Friday, July 22, 2016

Rise #KidsDeserveIt #RISE


Recently, I co-authored a blog post called “Loving Recklessly”.  The post was our call to action.  Our speaking out that we have a responsibility to love, and love recklessly.

This past week Katy Perry released a new single called “Rise”.  It’s being used by the 2016 Olympics as their theme song this year and is quite the inspirational tune.

As I was listening to it, a few of the lyrics stuck out to me and reminded me of a few things.

“I won’t just survive”

Too often sometimes it feels like the best we’re doing is just surviving.  We’re just barely making it through the day.  One of the biggest things I’ve learned is that in those moments of self-doubt, of self-defeat, instead of focusing on ourselves and “just surviving”, what we need to focus on is others.

Do you know that there is research that shows that when you show gratitude to someone else, it increases YOUR mood more than it does theirs!

The best way to get out of a funk or when you feel like you’re merely surviving, is to find someone else to lift up, to encourage, to celebrate.

“Oh ye, of so little faith. Don’t doubt it, don’t doubt it”

Doubt.  That thing that grips us so deeply.  That moment where we don’t know if we’re doing the right thing.  Where we wonder if we’re really making a difference.  Where we wonder if we even chose the right career.

Doubt can take root inside of us and take over….if we let it.

Instead we need to be focused on doing what’s best for kids and have a little faith.  Things won’t always work out as planned and they won’t always be the way we wanted the to be, but in the end it’s all in how we deal with it.

So today, choose to have more faith and less doubt.

“I must stay conscious, through the madness and chaos”

As we discussed in our “Loving Recklessly” post, our world is consumed lately with so much madness and chaos.  It seems everywhere that you look there is pain and hurt.

What we can’t allow ourselves to do is become “unconscious” to what is happening around us.  We have to stay alert and continually keep pushing and growing ourselves and showing love and compassion to those around us.

“I will still rise”

Rise.  The entire premise of the song.  

In the end, we still have to choose to rise.  We have to choose to not allow ourselves be overtaken by the pain, the chaos, the negativity.

We can rise above it.  We can climb to new heights.  We can challenge the status quo and be world changers. We have to, if we expect to inspire our kids to do the same.


So today, let’s rise.



Wednesday, July 20, 2016

When They Don't Drink the Kool-Aid #KidsDeserveIt

This post was co-written with Brent Clarkson.  You can read his blog here.


“Connected Educator”. Two words that have changed both of our lives. Two words that truly define who we’ve become and where we are going as educators.

They are also two words that oftentimes make very little sense to those who aren’t drinking the “Kool-Aid” of connecting on social media. Todd often describes it as similar to visiting Disney World. You just don’t get it until you’ve been there.

Both of our lives have been drastically affected, personally and professionally, since we chose to get connected. Besides the typical amount of learning and sharing that takes place, when you choose to connect with other educators online you also find individuals who want to be on your team. Who truly want to see you grow and be a part of that growth as well as grow themselves.

Sometimes it’s so easy to stay behind the walls of our campus and never venture out. It’s not until we step outside of those walls that we hear perspectives and ideas that otherwise, we would have never heard.

We think of the way that both of us met. Todd was presenting at a conference and Brent ended up attending one of his sessions on the flipped class. Through later connecting on social media to further the conversation, and then again face to face at a few edcamps, we’ve become great friends.

More so than that we’ve been able to connect and learn in ways that so many in our profession are still missing.  There are still so many who don’t see the value in social media for professional reasons or who don’t understand or feel the need to connect with others outside of their own campus.

We both often think, what else can we do?  How do we get them to “get it”?  

In the end, we believe it comes down to actually experiencing it for yourself. As connected educators, we believe it's our job (and yours) to find ways to bring others into this understanding.  To not make social media feel like this “exclusive” club that’s hard to break into or be a part of.  We have to find those who have yet to drink the Kool-Aid yet and serve it up ice cold, sip by sip. Connect them with our circles, invite them into our conversations, and introduce them to this world that has so profoundly affected our careers, and on a larger scale, our lives.

Our challenge to you is to find (at least) five educators from your campus who are not connected and get them connected. So what are you waiting for? Get your Dixie cups, stir up some Kool-Aid, and start passing it out for free.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Loving Recklessly - Hope Within Reach #KidsDeserveIt #LoveRecklessly

This post was co-written with Jeff Veal. You can check out his blog here.



The Way It May Seem
It seems these days that you can’t turn on the tv, radio, or surf the web without bearing witness to another atrocity that has happened around the world.  Sometimes those events are far away and easy to disconnect from, yet sometimes they happen right in our backyard.

As more and more of these painful events have taken place, something began to happen in both of our own hearts and minds.  While talking on Voxer one afternoon, we realized how heavy recent events had been weighing on our hearts.  But even more so the thought of love kept coming to mind.  Loving unconditionally appears reckless to a watching world.

The Way It Really Is
As men of faith, we both know the power that exists in loving unconditionally.  We’ve both seen our own lives changed when we ourselves felt the unconditional love and forgiveness of Christ.  But even more so, we’re reminded of our charge to love others. No matter how hard it may seem.

Loving without limits can be difficult to wrap our minds around. We become conditioned to see people as transactions rather than relationships. Our exchanges with others can be reduced to position or to the role that they serve in our lives rather than the most basic connection: the value of them as a person. When we fail to see the humanity and the needs of others we in a sense lose our own humanity and our way.

Our Belief About Others

What we believe about others will in turn determine our behaviors towards them. Others around us are not looking for a piece, a part, or only half of who we can be when it comes to believing the best about others. They're looking to see that we want to bring out the best one hundred percent of the time, loving without limits, filled with the desire to see that all people are given opportunities to surpass expectations. No one likes a half-hearted commitment, so our commitment to love people must be 100%.

At the same time, deep seated in all of us is what we believe about ourselves.  And that too affects how we interact with others.  Many times we see ourselves as unlovable, easily abandoned, or not worthy. As C.S. Lewis puts it, “we are what we believe we are.”  Because of that belief about ourselves, we don’t give others all of ourselves.  We give them pieces of who we are.  We believe that if we give too much they’ll hurt us or use it against us.

Loving without limits is allowing our arms to be wide open to embrace a radical commitment to live beyond ourselves. We must always ask, ‘what does love require of me?’

A radical commitment to…

Compassion
One thing that this world can never have enough of is compassion. Compassion doesn’t come from a place of weak mindedness. It actually comes from a place of incredible strength. When you stop to help the least of these you are sharing your strength.  Being compassionate allows you to be vulnerable, a trait we need more of in our culture, not less.

We tend to overcomplicate what compassion looks like, reserving those moments for someone in times of loss or severe trial. However, what if we displayed this as servant leaders daily. Imagine if we taught this in our classrooms. We must model through our own words and actions for others what this looks like. Being generous with authentic words of praise and affirmation to those around us affirms others in ways they often will not ever communicate. For example, we have witnessed how students or teachers will hold onto that simple post it note we wrote. Why? Because you went beyond yourself and took the time to recognize their value.

Forgive
Forgiveness.  Probably the most difficult of all.  So often in society today we’re taught an eye for an eye.  When someone hurts you, you’re supposed to hurt them back.  Make them feel your pain.

If there’s anything we’ve learned it’s the freeing power of forgiveness.  Because often what you find is that when you forgive someone it frees you more than it does that other person.

We don’t need to hold onto hurt.  To hold onto hate.  When we chose not to forgive we’re only making the issue worse.  One of our favorite quotes is that “hurting people, hurt others”.

Forgiveness isn’t easy.  And honestly, we don’t believe it really comes naturally.  But it’s something that is so necessary.  We have to be the one to step up and say, I forgive you. And to remember that when you forgive it’s not an acknowledgement that what the other person did was ok.  It’s a realization that what they did to you will have no hold over you.  That you’re in control of how you feel and what you believe about yourself.

Hope
Hope is not based on wishful thinking but in the power of that which is not yet becoming reality through intentional belief and action. Hope is the power to drive out fear. When we give into fear we allow anxiety and allow the darkness to cast a shadow in place of light.

All we need is just the slightest sliver of hope.  Belief that things can and will get better.  Darkness cannot hide where there is light.  Together, we can be the light in a world that often feels so overrun by darkness.

So What?
As we both came together to write this post, we wanted it to be a beacon of light. A reminder that as people we can do so much good in this world.  And though it may seems that things are dark or that darkness is prevailing, we can still be the light.

Our hope is to strike the match, that leads to a flame, the ends in a full on raging fire.  To push forward with unconditional love.  To show compassion in every situation. To forgive quickly, even when we don’t think we can.  And most of all to hold onto hope.

Just as Margaret Mead says, “Never doubt that a small group of people can change the world.  When indeed, it’s the only one that ever has.”


#LoveRecklessly -Todd and Jeff

10 Ways Teachers Can Support Principals #KidsDeserveIt

This post was co-written with Brandon Blom. You can find his blog here.

Together we recently wrote a blog post called “Top 10 Tips for First Year Principals”.  The post got a great reception and lots of conversations were started.

One of the comments that was made on Twitter was from Mr C and it said “Great post guys! I often wonder how I as a teacher can support my principal better?  Any ideas?”  And right away that got us thinking…..

As a principal, it’s our job to steer the ship.  To lead the way. Did you know that nearly 30% of Principals who lead troubled schools quit each year? And that by year 3, half leave their job? You can read more about it here.

But a school runs as a team.  As a family.  It takes every single one of us.  There are ways that we could all support each other.  But we wanted to write a post with a few ideas on how teachers can best support school principals! (Do you have your own ideas? Share in the comments below!)

1. Ask your principal how they are doing or how things are going
As principals it is our job to check in with people and build relationships with everyone in
the building.  However, it is great when a teacher stops by in the morning or comes up to us during recess and asks how we are doing.  It might not seem like much, but we can both remember the people who have taken the time out of their schedule to come say hello and check in on us.
2.  Talk to them when there is an issue
There will be times you will disagree with our actions or decisions.  Always come to your principal first when there is an issue.  We have to work together and trust each other.  For example, some states like California have a union.  If you go to the union before talking to your principal first that immediately breaks trust.  Same goes for going to the district office with an issue before talking to your principal.  We are both lucky that we have never had a problem with this at our school sites.  Our teachers have come to us anytime there is a concern.  There might be times you need to get others involved, but always talk to your principal first.  
3.  We don’t mind complaints, but bring solutions too
As leaders of the school, we don’t mind hearing complaints at all!  We all need to grow and continually get better.  But one thing that everyone can do is when you bring complaints to the table, be prepared to bring potential solutions as well.  There’s nothing worse than hearing someone tell you how much they don’t like something, while offering no ideas on how to make it better.  Share your frustrations but also share ideas on how to make it better!
4.  Help promote your school
One thing that everyone wants to do is promoting the great things happening at your school.  School administrators should be leading this charge in sharing your school story, but we need help!  As teachers, any time that you can share the story of your classroom, students, and school, it benefits all!  Share, share, share!
5.  Connect with other teachers to bring new ideas to your school
The principal is only one person.  No matter how connected they are, how many conferences they go to, how many books they read, they still need your help bringing new ideas to the school.  The more connected you are with other teachers, the more great ideas you can bring to your campus.  You will also have a different perspective than they will.  So connect with other teachers either in person, or on social media like Twitter and Voxer and bring those great ideas to your principal.  
6.  Do your best to understand all the directions they are pulled in
Teachers understand how hard it is to meet the needs of all the students in their classroom.  As a principal it feels the exact same way but instead of let’s say 30 kids in a class you have the needs of all of your teachers, secretaries, librarian, custodians, aides, psychologist, resource teacher, nurse and those are just the members of your staff.  You then have usually over 1,000 parents that have different ideas of what needs to be happening at a school.  There are so many people who need the principal and we are pulled in so many different directions.  Just doing your best to understand that helps out your principal a lot.
7.  Understand they are not the previous principal
This could be a good or bad thing depending on what you thought of the previous principal.  We have no problem letting us know of traditions or great things the previous principal did but just know we are not them.
8.  Never talk bad about your principal (or any staff) to members of the community
There might be frustrations with what is happening with your principal or a different teacher at your site.  This goes back to the trust we talked about earlier.  As soon as you talk about about a staff member to someone in the community you are breaking the trust we are working on building at our school.  There are enough other people that like to bash educators, we need to be the ones being positive to the public about what is happening at our school and all of our staff members.
9.  Let them know when something is going well
As a principal, a large portion of our day is spent dealing with upset staff, upset parents, upset central office, or disciplining students.  Sometimes it can feel like we’re doing everything wrong and that everyone is angry or frustrated with us and we begin to lose sight of the great things going on.  One way teachers can help with that is by letting us know when something is going well.  When you had a great day, when you like an activity, when you just want to tell someone ‘thank you’.  We want to celebrate with you.  We need those moments so we can feel like every decision we’re making isn’t a terrible one.
10.  Invite them
As principals, we’re constantly being pulled a million different directions (just like teachers!) and when that happens we forget or don’t know about every event going on on campus.  We love being invited into classrooms.  Whether that is to a class party, science experiment, to read to class, to team teach, whatever!  We know it’s our responsibility to be seen and actively involved, but we also like when we’re invited too.
BONUS: If you have a first year principal just know they are going through a lot adjusting to their new job (especially the first two months)
There is definitely an adjustment when you become a principal.  It doesn’t matter if your principal is coming from an assistant principal job or straight from the classroom.  By doing your best to try and understand this adjustment will help them.  It is especially important that you ask them how they are doing (tip number 1) the first month or two.  They might not tell you, but it will mean the world!

This list is just a start.  Everyone wants to feel needed, valued, supported.  We may have been able to come up with a few ideas on how teachers can best support principals, but really this list could fit any position on a campus.  The whole motivation and ideals behind this post was that we wanted to provide ideas for all of us to best support and build up those we work with.  

Both of us love the ways our campus staff make us feel.  We know we’re at the campus we were meant to be at.  But we’ve heard so many stories from other leaders who don’t feel that way (for a variety of reasons).  It’s going to take all of us, but together we can build a school where every individual feels valued and important.  

In the end we know it is on the principal to support teachers and staff.  But anything you can do as a teacher to help support them as well will help them be a better leader, and in turn will make your school a better place for our students.


Tuesday, July 12, 2016

My #NAESP16 Experience




So, I've written and then deleted this post about 10 times now.  For whatever reason I just haven't been able to feel like I'm getting the wording right.

So here goes again.

Time and time again, I talk about the power of being a connected educator.  Of putting yourself out there.  Sharing your ideas.  Connecting with others.  Being vulnerable, open, honest, and willing.  It hasn't always been an easy road, and often times terrifying, but I've adopted the mantra "be brave".

I just returned from attending the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) conference near DC.  Last year was my first time attending.  It also just so happens that the keynote speaker from last year, Erik Wahl, is who inspired me and Adam Welcome to start the movement (and write the book) #KidsDeserveIt.

Last year was my first time to meet people like Adam Welcome, Brandon Blom, Todd Schmidt, Theresa Stager, and so many more.  It was a great experience and one I got to have with my buddies Ben Gilpin and Brad Gustafson.

So when this year's conference came around I knew I wanted to attend again.  I asked Brad Gustafson if he wanted to present together, and off the planning went!  Unfortunately Ben Gilpin and Adam Welcome both couldn't attend this year.

As I geared up to head to #NAESP16 I was excited and somewhat nervous.  You see, though many think I have a boisterous personality, I'm actually quite uncomfortable and anxious in social settings.  But I was excited because I knew a few of my "Twitter Friends" (who are actually real life friends), would be there that I had already met, as well as some other people I couldn't wait to meet face to face.

It's funny how conferences work when you're a "connected educator".  You still attend sessions, like any traditional conference goer, but when you're connected it's a much richer experience.

You get to meet up with people you've never met face to face before but have talked to for weeks and months online.  You get to learn at a deeper level than ever before because conversations are that much more special with the people you're having them with.  You get to laugh, and laugh a lot.

I always leave these conferences wondering if the people I meet, and choose to spend time with, truly know how much of an impact they've made on my life.  Professionally and personally.  I always tell people, I only surround myself with people I enjoy being around and make me better. I think of guys like Todd Schmidt, Brandon Blom, and Brad Gustafson...three guys who will probably never grasp the depth at which they inspire, challenge, and help me believe in myself.  People like Ross, Tony, Jessica, Lindsy, Liz, Lynn, Theresa, Dan, Mark, Andy, Nick, Jennifer, Joe, Julie, Kas, Kyle, and more.  Most of which I met for the first time face to face this week.



NAESP was a great learning experience for me, yet again, but even more so it was a great reminder of some of the incredible people I choose to surround myself with virtually.  People who make me laugh, make me cry, and make me believe that together we're gonna change the world.








Friday, July 8, 2016

Top 10 Tips for First Year Principals #KidsDeserveIt

This was post was co-written with Brandon Blom. You can find his blog here.

The first year.  We all remember it, and some of us remember it more fondly than others.  Both of us remember our first year as principals.  It was fun, scary, exhausting, exhilarating, full of laughter, and yes even some tears.

As we sit at the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP), we were both reminded of our first year.  And as we were reminiscing and sharing stories, we had an idea! Why not share some of our ideas on how to make your first year as a principal be the best it can be!  We’ve both made plenty of mistakes and learned tons of examples of what TO do and what NOT to do.

So here are a few of our favorite ideas on how to make sure that your first year (or any year) as a principal is the best year ever!

1. Before making any moves stop and have a conversation
At some point in the year you will have to ask staff to help you or your school.  It is so important to start your relationship with them by getting to know them.  Learn about their family, what they love about the school, what they would change about the school, and how you can help them.  Staff will appreciate you taking the time to hear them out and get to know them.
2. Learn every staff member’s name before you start working with them
There is something powerful about hearing your name.  Knowing that someone knows your name.  But also that they know how to pronounce it correctly.  It’s so important that when you become a principal that you utilize tools at your disposal (yearbooks, website, school secretary, etc) to learn the name of every staff member before you even meet them.  Set the tone immediately that they’re important to you.
3. Be a servant
One of the best ways to lead is by serving.  Every chance you get take time to serve the staff, students, and families around you.  One thing we both do is morning, lunch, and afternoon duty every single day.  It’s so important for your team to see that you’re willing to get down in the trenches with them. It lets them see that you’re willing to get your hands dirty and that you’re not just sitting in your office.
4. Be visible, every single day
Your reputation will get set pretty quick with parents, students, and staff. It is important that they see you everywhere, especially the first few weeks.  Talk to teachers before school to see how they’re doing.  Greet students as they arrive.  Go out to recess and lunch.  Especially the first few weeks, go into every single classroom even if it is only for a few minutes.  Be so visible that parents, students, and teachers are tired of seeing you everywhere.
5. Find Ways to Lighten Loads, Not Weigh them Down
Your job as a principal is to move your school forward and improve the school.  There are many ways to improve your school without adding to all that your staff already does.  Find those ways.  When the load becomes too much, listen to your staff about what adds to their stress, and take what you can off their plate.  They’ll respect you so much more when you notice those “extras” and remove what you can.
6. Read with Classes
One of our favorite things to do is to read with classrooms. We make it a point to get into every classroom a couple times a year and read.  We read books we like, books that cover our themes, or even books recommended by students or other teachers.  When a principal reads to a classroom it shows that literacy is important.
7. Feed Them
It is amazing how food can change the tone of a meeting or a Friday.  We both know that budgets can be tight and there are sometimes rules around spending money on food.  But find a way to treat your staff.  It might be something as easy as popcorn and chocolate at a staff meeting.  Or maybe a nacho bar on a Friday.  Find a way to treat your staff from time to time.
8. Listen More Than You Talk
One of the most important things you can do as a first year principal (or any year for that matter), is listen more than you talk.  And genuinely listen.  Ask people how their day has been, and wait for an answer.  Ask how you can help, and then help them! Ask your staff for feedback, ideas, and more!  Listen, listen, listen.
9. Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know” or “I’ll get back to you”
There will be parents and teachers that want answers to their questions, and want them immediately.  As first year principals we both didn’t deal with that pressure well and would give answers too quickly.  It is important to know you can tell a staff member or parent that you don’t know or you need more time to think about it, and that you will get back to them.  Make sure you do get back to them in a timely manner, but just know it is ok to step back and give yourself time to make the best decision possible.  
10. Stop and Take Care of Yourself
As principals, whether we’re a first year or not, we can forget to take care of ourselves.  Sometimes the load becomes more than we can bear.  It’s important to remember to stop and breathe sometimes.  Schedule in time to sit and eat if you need to, take a moment to close your office door and have 5 minutes to clear your head, go sit in the middle of a kindergarten classroom and be surrounded by wonder and awe.  Whatever is “your thing”, find time to do it.  When we don’t take care of ourselves we injure the whole team.  It’s like the saying goes, “when the principal sneezes, everyone gets a cold”.
BONUS: You’re not in this alone
It’s incredibly important to remember this point: you are not alone. Being a principal can be one of the loneliest education jobs out there. There is a constant incredible amount of weight placed on your shoulders.  Find your people.  Utilize social media (twitter, voxer, blogger groups, etc) to connect and surround yourself with others who will lift you up, hear you out, and challenge you all at the same time.  Don’t try to do this job alone.  

Being a first year principal brings many ups and downs.  There will be days you leave school thinking you are the greatest principal in the world and days you leave thinking that there has to be a better leader for your school.  Just know being a principal does matter.  The job you’re doing is an important and worthwhile job.  You will make a huge difference for your students, your teachers, and your staff.

Being a principal is hard. It’s not meant for everyone, and can often feel like a very lonely position, but we wouldn’t change our decision to step into this role for a second.

As you begin getting ready for a new school year, we hope you consider using a few of the ideas we’ve come up with above. Both of us absolutely loved teaching in the classroom but we can honestly say that being a principal is the best job in the world.  


Monday, June 27, 2016

My @Scholastic #ReadingSummit Experience

Last year I had the pleasure of attending my very first Scholastic Reading Summit in San Antonio, Texas.  And I loved it!

This year I had the honor of being asked to present at two of them.  The one in San Jose, CA and the upcoming one in San Antonio, TX.

These Reading Summits are phenomenal.  A "must-go-to" if there's one in your area.

Donalyn Miller and John Schu got me hooked.  If you haven't connected with, or don't know, these two people, you are truly missing out.  Not only are they some of the kindest people that I know, but they're also some of the most passionate advocates for kids and reading that there is.  Plus I got to see my buddy Brandon Blom who is a force to be reckoned with and a GREAT person to talk to if you're interested in getting rid of AR (his school just did and you can read about it HERE!)



I was also beyond impressed by everyone at Scholastic who put this event on.  Usually you don't get to meet the people behind everything.  But since I was presenting this year, I did!  And man, was I blown away.  Scholastic has people in charge who are in love with reading.  In love with sharing books with everyone and finding ways to get others to fall in love with reading.  It's one of those organizations that really speaks from the heart.

As the day started, I got to listen to the opening Keynote of Kwame Alexander (author of Booked, Crossover, and more).  He talked passionately about his journey as a reader.  About the power of poetry.  It was moving, entertaining, and had me rushing to buy his books immediately.



Now, I don't teach reading.  I never have.  I'm a principal.  But I LOVE reading and ever since reading Donalyn Miller's book, "The Book Whisperer", I have been on a mission to make sure we do right by kids when it comes to reading.

I then spent a lot of my day presenting over how we have worked as a campus to get our kids to fall in love with reading (which I'll be presenting on again in San Antonio!)

The day ended with a keynote from Jewel Parker Rhodes (author of Ninth Ward, Towers Falling, and more).  Wow.  I don't even know where to begin.  She even made me cry!  I had heard of Jewel and her books before, but had never read them myself. After hearing her speak I went and bought all of them, and have already devoured two (Ninth Ward and Towers Falling).  Jewel has a huge heart, powerful life story, and a real passion for writing and sharing her stories.

I even got to spend the end of the day signing books right down from Donalyn and Jewel! How crazy is that?



I hope you'll get the chance to attend a Scholastic Reading Summit this summer.  And if you can't it's ok too!  Follow the hashtag #ReadingSummit or get ready to attend one next summer!