Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Meet @jemchale1, The Dazzling Twister

Well we're here again.  Another opportunity for me to recognize and introduce you to a member of my staff.  Today it's one of my classroom teachers!  It's 4th grade teacher Jessica McHale, also known as The Dazzling Twister.

I still remember when Jessica came in to interview for her position.  She had never taught elementary before and had been primarily in a theatre arts classroom at the Jr. High.  From the moment I met her I loved her enthusiasm but most of all as soon as she started talking I could sense a deep love for children.

I've had the extreme pleasure of watching Jessica grow into an exceptional classroom teachers.  I've watched her struggle with her doubts of her abilities as most new teachers do, but I have watched her bloom.  

Her students absolutely love her.  They laugh, they sing, they hug, they dance, they act.  When you walk into Jessica's room you feel like you've just walked into someone's home.  A home full of love.

Jessica is someone that is full of personality.  She acts in our local theatre production company on the side.  In fact, Jessica has 3 or 4 side jobs in addition to her teaching.  

Jessica is compassionate, intelligent, a problem solver, and someone who gives all of themselves for kids.

I also love how during the summer months I was encouraging my staff to get on Twitter and connect with others and share our story here at Navasota Intermediate.  Jessica was one of the teachers who told me right away she didn't "get it".  Now I can say that Jessica is our teacher who tweets the most at our campus.  She is sharing the amazing things her students are doing almost every day and she is connecting with others!  She even took it upon herself to email an author of the book her class was reading (The Lemonade War) and the author emailed back and answered all her students questions!!

I try to be in classes all the time, but I know if I miss something incredible in Jessica's class that she'll tweet about it and I can still experience it in a sense.  

So today, I want to introduce you to Jessica.  Tweet her, follow her, and get to know another member of my incredible family that I could not do without.  

Sunday, October 19, 2014

#Bullying Doesn't Just Happen to Kids

I've thought long and hard about this post.  What I wanted to say.  How I wanted to say it.

Bullying is something we hear about all the time as adults; especially in education.  And as we all know too well, bullying is something that didn't just start recently.

I remember getting picked on quite a bit as a child.  Either because of my size, my friends, my extra-curricular activities, my personality, my voice, you name it.  We've all been there.  I wouldn't classify a lot of that as bullying, but there was some.

I remember what it felt like as a child.  To hear the names being called.  To get to a point where you start to believe the things the bullies say.  Where you start to doubt who you are.  It took me a long time to get to a place as an adult where I could look back at some of those instances and believe the things they were saying about me weren't true and realize that they things they were saying were coming from a place of hurt within themselves.

As an adult though I had never experienced "adult bullying".  Had I ever had people say mean, hurtful, untrue things?  Well of course.  But that's something that everyone deals with.

But over the last month, I've been introduced to what it feels like as an adult being bullied.  With my new job as an administrator, I knew people wouldn't be happy with everything I did.  I knew I would make others upset.  I did as a teacher!  But I knew it would come more as an admin.  Funny thing is, not one parent or student at my school has been like that!  The bullying has come from someone closer.  Someone who used to be involved in what we're doing down here.

To have someone text me over and over and over again the most hateful, untrue, and damaging things I've heard in years.  To call me ungodly, clearly not a Christian, a liar, stupid, clueless, damaging, and so much more.  To have that same someone bring multiple members of my family into the mix.  It just doesn't compute in my brain.  And through all of this I have chosen to remain silent.  I haven't responded to any texts.  I haven't responded to any messages.  I didn't want to get involved in a war of words.  But it reminds me again of how when someone is in an unhappy place themselves pain comes out.  And I have always believed that "hurting people hurt others".

But I write this not to share my pain.  I write this in hopes that as you read this you think about the things you say to others.  The things you text to others.  The things you write about others.  We all get hurt by others, but we don't have to lash out and continue the pain.

Because you see, what happens is that no matter how strong of a resolve the person you're belittling has, that person eventually begins to doubt their worth.  I've been there recently.  I started doubting who I was.  Started doubting what I was doing.  Started doubting me and all that God tells me I am.

I am no angel.  I am not perfect.  I have not claimed I am and never will.  I make mistakes on a daily if not hourly basis.  I have parts of my life I regret.  But one thing I know is that I will never and have never sought out to make someone feel less than they were created to be.  I come from years of being picked on and called out.  I know what it feels like.  I know the lasting marks it leaves.

Think twice.  Think twice before you lash out.  Think twice before you send out a text.  We all get angry or jealous or whatever.  But no one ever deserves to feel like trash.

For those of you who read this and have been through something similar, here's what I've learned.  I learned that I can sit here and think about the messages sent to me and allow them to define me.  OR I can surround myself with people who know me and truly care about me.  The road through bullying isn't easy.  The scars don't ever quite heal, but you learn.  And the biggest lesson you learn is how to continually show love.  Because in the end, love will always conquer hate.

And my biggest take away through all of this ordeal has been forgiveness.  To give it freely and often.  God has forgiven me far more than I have ever deserved and how could I not forgive those who hurt me?  I have to.  Because so often when we forgive, it frees us as well.  So to the person who's bullied me I say this, I forgive you.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Once a Teacher, Always a Teacher

When I interviewed for the job as Principal of Navasota Intermediate, the one thing I said in the interview was "I don't want to be stuck in an office every day, I want to still be actively involved in classrooms".

As a leader of a school sometimes that is difficult to do.  I blogged a few weeks ago about going into teachers classrooms and teaching math lessons.  Just today I went in and taught an hour long lesson about simplifying fractions and prime and composite numbers.

But at the same time, I want to do the unexpected.  I want to help shape and change the "role" of an administrator.

So I came up with an idea.  This year our district offers no after school tutoring.  We have so many kids that live so close to school I knew there was a need socially and academically.  So in a last minute decision, I sent home letters with every 5th grade student on Wednesday about after school Math Tutoring that we be starting the NEXT DAY, and lead by ME!

I wasn't sure how many kids would show up.  It was a voluntary thing, and it was an hour and a half of time after school was out (we did it from 3:30-5:00).

Well the next day was awesome to say the least.  We had over 40 fifth graders show up!  We played with paint, did some GoNoodle songs, talked about word problems, and did a few riddles.  It was a BLAST!

And it was a reminder to me.  If you're a teacher, and you're truly a teacher who loves teaching, then it never leaves you.  Ever.  No matter what job you end up taking.

As an administrator I could choose to make excuses about how busy I am, or the amount of things I need to do.  OR I could remember that my sole purpose in this job is those kids and that I'm willing to do whatever it takes to reach every student.  Because truly we have the time for the things we choose to make time for.

Next week is the start of 4th grade math tutoring every Tuesday and 5th grade math tutoring every Thursday!  I can't wait to see how this continues to grow and build relationships.


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Meet @TeachingLilJohn, the Perceptive Detective

To continue my tradition of blogging about someone different on my staff each week, this week I wanted to introduce you to our Instructional Coach, Aaron Marvel.

I always find it funny how some people end up in your life.  I remember interviewing Aaron back in April and knowing immediately he was the kind of person I wanted at Navasota Intermediate. But I also know it took Aaron a little bit to decide if Navasota was right for him.  His background is impressive and he was actively being sought after by other districts as well.  But in the end he decided to come on board with us, and I couldn't be happier.

Aaron is incredibly intelligent.  At the age of 27, he already has two masters, speaks English and Spanish fluently, and is pursuing his Doctorate.  He is a natural learner.

Aaron is a pensive person.  He thinks deeply about the words he chooses and the decisions he makes.  He identified his genius as the "perceptive detective" and I couldn't agree more.

Aaron is the piece in our administrative puzzle that just makes everything work perfectly.

But at the same time, Aaron is so much more than that.  Aaron is unbelievably kind.  He cares deeply not only about reaching each and every child on our campus, but also about reaching the parents, and reaching the staff.  Aaron's heart for others is incredibly admirable.

Aaron also works his tail off to make sure that he is helping teaching each and every way possible.  He's researching constantly ways to better improve the way we do things.

Aaron also is one of the biggest team players I've seen.  Aaron knows where the slack is to be picked up and jumps right in there to do it.  I don't think I've ever heard Aaron complain about anything.

But more than just a great worker, I also consider Aaron a great friend.  Aaron makes all of us in the office laugh and at the same time you know that you're important and you mean something to Aaron.  I love how in just a few short months our staff has become like family and I truly feel like Aaron is a brother to me.  I learn from him every single day about faith, family, school, people, instruction, and so much more.

I'm constantly thankful that Aaron chose to join the team here at Navasota Intermediate and we are better by having him here.

Monday, October 6, 2014

My Own Worst Enemy

So the past seven days or so have been....um....interesting.

To say things have been wonderful would be a lie.

I love my job.  I love my district, my campus, the family I work with.

But so often I feel like I'm letting them down.

Why?  Because I am my own worst enemy.

I never feel like I'm doing enough.  I never feeling like I'm giving myself enough.

So how does that even happen?  I see my staff overwhelmed with the amount of work they have to do.  I see it in their eyes, hear it in their voices, notice it in their body language.  And I take complete blame.  I'm the administrator.  The climate of the campus falls solely on me.

This school year hasn't been without it's share of trials.  We've got quite a few deficiencies in the kids' education.  We've had more discipline problems then we expected.  But in spite of all this, we've seen the pain that exists in these kids and in this community, and we've shown up, and worked our butts off to show those kids what real love looks like.

But when there's that much pain, there's that much work that must be done to undo it.

We're implementing PBL campus wide.  That can feel overwhelming in and of itself, not only taking into account that no one on my campus has taught the grade their currently teaching.

And as the administrator I've tried to bring snacks, write notes, teach lessons, cover classes, deal with discipline, do after school detention, cook breakfast, and more.  But still I feel frustration and still I feel teachers overwhelmed.

Teaching is hard work.  Teaching is a lot of work.  And great teachers give every single piece of themselves, and my campus is full of great teachers.

We're firing on all cylinders and we're making sure people know they matter.  But still I feel inadequate.  I feel like I'm not teaching enough, I'm not listening enough, I'm not encouraging enough, I'm not solving every problem.

And that's worn on me.  I'm a perfectionist at heart.  But even more so I'm overcome with empathy.  I love my team so much and want to make each day their best day of teaching ever and it hurts me deeply when I feel I've let them down or not done enough.

I know I can't fix every problem.  I know I can't be perfect.  I know mistakes have been made, are being made, and will be made by me.  I know that.

But I'm the leader.  And I guess my point in writing this post is to share that we all feel "not enough" sometimes.  We all get overwhelmed.  We all feel like we're failing in some aspects.

But what makes some of us different?  It's in those moments that we must choose to keep standing up when we're knocked down.  It's choosing to take that single step forward when you've just fallen two more steps behind.  It's in admitting you've made mistakes and keeping your head held high.  It's in those moments of struggle, those moments of doubt, those moments of failure, that we really learn the most about who we are and we can become.

I know God placed me in this school for a reason and I keep that at the forefront of my mind.

I tell my students every day that the most important rule at Navasota Intermediate is to "be brave".  And so now I take that advice unto myself.  Be brave, Todd.  Be Brave.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Meet @Nassau2013, The Always Upbeat Advocate

I can't believe I missed my weekly recognition post last week!  Ahh!

Well here goes for this one...

This week I wanted to introduce everyone to Geralyn Jackson.  Geralyn is our school counselor.

As you know from my previous posts, about 90% of the previous NIS staff did not return for this school year.  BUT, Geralyn was one of the ones that we held onto.  And I am so glad we did.

Geralyn is a constant source of encouragement and laughter.  But at the same time she has such a deep love and concern for our children.

She goes into classrooms and does character education lessons.  She has a constant stream of kids flowing through her office for counseling sessions.  And she makes countless calls home to check on things.  She also is part of our Admin team and serves before and after school duty, as well as lunch duty every day!

But what's also awesome about Geralyn is that whenever we are shorthanded with anything, she's always the first one to step up and ask what we need her to do.

Our office area, and this school, run more smooth because of the hard work and effort Geralyn puts into everything she does.

I am so thankful to have Geralyn as part of the Navasota Intermediate family, but just as important, I'm thankful to have the opportunity to work alongside and get to know her. She's such an asset that we couldn't do without and we are blessed by our Always Upbeat Advocate.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

My Take on the 2014 #BammyAwards

As I sit next to my wife, on a plane 30,000 feet in the air, I'm still trying to full comprehend what happened this weekend.

Best place to start I guess is from Friday afternoon.

I went to work on Friday, as I do every day.  My plan was to leave work about an hour and a half early to catch my flight to DC.  I hadn't told anyone about my trip, except for my AP and Instructional Coach.  I hadn't even told any of my staff about the Bammys at all.  So as I walked down the halls and worked in classrooms on Friday I kept finding it weird that kids kept telling me to have fun in DC.  I figured maybe a teacher had seen me post something on Facebook or Twitter.

What I wasn't prepared for at all, was what happened next.  As I packed up to leave, my AP (Terry Garrett) followed me outside "to grab something out of her car".  As I turned the corner out of the front doors, I was bombarded with a scene unlike anything I have ever experienced.

The entire school was lined up outside to cheer me on.  They had made banners, signs, and even a giant medal for me to wear around my neck.  As I walked through the corridor of kids they gave me high fives and at the end of the line, they had made a special red carpet leading to my car.  Then they made me stop and in unison they all sang Mariah Carey's "Hero".  I don't know how I did it, but I can say it took every single ounce of self-control to not drop to the ground in a ball of sobs.

Never before have I felt celebrated or appreciated as that moment.  Those were my people.  Those were my kids.  It meant more to me than any award or recognition EVER could.  They will never fully grasp the power that moment had on me as a person.

I got in my car and headed to the airport.

My wife and I spent the first half of Saturday walking around downtown DC.  We had been here back in November of last year, but didn't quite have enough time to see everything. But Saturday morning provided us the perfect time and opportunity to see everything we missed the first time.  It was PERFECT!  And it also was nice that the weather was beautiful.

Then we headed back to the hotel to get ready for the Bammys.  I think my wife was most excited at the opportunity to dress really fancy and walk down a red carpet haha.

Before we headed out to the Bammys I had the opportunity to sit and talk with Ben Gilpin.  Ben is someone that I talk to on Voxer just about every day.  We've got Brad Gustafson in that group too.  But I've never had the opportunity to meet Ben face to face.  Getting to meet Ben was a true highlight of my trip.  He inspires me almost every day and yet is never afraid to challenge me either.  He is a great example of what an excellent administrator should look like and the fact that I get to call him my friend is mind blowing.  And what's even more is that he's exactly the same in person as he is online.  I only wish I could have sat there with him and picked his brain for hours haha.

Next Liz and I waited for the Bammy Limo outside the hotel.  I ran into Kenny Bosch and Jason Bretzmann.  I absolutely loved chatting with them as we waited for the limo.  After about 45 minutes, and still no limo, we got an Uber instead and headed over to the Bammys.

Jumping out of the car and onto a red carpet with flashing cameras and a reporter type scene was crazy.  Then we headed inside and I ran right into three of my education heroes; Tony Sinanis, Joe Sanfelippo, and Eric Sheninger.  I've met and spent time with Eric on multiple occasions but this was my first time to meet Joe and Tony. Not only are they absolutely hysterical but their also kind, intelligent, and 100% genuine.  I hope that when people meet me, the leave with the same feeling that others have after spending time with Eric, Tony, and Joe.

I also got the honor of finally meeting Salome Thomas-El and Vicki Day! Those are people I have followed for a while and looked up to.  I'm telling you, this entire experience felt like I was getting to meet all my heroes! It was also awesome seeing people like Susan Bearden, Erin Klein, and Tom Murray again, who I love!

I even got to spend some more time with Angela Maiers and Mark Moran.  Two of the people working tirelessly to remind kids that they matter.  I love those two so much.

As we headed into our seats we got the honor of listening to the Washington Metropolitan Youth Orchestra who were absolutely incredible!

Then the event started.  Now, I have heard a lot of mixed reactions about the Bammy Awards in the past.  I know there are those who totally disagree with the event and what it stands for.  I've heard others talk about all those are AREN'T recognized by the awards that should be.  And they're totally right.  Teaching is one of those professions that I believe each and every person should get recognized.  From the teachers, to the cafeteria workers, to the bus drivers, everyone.  I wish there was a way for us to give an award to every single person in education.  But for just one night I was thrilled to be able to sit in a room with others who are working to change the face of education and just watch education be celebrated.

And I tried to include my entire PLN in the process.  The wifi went down right before the event started so they couldn't live stream it like they had hoped!  So I did my best to tweet every award and recipient that took place.  I remember sitting at home last year and following along with the Bammy tweets and cheering as others were celebrated. I didn't care if I knew them or not!  This was a moment where we got to talk about what was going right in the world of education and where we got to celebrate a few of the great things that were happening.

I know there will still be those who disagree with my statements above and that's what is great about the country we live in.  That we can have those conflicting ideas and beliefs!  But what I also saw at the Bammys was a respect for the profession not seen many other places. A true respect.

My favorite part of the entire event was watching three students win an award for their work.  I saw Angela Maiers and Mark Morgan give an award to Grace Miner for 'Student Initiative'.  If you could only hear what this High School Senior has done and plans to do.  WOW!  Talk about inspiring.

Or even Joshua Williams and the work he's doing with feeding hungry families. And he's 13!!!!  Let me tell you, meeting with him afterwards and picking his brain, was mind blowing.  This kid is changing lives and impacting so many. I can't wait to watch what he's going to do next.

Winning my award was bittersweet.  First off I didn't think I had a shot at all.  I was up against others who are doing some of the most amazing work I've seen.  Others who inspire me on a daily basis and push me to be better.  When they called my name it even took a moment for me to stand up and my wife had to push me.

I wasn't sure what I was going to say either as I went to the mic because I hadn't prepared anything thinking I wouldn't win.

But what I did tell the audience was this...."the award is not for me.  It's for every single adult and child who's ever been told they weren't good enough, they weren't important, they couldn't be something.  For every single person who lost their worth along the way.  Don't give up, dream big, cause you can do and be something".  Or at least I said something along those lines, my wife said.  It was too surreal for me to remember everything haha

I dedicate the award I was given to every child out there who dreams big.  To my students.  But it also is a direct reflection of those I surround myself with.  I don't really do anything that great or different than any other person in education.  The people around me are the ones who make me look good. The parents who support me, the kids who work tirelessly along side me, and the other educators who inspire me and push me every day to be my best.  They are the true recipients of the award, because without them and their brilliance, I would not be where I am today.

I look back at this entire experience and it brings me to tears.  I often sit back and think "Why me?"  What am I the one getting recognized? There are so many other, much more talented, hard working people, then I am.  And I just hope that throughout this entire process one kid takes a moment and believes they can be something extraordinary.  Because there was a time when someone believed in me, and it made all the difference.

To all those who read my blogs, and follow my journey, thank you.  To those who send tweets or leave comments or share their own stories, thank you.  To those who work tirelessly in the trenches and never get any recognition, thank you.  To my mom, my dad, my team, my friends, my family, my wife, thank you.  There is not one second of this that is a reflection of me alone.  I wish every single person who's walked with me on my journey could be holding their own Bammy, because they deserve it too.