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.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Breaking Down Walls

So this post may seem a little split brained, but I'm gonna try and bring it all together!

Well, one of the things I mentioned when Navasota ISD was interviewing me for this principal job, was that I wanted to still work hand in hand with kids and find ways to teach.  I didn't want to be stuck in my office all day.  They told me it was possible, and I believed them.

This week I got to do just that!  On Thursday or Friday of last week I sent out a Google Spreadsheet to all of my teachers and told them that if they wanted me to teach a math lesson they could go on the Google Spreadsheet, pick a date and time, and tell me what math standard I would be teaching, and I would come in and teach it.

For the last two days, I've taught a total of NINE 45 minute lessons!  First of all it was sooooo much fun and such a thrill to be back teaching in front of kids.  And second of all it allowed me to share some of my joy of teaching with my team.  I loved every second of it and can't wait to continue it throughout the year.  Plus I think it was really great for the students to see their principal teaching them a lesson.  I can tell you one thing, the students at our school sure aren't seeing your typical "I'm in trouble and have to go see the Principal" type of principal, and I LOVE that!

Then last night we did something I'm still reeling from.

About a month ago, I had an idea.  I wanted to reach our parents and families on a totally different level.  When you teach in a high poverty area, there tends to be an underlying distrust of the education system.  I wanted to address that.

Instead of inviting parents up for a night of learning, or to just come to the school and eat something and meet teachers, I wanted to go where they were.  I wanted to reach parents on their turf.

So I met with the Jr. High principal and asked him and his school to partner with us.  He agreed immediately.

So last night we went to a local apartment complex, and for two hours we did nothing but cook and hand out free hot dogs, chips, and drinks.  We didn't pass out pamphlets.  We didn't share reading strategies.  We didn't tell the parents to help with homework.  All we did was love on them.

We wanted to remind them that our schools are more than just a "factory".  We wanted to remind them that they are deeply cared about.  That they matter to us.

We had a HUGE crowd attend.  It was very emotionally overwhelming.  The response from the families was unlike anything I've ever experienced.  And when I think of some of the walls that were torn down, that's what's most exciting to me.

But you see, it doesn't stop here.  Every other month we're going to visit another apartment complex and cook for them.  Just to continually show them how important they are.

So how do the two topics in the post tie together?  I think it's in the fact that, in education, we need to continue thinking differently.  We need to challenge the way things have always been done.  Can a Principal teach lessons?  HECK YES!  And they SHOULD be.  Can a community come together and instigate real change?  YES!  Reach them where they are.

I encourage you today to find ways to work with kids and touch lives that you've never tried before.  Some will fail, but even more will succeed.  And if even one life was changed, it was worth every blood, sweat, money, and tears.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Meet @ofancyfrench, The Manager of Missing Smiles

This week I'd like to introduce you to someone who has played a huge role in my growth as an educator and as a person, Kathy French.  I am so blessed and honored to get to work with Kathy over at Navasota Intermediate.

But you see, I've been with Kathy longer than just this year.  I've known Kathy since I started teaching 7 years ago.  How?  Because she was my team teacher and partner in crime my first two years of teaching.

Kathy is one of those people that I could sit all day and list the amazing things about her, and on the other hand not think of even one negative thing to say about her.

Kathy taught me how to have fun with kids.  Kathy taught me about building relationships.  Kathy taught me about being flexible with your school day.  But most importantly Kathy allowed me to be out of the box and creative.  She jumped right off the ledge with me so many times.

Over the years I've continued to work with Kathy at my former campus in different capacities.  Kathy was the person I ran to for advice, to vent, or just to get a laugh.

When we had to define our "genius" this year, Kathy named herself the "Manager of Missing Smiles" and that couldn't be more fitting.

Kathy has this unique ability to make even the toughest heart crumble into laughter.  When I asked Kathy to step outside the classroom and join NIS as our Librarian, I had no back up if she said no.  Why? Because there was no one else I wanted for that job.

A librarian helps kids fall in love with reading.  A librarian can be that face that brightens your day.  The library is the heart of our campus and I'm happy Kathy is in there.  You can even read HERE some of the great things she's already doing.

Kathy is such a unique and amazing person.  She is creative, outgoing, outrageous, kind, inspiring, and I could keep listing for days. And in just a few short weeks I've watched her bloom into even more of an incredible leader, teacher, and friend.

If you come to visit Navasota Intermediate, and you're in need of a smile or big hug, stop by our library.  Mrs. French will be there ready and waiting for you.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

It's Not Always Roses and Sunshine

One thing I've always wanted to do was portray a really honest perspective on this blog and on my career.

As I've entered this new journey of being a Principal/Lead Learner I've tried really showing my journey.  What I've failed to show though, is the struggles.

You see, I absolutely love my job.  I haven't for even one second thought I made the wrong decision.  I know I'm exactly where I'm supposed to be and that God has a great plan for me!

What I want to share though is that this road this last month hasn't been without it's many mistakes and failures.

I tend to be a perfectionist, and that causes many issues in and of itself, but if wielded well, it also helps me achieve great things!

One of my major missteps this school year has been remembering I'm an instructional leader.  That besides just being the figurehead of the campus or whatever, I also need to be helping with instruction.  Especially with so many brand new teachers on the campus.  That became glaringly obvious to me when I invited Erin Klein and Tom Murray to come work with my staff.  As I sat and listened to the many ideas Tom and Erin shared, I was in awe.  But at the same time I was smacked right across the face with what I had forgotten to do.

Immediately after the training I sent an apology email to my staff, letting them know I now realized a mistake I had made. And since then I've made a concerted effort to be more involved with helping create a road map instructionally with the teachers.

Other little things that I've made not so amazing decisions on are the tables we bought, the beginning of the year "trip", and many many more!

You see, this post is to share that even though I've written about the WONDERFUL things that are happening at NIS, I also wanted to send a reminder that there are tough days.  Really tough days.  There are days when you feel like every single decision you make is the wrong one.  There are days where you feel like you're fighting a losing battle.  There are days when you feel like no one is on your side.

But guess what? Those days are the days that make us better.  They make us stronger.  We need the tough days to help us be more grateful for the great days.  Because life isn't going to be all roses and sunshine all the time. There will be those days full of storm clouds and thorns.

Lean on those around you, seek out advice, and keep focused on the goal of always doing what's best for kids.  That's what I do and I know that in the end it will all work out.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Meet @BradfordKevin66, the Commander of Comic Relief

Here is my second entry in my weekly foray of recognizing the amazing people that I get to work with every day.

This week I waned to introduce you to Kevin Bradford.

Throughout my interviewing process and hiring of 36 different employees there are few that stand out as much as Kevin Bradford.  Kevin has worked at Navasota Intermediate for the last few years.  When I interviewed him for him to remain the Special Education teacher, I was instantly impressed and wanted him on our team.

But when I offered Kevin the job, he hesitated.  He had been hurt pretty badly with several experiences at the campus, from before I was here.  And no matter how much I explained to him that it would be different now I could still sense the apprehension.  A few days later, he accepted, and boy am I glad he did.

You have to meet Kevin to truly understand what I'm going to express.  He is a ball of energy.  He is a source of laughter.  Kevin is one of those people that can be so outrageous that he can lift any mood.

In addition to just being a ball of energy, Kevin has such a deep passion for working with kids that it's clear in everything that he does.  As I mentioned above, Kevin is our Special Education teacher.  As you know that means that sometimes he works with those kiddos who struggle to find success.  Every time I watch him interact with those kids though I'm reminded of how grateful I am we have him here at Navasota Intermediate.

In addition to his passion for working with kids, Kevin is also one of the biggest hearts on our team.  He notices when things are wrong.  He's never afraid to step outside of his comfort zone.  He's always my reminder to lighten up when I'm taking things too seriously.  And his concern for his students run so deep that he would move heaven and earth for those kids.

There are few people in my every day life that I would say I "admire", but Kevin is one of those people.  And our team at Navasota Intermediate is better, because he is here with us.

Monday, September 1, 2014

The First Week of School

Well I did it!  I made it through my first week of school as an administrator!

And what a week it was!  I think the biggest take-away for me was how much my daily routine has changed.  As a classroom teacher there was some sort of daily routine that I would sink into.  I knew when the day started, I knew what time lunch was, I knew when to take my kids to their specials rotation, etc.  As an administrator that all goes out the window!  Every day is a brand new day with a brand new "schedule"!  It is absolutely perfect for my ADHD, but it's definitely a mind shift!

There was also something else I learned this week.  I've seen kids hungry for attention, wanting to be noticed.  And this year, with our motto being "You Matter" we've taken a strong stance.  But what I wasn't ready for was the depth at which these kids had been hurt.  In my years of teaching, I had never come across children who seem so starved for a kind comment, a hug, a safe place.  It broke my heart, but at the same time it filled me up knowing that at Navasota Intermediate they were going to get just that.  The first day of school we had quite a few kids who tried to push the boundaries, get an attitude, and show anger.  But we surrounded them love.  We surrounded them with the constant message that they mean the world to us.  And even by the second day of school, I noticed a shift.

One of my favorite moments from the entire week, happened on the second day of school.  A student got sent to my office. Not because he was in trouble, but because at Navasota Intermediate we celebrate. He had handled himself extremely well in what could have been a terrible situation with another student. I got to call home to mom to brag about him. She didn't answer so I left a message. What did he say after I left the message? "My mom is gonna hug me really big tonight". Wow.  I almost broke down in tears right there and made it a point every day from then on out to find a student who had done something great and have them call home in my office to brag to their parents.  It was funny as one parent had the comment, "Wait, you're calling me for something good?  I'm confused.  My daughter isn't in trouble?"  It's moments like that too where I see how much we've missed by not celebrating more successes.

Another exciting thing that happened this week is that my administration team and I are having a competition. About what?  Well we want to make sure every single teacher's classroom is visited at least once a day by one of us. We have a chart on my office door that after one of us visit a classroom door we sign.  Then at the end of they day we see who visited the most classrooms.  You wouldn't believe the difference it makes in the kids to constantly see their administrators in their learning environment and not just a discipline environment.  But just as importantly, it allowed me moments to connect with others on the staff and watch their amazingness in action.  One thing that visiting classrooms every day has shown me is that I have one heck of a team over here.

The other great thing from week one is the fact that as an administration we've chosen to remove our teachers from morning or afternoon duty.  Instead, we as an administrative team do duty with our instructional aides and support staff.  We do car rider duty.  We do bus rider duty.  We do lunch duty.  Why?  Because we are passionate about connecting with kids as well and we don't want to be hidden away in an office.  My favorite part of every day is opening car doors in the morning because I am able to set the tone for each and every child.  I get to make sure every car rider is greeted with a HUGE welcome, a warm smile, and a hug or handshake.  It's just the thing I need every morning to get me going.

As I've been in the classrooms I've seen the relationships already being built.  I haven't seen this side before because I've always been in my own classroom.  But it's so exciting to see this team connecting with kids on such a personal level.  It was amazing watching kids design their own superheros, identify their genius, write you matter letters to people in their lives and so much more.

We're building so much more than a school over here in Navasota, Texas.  We're working to change hearts and therein change lives.  Can't wait to see what the rest of this school year brings!