Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Learning on a Saturday

One of my biggest goals in taking over Navasota Intermediate, has been to instill a love of learning.  I've always said I wanted to be a part of a school where kids are running INTO school instead of running out of it.

As an administrator I feel it's my role to do all that I can for the success of these kids.  I don't want to be boxed into any of these stereotypical roles that administrators are perceived to be (and some are).  I have never wanted to be the Principal who works out of his office all day.  From day one I have said I wanted to be actively involved in the education of these students.

I have taught classes, filled in for teachers, taught after school tutoring, and so much more as an administrator.  But I wanted to test a theory I had and try something that would require a little more sacrifice from our students.

I wanted to try a Saturday School.

But I wanted to do it differently.  I didn't want to mandate it for anyone.  I just wanted to share with the students what my plan was for that day, invite them, and see if they'd show up.

So this past Saturday we did our very first ever Saturday School.  I had about 60 kids show up!!

I had kind of planned it last minute, so I was able to get my wife (who works with PreK) to lead an art station, my mom (who teaches 4th) to lead a writing activity, I led a math activity, my instructional coach did a character education activity, and one of my SPED teachers lead a reading activity.  And it was a blast!

 We had 4th graders from 9:30-11:30 and 5th graders from 12:00-2:00.

The feedback was great from the students and many asked if we could do it every weekend.  That's when I was reminded of something.  Many of the students in this population come from homes or environments with which they seek to escape.  As adults, many of us look forward to the weekend and the break from work, but so many kids dread the weekend and the solitary moments it may bring or the scary moments or the harmful moments.

Now, unfortunately I don't have the time or resources to do this every weekend (yet!) haha.  But our plan is to offer this once a month.  I already have teachers who have approached me and asked if they could do robotics, or teach french, or teach sewing!  And why not?  Why can't I invite kids up to school and allow them to choose what they want to learn about for a Saturday? To create a kind of "edcamp" for kids!

My mind is just spinning with the possibilities of what this could morph into, but I know it's only the beginning!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Each of Us Holds Value

This week we had our monthly staff meeting, and it was a powerful one.

Every month when we have our staff meetings I try to begin and end with an inspirational video and some sort of activity.  I want out staff meetings to be about more than just a relay of information.  I want us to find ways to come closer together and to have fun.

The past week or two has been especially tough for me.  There had been a lot of negative things coming into play that were just dragging me down.  And I could sense that some others on campus were facing similar battles.  Then I remembered what I like to do most when I'm feeling upset, and that is find ways to encourage others.  And then I remembered how perfectly that would fit into our motto of being a Choose2Matter School. Hence, our idea was born.

Everyone came into the faculty meeting and found their seat based on where this paper below was sitting.  They weren't given any instructions other than sit where I've placed your name.  It was printed in color and on cardstock.  Then each person was given a different colored sharpie marker.

I started the meeting with a quick video (below) that I found and just fell in love with.

After watching the video I talked about how the Spring semester of school can be a trying time on parents, kids, and us.  And that sometimes what we forget to do is remind those around us how much they truly mean to us and how much value they hold.  I reminded my team that every single one of them holds value on our campus and are a needed piece of our campus puzzle.

Then each person was asked to stand up and take their sharpie and go to the different pages around the room and write an adjective, phrase, quote, scripture, saying, whatever!  They were just encouraged to write something about that person whose paper they were standing in front of.

After 15 minutes we all sat back down and were given time to just look over our papers.  As an adult one of the most difficult things to do is sit down in front of another adult, look them in the eye, and accept the compliment they're giving.  I saw quite a few tears well up and I know when I read mine I had to hold back as well.

Why do we forget?  Why do we lose sight of our worth?  I think sometimes we can get lost in the moment or lost in the negativity.  We must take those times, not only to understand and remember our worth, but also take the time to remind others.  Imagine how different this world could be if we took time every day to tell someone how important they were to us.  These pages we created are going to be displayed in our teacher's lounge until the end of the school year so we have a constant visual reminder of the worth each of us holds.  Then on the last day we'll get to each take them home with us.

Take time today to share your gratitude with someone.  Call your parent, send a note to a sibling, FaceTime with your niece or nephew.  Just find time today to remind someone of the worth they hold in your life.  It can make all the difference.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Grip of Abandonment

I can still remember it as clear as if it happened yesterday.  The day my father walked out, 18 or so years ago.

I remember him walking up to my brother and me and sitting us down and telling us that he was leaving.  That we'd still get to see him, that he still was our father, and so on and so on.  It took about 3 minutes for him to tell us, pick up his suitcase, and walk out the door.

It wasn't a surprise to me when it happened.  Kids aren't dumb, they know when things are off between their parents.  And at the time, I was actually relieved.  That was less yelling that I was going to have to hear around the home.

And I was never super close to my father anyway, and he was often working many days on the oil field, so by now seeing him every other weekend it would be about the same as I was already seeing him.  Right?  Right?

Little did I know the effect that would have on me for years to come.  Going through High School was rough without my father present.  He couldn't come to my tennis matches, he never saw my extracurricular activities, he didn't know my teachers, didn't know my friends, didn't really even know me.

But I covered the pain.  I told myself it was better this way.

As I grew older and did a lot of soul searching, I learned something about myself in my early 20s.  I learned that I struggled with abandonment issues.  I was terrified that people only entered my life to then find a way to conveniently leave it again, and to leave me standing with the pieces.

I blamed myself.  I blamed God.  I tried to place the blame anywhere.  Tried desperately to figure out what was so terrible about me that even my own father would walk out and leave.

And the funniest part is, that I didn't begin to feel that way until I got older.

But I share all of this to say that as I work with children, especially those from broken homes, I see the fear of abandonment in their eyes.  I see them lash out at others as if to say "If I can make you angry enough, you'll abandon me too".

I sit with kids on a daily basis and hear their struggles.  Today alone I sat along side a 5th grade boy and just cried with him as he talked about his mother walking out again.

So many of our students come to us with pain.  Sometimes it's pain they can identify and articulate, but often times it's such an intense pain that they can't tell you where it's coming from.

To this day I still struggle with abandonment fears.  Will this friend still be friends with me when they know this?  Will that person still love me when I do this?  Will I still hold importance in this person's life when I lash out like this?  And yes, I even wonder some days, in my darkest moments, when God will abandon me as well.

I have a faith that I've grown in for years, and I know I have a Father who deeply and desperately loves me and will never abandon me.  One of my favorite lines from a song is "there are no strangers, there are no outcasts, there are no orphans of God".

And that's why I come to work every day.  That's why I love teaching.  Because I get the opportunity to walk up to kids every day and say "I'm here.  I'm not going anywhere.  And nothing you can say, nothing you can do will ever make me not come back tomorrow and love you all over again".

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Why I Will Never Quit

This blog post has been rummaging around in my brain for a while.  I guess the best way to start this post is how it came to be...

For a while now I've seen educators share blog posts written by other teachers saying things such as "I had to leave the classroom because....", or "I quit today because...." or a multitude of other things.  And some of these posts were written by award winning, Teacher of the Year for their state, kind of people!  And I watched and listened as other teachers cheered for them, and made comments like "they're so right!", "good for them!", "I couldn't agree more!"

And it broke my heart.  It broke my heart for one reason only: the kids.

Now let me back track a little and share my last few years.  In 2012, I too was considering leaving the profession.  I was tired of the test focus, I was tired of all the rules and regulations, I was tired of the bureaucracy.  I couldn't see a way out.  But I chose to get connected, I chose to learn from others, and it changed everything.

I learned that though my school or district may have a view of "testing is king", that I didn't have to.  I flipped my classroom, I went fully project based, and I focused back on the reason why I became a teacher; the kids.

I learned how to work within what arguably is a broken school system.  I didn't quit.  I didn't give up.

And what if I had?

I look at the children I work with every day and my heart breaks.  Those kids are constantly told to dream big, to try hard, to set goals.  And every day I show up I prove to them, one more time, that I'm there.  But over the last few years, I have read about the teachers who walk out.  I've experienced first hand this year, when teachers walk out.  And I've sat and cried.

I've walked kids to their cars in the afternoon and had them ask me "will you come back tomorrow?".  I've had teachers this year come to me in tears at the beginning of the year and ask me "why do these kids ask me every day if I were coming back?".  That's the kids I work with.  That's the broken hearted I see.  That's the problem I'm working with my team to fix.

What are we teaching kids when we quit?  We teach them that when things get hard, and when we don't agree with something, then just quit and find something else.

What if Martin Luther King Jr had quit when others were telling him he was worthless, when he wondered about the impact he was having, when the system he was existing in was broken.

What if Oprah had quit when there was no one like her on television, when she told she was too fat, when times were hard and she didn't have the ratings?

What if Thomas Edison had quit when the first hundred times his lightbulb didn't work, when others told him he was crazy, when he was trying to create something that didn't currently exist.

I could list for days people who changed the face of our history because they DIDN'T quit.

Teaching is a hard profession.  It's incomprehensible to others who aren't in education.  The battles we have to fight, the testing, the paperwork, the absent parents, the helicopter parents, the lack of funding, the poverty, and so on and so on.

But I didn't choose to become an educator because it was easy.  I chose to become an educator so that I could change lives and impact others for future generations.

I know in my heart that my most important job as an educator is to love kids and to convince them that they have something absolutely incredible and unique about them.  To remind them that they matter.  The academics is a bonus!

And that's why I will never quit.  That's why I will never walk out on a student, a classroom, a school, a district, or a system.  Even though it may be broken, even though it may be hard, if we don't work to fix it, who will?

We can't step aside and say the way I'm going to help is by walking away.  Who does that really help?  No one, but yourself.

So I challenge you, on those rough and difficult days.  On that days where you aren't sure you can do it even one more day.  I challenge you to lean down and look into a child's eyes.  To see the hope they see their longing questioning of "Will you come back for me tomorrow?".  I hope you answer with a resounding yes.

I can't ever imagine abandoning children in a system that needs fixing.  I'm here.  I'm present.  And I'm going to stand tall, stand proud, and stand bravely for those kids who need me to.  For those kids who have no one else willing to fight for them.

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Power of Connection

If you've been reading my blog for very long you should know how often I talk about the power of connecting on social media.  I even wrote a blog post about it a while ago called "My PLN Saved My Career".

This weekend was a perfect example of why I choose to connect online with others.

About a year and a half ago I met Brad Gustafson online.  He was a principal who had just joined twitter and was just eating up everything!  He was excited, passionate, and learning.  I began to form a friendship with Brad.

Then after some time I got on Voxer and really enjoyed the ability to have conversations outside of 140 characters.  I'm not sure who formed it, but a Voxer group between Brad, Ben Gilpin, and I was formed.

That group just morphed into a great friendship. We talked every day, and with me starting my principal position it was perfect to have a constant sounding board. Then our conversations steered off course some towards life and other things, and true friendships were formed, not just professional.

About 2 months ago Deb Gustafson (Brad's Wife) contacted Ben and I.  Brad was finishing his Doctorate program and Deb was throwing a surprise graduation party and she wanted us to be there.

Now to put some of this in perspective, Brad lives in Minnesota, Ben lives in Michigan, and I live in Texas.  Not exactly close by.  I had only met Ben once face to face and Brad once face to face and Ben, Brad, and I had never actually been in the same room together ever!

But we were totally in.

So as it came about, I ended up flying into Minnesota on Saturday.  Brad came to the airport to pick me up.  But the kicker was that he had no idea WHO he was picking up or why.  His wife just sent him my flight information and told him to be there.  I absolutely loved the look of shock on his face when he pulled up and saw me.  And even better when I broke the news that I hadn't come alone, but that Ben was landing about 2 hours later!

Ben, Brad, and I (with families) got to spend the weekend together talking, sharing, and connecting.

People have asked me before "why would you fly all the way to Minnesota for someone you hardly even know and have only met once???"

And that's when I know, they don't understand the power of connection.  Ben and Brad are like family to me.  And there are a few others I've formed relationships with online that I feel the same way.  I consider Brad a great friend, and you only get your Doctorate once!  I had the ability to be here, the bigger question is why wouldn't I?

Social media has allowed us to tear down so many walls and to build friendships that before couldn't exist.  I am so thankful to have met people like Brad and Ben, people who feel like family.  Brad is such a source of inspiration.  He pushes my thinking and challenges me almost daily.  He's incredibly kind and super passionate.  I am proud to be able to say that I could fly down and support him in a celebration that he worked so hard for, and even more so to see all the people that showed up at his party to show their support.

When people ask me why I'm on social media, this is my answer.  Social media has changed my life in so many ways, and it's something that you just don't understand until you actually experience it.

To my buddy Brad, congrats again, your recognition is well deserved.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Falling in Love with Reading Thanks to @DonalynBooks

I hated Reading until I was in the 5th grade.  Until I found the book series "Animorphs".  That one little series got me hooked on reading.  I still remember my grandmother giving me an index card box and a ton of index cards.  Every time I would read a book she would have me write down the title, author, and a little blurb about it and file it alphabetically in my little box.  Then when I would go visit her, she would give me 50 cents for every one completed and we would use the money to go buy more books!  I was hooked!

As a teacher though I've always taught and loved teaching Math but I still tried and tired to instill a love of reading in my students.  I even had a class library of over 200 books (Which now is a principal's office full of books :-) ).

Anyway, at Navasota ISD there is a huge lack of love for reading in our students.  Coming into this district, and coming into Navasota Intermediate, my whole team was passionate about bringing a love of reading back to our kids.  Our team has done a great job and our Librarian (Kathy French) has been HUGE in helping with that.

Recently on my podcast series I interviewed Donalyn Miller.  She was fantastic.  I picked up her book "The Book Whisperer" and read it in one sitting over Christmas break.  It blew my mind.  It changed the way I viewed everything when it came to inspiring kids to read and building a love of it.  So immediately I came up with a campus wide plan.

Here's what I sent out to staff:

I’ve always considered myself a math teacher, even though math was the subject I hated the most in school.  I loved reading and loved writing, but not until I was in the 5th or 6th grade.  Why?  Because I had never found the right book for me.  I had always been told what I had to read or what we were reading as a class and that didn’t fit me, so I hated reading, until middle school when I ran across the Animorph series. Well, 60 or so Animorph books later, I was hooked and have been an avid reader ever since.

If you remember during your interview to work at NIS, one question we asked every single person was “Do you consider yourself a reader?” and “What was the last book you read?”  Because you see, as teachers, we need to continue reading as well.  Regardless of how many things are on our plates, we must find the time to continue our learning and to read the books also that our students are reading so that reading can evolve FROM being simply something that we do to children at school and TO something around which we share a passion.

I just finished reading The Book Whisperer on vacation and it set off ideas in my head on what we can better do as a campus.  I recently interviewed the author, Donalyn Miller, on EduAllStars (you can watch it HERE).  I have also chosen The Book Whisperer as our first One Staff/One Book study - I would encourage all NIS staff members immerse themselves in Donalyn's book together.

But this is just the beginning. Reading The Book Whisperer together will be the kick off of a brand new reading initiative that we'll be starting at NIS on January 6th!

Starting January 6th we are going to be challenging every single adult and child at NIS to read 20 books before the end of the school year.  Now, 20 may sound like a lot, but really it isn’t!  These are 20 books that the students can choose.  There will be no grade or anything of the sort.  No certain Lexile level has to be chosen or anything.  We want to encourage students to read and fall in love with reading and to see all of us reading as well.  Now, we all know we will have students who don’t reach the 20 book goal.  That’s ok!  We just want kids to read more than they ever have.  For a child who has only read 1 book on their own during a school year, achieving 5 will be a HUGE celebration!  But we still want the goal set of 20 for every student.

Here’s some things that will happen.

  • Every teacher will have a sign on their door, or by their door, that advertises the current book the teacher is reading themselves.  (Yes, it’s ok and encouraged to read the books the kids are reading!)

  • There will be a reader tracking page that will cover the walls of the hallways.  Every child will get their own page (as well as the staff members) where they’ll be able to document the books they’re reading and how close they are to reaching the goal of 20.
  • Every morning on the announcements someone from the NIS staff will share with students what they’re reading and why they chose that book.  Another way to advertise great books!
  • Over time, we will begin having students come on the announcements and share the book they’re reading or just read.  So pay attention to your kiddos!  If they’ve fallen in love with a book, have them come share with me and we’ll let them share on the announcements!
  • We will have celebrations for every 5 books a child reads, so after you student reads 5 books please send them to me to celebrate with!
  • After students have finished a book they will add it to their goal sheet.  There is no book report required, no project, no form to fill out.  Children should spend their time reading, not creating a huge report or project that takes longer to complete than the book.
  • Every morning after you pick up your students, until the announcements come on, ALL students should be reading.  We will also be asking them to read during morning breakfast and at bus dismissal. That means your students NEED BOOKS!  If you haven’t taken them to get books or checked if they have any, you need to do so!
  • Every classroom needs a class library.  Doesn’t matter what subject you teach.  So start collecting books now that your students can choose from!
  • When you send your students to interventions they need to bring a book with them.
  • As students start getting closer to their 20 book goal, I will begin meeting with students to find out their favorite authors or books and I will begin setting up Skypes, Google Hangouts, and other ways to collaborate with the authors of those books.
  • As students finish a book, please send them to the office WITH that book so I can take a picture of them for our reading wall we will be creating and for our Twitter and Facebook!
  • Find time throughout the day to give students time to read independently.  For many of our students, reading at home right away may not be a realistic expectation.  We have to let them see the importance of independent reading time at school first.  SSR time is untouchable.
  • Different staff members may be contacting you to get with you a time when they can come in and read a short story with your class or share a personal book recommendation.  The kids LOVE that.

Reading affects every single aspect of our lives and every subject taught at school. It is of utmost importance and must be treated that way.  Students DO NOT learn how to read nor do they fall in love with reading from worksheets or reading passages.  They need to practice reading on their own with a book or story they’ve fallen in love with, not one that has been assigned to them.  Let’s work together to build this love of reading in each and every one of our kids!  They deserve it!


We started on Tuesday, January 6th and already it's been MINDBLOWING to watch! The kids are eating it up!!! We have a huge wall in our cafeteria that is being covered with photos of kids with their books after they finish it. We already have over 40 pictures up there. I've already had 2 kids come to the announcements because they had to share the book they were reading. We have teachers celebrating and advertising books by each of their doors. I've had 29 students come "check out" books from my office library. Kids are reading during breakfast, reading during dismissal. They're READING and falling in love with it!!

I can't wait to see how this progresses especially with my staff beginning our book study this Thursday. We'll see how much this grows as we begin to build this up even better, together.

I just wanted to share with everyone out there, how easy this is to do and how much we've already seen the excitement from our students! So, Happy Reading!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Educator Learning Series BEGINS! #EduLS

Well, after the HUGE success of the #SummerLS (with over 3,000 participants from 9 different countries), and after winning an EduBlog Award for Best Open PD for 2014, I decided to bring it back! (you can still check out last summer's challenges HERE)

But this time I decided to bring it back as a FULL YEAR ROUND event!  I've re-branded it as the "Educator Learning Series" (#EduLS).  Again, I'll be reaching out to many of my friends to help me design the lessons, but I invite YOU to come learn along side us!

Here's the link to the FIRST challenge!  Let's learn and grow together!