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 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 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.



Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Intentionally New

I'm not new to teaching.  I've been at this for twenty-six years, six of those in special education, eleven as a second grade classroom teacher and team leader, and five as an instructional specialist/coach.  Let me also say I'm in my sixties, a time when many are looking toward that distant dream of retirement.  I'm different, though.  I just sort of have a feeling I'm not done, yet.  I think there are things out there I'm supposed to do, and they're just waiting for me to show up.  

I recently read The Rise: Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery by Sarah Lewis.  One chapter that particularly intrigued me was one entitled "The Deliberate Amateur."  It is about people in many walks of life who have all the credentials they could ever hope to possess, and could easily ride the wave of their previous successes safely into the beyond.  But something goaded them into pursuing a new course.  They intentionally and with great purpose positioned themselves to start over as an amateur.  

That's what I have done.  Last year, I went back to school and got my Administrative Certification and am now serving as Assistant Principal at Hickey Elementary in Plano ISD. I am becoming intentionally new and am putting myself in a position of having to learn a whole new set of skills and competencies.  I had a good job at another Plano school.  In fact, I had been there for twenty years and was extremely comfortable.  Too comfortable, in fact.  

I think when you get to the place where you feel you could phone in the job, it's time to move along.  We owe our students the responsibility of showing up every day charged and informed and excited about what that day will bring.  I can't honestly say I felt that way.  I knew the job of instructional support coach and was competent at it, even though certain aspects of it continued to evolve.  It wasn't difficult to make those small adjustments and just keep plugging along.  The road got longer, the path got deeper, but I wasn't sure I was making a difference anymore.  

Our district slogan for this new school year is "Make Your Mark," and I'm ready to make mine.  C.S. Lewis said, "You are never too old to set a new goal or dream another dream." In "The Road Not Taken" Robert Frost described the crossroads of decision that face so many of us in life.  In another place, he said, "In three words, I can sum up everything I've learned about life.  It goes on."   I'm going on with it.

So here I am, intentionally new, my own version of a deliberate amateur.  Ready to learn. Ready to grow.  Ready to change.  Ready to influence.  Ready to lead.  

Monday, May 18, 2015

The Benefits of Disruption

I recently read a Twitter post from Will Richardson of Educating Modern Learners.  He said, "Welcome to the most disruptive moment ever in education."  This quote got my attention.  I wasn't sure what disruption he meant, exactly.  The word "disrupt" is a verb - an action word - movement, doing, not static, anti-status quo.  It can mean "the interruption of an event, activity, or process by causing a disturbance or problem."  It can also mean to "drastically alter or destroy the structure of something."

We are living in the 21st century, but many of our practices in education are still functioning on a 20th century paradigm.  What are some of the characteristics of a 21st century educational environment?  It is integrated and interdisciplinary.  We need to look at disrupting our traditional model of "now it's time for math," "now it's time for reading." We need to look at students solving a driving question in which they integrate math skills, reading/writing, social studies and science.  Brain research shows that the brain is always looking for connections.  It processes parts and wholes simultaneously. (Teaching and the Human Brain; Renate Caine)  Why do we persist in teaching science as if it's discrete from reading, or math as if it has nothing to do with social studies?  The more connections we build the better our students will perceive their world and be able to successfully navigate it.

Another characteristic of a 21st century classroom can be found in the relevance of the learning going on in there.  It's global.  Our students need to be able to connect and interact with educators and learners across the globe, or just across the campus, to begin to understand how interrelated everything is.  We learn nothing in isolation.  Look at the graphic below by Hugh McCloud:


The graphic helps drive home the point of what happens when we gather tidbits of knowledge in isolation and when we harvest them with experiences, connectedness, and collaboration.  There must be a disruption of the dissemination of discrete sets of knowledge (the lowest level of Bloom's Taxonomy, by the way) to make way for the experience paradigm in which knowledge is embedded in interrelated activities with other learners.  

One last characteristic of 21st century learning (and of course there are many more) that bears mentioning can be found in the idea of research based teaching and learning.  Part of our new academic language must include phrases like "prove it," "where's your evidence?" "where did you get that?"  This one factor will exponentially increase our students' abilities to think and reason.  As long as we teach to the test and stick to week 5 of Unit 3 in the curriculum plan, our students will miss out on deeper learning.  Teachers are going to have to have their structures disrupted as well.  "We've always done it like this" just isn't going to cut it anymore.  

Destroying something for the sake of the thrill of demolition isn't what I'm talking about. That's foolishness and will bear no fruit in the long run.  I'm talking about looking at what is stagnant and ineffective in my own teaching practice.  What do I need to alter about the way I do my job?  Can small changes make big differences?  Yes.  Do some things just need to be demolished in lieu of a fresh start?  Yes. 

It boils down to this question.  What am I willing to do to help ensure that my students are ready for what they will face in this century?  What is my role?  What part can I play? There's no way to do this without getting out of our comfort zones, but a little disruption can be a good thing if it leads to a better way of doing things.  So how do I get started?

In her article "The Secret to Creativity, Intelligence, and Scientific Thinking: Being Able to Make Connections" Belle Beth Cooper provides us with a very short list of three ways to get started:
1. Add to Your Knowledge - "the more knowledge you have, the more connections you can make. ..trying something new and forcing a gentle brain overload can make a dramatic improvement for your brain activity."  Before we can create this environment in our classrooms, we have to create it within ourselves.
2. Keep track of everything.  "Don’t expect your brain to remember everything—give it a hand by noting down important concepts or ideas you come across. As you do this, you may remember previous notes that relate (hey, you’re making connections already!)—make a note of those as well."  My own addition to this note - pick one or two things that work for you.  Don't try to master everything at once.  
3.Review Your Notes Daily - "Going over your notes often can help you to more easily recall them when you need to. Read through what you’ve made notes of before, and you might find that in the time that’s passed, you’ve added more knowledge to your repertoire that you can now connect to your old notes!"  The point here is that it's about making connections and revisiting what worked and didn't.   

Try to disrupt your life in one way this week and watch what happens!

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Remembering the Why

At a recent TED talk, Simon Sinek said the following:

Every single person, every single organization on the planet knows what they do, 100 percent. Some know how they do it, whether you call it your differentiated value proposition or your proprietary process or your USP. But very, very few people or organizations know why they do what they do. And by "why" I don't mean "to make a profit." That's a result. It's always a result. By "why," I mean: What's your purpose? What's your cause? What's your belief? Why does your organization exist? -- (TED Talks)

We're in that time of the school year when extreme fatigue has set in.  The kids are done, the teachers are done, the administrators, the office staff, the nurse, the lunch folks - everyone is done.  The only problem is the official school year is not done.  Emotions are raw.  Office referrals are increasing.  People are snippy and out of patience with each other.  It's called human interaction and at times like these it helps to step back, take a deep breath, and remember the why of what we do.  

"Teach children" is the what of what we do.  "Small group instruction, technology integration, guided reading, guided math, science and engineering exploration and experimentation, writing camp, and so on" is the how of what we do.  But what's the why? For each of us it may be different.

The why for me is embedded in the name of my blog.  Destiny walks through the doorway of our school every single day and we have the unique and precious privilege of being part of a child's destiny.  We have the honor of looking past the child in front of us to who he or she can become.  We get to see the mountaintop and show children the way to get there.  Better grades and higher test scores are results, but that's not why we do what we do.  

We do this unbelievably difficult work because we believe.  We believe that the generation(s) that follow us will be able to do better, rise higher, see more clearly, and impact the world in a more profound way than we were able to.  We're creating a ripple effect, like a stone dropped into a pond.  Sometimes, we create a splash that resounds from the bank and beyond.  Nature takes notice and responds.  Sometimes, what we create is something less splashy, but evident nevertheless, like the concentric circles rippling across a pond after the stone has been thrown.  We're connected to the pebble, the water, the circles, the duck taking flight after being startled by the noise of the splashing water.  Dropping the pebble in the pond - an easy, yet purposeful act has changed something in the environment.  

This is what we do.  We change things.  Why?  Because we believe in something bigger than ourselves.  A cause.  A calling.  Our purpose.  However you choose to define it.  It's a good time to stand on the bank of the pond and remember the why.  

What's your why?

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Ain't that the truth!

A little honesty here!  A girl's just got so much game and mine's about wore out.  I think what put me over the edge was when I asked a group of intermediate students what setting is in a story and they just stared at me like a cow lookin' at a new gate.  With most of our STAAR testing just behind us, that made me nervouser than a long-tail cat in a room full of rockin' chairs.  Now to me, identifying the setting in a story is easier than fallin' off a greased log backwards, but I guess it's okay because every dog should have a few fleas.  On the other hand, I'm struggling to grasp all the technology info that keeps barreling at me at breakneck speed, so I can relate to not remember everything all the time.  It's nearly May, we're tired, they're tired and I guess the paltry amount of success I've had with learning technology is good enough for now.  After all, even a blind pig finds an acorn now and then.                               

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Monsters Live in the Dark

For teachers, the term "life long learner" is well-versed, and often overused.  We encourage our students to continue to learn and explore, take risks, and fail forward. Never give up, full steam ahead, power on . . . all the motivational quotes we've used so often.  The question is, how often am I willing to do that?  How willing am I to dip my big toe in the water or am I more inclined to sit on the shore watching others battle the waves?   Someone asked me recently, "Aren't you about ready to retire?"  In fact, I get that question a lot.  I know the calendar says I'm 62 years old but I still feel that there is so much to do.  I think if I quit now, I would leave some important tasks undone.  What are they?  I don't know, but I know they are out there waiting for me to show up.

So what is there to be afraid of?  Twitter?  "I don't understand it.  What's this @ business and this # stuff?  These are not complete sentences!!  Teachers with really poor grammar! I need a code book to decipher the lingo."  I used to say all those things, and then I dipped my toe in.  "Oh, I get it.  I just click on this little birdie and type my thoughts in 140 characters or less.  People follow me and if they really like what I said they retweet it or favorite it.  Okay, this isn't too hard."  A blog?  "Why would anyone care what I have to say?  My thoughts are mine.  My journey is mine, but does it really matter to anyone else? It seems sort of self absorbed."  But then I waded into the water and it was really just journaling, but opening it up to a wider audience.  Okay, this isn't too hard.

So, here's why I said in the title that monsters live in the dark.  Those things we fear - those things that push us headlong out of our comfort zones - those things fade away when we shine the light on them.  When we just begin to learn a little, a little more opens up to us.  It's not necessary to be an expert on technology.  Just begin by trying a little something.  Seriously, if I can do this at my age and with my lack of technology training, you can for sure!  I love this quote by Eleanor Roosevelt:  "We gain strength, and courage, and confidence by each experience in which we really stop to look fear in the face . . . we must do that which we think we cannot."  

Thursday, April 9, 2015

An Attitude of Gratitude

I don't have anything of great brilliance to share today.  I've just been thinking about how blessed I am.  We complain a lot about how long we have to wait for a website to load, or a broken pencil sharpener, or the traffic, or the cost of a gallon of milk.  We get so focused on the imperfections of the life we lead that we forget about the life we don't lead.  For example, I don't have to go down to the crocodile infested river to draw water to cook with tonight, wondering if I'll still have an arm or leg or head when I'm done.  I don't have to walk 10 miles to the nearest village that has a doctor if my kid gets sick.  I don't have to have my students write their lessons in dirt with a stick because school supplies are unheard of where I teach.  Where I teach I have more pencils than I can use, and paper, and crayons, and glue, and scissors.  I have laminating film!  Think of it!  Laminating film!  I have a copier, and a phone, and email, and a blog, and Twitter, and Facebook!  I'm warm in the winter and cool in the summer.  My students have a hot lunch every day, and a playground to play on.  They have videos, and TV, and edchats, and World Read Aloud Day and, and, and . . .  Tonight I'm going to the Service Banquet where I, along with many others, will be honored for various numbers of years of service to the district.  I've had a job, a great job,  for twenty years and am still going strong!  When I leave there I'll go home to a lovely house, a ninety-one year old mom who'll be sleeping soundly, and a loving husband of thirty-seven years.  Okay, really!  What's there to complain about?  It's time for an attitude of gratitude.  What about you?

Thursday, February 26, 2015


 A recent discussion on the acronyms STEM vs. STEAM started me thinking.  Should we lean toward STEM because the Arts are embedded in creativity and problem solving? Should we focus on STEAM because we need to value and acknowledge that technology, engineering, science, and math are not where some will thrive?  They'll grow and come into the fullness of who they are through art, and poetry, and literature, and dance, and music.  My answer is YES - to both. Many children, especially girls, have never been given the opportunity to discover if Science, Engineering, Technology, or Math are a fit for them.  In the past, careers in those fields tended to be gender-specific, namely male.  Art, dancing, literature, drama, and music tended to be dominated by females.  But as teachers, our job is to help kids find out what they're good at, regardless of what that might be, and set in motion the resources and experiences to cause them to grow and thrive in those areas. Have you seen Barishnikov dance?  The technology of how his body moves through space is astonishing.  He engineers his feet to push off and leap through the air, landing in mathematical precision at just the right spot to structure the feelings he is trying to portray.  That's STEM at its finest.  In 1952, Jonas Salk developed a vaccine for polio, a disease which crippled and killed hundreds of children in previous years.  Children who would have been relegated to a life in an iron lung, or unable to run and dance and play could now have a life full of any sort of artistic endeavors. His work in Science put the "A" back in STEAM for those children.  Nothing thrives in isolation.  Relationship is everything and if we really think STEM and STEAM are different, we've missed the point. They are just variations of a theme - creativity and exploration and thought and imagining.   

Monday, February 16, 2015

Education is Messy

There are some classrooms I enter at my own risk.  There are headphones and cords strewn helter-skelter across the floor.  There are upside down chairs and desks askew. There is trash and pencils and globs of glue, butterflies nets, and hand lenses tossed randomly aside to land where they may.  There are pencil shavings on the floor just outside the perimeter of the trash can and wood chips from outside ground into the carpet.  It's not this kind of messiness I'm referring to.  I'm talking about the messiness that comes when I try to expand the stakes of my tent and enlarge my territory.  I'm talking about how messy it is to call on courage and try something new.  Some are more adventurous than others and are more willing to experience the messiness that comes with change.  My youngest granddaughter is fearless.  She's three years old and will scramble up the side of the rock wall to the highest tower on the playground in a heartbeat, legs and arms flailing wildly, not caring one bit how she looks getting there.  Her sister, a year older, will gingerly climb to the first level, adjust her clothing and hair,  then when all goes well she'll try the second level, and then finally arrive at the top with her sister, neatly and carefully turned out. They both get there, just in different ways and at different speeds. defines "messy" as "characterized by a dirty, untidy, or disordered condition."  When I'm learning something new that is way out of my comfort zone it's untidy.  I feel disordered and confused.  It can be embarrassing and unpleasant. I'm a little bit of both of my granddaughters.  I'm learning to flail a bit more wildly, but I still like to stop and take stock of my condition at times, too.  I guess the point is this.  I can stay prim and proper, comfortable in my own skin, set in my ways, stable, secure, safe.  Or, I can let myself embrace the messiness of change, learn, grow, expand and enlarge.  It may mean some hairs out of place and some dirt under the fingernails, but that's okay.  There's always soap and water.  

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Fixed or Growth?

There's a lot of talk these days about a fixed mindset vs. a growth mindset.  Is it possible to have some of both?  I think so.  An important part of personal growth is finding one's voice, knowing who we are, and embracing those things that make us uniquely ourselves.  Should we say, "This is who I am - take it or leave it?"  In a way, yes, but if that means I'm never open to growth, to new ideas or experiences, to new relationships and ways of thinking about things, I have become stagnant and I'm fixed where I am.  A life-long learner must always be interested in expanding one's current capabilities.  If not, we will never discover who we could have been.  On the other hand, there's a great peace in being contented in one's own skin.  After sixty plus years of living I've discovered I like me pretty well.  I'm not perfect and I'm continually growing, but I'm also at peace and that's a wonderful place to be!  Where are you in your journey? 

Monday, January 5, 2015

What's Your Story?

A new year is upon us.  The script is yours to write.  Do you spend a lot of time comparing your story to someone else's?  Daphne du Maurier and Ernest Hemingway certainly didn't write the same stories, but they were each powerful in their own way.  This is a good time for introspection.  What went well last year?  What didn't?  How much of that am I responsible for, both the good and the bad?  My encouragement to you today is to begin to pen your story.  What do you want to say with your life?  What tale do you want told about you in the end?  Your story matters and as it unfolds over time be encouraged by the words on your page.  Have a great school year!