That’s Not Normal!

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A fellow teacher was talking to me today about his resume and cover letter.  He is a part time teacher and looking, understandably, for full time work.  As I read over his resume of being a teacher in his first full year, second total, some major things jumped out at me.

This teacher had written his entire curriculum for a pre-K to 8 program and created a program at our school that previously did not exist, with almost no increase in funding.  NONE of that was on his cover letter or his resume.

As I started to talk to him about this, he didn’t seem to realize how valuable that information was for him.  How many teachers with barely a full year of experience take on those challenges?  How many teachers with 20 years experience take on those challenges?  The answer is probably far fewer than we think.  It is also is much fewer than he thought, “doesn’t everyone do those things?”

Simply put, no.  The truth is that those qualities make him an unusual candidate.  Tonight talking with other teachers we were mentioning the idea that when something comes natural to teachers, they just assume its normal.  Let me remind all of you now, NOTHING YOU DO IS NORMAL!

You spend your days with tons of kids that want to play games, run, jump, and many other things.  You spend your days with them by choice, and you do it so they can learn.  Teachers, stop assuming that there is nothing special about you or what you do!

A good friend @tritonkory loves to refer to herself as “just a teacher” and it really aggravates me to no end!  She is an amazing teacher that has done so much for her kids and her school.  Just tonight she put on a reading event for kids and parents that was attended by over 100 people.  She inspires hundreds of other teachers, and creates really cool things for her classes.  She is anything but, “just a teacher”.  Those things aren’t “normal”.  Sure people do them, but not everyone.  These are special things that we should celebrate and appreciate about ourselves and others!

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…And The Tree Was Happy

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Today, teachers were starting to decorate their doors for Read Across America with their favorite book.  A friend had done her best to recreate The Giving Tree.  We talked, joked about her door (a plain white paper with the man and tree stump) when she said, “it needs some color, don’t you think?”

I agreed, and she decided to add a quote from the book, “…and the tree was happy” using red marker because the apples in the tree were red.  I laughed saying it was a great connection that no one would get but us.

We continued to talk about decorating doors and laugh.  I remarked, We need more of this (in reference to her “…and the tree was happy quote”).  While we were having this positive, enjoyable interaction, I started playing with ideas for my door and I believe I have a great one.  Many of the best ideas and lessons and ideas come from positive interactions.

That message from the Giving Tree really hit me as I walked out of the room.  The like many educators, the tree is continuously giving to the boy.  It was always giving of itself to ensure the boy had what he needed.  Educators are akin to this in many ways, except it seems increasingly in the last and most important part of the book, being happy.  Teachers give of themselves constantly, as do other education professionals.  Where we fall short is that the tree is happy with her sacrifice.  She is happy to know that her actions enabled a better life for someone else.

I don’t see enough of this in my day to day teaching around my school.  I don’t see enough people who are happy because they are giving to make other lives better.  We need more happy.  Not happy because something went well or we were recognized, but happy in our sacrifice, in the growth of others.  We all need to bring that happy to our schools and build the positive attitudes for those around us.

Speak Up and Share

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Teachers have this strange cultural phenomenon.  So many of us fail to talk about what we do well.  We rarely celebrate ourselves and recognize our own successes.  Part of the job of a leader is to break that cultural stigma and help develop an atmosphere of sharing and learning.

I have seen and heard from many teachers that don’t want to step out, don’t want to let others know about the great things they are doing.   Why wouldn’t teachers want to share the exciting news of their passion, expertise and dedication to the profession?  Culture.

Many school cultures simply don’t value sharing, feedback, and reflection.  Many schools have this deeply rooted in their culture from years of learned behavior.  Valuing these things means placing emphasis on them and devoting time to them.  It also means leading by sharing the great things of others.  How often have you been in a meeting where someone asked for opinions or ideas and you heard only dead space?  So much of this stems from learned behaviors through years of not speaking up, not sharing.

Tonight I was part of an amazing Google Hang Out with some very intelligent educators and friends, some of whom bring the former military aspect to the conversation.  It wasn’t for any specific purpose other than to discuss and learn together.  We didn’t share it because the anonymity of a more private space to talk openly and honestly about our lives and our education.  During that amazing discussion there was one piece of enlightenment I felt I must share upon reflection.

In the Military you are always both being recognized for your excellence and sharing your expertise.  It is not bragging, nor are you making others look bad.  By striving for excellence you are making the group better.  By recognizing excellence you are creating inspiration for more excellence.  This is the culture we need to bring to our schools.  We need to set up and establish systems that encourage sharing and empower excellence.

I have not been one to stand up and share enough in my own school.  I tell some people where I go and what I am doing, but as the systems start to come into place in my own school for sharing the good that we are doing as educators, it is my job to be an example.  As one of my group discussed tonight, we have to share, have to tell what we are doing, if not, that culture will never change.

A Strange Anniversary

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A year ago today I ventured into a world I didn’t even know existed.  I began reaching out to a wider community of educators.  A year ago today the world of education was external, small, and outside of the scope of my existence.  When I heard of conferences with presenters, education authors, and the latest ideas, they were somewhere beyond the world I lived.  I had encountered things from that world, but for me, education existed in the bubble of my classroom at the end of the hall and in my tiny rural school.

A year ago today, that changed.  I pointed my ship into the darkness, identified a strange new world, and headed off toward a totally different understanding of education.  In the past year I have developed into truly being a “connected educator”.  What have I learned?  How am I different? Why does that matter?

I have learned so many new things it would be impractical to list them here, but what I have learned the most is about myself.  I am a passionate learner and that desire to continue my own learning is enabled through connections.  I have learned that the connections we make with other educators can be leveraged to make us all better and ultimately, make education better for kids.   Building those connections provides support, collaboration, mentorship, friendship, and empowerment.  It is a means for creating and improving education for kids and communities.  The world is full of incredible ideas and incredible people.  This year of connection has given me the confidence and understanding to find new ways to improve education beyond just my little corner of the world.

I am forever different from having created these many connections over the past year.  The people with whom I share my ideas, my passions, and my occasional weirdness are like a second family.  They inspire me, they have driven me to find a renewed purpose.  The many people with whom I collaborate are  world-changing.

So why does that matter?  Why does it all actually mean anything? The truth is, all of the incredible learning, growth, and enlightenment I have gained from engaging with these amazing educators and people means nothing if it is not a call to action.  If I am not following my learning and engaging in what I can to make education better in my school and beyond, then I am wasting so much.  My goal now is to empower others to inspire their own experiences, to find their greatness and share it with the world.

One year as a connected educator and I have many things to be grateful for, but truthfully, I have much more to look forward to in the future.  Thank you to all of you have engaged with me over the past year, each of you has helped me immeasurably and I hope to pay that gratitude forward over a lifetime.

Serious Business

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Education is important.  Easily one of, if not the most important things we do for ourselves and our children.  We take our responsibilities seriously, but at what cost?  Despite the seriousness of our efforts, education is best accomplished with joy.  We can learn so much more when we are happy, inspired, and engaged.  Often the best ideas come from near nothingness in moments of jubilation.

Why does education have to be a profession of seriousness?  Why does being a professional have to also mean that you are stark and lacking emotion.  Kids see adults, they connect with the ones that are authentic and rebuff the ones that are not.

When I was in High School we had two assistant principals.  One was my former soccer coach and I had developed a rapport with him already.  He was personable yet commanded the kind of respect you would expect of a Lt. Colonel in the Marines.  The other was Bert Kerns.  For the first three years I simply tried to avoid him.  He seemed like the opposite of personable and I rarely found him looking like he truly enjoyed what he did.  In the fourth year some friends and I decided to start a competitive chess team.  Mr. Kerns was an expert chess player and agreed to coach our team.  It was there, in the school library, after most of the other kids had gone home, that I saw him for the first time.  He was funny, witty, intelligent, and caring.  His joy in teaching us chess, the fun he had, created a connection that I will never forget.  For the rest of that year I was happy to see and speak with Mr. Kerns in the halls.  In thinking back on that now, I wonder, what if he could have shared that joy with everyone?  What if the Bert Kerns that I knew in the library with the chess team was the same one that interacted with all the kids in the school?

I ask these questions, and others for a reason.  I heard a principal talking about a mentor of hers that was a superintendent.  She talked about him being funny despite having such a serious job and how we don’t think of superintendent as being a fun position.  Some would say that of any leadership position.  I then ask myself, why not?  Where is it written in the job description that inspiring learning has to be done without laughter? Without joy?  I would say that it should be in as many ways possible, the exact opposite.

My father was a child psychologist with middle schoolers for nearly 35 years.  He always told me as he put on his outrageous ties, “You dress for your clientele.”  I would say it is deeper than that.  At the root of learning and growth are curiosity and the joy of discovery.  Inspiring that curiosity and sharing in that joy is best built through powerful relationships.  To connect with those we teach, we need to stop focussing on if this is”professional” and start focussing on, modeling the curiosity and joy that inspires learning.  Seriously, can’t being a leader be fun?

The Power of Sharing Good

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When we began staff meetings last year with new leadership, I had never been more excited.  Gathering the staff together to develop greater understanding of our schools vision and goals was inspiring.  Somewhere along the way, it was lost.  We moved back to staff meetings where we were fed information.  I understand that it can easily happen, but it was disappointing after the glimmer of hope for inspiring greater collaboration and learning.

Today was a difficult day.  We all have them. At the end of the day, I ended up with a staff meeting.  I had known about it, but just forgot given the challenging day.  We talked for about 10 minutes, then opened the floor up for people to share positive things about their classrooms or the school.  My initial thought was that this was going to end poorly.  We had spent so  little time collaborating that I feared no one would speak up about success.

Instead, I was surprised.  Little by little, people started sharing one thing or another that they were excited about.  With each moment of success we shared, the mood in the room improved.  Today the culture of our school took a step in a positive direction.  Many people shared their inspiring triumphs.

Sharing the good in your school is not always easy.  All day we solve problems, help kids find ways to improve, and push to ourselves to our limits.  Building the positives and creating moments to celebrate our achievements, whatever they may be, is vital to the success of our school.  When you can get others to share the good, we all win.