Thursday, April 28, 2016

Our #RonClarkAcademy Visit #WebbElem

Last Friday I had the extreme pleasure of visiting the Ron Clark Academy for the second time.

I can still remember every moment of my first trip to RCA three years ago.  I was a 5th grader teacher, wide eyed, finally getting to meet my teacher hero.  It was an incredible experience that I will never forget.

Ron and Kim welcoming everyone

This trip, I got to attend with the viewpoint of an administrator now and the experience was just as magical.

My first trip to RCA I just couldn't wait to see Ron in action.  Then I learned about Kim and was blown away by her and some of the other staff members.

Kim in action

This trip was a little more special to me though.  First reason why, is that I got to bring 7 of my teachers, and one of my administrative team, along with me.

The second reason is that in the past three years I've learned what it means to be a connected educator.  And in that time I had formed friendships with Ron, Kim, and three other RCA teachers (Hope, Wade, and Adam).  I was beyond excited to finally meet Hope, Wade, and Adam face to face because they weren't at RCA when I attended three years ago.

Me and Ron

Visiting RCA is like getting a crash course in all that education could be.  It's not an experience that you come back from and want to do all of what they're doing.  It's more of a buffet kind of learning.  You see tons of great ideas, but pick a few that you know your school could do to really transform the teaching, learning, and culture.

Hope, Wade, and Me (with a photo-bomber in the back)

The staff are incredible and genuine.  The students blow your mind.  The facility is beautiful.  And so much more.

I do have to give a big thank you to Kim Bearden.  Without Kim and all she's done with/for Webb Elementary, I would not have been able to bring 8 of my team to RCA.  I will forever be grateful for the impact she's left on our entire campus.

The team and Kim Bearden

I also gotta give a big shout out to Hope, Wade, Adam, and Daniel (another RCA rockstar).  Four RCA teachers who took time out of their extremely busy schedules to sit and chat with me one on one, or have dinner with my team, tweet us, take pictures, share stories, laugh, and so much more.  Meeting them face to face finally after building a friendship through social media, was everything I had hoped for and more.

Dinner with Hope, Wade, and Daniel

It's just another example of the power of social media and why we should all be connecting with other educators.

Me and Adam Dovico

But instead of me continually sharing, I'll share what a few of my team said about their experience at RCA last week. (I've also hyperlinked their names so you can connect with them on Twitter!)

Having fun in our homemade RCA shirts!

Liz Griesbach - 5th Grade Webb Elementary Teacher

"Upon entering the Ron Clark Academy it is easy to be blown away by all the amazing things you see.  Educational wonders that make you think no one else could achieve this marvel.  However, when you look deeper at what is going on you realize there is a world of POSSIBILITIES that we all can achieve.  There is a world of high expectations.  These expectations apply to students, staff, and even families.  There is a world where everyone is working together to see our most precious resource of this country succeed -  our children.

We witnessed many techniques at RCA that we can replicate in Navasota ISD when we work together as a community for our students.  The standards of high expectations when it comes to community, behavior, academic rigor, and manners are just a starting point.  When we all work together, and hold each other accountable, there is nothing that cannot be accomplished."

Alex Anthony - 2nd Grade Webb Elementary Teacher

"The day we spent at RCA is one that I will not forget. The very realistic expectations, the respect, the creativity, the rigor, the teachers, the students, the hallways and classrooms all have inspired me. I have always wanted the best for my students. I have always had hopes, dreams and wants that I have for myself as a teacher. The list keeps getting longer and RCA has inspired and motivated me even more. 

The discussions that classmates were having with each other, as the teacher facilitated and re-directed if needed, were rigorous and thought provoking . Each teacher had their own unique teaching style but the entire school was united with expectations and how to handle discipline for their students. I was in awe the entire day. 

I know we work with what some would say are “tough kids”. A lot of our kids come from homes with no structure, no rules, and inconsistency. Their kids at RCA are not so different. They are taught respect and are expected to respect everyone they come into contact with. They are involved in their learning. The hallways were lined with pictures of the students and their families as well as graduations and student accomplishments. Yes, it was a school, but the halls were not white and plain. It was a second home for the students and teachers. 

From the car ride to Georgia full of laughs and raps to day we spent at RCA, it was a wonderful 4 days and I am so glad that I got to experience it! RCA is not only teaching and giving the students knowledge, they are molding them to be productive, respectful, motivated, hard-working adults. "

Lauren Neutzler - 2nd Grade Webb Elementary Teacher

Where do I even begin?! This trip to The Ron Clark Academy was beyond anything I could have ever imagined. For the first hour or so that we were there I could barely speak and I was on the verge of happy tears all day because I was so mesmerized. I was just completely blown away. The atmosphere was one of high energy, high expectations, and the highest level of respect I have ever seen. The way the students interacted with the staff and each other was incredible to witness. The teachers were very honest and sincere with their students. They teach to the top and don’t water anything down. They also teach much more than just academics because they are truly preparing their students for all aspects of life. They expect the best from their students because they give them their best every day. I  could write all day about the amazing things that I learned in just one day. I’ve already started a few new things in my room that I took away from my day at RCA, but I am so excited and optimistic about implementing much more in my classroom for next year and many years to come.

“You have one chance to make a difference….ONE! How dare you waste it sitting  behind a desk all day!”
-Ron Clark"

Melissa Neumann - 4th Grade Webb Elementary Teacher

Visiting the Ron Clark Academy was an educator's dream come true! As we arrived that morning, I had this nervous, giddy feeling like it was my first day of school. Entering the building, I immediately felt the love, saw the happiness and later witnessed the educational rigor. It was remarkable to listen to Ron Clark, Kim Bearden, Hope King, Camille Jones, Brandon Fleming and Daniel Thompson. Their energy and enthusiasm are beyond description. Their passion to teach the subject matter along with the disciplines of life is contagious. I learned many valuable lessons that day from new teaching strategies to a conviction of expecting the best from our students. I am most excited to share with my colleagues this special love for learning but more importantly to continue now and in the future to instill in my students the desire to be a grateful, successful person. Thank you to the Ron Clark Academy, Todd Nesloney and Navasota ISD for the opportunity to grow.

Cassie Reynolds - 4th Grade Webb Elementary Teacher

Our trip to Ron Clark Academy was definitely the trip of a lifetime. There was so much learning, laughter, and memories that it is something I will never forget. When I first applied, I knew it would be an opportunity to see engagement, high expectations, and creative teaching. What I was not expecting however, was a complete re-lighting of the fire within me. Many of us are “stuck” at this time of year. It’s testing season. Students are antsy. We are beat and tired. But the second we show that to the students, they mirror the same feelings. It was so inspiring to see what “always on” looks like even when the students AND teachers are exhausted. It can completely change the classroom environment.

While at RCA, it was difficult to hold back the tears in many of the observations and interactions with the students at RCA. The students reminded me of so many of my own students back home. In various conversations, they told us exactly what a great teacher is to them. Believe it or not, it is everything we already are or are striving to be. Caring and engaging, yet strict and has high expectations. I know we are so capable of bringing massive change to Webb if we implement strategies and ideas we saw at Ron Clark Academy. If we light the fire within all of us…can you imagine what it would do for all of our students? Our parents? Our community?

Lisha Crawford - 1st Grade Webb Elementary Teacher

I have been forever changed by the students and staff at RCA. The energy and enthusiasm was contagious throughout the school! One of the HUGE things that I took away was the importance of making learning fun and student centered. I always thought I was doing this in my classroom but seeing what they do at RCA has opened a door for a new level of learning.  I loved walking into the classrooms to see the students engaged in conversations amongst each other. The respect the student showed for one another was inspiring. I love how the students and staff set the bar high and always push each other to do their very best. I can’t wait to take what I’ve learned and incorporate it into my classroom. 

Aaron Marvel - Assistant Principal at Webb Elementary

I wanted to visit RCA because I wanted to see something different, something radical, something innovative, and while I found all these things I found something much more simple.  I witnessed a school taking basic principals that we all are aware of and taking them to a new level.

For example, education is filled with buzz words such as "high expectations", "collaborative learning", and "teaching soft skills", none of which different, radical, or innovative.  Although, all three have typically been done subpar.  What I witnessed at RCA was a group of educators that expected more from their students and likewise followed through with these expectations with consistent modeling and passion--a passion not for educating per say, but for seeing students truly be all they can be.    

The jumping on tables, dancing, clapping, and cheers are all but symptoms of a larger condition, and that is seeking excellence as a professional educator in the classroom and loving kids.

Andrea Day - 1st Grade Webb Elementary Teacher

What an experience!  It is hard to find the words that can accurately describe my RCA visit.  My absolute favorite part of the entire experience was the atmosphere.  As soon as you walk in the doors you are welcomed with an excess of positiveness and love.  The amount of respect that the students have for each other and the staff is astounding.  At RCA they expect the best and accept nothing less.  The teachers and staff hold the students to the same high standards as themselves.  When I was sitting in the classroom observing Mr. King teach a lesson, I was blown away by the amount of student lead conversation.  It was amazing to see these young men and women address each other.  They stand to speak, each student turns their bodies to face the speaker and are expected to make eye contact with the audience.  I can’t wait to start implementing this in my classroom and watch my little loves blossom!

The team with Ron Clark

In the end the biggest thing I can say is that the best is yet to come for Webb Elementary.  We have big hopes and dreams and know that together we can create a school that every child in the nation is dying to be a part of.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

A Single Moment #KidsDeserveIt

This post was co-written between myself and Brent Clarkson.

Sometimes even the smallest moments can make the biggest impact.

During the first week of school in 2014, I (Brent) passed one of my students between classes and simply said, “Hey, Kyle**.”  He had been in my class for a few days so I didn’t have to dig deep to find a name.  All I did was say “hey.”  No effort required, right?  Within 24 hours, I had the following email from his mom in my inbox:

Every day when we walk into the four walls of our schools we’re surrounded by others.  By other students, parents, colleagues, and more.  Many people look at education and feel that the sole purpose of it is to educate children.  Those of us who are in this profession, however, know that our job is so much more.  One of the most important aspects of an educator is that ability to connect.  To build those relationships. To remind another student (or colleague) of their worth, genius, and potential.

As educators, even we sometimes lose sight.  We get bogged down by the expectations and check-lists of things we have to complete.  Testing season stresses us out.  Parent conversations don’t always go as we hoped.  Our students behave in ways unexpected.  Other educators (or administrators) say or do things that make us feel inferior.

We get beaten down.  And we forget.  We forget that our words change lives.  Our impact isn’t momentary, rather it can be felt for years to come.

Our students come to us with experiences that many times we have no knowledge of.  Drugs, physical/emotional/sexual abuse, abandonment, poverty, extreme expectations, and more.  Yet they show up every day and are expected to put forth 100% into their education.  As educators, our jobs as academic instructors are a waste of our time if we don’t also focus on the emotional side of our kiddos.

That simple act of greeting your students at the door by name and giving them a high-five, fist bump, or hand shake can help us connect to them.  The quick walk through the hallways visiting with students between classes.  The five minute visit to lunch when we know we have work to do.  The ten seconds it takes to see a student in the hall and tell them “good morning, ______.”  The ability to act like a child sometimes and play with them at recess or get on the floor and work.  

There are even moments when a child, on occasion, acts out, and we have to take the time to realize that we don’t necessarily have to jump straight to consequences.  Sometimes, all it takes is simple conversation about how much we care about them and then giving them the resources they may lack in understanding how to deal with the situation.

Now, let’s take this idea of knowing our students and flip it.  It’s crucial that we not only know and acknowledge our students, but that we allow them to know us as well.  We need to open our world to them.  Talk about family.  Share stories about things we enjoy doing.  

I (Brent) place a lot of value on frequenting the businesses and restaurants that my students and their families do.  Seeing students and their families outside of school gives me another connecting point for a short convo when I see them at school.  “Hey!  How was your Lupe Tortilla last night?”  Because we Houstonians all know that Lupe Tortilla is where it’s at when it comes to Tex-Mex (even though Todd will argue that Chuy’s is still the best Tex-Mex)

I (Todd) have always tried to attend their extracurricular activities.  It makes a world of difference to a kiddo when you show up at something of theirs outside of school hours.  Plus it proves that you don’t actually spend every waking moment at the school.

The bottom line is this: children can tell immediately when you care about them. When you genuinely care.  When we take time to know our students and allow ourselves to be known, we build healthy, authentic, meaningful relationships that can revolutionize our campus.

It only takes a single moment. That instant that will stick with someone for the rest of their life.  We all leave a mark on our students. Sometimes good, sometimes not as great as we would have hoped.  What mark are you leaving?

**The name in the story was changed for the purpose of protecting the identity of the student.

Monday, April 11, 2016

8 Educators Worth Following #KidsDeserveIt

I've written blog posts before about people I recommend following.  And I haven't written one like that in a while so I figured I throw a few more people at you, who aren't "widely" known, but are AMAZING educators and great resources.

I have always believed that you are only as good as the people you surround yourself with, so why not surround yourself with the best.  So here are a few that you may have never met, but I challenge you to connect with and learn from them, they ROCK!

So, here are 8 educators that I think are worth following!

Sanee Bell

Sanee Bell is an administrator in Katy, Texas.  She is phenomenal.  There are few people that I meet and am in awe of immedately.  Sanee is approachable, generous, and extremely passionate and kind.  She treats everyone with extreme respect and is always willing to share her ideas, gain ideas from others, and always looking to do what's best for kids.  Sanee is someone that I am already planning to go watch in action at her school soon because she is such an inspiration to me.

Brent Clarkson

I'm not even quite sure when I meant Brent, but Brent has taught me far more then I think he'll ever know.  Brent is a secondary teacher in Katy, Texas.  I have had the opportunity of spending time with Brent at several EdCamps as well as several days with him at the What Great Educators Do Differently (WGEDD) Conference.  Brent is a powerhouse.  He's incredibly intelligent, funny, and is super passionate about doing what's best for kids. He's creative and always open to advice and new ideas.  Brent makes me laugh but also gets me thinking.  He's a kind and honest man as well.  I respect Brent so much and the work that he does with kids.

Jeremy Stewart

Jeremy Stewart is an administrator in College Station, TX.  When I think of personality and passion, Jeremy immediately comes to mind.  Jeremy has such a huge heart for those hurting kids, those forgotten or abandoned one.  But more than that Jeremy just has a huge heart for people in general.  I had the pleasure of spending two days learning alongside Jeremy recently and I was blown away by the maturity yet childlike joy he possess.  Jeremy is also one of those people who is going to do what's best for kids, regardless of what others think.  I have so much respect for this man.

Aaron Hogan

Aaron is an assistant principal in Texas.  I have had the pleasure of attending a few EdCamps that Aaron was at, as well as plan an EdCamp WITH Aaron, and spend a few days with him at a conference.  I also had the extreme pleasure of watching Aaron give an ignite talk that blew my mind.  Aaron has such a servant's heart.  He is kind and listens intently.  He is genuine, yet honest.  I try to soak up every ounce of wisdom from Aaron every time that I can. Aaron is also an incredibly gifted blogger. Aaron has big things on the horizon for him, I can just feel it.

LaVonna Roth

I had never met LaVonna before watching her speak at the WGEDD conference recently.  And WOW.  Blown away doesn't even begin to describe this amazing woman.  She was passionate, encouraging, and hilarious.  This is someone I am dying to get to know more.  I left her session ready to tackle the world, and I also got to speak with her a little afterwards and she was just a genuine and hilarious educator.  You should definitely connect with LaVonna.

Jeff Veal

I have yet to meet Jeff face to face, but I look forward to the day that I do.  Jeff is such an inspiring leader and trail blazer.  Jeff is also super encouraging and such a genuine and kind soul.  He co-founded #LeadUpChat with can often be seen trending on Twitter on Saturday mornings.  His wife, Heidi Veal (who is also AMAZING), are both educators.  Jeff is also a very gifted blogger who shares from the heart and impacts more lives then he'll ever realize.

Rosa Perez-Isiah

Rosa is an administator in California.  I had the pleasure of meeting her face to face while at NAESP in California this past summer.  Rosa is a firecracker.  She is incredibly passionate about kids, but even more so she's always sharing her ideas and resources with others.  Rosa is such a voice for those students who are often forgotten or underserved.  I admire her and the work she does so much.

Nancy Alvarez

Nancy Alvarez is someone that I have great respect for, and she probably has no idea (I need to be better about that!).  Nancy does incredible work with bilingual students.  But even more so than that she is someone who oozes love for kids.  She has a big personality that draws people in and is always willing to share and encourage.  Nancy is someone I am dying to see in action some day!

So there you go!  There are 8 educators I think are worth following. Show them some love.  Follow them, connect with them, and let's all learn together!

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

What About the Adults? #KidsDeserveIt

Back in September we were having a lot of discipline issues.  And through all of those discipline issues we noticed almost all of our daily focus was on the students who were making poor decisions.  We had begun to completely ignore those who were making great decisions.

Now, I'm not a believer in a reward system for kids.  I don't think kids should be sent to the office to get a pencil, sticker, or some other tangible thing for making good choices.  I think if we want people to make great choices, there has to be an emotional piece included, not just a physical piece.

So I had an idea.  I had bought these "Hats Off" cards at a teacher supply store over the summer and I made sheets of them, and gave them to teachers.  Every week teachers got 8 Hats Off cards to give to kids.

When a student received a card, they'd get to come to the office, and one of the administrators would get to call home and celebrate that student.  It was a powerful movement that really helped change a lot of focus and discipline on our campus.

But then I got to educators, and especially leaders, we do these great ideas for kids, but for whatever reason we act like we can't do them with adults.

So this week I've started giving "Hats Off" cards to our staff members as well.  Yesterday was the first one.  I had seen one teacher do an excellent job in an ARD and keep things really positive, I'd seen another transform her learning space into a space ready for a writing workshop, and I had another use technology in a new way and really push himself to try something new.

So I told them I needed to see them briefly during their conference.  When they met with me, I gave them their card. They smiled.  They said thank you.....and then the big part....I asked, "who do you want me to call and celebrate you?".  They were shocked.  They all asked if I was serious.

Of course I was serious!  This is the same process we go through with the kids, why couldn't I go through it with the adults.  All three of them chose their moms and off to the phone we went.

I put it on speaker phone and called each of their parents and spoke just like I did with the went something like this...

"Hi, Mr./Mrs. _____?  This is Todd Nesloney.  I'm the principal at Webb Elementary in Navasota, Tx.  Is _________ your child?  Well I have them up here in my office, but don't worry it's for good reasons!  They have been doing _____________ and I just wanted to call home and celebrate them and let you know how much we enjoy having them here"

There was laughter, there were a couple of tears, but most of all there was joy.  It was so fun!

I knew if I was challenging my teachers to give out Hats Off cards to kids, why couldn't I give them to teachers and challenge myself too??

We've only just begun, but I can't wait to continue doing this throughout the year!  My challenge is for all of you...if you're a teacher, find ways to call each student's family this week and celebrate them WITH the principal present.  If you're an administrator, call home to staff member's family and celebrate them like they were little kids!  It's oh so easy!

Here's a Periscope I did last night to talk through it as well!

Friday, March 4, 2016

Two Words #KidsDeserveIt

I'm sorry.  Two words.  They seem so easy to say.  As educators we teach children every day how and when to apologize.  But as adults, those two words become more and more difficult.

As a classroom teacher there were many times I had to apologize to my students.  When I taught a lesson wrong, when I got upset and yelled, when I wasn't as prepared as I should have been.  There were also times I had to apologize to parents for any number of reasons.

As a campus leader, apologizing for things is part of the job description.

I don't mind apologizing.  It isn't always easy but I know it's necessary.  I know I make mistakes, so why wouldn't I apologize when I do?

But being honest?  I hate when I have to apologize a lot in a short amount of time.  Because then I feel like I'm just failing one thing after another.

The last nine days have been full of apologizes leaving my mouth.

The funny thing about being a leader?  Many times we have to apologize and bear the repercussions of decisions that weren't made by us.

This week I had to fall on my sword.  I had to apologize for something, I had nothing to do with.  BUT it was something that came from the campus I am the leader of.  And in the end, all of that does fall on me.

It was a moment of swallowing my pride. It was a moment of putting myself and my emotions on the back burner.  But it was a moment of me seeing the bigger picture, and understanding that a leader will take the hit for the betterment of this team.  And you know what? The craziest thing happened. At a concert event later in the week, a parent came up to me and said "thank you for sending out that apology letter to all the parents.  You don't know how refreshing it is to know that someone in a leadership position will actually accept blame AND apologize",

Then I spent days apologize for poor decisions I made.  Or last minute changes I had to make.  Or areas where I dropped the ball in keeping the lines of communication as open as they should have been.

And it wasn't just at work.  I was also apologizing to friends and family. I was apologizing for getting upset.  Apologizing for allowing my sarcasm to overflow.  For speaking before I chose to stop and think.

Apology after apology.  These last 9 days have been full of them.

And in the end I have no real excuse.  I made poor choices.  But I'm also a learner.  I'm an evaluator.  I know to take the mistakes and learn from them.  To try and not make them again.

And in a moment of weakness, when I'm down on myself and doubting, I stop and remember that we all make mistakes.  We all have those weeks where we feel like we are doing more things wrong then we are right.

As a leader, I want to be the best.  As a teacher, I want to be the best.  I want to reflect strength, compassion, patience, thoughtfulness, empathy, creativity.

Mistakes are a part of life.  But so is sensing when you've made a mistake, owning it, and apologizing.  And meaning it.  It isn't always easy, you don't always feel like it, but as an adult who is being watched by little eyes and little ears, we have to set the example.  We have to do what's right, even when it's hard and even when it hurts.

I'm sorry.  Two words.  But those two words can make all the difference.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Saying Goodbye. Enjoy Every Moment.

There was an image I saw once of an iceberg.  It had the tagline of "90% of what is happening goes on, unseen, beneath the surface".  I have found that to be true time and time again.

Everyone is fighting a battle.  Some of the battles are bloody and do quite a bit of damage to the heart.  And many of those battles go unseen by the masses at large.

Like everyone else, I've experienced my share of loss.  One of the first funerals I can remember attending was that of a little boy named, Adam.  Adam was a 4 year old boy that I had worked with in different avenues at church.  He passed away unexpectedly, while I was a senior in high school.  It was the first time I truly felt like my heart was ripped out.

Then my grandmother passed away.  She was my own personal cheerleader.  She is a huge part of the man I became today.  I wrote about the impact she left on me when she passed here.

The only other major loss I can recall is a college student named Natalie.  Natalie was the daughter of a co-worker of mine, and the best friend of my wife.  She passed away from a head on car collision.

Loss is never easy.  The holes it leaves are holes that are impossible to fill.  There are days that are better than other days, but there's still sadness.

Over the last few months, I've been dealing with an "iceberg" type battle.  A battle that only a few of my closest friends know. My grandfather, the man who was married to my grandmother that I wrote about, has been dealing with health issues.  My mom always tells the story that 6 months before I was born, he was diagnosed with cancer and told he had less than 6 months to live.  Well, 30 years later he's still here.  He's a fighter, just like my grandmother was.  Makes sense on why they were the perfect match and one of the best examples of what a marriage could/should look like.

Ever since my grandmother passed my grandfather has faced even more cancer related health issues.  And over the last month, it's become pretty severe.

So severe that my father called me this past week and told me I needed to find the time to come see my grandfather.  That there was a week or so left according to doctors.

I often feel like I have to be the rock of my family.  I have to stay the strong one.  At work, at home, everywhere.  I have to hold it together.  

The moment my dad told me I need to come say goodbye, I knew things were serious.  So on Sunday, my wife and I drove up the hospital where they are keeping him.

I've seen my grandfather in the hospital many a times.  But I was unprepared.  The moment I walked into the room and spoke to him, I had immediate flashbacks of when I saw my grandmother for the last time.  It took my breath away.

This was not the man I grew up with.  This was not the man I so often looked up to.  This was a shell of himself.  This was a tired man.  A man who had fought every battle he could.

He was able to recognize me and Liz.  He was able to say hello.  And he was able to tell me he couldn't get out of bed anymore because his legs had given up.  And that was it.  He couldn't say anymore.  

So I just sat there.  I sat next to him, and was just there.  He fell asleep within what felt like seconds of him saying he couldn't get out of bed anymore.  I sat next to him for a little.  Then knew I had to leave before I fell apart.  

He was so knocked out, he couldn't be woken, so I leaned down, touched his arm, and told him goodbye.

It's so hard to explain what it feels like to look at someone you've known your entire life, someone you love so deeply, and tell them goodbye.  

The only other time I've had to do that is with my grandmother.  It ripped my heart out then, and having to do it again with her other half, brought back every memory.

I haven't allowed myself to fall apart until writing this post.  I needed to get it out.  I needed to release it.  I have an incredible group of guys who check on me and who have known this is going on, and I haven't even been able to discuss it out-loud until today.

I write this post, in part to share the story, but also to express something I was so deeply reminded of this weekend.  

Enjoy every moment.

Every single moment.

My grandmother was my grandfather's entire world.  When she passed we all worried about him.  For the last few years, since her passing, he has gone to her gravesite every single day.  Rain or shine.  He always said he had to share with her what happened during his day.

I look back on so many memories of my grandparents.  Of all the life lessons they taught me.  Their strength, their love, their compassion, their drive, and so much more.  But most of all the life they chose to live.  They cherished the moments.  They celebrated, they cried, they cheered, they did it all.

Life is short.  We've all heard that before.  Sometimes that phrase doesn't become real to us until we've had that personal reminder.

When I look at the kids and adults I work with every day, I'm reminded that everyone is facing a battle.  That some of those battles are quite bloody to the soul.  That some of those battles will never be known or shared publicly.  But they're there.

So I'm trying to make it more of a point to love harder.  To forgive faster.  To understand deeper.  To enjoy every single moment I have, because I never know when it will be my last.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Dinner with a Gentleman #KidsDeserveIt

I almost have no words to express my emotions.

Last night we held our very first "Dinner with a Gentleman" at Webb Elementary in Navasota, Texas.

Now....let me back track a little.

Back in October or November we were beginning our Watch DOGS Program.  It's a program that seeks to get men involved in volunteering, even one day, at their child's school.  We partnered with another elementary in our community and housed a kick-off event at their school.

After lots of advertising and talking about it, and offering FREE Pizza, our campus had only two, yes two, father figures show up.

It was crushing.

We all know the value of getting men involved in a child's education, and life in general.  And it has been a mission that's been heavy on my heart for a while.  Especially coming from a home, raised by a single-mother, and thinking about the men who impacted me and are the reason I am who I am today.

So I sat down with my Assistant Principal, Aaron Marvel, and brainstormed.  I knew we could do better then just a kick-off event.  We thought about another popular option, which is "Donuts with Dad".  But after looking at our mornings here at Webb and our facilities, it just wouldn't work during a school day.

I also gotta give a shout-out to Brad Gustafson, Ben Gilpin, and Adam Welcome who listened to my crazy ideas through Voxer and helped me figure this all out too.

So, then I had an idea.  Why not turn this around, and find a way to celebrate the men in these kids lives.  Many of my students don't have their fathers in their lives.  They have uncles, brothers, step-dads, grandfathers, etc.

So the idea of a Dinner celebrating men was born.  We toyed around with different names for the event.  Dinner with Dad, Dinner with Dudes, and more.  We finally settled on "Dinner with a Gentleman".

I found a little money in a Title Fund account that has to be used for Parent Engagement and Involvement, and called a caterer.  I priced out some BBQ (everyone loves BBQ in Texas).

After the disappointing showing at the Watch DOGS kick-off event, we were being hopeful in guessing about 150 would show up for a free dinner.

So I created flyers, went around and talked to each class, and asked students to consider coming and to turn in an RSVP form so we would know ho much food and seating to account for.  I made sure the kids know this was a "Dinner with a Gentleman" so moms weren't allowed! haha

Well....let's just say we weren't prepared for what came next.

Over the next few weeks, we received over 200, then 300, then 400 RSVPs.....we didn't have money or seating for that!  I called in help, we brainstormed.  We stressed.

We found a new caterer, changed the meal idea (we had to stay in budget)!  We contacted some local companies to help us with the funding just in case.  We worked with the City, the district, and the VFW to get tables and chairs for our event.

Then 3 days before we stopped taking reservations.  At this point we had 647, yes 647, RSVPs.  We were floored.  We had never experienced anything like this before.

We went into frantic planning mode.  I reached out to the staff at Webb and asked for help!  And man they helped.

Centerpieces were made, tables were delivered, set up, and organized the day of the event, phone calls were made, and so much more.

Last night was our event.  It took everything in me not to break down into tears at the sight of a room full of men with their children.  We had over 580 actually show up for the event.

When the kids and their Gentleman came in, they got to pick out a book from a table full of choices (we wanted to have them leave with something they could use to continue building relationships).

They then found their seat, and we had our first of 3 short guest speakers.  We wanted to make sure we reflected our community and our fathers. So we had speakers of different ethnicity, of different upbringings, of different careers.

We then served our meal, had a student panel who got to share what having a gentleman involved in their lives mean to them, and we closed with a BEAUTIFUL song by our music teacher Mr. Kevin Haliburton.

Throughout the evening we had a slideshow of kids and music playing as well.

All in all, it went off without a hitch.  I couldn't believe it.

I am so thankful by the team I am surrounded by who stepped up and made this all a success.  They are the rockstars.

But even more so, I am proud of the Gentlemen who showed up with their kids last night.  I can only hope that memories were made and relationships were deepened by spending just a little more time together.

I am emotionally (and physically) drained this morning and still trying to really take everything in.

Children need men involved in their lives.  Just like they need women involved.  And for one night we got to celebrate some of those men who are choosing to be a part of a child's life.  I can't wait to hear the conversations today from the kids who there.

This is an event, that I know, I will never forget.