have gotten you to where you are right now in this very moment? In everyone’s life there are people we meet, things we do, and choices we make that seem to open new doors, opportunities and experiences for us. But, have you ever really taken the time to think about how each small step in the journey through life has gotten you to where you are today?
Over the past few weeks, I have been reflecting on the steps in my own journey and, let me tell you, it’s been quite a humbling experience. It’s awe inspiring to think back and realize how each seemingly small step in my life was really much greater and much more important than I realized in the moment.
This reflection has led me to choose my ONE WORD for 2017. That word is JOURNEY. This year I want to be more aware of my own journey and the journey of others. I want to be careful about my steps along the path of my journey. I want to wisely choose responses to events that happen. I want to enjoy the journey and each small step along it. I want to make sure that my actions and responses create positive events for others as they also travel along the path of their own journey. I want to be a positive force, an energy giver and an inspiration. But, in order to accomplish this, I need to remember that every step matters. If I mess up or misstep, it’s okay to take a step back and try again. The journey is not about the destination. Instead, the journey is about the small steps that make it up.
It’s exhilarating to think that we are embarking on a new year, which is a brand new part of our journey. It’s exciting to think that in a year from now we can look back at the steps we took and connect all the dots. My wish is that we can take risks, learn new things, overcome challenges and be better tomorrow than we were today. Enjoy the JOURNEY and may 2017 be an amazing ride.
I do a lot of reflecting on and writing about being on a journey. My journey has had ups and downs. It’s had victories and defeats; successes and failures; and everything in between.
I am on a journey to be ELITE. My staff is on a journey to be ELITE; but there is no destination. Instead, as Tim Kight explains,
“We must be better today than we were yesterday and better tomorrow than we were today.”
These words have power. These are words to live by.
Every step matters
As I continue to reflect on my journey and help my staff do the same; it’s important that we are aware of our current location on the journey. We must recognize and understand our strengths and weakness with clarity and then look ahead to what’s next. In order to get to the next level we must continue on our journey, but we must do so one step at a time.
Every step along the way matters. Each step is a chance to be “better today” and then “better tomorrow”. As we focus on each step along the path of our journey we can carefully and thoughtfully move forward. We don’t need to know what is ten, twenty, or thirty steps ahead on the path. But instead, we must focus on our current step and our next step. Then, slowly, step by step we will become better. We will continue to move closer to ELITE.
If we misstep, and we will, we will take another step. In fact, these missteps mean we have gotten to the EDGE of our current capability and pushing through is what makes us ELITE. If we’re not making mistakes we’re not at the EDGE. If we’re not at the EDGE, we’re not ELITE.
Leading the Journey
As I continue to reflect on my leadership, I need my staff to help me. I need to know the answer to this question:
What do you need from me, for you to perform at your best?
I will ask my staff to answer this question and I will compile the results. I hope that their answers will give us all clarity moving forward so that we can continue on the journey together.
“Just when I thought we’d arrived, I realized that we’d just begun.”
My staff and I have been working together for the past year to redesign elementary education. This task is by no means easy and is, in fact, quite overwhelming. Each day we are trusted to provide the best education possible to each one of our 508 students. This responsibility can make it difficult to want to take a risk out of fear of failing these children about whom we care so deeply. But, my staff does not back down from a challenge even though we may feel a little uncomfortable or unsure along the way.
We are on a journey to redesign, rethink and restructure education as we know it. As part of our journey we created an educational experience for our students called J.W. YOUniversity. This experience occurs for an hour once a week for 6 weeks. We surveyed our students to determine their interests and created 35 courses for them that aligned to four pathways: Global and Community Partnerships; The Arts; STEM; and Health and Wellness. Then teachers created a short commercial for their course. Students watched the commercials and selected their top three courses. We placed each student in a course of their choice that they would experience for a 6-week session.
The result was more amazing than we ever could have expected. Each week during our YOUniversity time students in grades K-5 are working in mixed grade level groups learning about things they are interested in. Engagement is high. Student misbehavior is nonexistent. The classrooms are noisy with productivity. And, when we dismiss students back to their classrooms, they don’t walk in silent single file lines. Instead, they are simply told to head back to their homerooms… this is when the magic happens. Students happily meet up with their friends and there is a buzz of excitement as they share what they learned and find out what their friends learned. Thursday, as our students were heading back to class one of them said, “I am going to blog about this!” And, in that moment, I felt like we’d arrived. I felt like we had achieved the authenticity we’d be looking for. But, that thought was fleeting. My excitement turned to thoughts of “what’s next” and “why are these experiences limited to an hour once a week”. Just when I thought we’d arrived, I realized that we’d just begun.
J.W. YOUniversity isn’t the end. It’s the beginning. As my staff, students and I continue on our journey we must ask ourselves tough questions:
Where do we go from here?
How do we make school a place where kids come to work on things they’re passionate about and deeply interested in?
How do we do this and still ensure that we’re providing them with the rich literacy and math experiences that they need to continue to grow and meet grade level expectations?
When we provide these enriching opportunities are we “giving up” academics or are we “redesigning” academics?
What’s next for us?
We are on the edge and we need to continue to leap.
I’m competitive by nature. I’ve always been that way. When I was a kid, I wanted to be first. I wanted to get my way. I wanted to be the leader. As I grew older, I quickly learned that telling others what to do and getting my way wasn’t always the best way to be a leader. Through trial and error, I learned to value teamwork, listen to the perspectives of others and step back and observe. When I began my career in education I soon learned that being competitive with others wasn’t going to get me very far. The only way that I could get better was to push myself and focus on my own behavior. Still, I wanted to be the best. I wanted this for myself, but more importantly for my students.
This summer, after reading Urban Meyer’s book, Above the Line, I learned about the leadership principle of 10-80-10. Donna Mahoney writes of this principle in a 2016 blog post for Sprint Business:
According to the 10-80-10 principle of human behavior, the nucleus of a group—its best or elite performers—represent 10 percent of the team. Outside this nucleus are the 80 percent—the teammates who consistently perform good work–and the bottom 10 percent, which is composed of slackers and other malcontents. At Ohio State, Meyer tried to motivate as many players as possible to move from the middle group into the top one. By the end of the 2014 season, Meyer estimates that 30 percent of his squad were among this nucleus group.
In the following video, Sunjay Nath further explains the 10-80-10 principle.
I want to be among the elite “10 percenters". I want my behavior to be such that I inspire others to be better.
It’s important that we all take a step back and evaluate our behavior. Imagine where our schools could be if we shifted the behaviors of more and more educators into that of the elite 10.
As we reflect on our behavior we need to ask ourselves these questions and answer them honestly:
Where do I want to be?
Who do I want to be?
Am I okay with average?
When faced with a challenge, how do I behave?
How does my behavior impact the performance of those around me?
Am I part of the 10, the 80 or the 10? What behaviors cause me to be part of
Who is part of the elite 10? How do they behave? How must I change my behavior to become part of this group?
And finally, remember, “If you can raise the level of effort and performance of those around you, you are a leader.” Urban Meyer.
What an historic week this was. The most volatile race for the Presidency of all time came to an end. Many of us were surprised and even outraged with the outcome. However, as educators we have an obligation to teach children, the next generation of American voters, about our country without imparting our own views on them. It’s important that we share unbiased facts, no matter how difficult this is to do. We have a direct hand in educating the future of America and we cannot take this lightly.
On Wednesday as I was driving to school I was overcome with sadness and fear for the children who I was going to see in a few short hours. The children in my school are representative of the true meaning of the American melting pot. Of our 515 children, 130 of them speak English as a second language. Our students and their families come from all over the world including Mexico, Palestine, Iraq, and Turkey to name a few. Their families came to America in search of a better life. On that drive to school I was planning the words I wanted to say to them so they would continue to believe that America truly is a place where they are safe and respected. What I could not plan for though, were the questions and concerns they would share with my staff and I soon after they walked through the doors of our school on Wednesday morning.
By 9:30, my guidance counselor and I were making the rounds to classrooms to give children time to share their thoughts and fears about the election results. Nothing could have prepared me for what I heard from our students. Here are some of the thoughts and fears that our 2nd graders shared:
“Maybe if I don’t speak Spanish anymore, he won’t know that I’m Mexican.”
“I’m worried about the wall. If they build it, I won’t be able to see my family.”
“My dad is from Palestine. I’m afraid he’s going to have to go back.”
As my teachers, guidance counselor and I listened to the genuine concerns of our students it was difficult to find the right words. This was our message to them:
You are safe. There are lots good people in this country who will protect you and your family.
One person cannot make all of the rules in America. The people work together to make the rules.
Continue to spread kindness. We are so lucky to come to a school where every day we learn with people from all over the world. We don’t ever want you to hide who you really are. Instead we all need to celebrate one another.
Now more than ever we need to use our influence as educators to spread kindness, to promote tolerance and to celebrate differences. We can make a difference in the lives of children, and now, more than ever a difference needs to be made.
On Tuesday, I had the pleasure of speaking to new administrators in my school district. As I walked into the room for my presentation, Jeremy Scally, a colleague of mine, was just finishing up. He was talking about how much he’d learned during his first year of being an administrator. His final words of wisdom to the group were these, “Don’t be part of the silent majority.”
His words stopped me in my tracks. I quickly pulled out my phone and typed those words into my notes. Then, over the next few days, I started noticing times in my life when I am part of the silent majority. So, I started making an effort to recognize individuals who positively impact my life. I began taking just a moment to look people in the eye and simply say, “Thank you so much for all you do.”
It’s so much more common for us to hear from people when they are unsatisfied with us than it is for us to hear from them when they’re happy. But, there are so many more people who are quite happy with all we do for them and their children, they just don’t tell us; they are part of the silent majority.
Let’s all make an effort to break the silence. Let others around you know how much you appreciate them. Don’t be part of the silent majority.
I’m so thankful and happy with many of the experiences that my own children are having this school year. I am planning on making an effort to reach out to two very important people in the lives of my children so they know just how important they are. First is my daughters’ bus driver, Joe. He is one of the kindest people I’ve ever met. Each day, he picks them up for school with a huge smile on his face. On the way, he plays letter games and sings songs with them. They love him so much.
And I’m also going to reach out to my sons’ math teacher, Mr. Shipley. He cares so deeply about his students. He takes the time to send emails to parents giving us a heads up when a concept they covered in class was difficult for the kids. He lets us know what his plans are to provide support in the coming days. He wants kids to succeed.
Break the silence.
Who makes a positive impact in your life? Take some time to let them know.
I hope my blog posts inspire risk taking and new ways of thinking. I hope to connect with other educators on our journey to always do what's best for children.