Today I read this blogpost from Chad Lehrmann. Chad is an educator in College Station ISD and he has a passion for student voice in his classroom. The following thought stood out to me from his blogpost:
You have to have experiences to reflect on them.
At first, I thought of course, you need experiences to be able to reflect upon them. But the more I thought about it, the more I thought about this question: How often do we make sure that people (children and adults) have actually had the experiences that we need them to reflect upon in order to grow?
My experience as a school leader tells me that we operate under a lot of assumptions when it comes to the experiences of our students and fellow teachers. This is why it is important to create learning experiences for our learners. If we do not make sure they happen, then who will?
Think. Achieve. Succeed.
As a leader, people that follow you and work with you want to know your vision. They want to know what you have planned for today, tomorrow and way down the road. Sharing your vision with them is important because it allows them to help actualize the vision. They want to help and support you in your work, but they cannot if you do not share or are not sharing it completely. Be transparent, be open, be purposeful. If you do not know the full vision, tell them and finalize the vision with them. When you involve others in the vision, you create shared ownership which leads to better outcomes.
Think. Achieve. Succeed.
Here we are at the start of a new year. We all know the things that come with the start of a new year: resolutions, new beginnings, words and phrases of the year, mantras, themes… you get the point. All of those are fine and quite frankly, necessary because with the start of a new year we should want to push ourselves to greatness. Starting with the new year makes sense due to the newness and excitement of starting over.
I purposefully waited until January 2 to post this because we all have the energy and excitement on January 1. Here we are, on day #2 and some of us has slipped already. That’s okay, it happens. Breaking old habits takes time and is very challenging. When you find yourself struggling with the change that you have decided to undertake, I need you to ask yourself this question:
Are you going to run the year or is the year going to run you?
You made that resolution, new beginning, word and/or phrase of the year, mantra, or theme for a reason. Don’t give up on it. More importantly, don’t give up on yourself. It’s your choice. What will you do?
Think. Achieve. Succeed.
It's lonely at the top.
We've all heard that expression, and for good reason. When you are a leader there are somethings that only people that are in those positions or have been in those positions can relate to. I get that. We all do. That is the down side of the buck stopping with you.
I am here to remind you that it doesn't have to be quite so lonely.
As you go through this school year there are going to be issues that feel like the weight of the world is sitting on your shoulders. Things are going to occur that keep you up at night. People are going to disappoint you and you will disappoint someone. When these things occur, just remember that you are not the only one. You need to have a team to help support you.
One of the strengths of a great leader is to have a few select people to lean on when times are tough. Who are those people for you? Who uses you for support?
I bring this topic up because it matters. You cannot lead alone and lead well. You need a team of support and sounding boards so that you make the best decisions possible.
If you do not have a team I encourage you to develop that team or network. They do not have to be a peer or even a co-worker. They just have to be someone that has your best interest at heart and will give you the honest feedback you need at the time you need it the most. If you do not have a large network, then start up a conversation over a struggle you, or a "friend", is experiencing and see where the conversation leads. You never know, you may make a connection that you wouldn't ever expect.
Think. Achieve. Succeed.
The start of a new school year is upon us. Some districts began last week, some started today, and others will start later this week or next week. For me, the start of this school year has been different because I am no longer working at the campus level. Today was different for me, but in a good way. Let me explain.
My wife started her day with the expected butterflies and anxiety of the first day of school. She worked much of weekend to make sure that the first day of school as just right for her students. We exercised this morning and we made sure that she left the house in plenty of time to be ahead of the traffic that is sure to be full of anxious students and nervous parents. Normally I am right on her heels out the door, but not today.
I probably left the house at about the same time I normally do on normal day, but it was not super early to make sure the building was ready for kids on the first day of school. I probably drove with the same level of alertness that I normally drive, but I did not have the anxiety that I normally have on the first day of school. This first day was different.
Now don’t misunderstand, I was nervous for all of the schools in my district. Today 18 campuses opened with over 13,000 students experiencing their first day. I spent most of the day driving to campuses and by the end of the day I had visited two thirds of our campuses. Principals were excited. Teachers and kids were smiling. Everyone was learning about each other and the new routines and procedures of the new school year. It was a good day.
I was nervous because I wanted the day to go well for everyone. I did not want to hear anything negative occurring at any of the 18 campuses. My perspective has changed.
As a principal, I was nervous for the 900+ students and ~ 90 staff members that I worked with each day. I did not ever really worry about the other campuses because I had my hands full with my school. Today, I found that I was nervous for everyone to have a great day. Maybe it is because I have even less control because I am now one more step away from the classroom….one more step away from being able to support kids directly...one more step away from being able to problem solve when problems arise.
As a principal I was not one for total control because I know that is not sustainable in the long term. I am not changing my feelings now because I know that my district has great people and they are going to be excellent in their work, but the nervousness is still there, just different. It’s hard to explain fully. Maybe that is because I am still trying to understand all that I am feeling. I will continue to reflect upon that.
For now, please know that being in central office does not remove the feelings we have about school and our desire for great things to occur. Our perspective has changed. Our feeling may not be the same as they were when we were side by side with the kids, but they are still there. The best way I know to describe right now is to say it is a new nervousness.
Think. Achieve. Succeed.
In case you did not know, I run. I run because it pushes me to be a better version of me. I run because I just feel better after I have finished a run. I run because I like to eat good food that is not always good for me. I run because it helps me to think. There are many reasons to run.
I know what some of you are thinking... good for you. I don't run and I don't need you to tell me why you do run. Am I right?
I am sharing this so that you understand where this is coming from.
The Boston Marathon was last Monday. The Boston Marathon is like the Super Bowl or the World Series for running. It is the world's oldest marathon and one of the most elusive marathons to enter and win. That is why their logo is a unicorn.
This year's Boston Marathon was one of the most miserable weather days in the history of the race. It was very cold, very rainy, and very windy. Almost half of the elite athletes that started the race quit before it ended. It was a hard day, especially for those that are "made for running".
Des Linden made history on Monday. What did she do? See for yourself.
It was revealed in the post race marathon that she almost quit in mile 2 or 3. She said she was not feeling well. I am glad she was able to push through. I am sure she is too. As you saw in the video, she slowed down so she could support her fellow competitor, Shalane Flanagan (who won the NYC Marathon in the Fall of 2017) who was having a tough day. That is teamwork. That is placing the needs of other's before your own. We need more of that in the world today.
Des ended up leaving Shalane and the rest of the women's field behind at Mile 21. She became stronger and faster as the race went on. She pushed through the reasons to quit.
About a month before Boson, she sent out this tweet:
"Every day I make the choice to show up and see what I've go, and try to be better."
What a great attitude about life.
She's right. Some days it feels like everything falls into place and other days it feels like everything is falling all over the place. What do you do on those days that everything falls all over the place? Do you give in? Are you giving up on what could be your best day ever? How do you know if you give up?
I am sharing all of this to remind you that you need to keep showing up. The last few weeks of the school year are some of the toughest. Even the best educators struggle this time of you. You are not alone. Keep pushing. Keep showing up. I bet you will find that more days will fall into place than fall all over the place.
Think. Achieve. Succeed.
Recently, my wife and I travelled to a different part of the country. Instead of renting a car we decided to try out ride sharing to see how that goes. Neither of us have ever used Uber or Lyft before this particular trip and we thought we would do what we often tell others they should do… try new things and get out of your comfort zone.
We are glad that we did!
Over the course of our trip we utilized Lyft to get from the airport to our hotel and then around town to the different destinations we had on our agenda. Each experience was unique, enjoyable, and an opportunity to connect with someone for a few minutes. We were able to ride in all kinds of vehicles ranging from a Kia Sorento to a Lincoln Navigator. Each driver had a wonderful personality, very conversational, and a comfortable vehicle. Conversations ranged from the local area, favorite things to do, recommendations for places to visit, favorite sports teams, and even politics. One driver was really interested in the work my wife and I both do as educators and we spoke about education related topics on a longer drive.
No, I am not being paid by Lyft to write this. I am sharing this as a reminder of how important it is to do something different and take a risk on a new experience. Sure, we could have rented a car or booked a shuttle or rode a taxi and we would have been fine (all the Lyfts were cheaper than each of those options). But, I think we went into each ride waiting for the next adventure that awaited in the conversation with the next driver and not just looking out the window until we arrived at our destination.
I challenge you to take a chance and do something different.
Go on that adventure that you want to go on. When you go on that adventure and you find that you need a ride, catch a Lyft. It will be an “upLyfting” experience in ways you will not expect.
Think. Achieve. Succeed.
This week is the perfect week to share with the world the awesomeness of your school or district by showcasing the work being done each day because Wednesday is Love My School Day. If you are a teacher, share pictures and examples of the work you and your students do in the classroom each and every day. If you are an administrator or a campus staff member, share the greatness that you see in the different rooms and areas of the school you see on a daily basis.
In my school district (and I suspect in others) talk all the time about the narrative around schools. Often, that narrative is not positive because there are those that are wanting to bring public schools down or the press chooses to cover the negative issues instead of the positive issues. We cannot change the narrative if we, the educators, do not take action. The action that we can take is to share the positive that occurs each day in our classrooms and in our school. It really is that simple. When we share the greatness, we drown out the negativity around schools.
I challenge you this week, and specifically on Wednesday, to share something that you are proud of that you have done in your classroom this year. Retweet things that you see on twitter... search by using the #Lovemyschoolday hashtag.
When we take a moment to focus on the positive we remember why we do what we do. Why wouldn't want to remember why you do what you do? When you remember the why behind what you do, you are more likely to create more moments and days that are memorable and less moments and days that are forgettable.
Think. Achieve. Succeed.
I've always believed that we are either getting better or getting worse. We do not stay the same. Life is always moving and changing and if we do not change along with it, we are being left behind.
Over the years I have learned that taking the time to reflect upon and measure my efforts, progress, and results has given me a better understanding of the outcomes and how they were or were not achieved. If we don't ever slow down and reflect from time to time we begin to chalk up our successes and failures to fate, chance, or luck because we do not think about what actually went into the outcomes we achieved.
Spring break is rapidly approaching. During spring break this year I challenge you to take some time out to reflect. Think about your achievement and struggles from this year. What went into those? What will you do differently? Now, what will you do going forward?
Think. Achieve. Succeed.
“It is lonely at the top.” We suspect that everyone who is reading our post has heard this quote relating to the isolation that can come with leadership.This can be true of educators at every level whether we lead a district, department, campus or classroom. With all the tools available to become a connected educator, there is really no reason to remain in a silo of isolation in your role. This post will explore the way two principals maintain an authentic connection that supports and challenges the work that we both do. We will explore some specific questions about being a connected educator and how we overcome those challenges. After that we will show how we stay connected and how you can do the same. We will end with a challenge for you!
Why is being a connected educator important to you?
I (Mark) am the principal of a new campus, Stockdick Jr. High. I have had the pleasure of serving students for 30 years as a science teacher and an administrator. I am driven to connect due to my strong belief in synergy. I am a servant leader who wants to be masterful in the craft of growing others. Connecting with others serves to stretch my thinking and give me fresh ideas.
I (Jeff) am the principal of A&M Consolidated Middle School. This is the third year at my campus as principal. Prior to my current role, I have been at the intermediate and high school levels of campus administration and teaching. In my years of education I have learned that staying connected to peers is critical to my success. The reason for being connected is because I need to be able to collaborate, discuss, share, and explore the possibilities related to my day to work with someone that can relate to my work.
How do you fight the isolationism that comes with the job of being a principal (or any leadership role)?
Serving in any kind of leadership capacity can be lonely work because you are the person that everyone looks to for guidance, solutions, vision, and judgement. You are supposed to have all of the answers, right?!? The pressure that comes with the title of principal is real. There is only one principal on a campus. Yes, there are assistant principals but, at the end of the day, they are looking to the principal as well. The buck stops with you. When you do not know the answer, who do you turn to? How do you make your decisions? Who do you talk to?
This is where having a peer principal to talk over issues with makes all the difference in the world. One of you may have already worked through the issue that the other is currently struggling with. Both of you are able to relate to the stress of the position and the expectations that come with the title of principal.
Sometimes those connections are made within your district and sometimes those connections are made across districts. With the in-district connections, you are able to have lots of rich conversation about the issues that are within your district and what is being faced within the system. There is power in those connections but sometimes those connections fall short because there is a lack of an outside perspective. This is where the out of district connections come into play. When you have peer connections at different districts you open the door for different perspectives and solutions. These connections are just as powerful as the in-district connections. Are you connected with your peers within your district? How about outside of your district?
What are the advantages to being a connected educator?
Most educators know that effective leaders are masterful at balancing pressure and support as they grow others. What fewer people think about is how a leader’s drive to be the very best creates an intrinsic pressure and a need to also be supported. Being connected to a peer educator helps us maintain an internal balance.
Our intrinsic pressure to get better is served by being connected. Through collaboration, ideas are exchanged. New and different ways to accomplish our goals are explored. Reflection on what is working or not working for our peer moves us forward. I find that some of my most meaningful learning opportunities come through ongoing connection to peer principals. The action orientation of these relationships is an advantage that comes from being connected.
The principalship is a tough job. The reality is that being connected to a peer that has your same position creates an easy opportunity for empathy. When you are walking in one another’s shoes, the ability to support each other is not much of a reach. When we are vulnerable and authentic in sharing struggles and celebrations, the connection grows. Through hearing and being heard, we are healed.
What makes voxer so powerful for you?
I think we all realize that the best possible connections with people are face-to-face. The ability to interact with one another in this fashion allows superior communication verbally and non-verbally. The next best thing to face-to-face communication is arguably the use of video chat platforms such as Skype, Google hangouts, or Facetime. The biggest issue with face-to-face meetings or video chats is the need to coordinate time. The reality is that there simply is not enough time to bring all the players together that should have a voice in the process. Enter Voxer.
For me (Mark), Voxer is my go-to tech tool for asynchronous collaboration. I am able to have ongoing conversations with a variety of individuals and/or groups, as time allows. I spend approximately 45 minutes each day commuting to and from work. I leverage this time to move things forward with Voxer. I may lose the non-verbal aspect of a face-to-face, but I can still enjoy the more subtle forms of verbal conversation such as tone, word emphasis, and emotion. These elements make the communication clearer and bring the conversation to life far beyond the written word.
For me (Jeff), Voxer is a great tool for connecting with others from all over the country and within your own building. Typically, I use voxer during my 20 minute commute. I started this about 4 years ago and it has become part of my normal routine. Why? Talking is much easier than texting / typing. Hearing someone’s voice is very powerful and I don’t have to worry about the video component that comes with something like FaceTime or Hangouts. A reality of the world we live in is the hustle and bustle of our schedules. Making phone calls on a daily basis is challenging but with Voxer the connection is on our time and our schedule. Since you leave voice messages for each other and you check those and leave those when you can, the conversation continues regardless of the busyness of everyone’s schedule.
Do you want to see what a voxer conversation looks and sounds like? Click here to view a short video to give you a better idea.
Here is the challenge… join the voxer group, start a conversation, and bust that silo that is holding you back!
We want you to join in the Busting Silos Voxer Group if you are interested! Please click here and complete the google form so we can get you in the group.
Director of Instruction and Leadership Development
Do what you can, with what you have, where you are
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