Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Words We Choose #KidsDeserveIt

Every one of us know what is feels like when someone shows interest in who we are as a person.  When they truly care.  Each of us also know what it feels like when someone says something hurtful that feels like it cuts us to the core.

Our words are powerful.  Aldous Huxley once said "Words can be like X-Rays if you use them properly -- they'll go through anything. You read and you're pierced."

I have a friend who I met 8 years ago.  His name is Sergio.  He was staying with a family friend of mine as part of a foreign exchange program.  It was his very first time in a country other than his own (Venezuela).  He knew no one. He knew no English.  When you're thrown into an environment like that, it's terrifying.  Sergio quickly learned English though (he really had no other choice!)  Sergio and I, for whatever reason, also became quick friends.  He made it through his year of the Exchange Program and afterwards I went out and spent 3 weeks with his family in Venezuela and experienced a taste of what life was like for him, where no one spoke the language I spoke.

It's been eight years, but Sergio and I finally were reunited this week.  It was like not a moment had passed.  We laughed, we learned each other's languages again, and we had a great time.  It was then that I sat with Sergio as we were reminiscing.  I asked him how exactly we had become friends.  His response hit me and was the reason for the the title of this post.  He said "When I came to this country everyone treated me differently.  I was different.  Some thought I was dumb because I couldn't speak English.  Some people talked to me really slow.  But after being here for a few weeks, you were the first person who asked about me.  Who tried to speak my language and get to know the real me.  What I liked, what I didn't like, about my family.  You really cared."

That simple statement reminded me of how powerful our words truly are.

Our words can build up.  They can connect us, change our lives, and develop friendships we would have never expected.  But as I've seen in my own life and the lives of others, words can destroy to.  They can place mistrust, they can destroy reputations, they can cut you all the way to the bone where you wonder if you will ever heal from the hate that was thrown at you.

Every day we come into contact with others we have a choice with how we use our words.  Whether it's in what we say, the look on our face, of our body language.  Those are all forms of communication.

This week I encourage you to think about the words you're using with your students, your co-workers, and your families.  Let's be extra cognizant about the words we choose.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

When We Choose to Serve #KidsDeserveIt

So many times I have seen how much our jobs are like those of servant leaders.  We must continually give of ourselves day after day not only to our students, but to their families, our co-workers, and our own families.

Because of how our jobs so easily look like servant leadership I think sometimes we forget that, as good people, we still need to serve others in different ways than just teaching and giving up of time.

This week I was able to help serve food in the cafeteria.  It was something that had been on my "to-do" list for a while.  Monday evening and Tuesday morning before work I took an hour and a half "Safe Food Handler" course and then a 40 question test.  I passed and got certified to handle food!

It was such a joy to serve next to our hard working cafeteria ladies as they serve our students every day, many many many times thanklessly.  I loved the looks on kids faces.  My favorite quote of the day? "Mr. Nesloney, do you still work as our principal or were you fired?"

With the world we live in today, especially with the way our future political leaders act, it is so much more important now that we show compassion and servant hearts towards all.  So often our custodial or cafeteria staff are viewed as "less than" the rest of our school family.  I wanted to show our students that we can stand next to anyone, regardless of stature, race, viewpoints, whatever and still do something good.

I don't share this as a "woah look at me!" story.  There are numerous instances on a daily basis where I haven't served in the way that I should have.  Where I haven't set the example I know I wanted to set.  But life is about learning.  It's about growing.  And it's about continually finding ways to get better.

So my challenge for you this week is to find someone to serve.  Find someone you can give up some of our resources or time to help, to stand next to and work alongside of.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Leave it in Your Car #KidsDeserveIt

Every day when we come to work, we have a choice.  That choice looks very simple on paper, but in reality it isn't quite that easy.

What is that choice?  That choice is to come to work with all of our baggage or to leave it in our car.

Our students show up to school every day with their own pain.  The absence of a parent and they have to take on the adult responsibilities, the cycle of physical/emotional/sexual abuse at home, the fear of the electricity or water being turned off again, gangs down the street, drugs sold out on the front porch, family member arrested again, little brother sick and no money to get medicine, drunk parent coming home late again, and so on and so on.

When our kids come to school they come longing for a safe place.  A place where they feel loved, appreciated, and wanted.  A place where the monsters go back under the bed for a little while.

They long for a place where they can escape the harsh realities they're forced to live in outside of school hours.

And sometimes they come into a school (or a classroom) where the adults haven't left their own baggage in the car.

Buildings (or classrooms) where they employees are angry and take it out on their students.  A classroom where they teacher never smiles.  A classroom where students are told to sit down, shut up, and do their work.

As adults we all have bad days.  And some of us have more bad days than others.  I am by no means saying that you don't lean on your school family. You do! Go into a colleagues room and just sit and talk and cry.  Go into the office and find a quite space to be alone for a little.  Take a walk around the building to clear your head. All of that is ok!  We all need our "moments".

But what we have to remember, what we can never do, is bring our personal baggage into the classroom.  When we walk into that room, all of our own personal things disappear, and we have to be there completely for those kiddos. And sometimes we have to "fake it til we make it" and put that smile on and bring the energy regardless.  Our kids deserve to have the best, most encouraging, and safest place in the world when they enter your room.

Let's make this week awesome for our kids! #KidsDeserveIt

Sunday, September 18, 2016

When Doubt Creeps In #KidsDeserveIt

Something I wrote about in "Kids Deserve It!" is the feeling of doubt. The wondering if you're good enough.  Every one of us at one point or time doubts our gifts, talents, and abilities.  We wonder if we're in the right job.  If we really know what we're doing.

Sometimes that doubt comes from our own insecurities and sometimes it comes from the words of others and sometimes it comes from a failure we've experienced.

The truth is, we all deal with doubt.  Just like darkness, doubt can creep into our beliefs and begin to control the way we feel about ourselves.  It then affects our actions and those around us.

I could list off a million times where I doubted my gifts.  When I had to have a parent teacher conference and the parent ripped me a new one.  When a kid told me they'd rather be in any other class in the world except mine.  When a teacher told me I was a terrible leader.  When every single person on my campus worked their butts off, and we showed growth, but it still wasn't enough.

Doubt creeps into all of us.  It can break our hearts and our spirits if we let it.
So how do we deal with doubt?  I believe we face it head on.  

Here's a few ways I try not to succumb to doubt:

1.  Make a list of the things you know you're good at doing.

2.  Go to trusted friends/coworkers/colleagues and ask them for support and encouragement.

3. Write notes of encouragement to someone else.  When you lift up others it lifts you up as well.

4.  Spend time with kids, doing kid things. The sense of wonder, forgiveness, imagination that can only be found in a child is remarkable.  Many times as a teacher I gave up my conference period to go sit in a kindergarten classroom or go to PE with my kids just to change my mindset.

5.  And finally, remember.  Remember that you are here for a reason.  That you were placed into the position you're in for a reason.  We never see the rainbows without the storms. Those are what help us grow in our profession and in our personal lives the most.

Remember this week as doubt closes in that you are enough.  That you are important.  That you are valued.

Remember that we can do anything we set our mind to.  That the easy path was never one we wanted to go down.  We learn most from our struggles and trails, and that TOGETHER we can get through this.

So this week, lean on a co-worker or one of us in the office.  Ask for help, relief, a hug, whatever.  Write notes to others reminding them of their worth.

But most of all, spend time with those kids, just being a kid.  Play at Recess, go to PE, sit for 10 minutes in a grade level that isn't yours, eat lunch in the midst of the kids.  Release some of that stress and just be a kid again.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Pilot is the Last Off #KidsDeserveIt

I just returned from watching the movie "Sully" about the Miracle on the Hudson.  For those of you unfamiliar with the events from several years ago....a plane was taking off from NYC and while ascending it hit a flock of birds.  The birds took out both plane engines.  While deciding if he could turn around and land at the airport, the pilot Chesley Sullenberger, determined he couldn't make it and instead made the decision to do an emergency landing in the Hudson River.  All 155 passengers and crew survived.

While watching the movie and seeing the kind of leader that Captain Sully was in that instance I couldn't stop thinking about education administrators and the parallels.  Here were some of the things that stuck out to me.

1. The pilot always remains calm.  Every leader knows there are days that are more stressful than others.  But even in the midst of a crashing airplane, Captain Sully remained calm and collected.  He trusted in his instinct and did what needed to be done to protect those onboard.  As leaders we must do the same. Though I struggle with always remaining calm in heated moments, I know how important it is that we do.  Our team needs to know that it will all be ok.  That together we can do this.  That the leader has things together enough that others have a little more hope in what's coming as well.  For when the leader doesn't remain calm, the whole plane goes crazy.

2.  The pilot knows it's not all about him/her.  Again and again Captain Sully gives credit to his entire crew and to all the emergency responders, Ferry Employees, NYPD, and more for saving all 155 souls aboard that plane.  He never takes credit.  Good leaders do the same.  They know that for this thing called "school" to work it takes every single piece working together.  The custodians play just as of an important roll as the teachers, the nurse, the front desk reception, the cafeteria workers, the librarian, and so on.  As soon as a leader claims credit for the success of a school, you know that leader has no clue about what's going on.  We must work together and give credit the entire team, every part, when success is reached.

3.  The pilot is more concerned about others than himself.  One thing that stuck out to me greatly was the Captain's concern for all aboard the plane.  As soon as they were rescued, all he cared about was how many were alive.  How many survived? Where were they? Who was hurt?  He knew he had 155 souls on board.  He wanted to know if they were ok.  A leader must care so deeply about the people he/she is left in charge of.  They must check in on them, take care of them, hurt alongside them, and seek to help them.  If a leader is to lead they must know what's going on with their crew.

4.  The pilot answers the hard questions.  Throughout the movie, Captain Sully is continually questioned about the decisions he made when deciding on an emergency water landing.  His integrity is questioned, his demeanor, even his past.  As administrative leaders it is the same.  In the end we must answer to what happens in our school building.  When a fire breaks out, when a child is hurt on the playground, when someone is caught destroying property or stealing, and more.  The leader must answer to what has happened under his/her watch and what decisions were made after.  And often times, the leader must answer those questions in a closed room and cannot share his/her responses with the public at large.  That is probably the hardest part.  When a leader must answer to things that have happened, but cannot share with his/her staff what went on behind closed doors.  But leaders must.  They must be ready to answer the hard questions and stand behind the decisions they make.

5.  The pilot is the last off.  In the movie Captain Sully makes sure all of the passengers and crew are off the sinking plane before he decides to exit.  He wades through freezing water just to check every last seat.  In education, as leaders we must do the same.  We must continually check in to make sure everyone is where they need to be and is safe and sound.  We check on the kids, we check on the staff, sometimes we even check in on the parents.  Those bodies in that school building are, in the end, our responsibility, and a good leader makes sure that they're all taken care of before he/she disembarks.

There are so many other reminders that I took from this movie as well, but those are my top 5.  I hope to be even half the leader that Captain Sully was and still is.  I hope to lead with a calm strength, to take care of and care deeply about my crew, to answer the hard questions, and to always be the last one off the plane.

Though I have lots of work to do in becoming that leader, I know that every day I am growing just a little bit more.  If you've seen the movie too I would love to know what may have stuck out to you the most!

The Light and the Dark #KidsDeserveIt

The metaphor of darkness and light has always been a powerful one for me.  The whole idea that darkness seems all encompassing.  Like it is suffocating.  Like you can't escape it or that it's weighing heavy.  But then, with even the tiniest spark or flame, darkness runs.  It clears the way.  It doesn't take a lot, it doesn't take huge effort.

I think about that and tie it in with our jobs as teachers.  There can be a lot of darkness in our profession.  Looming deadlines, overwhelming work loads and expectations, upset parents, disobedient kids, difficult co-workers, and so much more.  And sometimes that darkness feels overwhelming.  Sometimes it feels like it's suffocating us.

But in those moments when darkness surrounds us, we have to choose to be the light.  We have to choose to strike the match or be the spark that sends darkness away.  We have to find that hope we can cling to, those people who will surround us with their own flames.  Darkness will overtake us if we let it.....or we can choose to be the light, not only for ourselves but for someone else as well.

One important way I see us being the light is by what we share online.  A family member came up to me a few weeks ago to vent about "all you people in education".  She told me that "I can't stand when I see a teacher complaining about something on Facebook. They choose that career, they work with KIDS for goodness sake.  If I were to complain about something with my job, my boss would call me and write me up or fire me, but I see it from teachers all the time."

That really hit me.  Even this week I saw teachers from all over the country who were complaining about things from their job on Facebook.  "The kids were crazy today"...."I felt so disrespected at work"......"I hate all this paperwork I have to do as a teacher, why can't I just teach??".....and you know what? Those are REAL and VALID complaints! They are! But think of the message we're sending to the world at large when we get on social media and complain about a job where we impact lives.  What kind of message are we sending? How would you feel, as a parent, if you saw your child's caretakers complaining about all they have to do to take care of your child?

We have to think twice.  We have to make sure we're spreading the light, not the darkness.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Day the Pirate Surprised #WebbElem #KidsDeserveIt

Every chance I get, I talk about the power of social media.  I tell people the value in getting connected, sharing your story, learning from and with others from around the world.  I still get that "alien look" (like we talk about in "Kids Deserve It").  I still get those eye rolls, huffing and puffing, and those 'I'll never do that' comments.

But yet again, Monday was another example of why I choose to be a connected educator.

Monday was our first day of the new school year with kids.  We were so excited.  We were ready.  Because if you remember back in May, I wrote about how we didn't get a last day of school with kids.

The first day went AMAZING!  My team killed it with the excitement and bonding with kids.  There were smiles, hugs, and high fives everywhere.  It was a pretty perfect day (besides a few arrival or dismissal hiccups, like every school haha).

But the epic part came at the very end of the day.

You see, I do car rider duty every day.  So I was outside, in the HOT Texas heat, in the middle of two lanes of cars, directing first day car rider traffic.  Then, out of nowhere, I see a guy walking up to me.  Immediately I knew who it was DAVE BURGESS!

I remember the first words out of my mouth were "what?!?  What are you doing here?!??"

And I remember looking around and my teachers were all freaking out because they knew who he was too.

You see, Dave was traveling through Texas from one city to another, passed by a sign that said Navasota, knew I worked there, so he pulled over, looked up the address of the school, and decided to do a surprise drop in.

It's also worth it to note that I've known Dave for a little over 4 years now.  I followed Dave on social media because of reading his book "Teach Like A Pirate", then I was able to meet him while I was at an event in San Diego, and from there we've grabbed dinner a couple times, chatted over social media and the phone a bunch....oh....and he published my first full fledged book "Kids Deserve It" with Adam Welcome :-)

Well after getting over the shock that Dave was at my school, I begged him to stay about 30 minutes because we always do a quick "end of the first day; we survived!" staff meeting.  Of course being Dave, he said yes, and he was able to meet my whole team and even share a magic trick or two.

I share this story first of to show everyone how much of a great guy Dave is.  But I also share this story to share another example of the power of being a connected educator.  I would have never been connected with Dave, much less having him surprise my school, if I had never taken the leap on social media.

And now because of that act of bravery of putting myself out there, not only did I get a surprise visit, but my whole staff got to experience a little of the awesomeness as well.

It truly was the perfect ending to an incredible first day of school.

Can't wait to see what happens next!  As our theme this year states, "Let the Adventure Begin!"

Here's a video Dave made of his visit to Webb....