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!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Easily Forgotten

This post has been heavy on my heart for about a week now and I finally had the time to sit down and write it out.

I grew up with a family who had a good income.  We weren't rich by any means, but my brother and I always had what we needed in our house.  When my parents divorced, and I went to live with my mom I saw what struggling to make ends meat looked like.  I saw her work countless hours cleaning homes just so we could have decent clothing, food, and a roof over our heads.  I also remember having Ramen noodles many a nights.

But I don't come from extreme poverty.  I've seen it though.  I've done mission trips in the slums of Los Angeles and in the slums of Puerto Rico.  I've seen what poverty looks like.  I've heard the stories of kids from poverty, I've read the studies and stories, I've watched the news.

You see what happens is that people who don't come from extreme poverty don't have that personal association with it so it's very difficult for them to grasp the depth and depravity that these kids are living in.  It's one thing to see it, it's another to feel it.

At my campus, and in my own life, we're always looking for ways to reach every child and we constantly talk about many of the home lives these kids come from.  And it hits us hard in our hearts.

But last week, it hit me even harder.

About 6 years ago I had a student in my 4th grade class.  Formed a great relationship with this student, as well as his family.  I had him again when I moved up to 5th grade the next year.  Over the course of those two years and the two years following I kept in constant contact with the family.  I helped pay for meals, I bought the kids school supplies, I tutored the boy and his brothers twice a week, took the boys to camp every summer, and the father as well as the boys were in my wedding.  I bonded very closely with all of them.  They came from poverty.  Both parents struggled with their health, the electricity to the home was turned off quite often, and some days they didn't have running water.

It broke my heart, but I tried to help how I could.

Then due to some extreme circumstances that happened within their family, I lost contact with them.  Until about two weeks ago.

Two weeks ago I ran back into the little boy (now a young man) randomly at a Navasota Football game of all places!  It was great catching up, and I ended up giving him a ride home.  When I dropped him off at his home, I was broken again.

The conditions that that family now are living in are even worse then before.  And I wanted to do something right then.  I wanted to find a way to help fix this problem in this community.  And that's when it hit me like a ton of bricks,  Sometimes we need that little moment of it hitting us personally to remember the pain and struggle so many families are going through.

But more so I talked with the young man about his struggles and it was incredible to hear his strength and tenacity.  It was even more moving to hear him talk about the impact that I have left on him and how those "little" moments when I helped are what he most remembers.  And how he said many nights knowing someone cared about him and his family helped him get through things.  It also reminds me of the power of connecting and of the power of caring.

Sometimes the best we can do is provide a warm meal or a sometimes even just a hug.  We work as a campus to provide turkeys at Thanksgiving, backpacks full of food every weekend, and even Christmas gifts before the holidays.

There are so many families in need, and not just during the holiday season.  But so often they are easily forgotten in the hustle and bustle of our so busy lives.

Take a moment, drive through the projects, visit your poorest student's home.  See what they're living in and what they go through.  We need to have that personal connection or at least a glimpse of understanding of poverty so that we can work together and work harder to fix this glaring problem.

We expect kids to come to school to learn, but I don't know about you, but it would be very difficult for me to learn on an empty stomach, while I slept the night before in a home with no electricity, and I couldn't take a shower, and my clothes hadn't been washed in a week.  All while I hear mom and dad talk about how they can't afford things.

Together we can work to help find a solution.  Together we must work, for the lives of so many depend on it.  Be the glimmer of hope for these children.

"Never doubt that a small group of people can change the world, when indeed, it's the only one that ever has" - Margaret Mead

Friday, December 12, 2014

That's Not My Job

One of the things that always drove me insane as a teacher was when I would ask a child to pick up a piece of trash off of our classroom floor, and their first response would be "I didn't put it there" or "that's not mine"!  I grew up where we all worked together to get what needs to be done, done.

When Angela Maiers came and spoke to my team back in August, she told us that one of the worst things we could do as a team is to tell someone else that something wasn't our job.  And it's true.  When you work at a school, you do much more than you job title suggests.

We begin to "drop the ball" with things though when we begin to say that it isn't our job to do something.  I remember when I was still in the classroom and hearing teachers say things like "I'm not wiping that table off, that's not my job" or hearing them say "I'm not picking the trash off the playground, that's not my job".

When an outsider looks in at a school, they don't see something and think "I wonder who's job that was?".  They look at a school and expect it to be clean, orderly, and running on all cylinders.  And when it's not, they blame everyone.

As an administrator my job is....well,  everything!  Cleaning, calling parents, filing work, lunch duty, trash pickup, gardening, making copies, you name it!  As educators we have to leave behind that thought of "it's not my job" and remember that we are here to serve kids first and foremost.  That is why we were hired.  So if something happens at that school that needs to be taken care of, that IS our job.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

The 2014 EduBlog Awards

Every year the EduBlog Awards come along.  They recognize different aspects of the online community of education.  If you haven't heard of them or seen some of the awesome things they recognize please go check them out!

I was a little shocked, but totally humbled to see "The Summer Learning Series (#SummerLS)" That I did this past summer was recognized for "Best Open PD/Web Conference/Webinar Series."

That was a labor of love of mine.  But I am so proud of that little learning series and how quickly it took off.  And I am so absolutely grateful for all the people who helped by submitting content.  They are the true source of learning that took place!

Amazing people like:

- Olympic Gold Medalist Steve Mesler
- Teacher/Blogger Erin Klein
- Administrator Amber Teamann
- Teacher Chris Kesler
- Campus Technologist Stacey Huffine
- Teacher Arin Kress
- Speaker/Motivator/Educator Angela Maiers
- Administrator/Writer/Trainer Eric Sheninger
- Teacher/Author Dave Burgess
- Administrator Ben Gilpin
- Administrator Brad Gustafson
- Teacher Emily Swenson
- Technologist Jessica Allen
- Librarian Jennifer LaGarde
- Teacher Pernille Ripp
- Administrator Daisy Dyer Duerr
- Education Advocate Tom Murray

Voting is open until December 15th and I would love to encourage you to vote (Deadline is Monday Dec 15)!!   It's super easy...

Here is how you vote

Click on THIS link to go to the correct page.

Find the Summer Learning Series 2014 (the photo isn't correct about our series, but they are supposed to be changing it)

Click on the thumbs up symbol

Then it will ask what platform you'd like to use to sign in.  Choose one.

Then the most important part, you'll have to click the thumbs up AGAIN to actually vote!

Thanks guys!  And to celebrate this nomination, I'd like to formally announce that the Summer Learning Series is COMING BACK!!  It will start again in January and run all year (hopefully!!) So get ready for January 2015 when the Educator Learning Series launches!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Meet @BoswellAllison, The Officer of Optimism

In my effort to recognize the amazing members of my staff, I've dropped the ball the last few now, it's BACK!

And this week is a great one.  This week I'd like to introduce you to one of my rockstar 4th grade teacher, Allison Boswell.

Allie is one of those teachers who surprises me every single day.  She has an incredible sense of humor and a great wit.  Anytime I come in contact with Allie I leave laughing.

I love that as her genius she chose the title "The Officer of Optimism" too!

Another thing I really love about Allie is her creativity and heart for kids.  She cares so deeply about her students and it's evident in everything that she does.

She recently adopted a bunny from a local shelter.  The bunny has "special needs".  The bunny had it's teeth taken out.  It's been so amazing to watch her students bond with that bunny.  Dunkin is his name.  Dunkin jumps all around the room, the kids rotate through his station and teach him lessons, and the coolest part???  Dunkin has a BLOG and a TWITTER!!  How amazing is that?

Allie also is great with getting her kids to fall in love with reading and with learning.  We have seen tremendous growth with her students in such a short time.  She also has two students who have special needs or requirements.  Allie has bonded with those kids and made them feel so special that they have bloomed more than anyone expected.

A campus exists and thrives based on it's teachers, and Allie is one of our best!  I'm so honored to work with someone who works tirelessly and creatively every day and someone who is here 100% for those kids!