Tag Archives: leadership

Game On- Level UP!

As I prepared for the 2017-18  school year, I had lots to consider:  my learning the past year as a part of the Texas Principal’s Visioning Institute, the feedback that I received from my students, staff, and parents through various data points, the past that had resulted in the path Degan was on, and the aspirations that we had for our students. The question that kept ringing in my head was “How in the world do I create a vision to help us move forward with all of this to consider?”

My campus had been fortunate to experience lots of success and recognition for the accomplishments we have made with transformation.  At the same time, we have also experienced some pretty big hits to culture. It’s hard to put this much energy into getting our flywheel moving. I think we all thought after three years, it would be starting to have its own momentum.   It’s not very comforting to hear that real change takes three to five years when you are in year four.  How would we keep moving forward? What would be our rallying cry for this next push to transform learning in meaningful ways so that our students could be successful?

The answer was actually in the data.  It was clear that as a campus we had made great strides in understanding what it was students were to learn and proven strategies to ensure that learning.  We understood our changing demographics and could relate to them and build meaningful relationships.  Yet, we were still short of the goal.  What our data showed was that we needed to evolve in how we were having teachers use technology and that teachers wanting to design more engaging, innovative work, but they needed time and practice to make this happen.

Then it hit me.  It was time to get our “game on”, literally, and level up learning for our students.

I love the mental image this theme created.  It acknowledges that first, our work, like games should be fun!  It should be challenging enough to keep our interest, while still being attainable.  We should receive feedback that adds value and helps us shape our decision-making to improve our processes.  We need to feel a part of a network in achieving the goal.

I am so excited about this year.  Today, we had our first professional learning and we made connections to the work of Jane McGonigal and her book Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World.  While not everything in learning has to be digital, it recognizes that games release some of the control to the gamer and allow them to test out theories to achieve the goals.  My teachers had the chance to explore how to incorporate some of these concepts into their learning design today.  Today teachers created and shared some cool new ideas.  I can’t wait to see the impact in the classrooms with students!

For my afternoon learning, I got to reconnect with the Texas Principal’s Visioning Institute.  Listening to Alan November just reinforced my belief that my campus is on the right path.  When we only focus on testing, we don’t have fun.

Our current generation of students has never lived without technology in their lives.  They spend 2-3 hours a day “gaming”.  According to McGonigal, over the course of their school years from fifth grade to graduation, they will likely spend as much time on games as they do in school.  We have to prepare these new learners for a new future.  That may mean that as adults, we have to “learn” how they learn and incorporate it into the knowledge we want them to gain.  It’s time to level up and do things differently than we have always done. GAME ON!

 

Celebrate Success (Even When It’s Someone Else’s)

It’s pretty easy to celebrate your own accomplishments.  I mean, you know your journey.  You know what you have been through to carry out the goal.  However, it can be harder to celebrate the success of others.  It got me thinking.

  • Do we not celebrate the success of others because of the competitive world we live in?  Maybe we don’t celebrate because we are fearful that someone else’s success diminishes our own.  Maybe it makes us feel a little safer with our own status.
  • Do we not notice? Let’s face it, it’s a fast pace world we live in. Maybe we get so busy, we just don’t see anything going on with anyone else because we have hyper-focused on our own circumstances.
  • Do we doubt the impact our “congratulations” mean to someone else?  Maybe we think that the other person will question our sincerity or even value our acknowledgement of what they have accomplished.

Recently I had a colleague of a campus that had been through a tremendous challenge to help her campus meet some specified accountability standards.  While I had not directly experienced the steps and measures they had gone through to achieve the goal.  I knew it was certainly arduous.  Her team rallied. They invested.  They learned. They reflected and they grew.  Most importantly, they never gave up.  It was huge accomplishment when they achieved this task they had worked on for years.

As I watched them celebrate, it hit me how important it was that not only they celebrate for themselves, or be acknowledged by superiors, but that they be acknowledged by peers and colleagues.  I didn’t know whether my words would really matter to them, but it just seemed important.  When we live in a world where education is constantly under fire, we must stand together in good times and in bad. It just seems like it’s easier to acknowledge and feel pity for someone’s struggles. We must not compete against each other, but celebrate each educational organization as a part of the great big “whole” of public educators who make a difference for children.  That is why my teacher leaders did a twitter storm of celebration for this campus marrying their hashtag and ours to celebrate their success.

I don’t think it matters if you are a district, a school, or a teacher of a classroom.  As Susan Phillips says “Celebrate the success of others.  High tide floats all ships.” When you are in a battle, you unite your armies, not battle over who is the frontline or the support. Both are critical to winning longterm.  We must recognize that every success of any campus is asuccess for all public educators.  It’s a check in the win column to tell the world what a difference a group of educators can make in the lives of children when they have a common vision and purpose. Congratulations, Central Elementary! You have accomplished great things.  You have shown grit, growth mindset, and grace under fire!  You did it and you make us all look good because of that!

 

 

This I Believe

When I was growing up, I wanted to be a leader for the wrong reasons. I wanted to be a leader because I thought that was the person in charge. Then, with maturity and many failed leadership experiences, I began to see the heavy burden that comes with the leadership role. Leadership even became something I avoided for a while. This is because I came to believe leadership is not about power, but all about service. Service to people, service to the community, service to a greater cause.

This I believe…

Leadership is about knowing the people you aspire to lead and being willing to make the sacrifices necessary for their success. It is about filling their cups, taking their burden, celebrating them whenever possible, and having a deep enough relationship with them that you can tell them things they need to hear to improve without damaging the connection.

Leadership is about recognizing that bad leadership will motivate people to be different, while good leadership will motivate people to be more. Leaders must show grace even when none is given in return. Walking the walk, inspiring hope, constant reflection and always considering the “what ifs” for improving the human condition for those they serve are the traits of a good leader.

Leadership is about having a continually developing a vision of where your organization needs to go to make the world a better place, and having the skills to continually learn and grow to adjust and correct the course to get there. It really is never about the destination. Rather, it is always about the journey and the experiences that shape us along the way.

Leadership is about modeling risk-taking. Sometimes risk-taking results in failures. But part of that modeling is getting back up, learning from mistakes, and starting again with a new perspective. Even more important is recognizing that sometimes you have big wins when big risks pay off. But even then, you don’t stop. You celebrate the moment and then form your next plan…you keep learning….you keep growing…you keep getting better rather than settling for good enough.

Leadership is about developing the capacity of others. True leaders recognize that the most important missions are too big for any one person. Therefore they teach and model and release responsibility so that a legacy exists long beyond the leader’s time. Leaders recognize when the required path is uncomfortable or hard but build on the strengths of those they lead to accomplishing the task despite the challenges. Leaders grow leaders, so the vision expands and has a greater impact of good.

Leadership is about being humble and giving all the credit to those you serve when things go right, but a true leader is willing to be accountable when things go wrong. This type of leader continually reflects on what they may have done to set others up for success so it can be repeated, but also considers the deficits in their actions that caused the failure and is willing to adjust their actions so that it doesn’t happen again.

Leadership can be exhausting. It can be thankless and focal point of blame when things don’t go right. Sometimes it would simply be easier to say, “This is how it’s going to be done because I said so.” Sometimes you want to close your door, or say “Not now.” You want to say, “What about me?” Sometimes, it can even be, “I give up.” Then I remember this is not leadership and start again.

This I believe, when done right, leadership cultivates others who are willing to serve and inspire others and this is how you make the world better.

Thank you to N2 Learning for this experience that helped define who I am as a leader, my partner in the experience Donna, my district administrators for this amazing opportunity, my constant support and mentor Sherry, for my incredible Degan Community who make me want to be better every day.

This I Believe 

Mercy and Grace

With Easter upon us, it has gotten me doing a great deal of reflection on God’s mercy versus God’s grace.  God’s mercy is the fact that while we deserve punishment for our sins, they are wiped clean.  Because of His mercy, we do not have to face eternal damnation.  So what about His grace?  Grace is that God gives us kindness we do not deserve. We did not deserve His son to die on the cross for our sins, but he gave his son for us anyway.

We, too, have the ability to give both grace and mercy to our fellow man.  I have seen that in the last couple of weeks at my school. I have been unnerved lately at some of the adult behavior that I have witnessed. I seem to have encountered more and more parents yelling, screaming and cursing in the presence of children or belittling staff who are just doing their jobs. I think it has to do with the social climate of our country and intense stress so many people are under. Unfortunately, I have had to confront several parents about their behavior and expectations of how we must treat each other to maintain a collaborative relationship and do what is best for children.  For a couple of these situations, it involved several follow-up conversations where those parents were able to explain some things going on in their

Unfortunately, I have had to confront several parents about their behavior and reiterate expectations of how we must treat each other to maintain a collaborative relationship and do what is best for children.  For a couple of these situations, it involved several follow-up conversations where those parents were able to explain some things going on in their lives.  These were not examples of “mercy” because the bad behavior was not tolerated. However, grace was extended through the absence of personal judgment and the willingness to continue to try to maintain the relationship. Those same adults took full responsibility and gave sincere unprompted apologies to those they had wronged.  I believe they did this because they were given grace.

I see this with students, too.  I have a couple of students who ended up at the alternative school for some persistent bad behavior.  They had to be held accountable at this level because other measures were not working and their behavior was becoming disruptive to others’ learning.  I went to visit them one day and both gave me gigantic hugs and stated they were surprised to see me.  I explained to them that while they were gone, they were still my students and I needed to check on them. They had to be accountable for their behavior, but it didn’t change my love for them or my concern for their well-being.

I have found that if students make a mistake and are given “mercy”, they are usually right back in the same place after a short period of time.  However, if they are held accountable for their actions while also shown kindness, behavior had the potential to change.  All humans need to know that someone believes in their ability to be better.  Underserved kindness, or grace, says to that person, “I believe in you, no matter what your past has been.”

To extend “mercy”, you must first be in some sort of a position of power to enact punishment.  However, sometimes “mercy” backfires by allowing bad behavior to continue because it is seen as acceptance of the behavior. Sometimes, we aren’t even in a place to show mercy because we don’t hold the power to give the consequence.   “Grace” doesn’t require power, but more the willingness to show kindness where none is deserved. It requires the person giving grace to put someone else’s humanity before their own desire to “make someone pay” for their wrongdoing.  Grace has the power to change behavior for the better because there is hope for something more. Sometimes “grace” and the hope it can inspire is much more important.

No Excuses (Especially on Saturday)

Two years ago, my campus learned about No Excuses University. It happened accidentally when a visitor to our campus said, “Oh, you’re an NEU Campus.” I had no idea what it the world NEU was, so I looked it up. Basically, it is the implementation of best practices for instruction, combined with a passion for the learning of all students. It is a fierce commitment to adults not making excuses about why a child cannot succeed in school, but rather doing whatever it takes to overcome barriers and ensure that all children (no matter their background, ethnicity, socio-economic status, or disability) are proficient or advanced in Reading, Writing, and Mathematics so that they can go to college if they choose.

In trying to be aligned to this belief, my campus has looked at the students who we believed were not quite ready to hit that “proficient or advanced” expectation and created what we call NEU Saturday. This is a time where selected students come to school on Saturday for two hours so that they have a little extra time to learn. I need to be clear. This has absolutely NOTHING to do with our state assessment. My commitment is not to a test, but to these children’s being prepared for their future. If we do that right, they’ll be fine on a test, but the test isn’t the driving force.

I love this! Learning isn’t about worksheets! It’s about relationships, relevance to life, and things that can connect with the learner!
Because we aren’t bound by constraints of tutoring for a test, we serve all grades. YES, all grades, pre-kindergarten through fifth grade. They come and a band of teachers welcome these children with open arms and celebrate the child’s commitment to his education. So many of my students are still learning that things don’t just happen to them, but through the choices they make, they have the power to change the direction of their lives. I tell each one of the students that they are the “chosen” ones. That their teachers specifically chose them to come to this special time because of the grit, growth mindset and commitment to no excuses they make every day.

We feed them a full breakfast. While I know it is big talk in Washington D.C. that breakfast doesn’t make a difference in education, that is just plain malarky. When people are hungry, they can’t think about anything, but their stomach growling and “hangry” is a reality. Many of my children rely on the food from school as their primary source of nutrition. It’s just a sack breakfast with cereal or a muffin, string cheese, juice, and milk, but knowing my students are getting one extra meal over the weekend makes a huge difference.

Then for the next two hours, I have an incredible staff that pours into these children. They talk with them, hug them, and provide them with meaningful learning. They do cool activities with Versa-tiles, read, and play games with higher-level thinking and strategy. There’s not one test prep material. Only opportunities for the students to think, discuss and problem solve in meaningful situations. The best part is that these students say this is the best day of the week and and ask to come back on Sunday, too!


There’s lots of criticism about public schools and their effectiveness. I haven’t seen that. Public education is the heart of our society’s future. It takes ensuring that all children have access to a quality education to ensure they have the tools to become productive citizens in the future. It is when we take off the constraints off and allow educators to do what they love and teach that this happens. They do whatever it takes because this is why we get into teaching: to see all children succeed. No excuses.

Why I Won’t Have a STAAR Pep Rally at My School

Pep Rallies before a standardized test have become a common occurrence in schools. A campus principal’s email can be flooded with people who want to get paid to be a part of these “pep rallies”.   I have been a part of this practice in the past, but since becoming a principal, I have been against this type of practice.  Why, because a ” STAAR Pep Rally” makes the important thing the test.  It sends the message to those people outside education that “the test” is what is important.  I am here to say a standardized test is the LEAST important thing that happens during a school year.

A test is what happens on one single day to measure all the learning that takes place in the course of a school year.  For it to be an accurate measure, all the variables for that would have to be absolutely perfect.  Students would have to have a great night’s’ sleep,  a well-balanced breakfast, a supportive emotional environment before school, and all the supports they need to be successful.

Let’s face it.  Some students have trauma at home. Many don’t have basic needs met.   They don’t always have the nutrition they need.  They may not get adequate sleep. Even our students with disabilities don’t have access to all their IEP interventions because of the rules of the test.  The variables are not the best case scenario for some kids.  How in the world could we expect the test to accurately reflect all they have mastered?

Here is what I am willing to rally over:  students, teachers, grit, growth mindset and all they have accomplished over the ENTIRE year.  At my school, we do this every Friday. Today, on the eve of our standardized test, my students did come to the cafeteria to meet with me.  The rest of the building lined the hallway to applaud their hard work and let them know we stand with them. It was not a STAAR Pep Rally.  It was a celebration of people who work hard to grow in their learning. It was caring about the people enough to let them know they were loved, supported, prepared, and in control of their destiny.

When students arrived, I shared with them my story of having to retake the GRE to get into graduate school to work on my doctorate.  As I sat down to take this test, I felt angry and frustrated.  I felt like there were some words that no one used, so impossibly worded questions, and I just felt there was no way that that test could accurately encompass who I was as a principal or a learner.  It hit me that this was how some of my students felt.

I told my students that there was no way that tomorrow’s test could define them either.  There was no way that this test could fully share with legislators or the public how much they had learned this past year. What I did tell these students was that they were in control, that they had the power to control their destiny. I shared with my fifth graders that sometimes, working hard at a test can give you a benefit.  That while my test couldn’t define me, it could gain me access to a program I wanted to be a part of to improve my life.

For them, working hard to “show what they know” could prevent them from retaking this test in a few weeks, but it would be their choice.  I told my fourth graders that while they weren’t facing a retest, the evidence does show that every time they pass a test like this,  it increases their chances of passing the next one.  No matter what, I told them they were in control.  I wanted them to know they were prepared and had everything they needed.  If they wanted it, they could achieve it.

I think that is what it is all about:  empowering students to know that they have control over their education.  The focus should never be on a test, but the people taking the test and continual reminders that even as children, they get to choose, they get to decide how to define themselves.

 We put tremendous pressure on students to “pass.”  The truth is our actions should support our beliefs.  At my campus we don’t have a test pep rally, we have a “hope rally” every single week where we celebrate teachers, students, and the power of education together as a campus.  While today I did bring students down to meet with me before they take their test tomorrow, it was never about the test.  It was ALWAYS about the people.  Whatever happens, tomorrow doesn’t really change anything.  Don’t get me wrong.  I want all of my students to do well because I know it makes their life easier in the long wrong. However, I know what my students have learned, how they have grown, and how much they have overcome and it far exceeds the constraints of a multiple choice test!

Unchartered Waters

I have certainly been blessed in my career.  I have had some amazing professional opportunities that have prepared me for the campus leadership position I hold now.  Even though I changed positions on a regular basis, I gained some extensive knowledge in from a variety of aspects in education.  I am tremendously grateful for the districts I have served and their immersion into the Visioning Document to guide my leadership principles.  I am most blessed to serve an amazing campus with precious children, supportive families, a great community, and an incredible staff of committed educators who are willing to be risk-takers and do whatever it takes to do what is right for our students.

In year four of my principalship, I am fortunate to see much of the initial five-year vision I set upon my arrival coming to fruition.  Our students are becoming strong readers, writers, thinkers, and problem-solvers.  We have re-established relationships with our parents and are beginning to have some connections with our community at large. We have received recognition for strong practices of  transformation. We have gone from a campus with declining results, to a campus on the verge of an explosion of greatness.

I should feel great, right?  However, in the past few months, my major emotion has been that of anxiety.

Don’t get me wrong. I have great pride in my students and staff.  It is because of my deep commitment to them that I have anxiety of how to proceed as we accomplish the last of these goals.  My passion for being the very best for them has created my stress.  I started my leadership journey with a clear vision.  The path has been very clear and the results have come.  My worry rises from as we see our initial destination in view I am plagued with the questions:  “What next? Where do we go from here?”

That’s what happens when you create a learning organization.  You create people with a growth mindset who are intent on getting better every day.  My work as a part of the Principal’s Visioning Institute has resulted  in my own deep self-reflection.  I absolutely believe in the Visioning Document. It has framed our initial transformation.  But I have reached the point where I am standing on the horizon looking at an unclear path.  My past “self” would have said I’ve done what I’m good at, time to move on.  But that is not what I want for my future “self”.  I have more goals, higher vision, than just what has been accomplished so far.  I’ve just not been at this stage of transformation and simply “rinsing and repeating” will not help us to continue to up our game.

Part of my anxiety that because I have such great people, I am fearful of not having a clear plan.  These wonderful educators have worked so tirelessly to achieve our goals thus far, I want to continue to ensure their success.  However, since I am headed into unchartered territory, it is hard to know what to expect.  I just don’t want to lead them down the wrong path. I want to make sure we are prepared with the right tools and that my navigation equipment is state of the art.

These past two days at the Principal’s Visioning Institute have been much needed to face my leadership fears.  I’ve been more quiet than usual, but soaking up every word and putting into my current context to prepare for the next stage of our journey.  It has helped me to see that while I may not be familiar with the next stage of my journey, others around me are and they are ready to help.  I have a great map with the Visioning Document and its related tools.  I have a fleet of other leaders navigating the same course of redesigning education to meet the needs of 21st-Century Learners. Most importantly, I have a fantastic, fearless crew of educators at my side. Any perils of the unknown we face, we will face together.

Ultimately, these past two days, I have realized that it’s okay for leaders to be unsure, but you can’t dwell there.  You have to find your tools, your supports, and make a plan, even if

it’s unfamiliar. You can still see the horizon.  It’s just time to start planning for the next stop in my campus’ journey. It’s time to harness my grit, my growth mindset, and God’s grace

and move forward because a current destination that is currently great won’t remain great as time moves on.  It’s all about the journey, not the destination. It’s time to set sail. Our next port is waiting.

Not Just a Building

This past week, I attended the Texas Association of School Administrators Midwinter Conference and had the opportunity to hear Shanna Peeples, 2015 National Teacher of the Year, speak. She had so much to say about advocating for public schools, but the thing that has resonated with me most was this quote:

“Public school is not a building. It’s a promise that a community makes to itself.” Shanna Peeples, TASA Midwinter Conference 2017

I’ve thought a lot about what she said, but I would take this statement a little further. A public school is not just a building; it is a promise that the community makes to itself to inspire hope for a better future.

We live in a tough world. We have people feeling entitled to rewards without work. People who cannot communicate effectively with words, so they use violence. People who are angry because they feel invisible, and other people who are afraid of the people they don’t understand so they put up the barriers that make angry people feel even more

disenfranchised. Instead of fixing the systems we have and contributing to a better world, people want to take their toys and go home resulting in soft segregation. This is only going to create a continuous cycle of decline.

But here is what I have to say-public schools are the hope for a better future. Public schools are the embodiment of our forefather’s vision, and capture in the words of Emma Lazarus inscribed on The Statue of Liberty.

In my school that promise is:

  • to a young girl that there will be someone there to care for her, despite her mother suffering from stage 4 cancer and having no extended family.
  • taking a moment to talk about what went wrong when a boy lost his cool and threatened a peer and to develop a different plan while helping him let go of his angry past.
  • a letter waiting for you at your new school when your family moved away and a teacher worried about your transition because you have moved so often.
  • a teacher braiding your hair because you are staying in a homeless shelter and mom couldn’t fix your hair before you came to school.
  • knowing that we will exhaust every option before we label you in a way that may limit your future opportunities.
  • the nurse recognizing a rash as a bigger problem to alert you to the need to seek immediate, life-saving medical attention.
  • a concerned teacher taking money from her own pocket to ensure the electricity is on so a child with asthma can have nebulizer treatments.
  • teaching peers to show compassion to a student with low cognitive ability and them applying that compassion by looking after her when she is outside the classroom.
  • designing work with incubating germs that help you learn “school stuff” but make you feel like a grown up in the real world.
  • setting goals and celebrating achievement and talking about how to regroup when the goal falls short so that all children, no matter of their ability, are coached and guided for growth.
  • talks of college embodied in grade level cheers and the dreams that a college degree can hold for your future.
  • songs of education and being “world changers” with the entire school every Friday.
  • the adults not making excuses that prevent children from achieving the best future, no matter where they started.
  • diversity and the opportunity to be around all kinds of people and learn that there is no need for fear, just value of multiple perspectives and willingness to use words to discuss differences.

Public schools are the place that we value every individual. It doesn’t matter your ethnicity, your native language, your religion, whether or not you have a disability or giftedness. You may come from an average background or one fraught with trauma. You may be wealthy, poor, or just middle-class. You may be the child who tries to please or the child who is continually demonstrating your displeasure with the world by spinning things into chaos. In a public school, we love you, we value you and try to earn your trust. We stretch you and grow you. We teach you to collaborate and communicate with those that are nothing like you. We teach you to think critically and set goals. We teach you to read, write and problem-solve using multiple strategies. We prepare you for the ability to thrive in a diverse world with the confidence that you can not only achieve your goals, but make the world a better place.

The things that public schools do to prepare our world for a better future are not easily measured by standardized tests or accountability systems and high performance on a test doesn’t guarantee your success if you cannot relate to the 21st century world.  Many would have society believe that paying for an education is a better option, but the don’t tell you what opportunities you miss because of a separate, homogenous education

Just remember, public schools are not just a building, we are people who ensure the promise that the community makes to itself, who love all and accept all, to inspire hope for a better society and future for all.

 

Leadership: Mastering The Art of Juggling and Clear Feedback

I love metaphors.  I think they are excellent tools in learning to promote higher level thinking and help learning stick.  Metaphors provide something for us to relate to that we already know and understand so that we can connect our new learning in an innovative way. My most recent leadership metaphor came to me when I was participating in a session with the Texas Principal’s Visioning Institute and they asked us to juggle scarves.  First, we had to juggle by ourselves and without any interaction or feedback from anyone else.  Very few in the room were able to juggle the scarves successfully.

juggling-scarves

After we had attempted to teach ourselves, we had the opportunity to work with others and provide feedback and encouragement.  Collaboration increased the rate of success tremendously. What resonated with me as I walked away (besides the fact of how cool it was that I learned to juggle scarves and taught someone else as well) was the power of clear, constructive feedback.

Not long after that, one of my campus leadership teams hit a real roadblock.  We have faced some real challenges this year.  People were exhausted. With Halloween, the Super Moon, and an election season with lots of negativity, not to mention some unexpected situations with students, we hadjuggling-fail stretched our productive coping mechanisms thin and resulted in a heated meeting. I know everyone left feeling frustrated.  As I reflected, I think I was most discouraged that the snowballing anxiety had resulted in angry outbursts that still weren’t necessarily clear about the real issues or root causes.  They were mostly just an expression of exasperation. I was upset with myself that my team had reached this point and I had missed the signs.  How could I have let my team down?  I definitely felt like my leadership juggling was resulting in everything hitting the ground.

The whole experience got me back to thinking about juggling scarves.  Leadership in education is much about juggling scarves.  This is because juggling scarves isn’t like juggling balls.  The motion is entirely different.  Instead of a circular motion, it is more juggling-womanof a crisscross.  Rather than an immediate gravitational force, there are a few seconds of floating.  It requires focus, rhythm, and gentle touch to get the scarves flowing. I think this is how educational leadership works as well.  You are constantly crisscrossing to monitor, check, and keep everything moving.  You have to use a gentle touch, because if you grab, cling, and forget to let go,  you can’t catch the next scarf.   You also have to keep everything at eye level to monitor the progress and make adjustments. Educational leadership has to be intentional, but with a light touch and keen perception.

juggle-quote

A few weeks later, I repeated the experience I had learned with my leadership team.  I added some of my own twists. Not only did they experience learning to juggle in isolation, my twist had to do with the type of feedback when it came to that time. The jugglers were paired with someone who could only give nonverbal feedback. They could use their faces, body language and gestures, but no words.  Some smiled and clapped.  Some looked disinterested.  Others looked angry, and some even grabbed the scarves away to demonstrate in frustration how to do it.

Feedback is just as critical.  When the team gives clear feedback about your strategies, you can use your mental energy to make adjustments and improve the flow.  When you take your eyes of the scarves and try to read someone’s face and decipher nonverbal feedback, your focus has moved off the scarves, and they are more likely to fall to the ground. As leadership teams, we have to give clear, constructive feedback on the process, so we do not get distracted from the goal and all the scarves stay up in the air. However, if the scarves fall, you don’t give up.  You pick the scarves up and start again.  Practice improves the process and the chances for success. Add in a team providing clear, constructive feedback and encouragement, and the probability of achieving the desired outcomes are even more likely.

This is how leadership works. Scarves hit the ground. Practice improves the process and the chances for success. Add in a team providing clear, constructive feedback and encouragement, and the probability of achieving the desired outcomes are even more likely.

I can say I am fortunate to have great educators around me.  They are willing to take risks, make mistakes, and learn together to do what is best for our students. As a result, I do believe that for now, all the scarves are up in the air and moving again!

I Choose Thankful

November is traditionally a time of reflections on one’s blessings, and as I think about this school year, it has been full of ups and downs and in only been 13 weeks.  One of the biggest challenges is seeing children bear such heavy burdens. Whether it is a parent’s illness, today-i-choosephysical/emotional abuse or neglect, the loss of a parent through family separation or death, or just the stress of poverty and the worry that comes with it about one’s basic needs being met, it is hard to see children suffering.  Add to this mix teachers who have their own personal stressors and a nation of unrest in a highly polarized political climate. Forget the typical school challenges full moons and holidays, folks; we are talking about real trauma.

Supporting children living with trauma can be a challenge. They bring it in the door. Trauma may not be visible, but a child in trauma will let you know immediately if they are suffering.  With their actions, their words, their lack of connection, they will let you know. They fight, they run, they shut down. Children in the most need of love often ask for it in the most unlovable ways.  It can be exhausting for those responsible for providing “trauma care” much less a high-quality education.  One could easily lose hope.

However, I have learned so much from supporting children of today.  If you can make that thankful-people-are-happyconnection, create that bond, make the child feel safe, there is no better feeling in the world. When you watch a teacher persist to form a relationship despite multiple attempts by the student to push them away, there is a sense of pride to be a part of an organization that puts first things first.

I have learned that it is in the most difficult circumstances that the biggest blessings are revealed.  We can be grateful for the challenges and know that they are helping develop our character into who we are meant to be, or we can feel mistreated.  

We always have a choice.   We can feel wronged, or we can be grateful for the challenges and know that they are tied to a greater purpose.  We can worry about the difficulties we face, or we can choose to feel blessed knowing that we will never be given more than we can handle.  We can grieve the things we do not have, or we choose to see the abundance of our lives and all the opportunities that lay before us. Thankful isn’t something that happens, it’s something you do on purpose. And when we choose gratitude, it becomes you-have-a-choiceimpossible to feel stressed.  They are two emotions that cannot exist at the same time.

So while it is difficult to see children suffer, I choose to be thankful that I get to be a positive force in their lives.  While sometimes the behavior of these students can be beyond difficult, I am blessed to have a staff willing to learn about trauma and utilize trauma-sensitive practices to support these students. While there are many times I have pondered thoughts of “if I just had more… (time, money, staff, parent involvement, resources)”, I know that in my district and community, I have an abundance of support and trust to make decisions that are best for our children, not just a few, but all of them. While it would be easy to lose faith facing such challenging circumstances, I choose to have grit and hope in the future of public education and how we can teach children coping strategies and value for each other in addition to reading, writing, and math.  I am blessed.  I am thankful.  Are you? It’s your choice.