Friday, March 3, 2017

Building for Generations

 A recent blog post from @mattarend, Principal of Sigler Elementary in my District (Plano ISD) really sparked some thoughts about this profession we're in.  Below is a quote from a S'more he recently sent to his staff:


Protect This House - #IWill

Our theme at Sigler Elementary this year is "Protect This House".

If you were to look up the word "house" in the dictionary, it is defined as: a building for human habitation, especially one that is lived in by a family or small group of people.  Sigler Elementary is our building and you are a part of our family. Just as you take precautions to protect your home, this year we ask students, staff and families to do their part to "Protect This House". In order to successfully "Protect This House" each of us needs to know our role and agree to successfully fulfill that role, daily. Anything short is letting our students down. We do not have time for that. In order to ensure we all do our part to "Protect This House" we will use the hashtag #IWill as our rally cry and statement to empower and communicate exactly what each of us will be doing to ensure the success of our "house" this year and more importantly the success of the small group of people that live in our house...OUR STUDENTS.  #IWill

I shared with Matt that in Biblical terms a house referred to a lineage of a people group - their legacy, such as the house of David.  It is a long line from which Jesus Himself descended.  It is so clear to me that we're not just reaching a random child here and there throughout the years.  We are building for the generations.  We are building a house made up of children who will grow up to lead, inspire, heal, innovate, plant, grow, and build - and the pattern will continue down through the years.  Just thinking today on the day before Spring Break begins, what an honor to be part of the construction of the future.  




Monday, February 27, 2017

I haven't posted a blog since May.  The well was dry and I think I got a little miffed that it didn't appear anyone was reading my blog.  There's a payoff for everything we do and I began to feel this had no payoff. So - here I am in February ready to start putting my thoughts out there - payoff or not.  Actually, better said, the payoff is my own satisfaction in putting thoughts to words and seeing what evolves.

So, I've been on a personal journey of discovery this year.  My personal life has many challenges right now - still learning the nuances of a very challenging job, the care of my 93 year old mother, a - shall we say - difficult relationship with my sister with whom I share the job of caring for mother, a couple of physical challenges that I could totally overcome if I would just determine to do so - you know - life!  But here's what I'm learning with the help of my good friend Brene Brown.  (She actually doesn't know me at all, but I feel so connected to her that I feel we know each other.)

Brene is a social worker who spent many years researching shame.  I've just about decided that shame is pretty much the root of all the things that sabotage our success.  I stumble my way through a meeting or professional development presentation and feel shame - and it's really shame that causes the stumbling.  Brene says that shame gets us in one of two ways:  either - "you're not ___ enough" or if you can get past that one, it's "who do you think you are?"  I think that pretty much covers every scenario you can think of.

Marianne Williamson said, "Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.  Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.  It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.  We ask ourselves, “Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?”  Actually, who are you not to be?  You are a child of God.  Your playing small doesn’t serve the world.  There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.  We are all meant to shine, as children do.  We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.  It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.  And as we let our own light shine, we subconsciously give other people permission to do the same.  As we’re liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

In The Gifts of Imperfection Brene states that vulnerability is our most accurate measure of courage.  We shrink back, we hide, we dissemble, we dramatize . . . all so we won't have to be vulnerable.  I know I've grown more cautious about who I am vulnerable with. Before I share my story with someone I need to know if they have earned the right to hear my story, and if they can bear the weight of my story.  You know - not everyone can. The desperateness of their own story can prevent people from being able to bear mine.  But I do know this, "Loving ourselves through the process of owning our story is the bravest thing we'll ever do."  (Brene again.)  

I'm nearing the end of year two as an AP and some things are easier - much easier.  Some things still trip me up.  Some things I flat out miss because I'm not paying close enough attention.  But it's okay because I'm determined to not judge my success or failures, my ups or downs, through the filter of my own worthiness, but rather understanding that, as Roosevelt said, I may fail while daring greatly, but at least I'm daring. So - back to blogging and Twitter and to a fresh perspective - whether anyone else reads it or not.      


Friday, May 13, 2016

Increased Wisdom

1 Chronicles 1:7-11 tells the story about Solomon's prayer for wisdom:
That night God appeared to Solomon and said to him, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.”
Solomon answered God, “You have shown great kindness to David my father and have made me king in his place. Now, Lord God, let your promise to my father David be confirmed, for you have made me king over a people who are as numerous as the dust of the earth. 10 Give me wisdom and knowledge, that I may lead this people, for who is able to govern this great people of yours?”
11 God said to Solomon, “Since this is your heart’s desire and you have not asked for wealth, possessions or honor, nor for the death of your enemies, and since you have not asked for a long life but for wisdom and knowledge to govern my people over whom I have made you king,12 therefore wisdom and knowledge will be given you. And I will also give you wealth, possessions and honor, such as no king who was before you ever had and none after you will have.
Solomon was no stranger to leadership.  He had, no doubt, been seated at the table with his father, King David, watching and listening as urgent matters were discussed and crucial decisions made. He had rubbed shoulders with greatness his whole life.  Understanding leadership was nothing new to him.  But then David died, and he was King.  Then, things were different.  Instead of  just having a seat at the table, he was suddenly thrust upon the throne.  It seems from the verses above that the gravity of his new assignment was dawning on him in a way that made him cry out to God.  He said, Now, Lord God, let your promise to my father David be confirmed, for you have made me king over a people who are as numerous as the dust of the earth. 10 Give me wisdom and knowledge, that I may lead this people, for who is able to govern this great people of yours?”  
In meditating on these scriptures I began to see wisdom in a new light.  It had never really occurred to me that there could be levels of wisdom.  I just assumed if you had wisdom, you had wisdom.  But what I'm beginning to understand (maybe I'm a slow learner) as I near the end of my first year as an assistant principal, is that the demands I need to place on wisdom are greater now than they have been before.  

When I was a special education teacher the scope of what I needed to know and understand was narrow.  What are the laws?  What are each student's goals? What are the accommodations?  How do we meet each child's needs?  How do I support the students in the general education setting?  How do I write an IEP?

When I moved to second grade as a gen ed teacher I became more global.  What are the standards? How do I build a collaborative team of teachers as the team leader?  How do I interact with so many parents?  Where does my grade level fit into the total scheme of things on the campus?

Then, as an Instructional Specialist I became even more global.  I was aware of TEKS for more than one grade level.  I was tracking TIER II and TIER III interventions and documentation.  I was involved in campus leadership meetings, disaggregating campus wide data, participating in many meetings involving children from several grade levels, and "anything else" my boss asked me to do.

Now I'm an AP and my world has become exponentially bigger.  It's not just the massive number of mechanical things I've learned - where to file this report, who to contact about this, what form to use on that, who do I call for this problem, and so on that - it's learning to see the big picture, all day every day.  It's understanding how everything is interconnected and how one seemingly small decision can have a ripple effect on so many other things.  It's the knowledge that every decision, every day, matters and nothing is really insignificant. 

For many years in my life I have prayed the simplest, yet most profound prayer.  It's a prayer that covers everything one would need in life.  It's found in 1 Chronicles 4:10 and my paraphrase is, "Oh Lord, that You would bless me indeed and enlarge my territory.  That your hand would be with me, that you would keep me from evil and that I might not cause pain."  So, the day came when God did, indeed, enlarge my territory.  I was excited, and nervous, and full of self-doubt - not because I didn't think I was equal to the task, for I have done many difficult things in my life and found my way in them all.  One can learn new skills and tasks.  The self doubt was in how much older I was in taking on administration than many of my peers.  In fact, the one person who prodded, and goaded, and encouraged me the most to go ahead and do this was half my age - literally.  Yet he was in my corner, cheering me on, questioning why I hadn't done it yet, surprised I wasn't already in administration.  Many times in moments of questioning I have reminded myself of how God used this young man to propel me forward into what I was supposed to be doing.  Thank you, @R_H_Steele.

As I have neared the close of the first year in this journey, I'm more settled and more confident. I've had the benefit of a tremendous mentor in my Principal and friend, @JaneOestreich.  My global perspective has grown and I understand how the multitude of moving pieces fit together better than I did.  Next year will be a year of solidifying the growth since I'll already know how to anticipate, at least to some degree, what's coming.  Now my prayer is wisdom.  Increased wisdom.  To see more.  To understand more.  To sense more.  The wisdom I operated in twenty years ago will help, but it's not enough.  The wisdom I used as a team leader can inform some of my decisions, but now my decisions carry more weight and I need an increased portion of wisdom.  The wisdom I gained by watching my principal, @LorraineShimizu, when I was on her instructional support team for five years provided another layer on the foundation of what true leadership looks like.  I am so grateful for all the experiences I have had and the opportunities to grow in wisdom through the years.  

I pray for increased wisdom.  Right now I have a seat at the table, but the day will come when I'll be sitting at the head.  I need wisdom to know how to "lead this people,"  whoever they may be. 


Friday, February 12, 2016

The Value of Grit

One thing I love about Twitter is how it spurs my thinking.  Sometimes I agree with a post, sometimes I don't, and sometimes I'm not sure.  My  friend and colleague @Mr_Braden recently tweeted an article from Education Week called, "Why I'm Tired of 'Grit.'"  The author basically posited the theory that grit is not all it's cracked up to be and that it can only get you so far. James Delisle, the author of the article, says that the concept of grit offers a simplistic solution to student and personal achievement.  He details several other reasons why people might fail, such as lack of interest or the impact of life circumstances.  He says that people who espouse the role of grit in achievement are turning a blind eye to role that genetics and natural talent play in whether or not one succeeds.  He goes on to say that grit "attempts to equate unequals as equals."  He opines that there are those who will succeed because of their great gifts, talents, intelligence, and so on and that others may try as they will but they will not be able to reach the same heights as, say, an Einstein in Science or a Federer in Tennis.

I want to approach grit in a different way.  I'm a literacy person, pure and simple.  I love words, quotations, books, poetry and crossword puzzles.  Numbers, I don't love.  I find them necessary to conduct business in this life, but I'll never enjoy doing a Sudoku puzzle!  I could apply myself to advanced trigonometry with all the grit I could muster, but it's unlikely I would be able to master the content.  I just don't have a strong number sense (closed mindset, perhaps) and I have to struggle to make those connections.  So I agree with Mr. Delisle in saying that grit will not level that playing field between me and someone who is naturally analytical and mathematical. 

So what's the value of grit?  For me, it is like this.  Grit is the power that propels me forward and causes me to be able to power on when things are really tough.  I am blessed to be a happy, positive person.  I am not easily depressed.  I don't tend toward negativity and cynicism.  But let's face it - we all have those times where we think about selling all our worldly possessions and taking a slow boat to anywhere.  Grit is that intangible thing in us that says, "Come on, try again."  That's what we're trying to help children see.  No one is deceived into thinking that every student will achieve at the same level by the sheer power of grit.  That's not the point. Teaching children to have grit is a priceless tool they will need to use their entire lives.  Who needs grit?  

1. The third grader who gets herself up and dressed, feeds herself and her siblings, and gets everyone on bus on time because the adults in her life can't or won't.
2. The little boy whose mom has mental health issues and on any given night he might be sleeping God knows where because his mom can't hold down a job and care for him.
3. The eight year old boy who came to my class for his reading group, but instead all he could do was cry because his father had died the week before.  
4. The teacher who is raising her children on her own and is struggling to stay on top of the demands of her job, her adolescent daughter, and life in general.
5. The fifth grader who has no legs and walks with crutches, but wouldn't let anyone help on the trails at environmental camp because he wanted to do what the other kids were doing.
6. The parents who are working two and three jobs to keep food on the table and keep getting hit over and over with bills they can't pay.

I could go on and on about who needs grit, but I think you get the idea.  Grit is not about leveling the academic playing field so all children feel warm and fuzzy about themselves and never have to struggle.  Quite the contrary, grit is the deep and enduring knowledge that I'm only in a season and seasons will change.  They always do.  Many years ago I ran across a quote that every now and then resurfaces, seemingly right when I need it.  If we don't teach our students how to endure in the tough times, we haven't served them well.  Power on, friends.  

In the depth of winter I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer. - Albert Camus












Friday, December 18, 2015

The Ahah Moments

In July of this year I began to write a new chapter in my story.  If you've read "Intentionally New" in my blog you're aware of how this all unfolded.  So here we are, the last day of the first semester and it's time for reflection.  A friend asked me the other day, "What was your big ahah?"  There's more than one, so here goes:

Age is Mostly Irrelevant
I say mostly because sometimes my knees don't like the position I put them in, or the energy level isn't quite what it used to be, but really age is pretty much irrelevant.  I knew that intellectually, or I wouldn't have decided to take on a big career change at my age.  What I discovered, though, was that I kept feeling like I should apologize for coming to the dance so late.  I kept feeling like an outlier, and not in a good way.  But at some point that changed.  I don't remember a specific point in time in which I laid that to rest. I just know that now it doesn't matter to me.

Leadership Looks Different
At my former campus I was on the leadership team for many years, first as a team leader and later as an Instructional Specialist.  Although I was considered a leader on my campus, I was still at the same level as everyone else.  It took me awhile to realize that I still considered myself on par with my colleagues, but they saw me as the boss.  It has taken awhile to adjust that garment.  I put it on the first day I took the job, but I kept fidgeting with the layers and shifting it around until it became comfortable.  It fits well now, even though it still has the look and smell of newness.

Relationships Change
Do you remember what it was like to have your own classroom and live and breathe with those same kids for an entire school year?  You build relationship with them, laugh with them, grow with them and guide them in a unique way.  As an administrator I've learned they see me differently and I can't interact with them the way I would have with my own kiddos.  You have to say things in a softer way because they only see you in the hall.  You haven't built a relationship that allows you to be forceful when necessary.  Relationships with students and parents are different now and I have to pay attention to the rules in this dynamic.

Niceness and Kindness are not the Same Thing
If I'm nice it's sort of about me making myself look good.  If I'm kind there's a new layer on top of that.  Kindness means I'm doing for the staff that which benefits them.  I'm telling them the truth and extending grace because it's about wanting to grow them.  It's not about making myself look good.  Being nice is fine and I certainly don't aspire to the opposite of that, but my true desire is to develop capacity in others and help them find their purpose.  

Fun and Fear
I think the biggest aha is that fear and fun can coexist.  Shaking up my life in a pretty profound way, tackling something completely out of my wheelhouse has stirred up fears. Let's face it - going with the flow just isn't scary.  It's safe.  It's easy.  And - it's boring!  In spite of the times I had no clue what I was doing and was making mistakes pretty much on a regular basis, I have to say I haven't had this much fun in a long time.  I wake up every morning excited about what the day will bring.  I leave school every day glad beyond words that I took the leap.  

Eleanor Roosevelt said to do one thing each day that scares you.  Done!  And so worth it!

Merry Christmas 2015 and on to great things in 2016!

















Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Motivation is Like Bathing

I've been thinking a lot lately about the idea of giving students purpose. It sounds like a really great idea, but how do you actually convince a child that things can be different than they are?  So many things are outside the control of a child.  They can't control who their parents are.  They can't control the decisions the adults in their lives make.  They can't control where they live or where they go to school or pretty much anything in their lives.  How do we give students some power in their lives?  How can we instill in them the thought that they can achieve great things?  

Motivation
Motivation can be defined as the process of giving someone a reason for doing something; a force or influence that causes someone to do something.  We tend to motivate kids by consequences:  if you don't do your work.....if you don't turn this in.....if you don't pass this test.....  Here's a crazy idea!  What if we motivated kids by helping them see what was in it for them?  What if they began to see the value in hard work, grit, and determination because of the high it gives them when they succeed?  It's sort of like me and Canva.  I decided to start an edchat for beginning administrators and wanted to post a question a week using nice graphics and design.  Some of my AP friends introduced me to Canva.com and I tried it several times.  I kept reading about it, and watching tutorials, and doing it wrong, and redesigning and doing it right, and I finally got it!  I was sitting in my chair at home and when I finally got it right I gave a whoop and a big fist pump and felt like I had just crossed the finish line at the Olympics!  There was no one in the room with me - just me and my desire to conquer this digital tool.  I was motivated and when I got it right the first time I was on cloud nine!

The Payoff
So what did that do for me and what is the payoff for students when we effectively motivate them to overcome obstacles?
1. My confidence grew.  I suddenly believed I could do something I had no prior knowledge about or frame of reference for.  The same will happen with our students.
2.  My courage grew.  I'm more willing to try something even more difficult or scary next time.  Our students will not let fear stop them from exploring the unknown.
3.  My awareness of my own personal power grew.  I realized, once again, that I was capable and could learn things that seemed unapproachable to me.  Our students need to know that things are not off limits just because they have never done them before. They'll be much more inclined to try it.

The Expiration Date
Truly, there's no expiration date on motivation.  I've said this before, but each time I try something new I have to talk myself into it.  I'm at the place in my life, as an adult, that I can talk myself into lots of new experiences.  I've learned, like Scaredy Squirrel, that nothing really bad is going to happen in the unknown today.  Our kids are just now learning this and it's our job to be their motivator, their cheerleader, their defense, a soft place to land when they fall, and a hand to lift them up so they'll try again.  It's a daily endeavor, but one well worth the doing.  They're really just little versions of us with good days and bad days, highs and lows, discouragements and enthusiasms.  It's up to us to remind them they can do and achieve and grow and become and to do that as often as it takes to help them see how it feels to overcome.  

Zig Ziglar said, "People often say that motivation doesn't last. Well, neither does bathing - that's why we recommend it daily."  















Thursday, October 15, 2015

Comfortable with Bravery

I recently participated in an edchat with the great folks at #CSISD.  The chat is usually moderated by @Aaron_Hogan and is the usual mix of leadership, digital questions, relationships, etc...all the hot topics in education right now.  This time the question of courage came up.  Just this morning I read a quote by Eleanor Roosevelt that said "do something every day that scares you."  In response to one of Aaron's questions, I asked, "I wonder if you can live your life so courageously it becomes comfortable to be brave?"

I think that every time bravery is required, I have to talk myself into it.  I'm on a quest to live a life that says, "What's the worse that can happen?" but not in a tongue in cheek way. Rather, what would happen if .....? in an authentic, living, breathing, organic way that opens the mind to new possibilities.  It's so easy to play it safe, and sometimes, as in my life, I've had to play it safe out of necessity.  But now I'm in a season in which there's some more wiggle room, and I'm considering the what if's a bit more.
  
In her book The Gifts of Imperfection:  Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are  Brene Brown states, "The universe is not short on wake-up calls.  We're just quick to hit the snooze button."  What Brene Brown calls the universe I attribute to God, but nevertheless the point is the same.  How many times has that still, small voice whispered in my ear to "Wake up!"  "Pay Attention!"  "Notice this!"  "Be present!"  It's so easy to get bogged down in the mundaneness of managing our lives that we numb ourselves to those things in us, or beckoning us, that require courage.  

There is a tendency to think of bravery as things like jumping out of an airplane, or climbing Mt. Everest, or sailing solo around the world.  For sure - that takes courage.  But I think it's easy to miss the less obvious places in our lives that require bravery.  Do you try something new when you could opt out?  Bravery.  Do you force yourself out of your comfort zone?  Bravery.  Do you have a difficult conversation, in fear and trembling, but you do it anyway because it has to be done?  Bravery.  Do you make tough decisions that will affect other people, but you do it because it's the right thing to do?  Bravery.  Do you just keep showing up every day when you wish you could just disappear?  Bravery.

 If we really stopped to take stock of what we did and said each day, thought about how we acted and the decisions we made, I think we would be surprised at how brave we were that day.  Things that don't seem brave to us at all are fully courageous to someone else.  I think my challenge to us all is this - begin to notice when you've been brave. When did you do something you didn't want to do because it was right?  When did you take the high road when you wanted to do anything but that?  When did you take a deep breath and try one more time to do that one more thing?  You've been brave, my friend.

Mary Anne Radmacher said, "Courage doesn’t always roar.  Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying I will try again tomorrow."  

I think we're braver than we think we are.