Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Little Things

This summer has been a true summer of learning for me.  One in which I learned the most from examples that others around me set.  And as I took those lessons and started changing the ways I did some things in my life, I figured it could be good to share a few of those lessons with you!

What I learned the most this summer, and it was something I already knew but it was nice to be reminded of, was that the little things truly are what matters most.

It's those little things that can end up making the biggest difference.  But because it's "the little things" sometimes we overlook making sure we do them.  Here's a few "little things" I was reminded of or taught this summer....

1.  Make People Feel Important

This summer I had to book a last minute hotel for one night in Austin.  I was trying to find somewhere pretty cheap to stay and I had seen that a new Holiday Inn Express had opened up on the south side of Austin, so I went ahead and booked there.  While at the first day of a conference I was attending, I got a call from the hotel, before I had even checked in.

It was about noon, and and I answered the phone.  The hotel told me that they were just calling to tell me how excited they were to have me as a guest that evening and they just wanted to check if there was anything they could do before I got there to make sure I had a great arrival.  I was taken aback.  Never before had I had a hotel call me before I checked in to tell me they were excited I was staying with them.  Much less even ask me if I needed anything prepared.

When I arrived, they were incredibly friendly and kind.  And when I woke up the next morning, I had a hand written card slid under my door.  The card was written to me and told me that they hoped I had a great stay and that they hoped I would return again.

These little things this hotel did didn't cost them anything.  But man did they make a difference.  That was over 3 months ago and I still tell everyone about that stay.  I even called the manager to let him know how important his staff made me feel.  The next time I stay in Austin, I can guarantee you I'll be staying there again.

2.  Use a person's name when speaking to them

I had the extreme pleasure of spending, on several occasions, multiple days with Brad Gustafson.  If you haven't heard of, or aren't following Brad Gustafson, you are missing out.  This man is a fireball of energy and one of the most encouraging and inspirational people I know.  Brad doesn't even know that he taught me this next lesson.

As I spent over 9 days total with Brad this summer, there was one thing that he continually did that I noticed and it impacted me pretty greatly.  Every where we went, every place that we came in contact with others, he spoke to the people working at that establishment and used their names.  His first question was always "what's your name again?".

When we would check into a hotel, get in a cab, eat a restaurant, it didn't matter.  Brad asked for their name and in the entire conversation we would have with the person, he would continually use their name.

It was something so simple.  So easy, but I swear we consistently received better service because he did it.  And I watched the interactions.  The people Brad did this with had a more pleasant air about them when he did it.  Do you know why?  Because they felt noticed.  They felt seen.

Any job that requires the worker to be a servant to others can sometimes be thankless.  And just that act of using their name makes such a difference.

3.  Notice the Loners

People see me present or spend time with me in a small group and get this picture of me as a boisterous and outgoing person.  The reality of the matter is that I can be very introverted in large groups or crowds of people I don't know.

I'm the person, in a room of people, who will go find a back table in a corner and sit at it and sip my water (Erin Klein and I love sharing this in common).  I'll talk if you come up to me, but I don't actively seek out others.  In my traveling and speaking I've found that there are quite a few of us presenters who are full of energy on stage, and off stage more low key and reserved.

What can happen though is people like me can begin to feel out of the "circle" of people actively interacting.

Something I learned from Ben Gilpin, Adam Welcome, Theresa Stager, Tony Sinanis, and Melinda Miller this summer was the act of continually seeking out those "loners" like me, and finding ways to make them feel involved or included.

Ben, Adam, Theresa, Tony, and Melinda have no idea that they ever did this for me, but each of them did in different ways.  Whenever I would try to slink away or hide off at a quiet table, one of them would come find me and either sit with me or pull me back into the circle.

It reminded me that I need to do the same with others.  When people get into social settings they can feel intimidated, not worthy, sometimes an outcast, and so many other things.  What people need are reminders that they belong.  They need someone to reach out a hand and pull them back in, or to just go and sit with them.  This again goes back to wanting to be noticed.

4.  Give them a Voice

I remember creating a session for a conference I was attending this year.  It was a panel type discussion but I hadn't selected any of the participants when I submitted the proposal.  I just said "Tech Ninja and Friends".

When I arrived at the conference, I reached out to a few people I knew to see if they would present as part of the panel.  These weren't "well known" or "traveling presenters".  They were teachers who only left their school for this one major conference and for edcamps.

But I remembered what it was like when someone I respected asked me to speak with them, and I wanted to return the favor.

I still remember what one of the presenter's wives walking up to me after the presentation (which had about 1,500 people in attendance to watch) said to me.  She had tears in her eyes and she said, "thank you for including him.  It made such a big deal to him that you would even ask him, much less share a stage with him".

What that reminded me of is that those of us who have large followings or influence, we must continually bring others up with us.  We must continually find ways to give others a voice to speak and share.  Each of us are in education for a reason and each of us have something of incredible worth to share.

5.  Favorites, Retweets, and Interactions

Finally, something I was reminded of this summer was yet again the power of social media.  I have people that I look up an incredible amount to.  People I respect immensely.  People that when I finally get to meet them in person I get shy, really want a picture, and want to shake their hand.  I think we all get like that sometimes.

Throughout this summer I had the honor of having online interactions (and a few face to face) with some of my EduHeroes like Erik Wahl, Steve Spangler, Dave Burgess, Kim Bearden, Ron Clark, Angela Maiers, and so many more.

Interactions that my wife can attest to, had me taking screenshots of things and dancing around the house.

Just the simple action of favoriting someones tweet.  Sharing their idea and giving them credit, or just sending a "you're doing awesome things!" message really makes a difference.

And then I remember one of my last keynotes of the summer having the organizer come up to me and say, "you know we have a lot of guest speakers, but you do something I haven't seen the others do.  Every time any person comes up to you and talks to you, you give them the same excitement, the same attention as the other 100 that came up to you before them. You make each of them feel like they're the most important person and like they're the first person who's ever come up to you".  I had never really thought about it much before, but I know I do it for a reason.

I do it because everyone deserves to feel special and to know that they're important.  And if I've been given even a little bit of a platform to speak on I want them to leave knowing at least that, because I also know exactly what it feels like to feel invisible.

So there are a few of my lessons I learned from this summer.  A few "little things" that can make a world of difference.

I know I'm not done learning, and by no means am I an expert at any of the above listed items, but I am continually practicing.  Continually learning. Continually getting better.

So, what are some "little things" that you've noticed that can make a big difference? Share them in the comments below!

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

A MUST Read: "Crash Course" by @KimBearden

Ever since I was in High School, I've always admired Ron Clark.  He's been someone who has inspired me, and was one of the reasons I knew teaching was for me.

Almost 3 years ago I was afforded the opportunity to attend the Ron Clark Academy.  It was an absolutely incredible opportunity.  One that still helps shape decisions I make today, now as an administrator.  It's one of those experiences I will never ever forget.

While at the Ron Clark Academy I met a woman by the name of Kim Bearden who taught at RCA (who also happens to be the co-founder of The Ron Clark Academy).  The moment I met her I was in enamored and in awe.  Her passion, her grit, her creativity, just everything!  I soaked up every once of information I could from her.

Over the last three years I've had several interactions with Kim and Ron through social media, at different conferences, and Kim even came on my EduAllStars podcast! (you can watch her episode HERE).

Then last year Kim released her first book "Crash Course: The Life Lessons My Students Taught Me".  Because I loved learning from Kim, I bought the book immediately.  But it wasn't until just a few weeks ago that I actually found the time to sit and read it.

And I don't know why I waited.  There are only a few books that I have cried while reading.  As I sat on a plane, flying back from Indiana, I didn't just cry, I sobbed.  I couldn't put the book down.  The honesty, the heart, the passion, the joy, it was all there.

I shared about my love of the book on social media and Kim tweeted back.  It's one of those moments, when one of your teaching heroes, messages you back and you can't believe it!  I still have the tweets screenshot haha.

But the book moved me.  It showed a side of Kim that I hadn't known about.

It moved me so much, that I contacted Kim, found campus funds, and purchased a copy of the book for every single member of my staff at Webb Elementary.  The message in the book is one that every teacher should hear and I wanted my staff to be able to experience it, as well as have it serve as our fall book study book.

What I love about Kim's book is how it's written.  Every chapter is written as a "course".  They're all bite sized so that it's not overwhelming.  I also absolutely love that every chapter ends with a "Class Notes" box (little reminders from the chapter) and a "Homework" box (ideas of ways that you can stop and think about what was shared and implement it in your own classroom.

From connecting with your students, abandoning needless worries, recovering from mistakes, embracing your gifts, to nurturing ingenuity and originality, to so much more.  This book really feels like it hits every note!  I especially love how Kim talks about creating magic moments.

But in the end, what hit me the most was Kim's extraordinary heart for her students.  It is evident and written onto every single page of the book.

I am still so deeply moved by this book I had to write about it and share it with all of you.  So, if there is one book you stop and read this school year, I truly hope it's "Crash Course" by Kim Bearden.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Head Held High

I've always prided myself in the fact that when I blog I try to share a real and honest portrayal of education and who I am.  I've been passionate about sharing the good as well as the bad.  So today it's time for me to share....

If you've been following this blog for any amount of time, you know that I took over a reconstituted campus this past school year (Navasota Intermediate).  I hired my entire staff.  We worked tirelessly hand in hand to change the course of the campus. We utilized technology, we connected with others from around the world, but most importantly we were able to teach our kids just how much each and every one of them mattered.

We took children who were beaten down and believed they were worthless, and made them believe something totally different.  We taught them that each one of them were a genius.  That each one of them deserved to be celebrated.  We connected with the community through food drives, hot dog cookouts at apartment complexes, family fun nights, and more.

We brought in guests for our students, learned from Olympic Gold Medalists, authors, singers, other classes from around the world.

We had "Teach Like a Pirate" Day, Book Prom, Superhero day, Huge reading initiatives and so much more.

We welcomed our kids with a red carpet and all my teachers dressed up as superheroes.

My teachers got to learn from some of the best in the field; Tony Sinanis, Erin Klein, Tom Murray, Greg Smedley, Angela Maiers.

I worked hand in hand with my administration to build up my team and to continually show them throughout the year how important they were.

I lead after school tutoring, Saturday school, and we all pulled small groups.

Every single person on my campus, parents included, worked their tails off this year.

And this year definitely had it's trials. It wasn't an easy year by any means, but I was proud of the work we did.

Then last week, I got accountability information from the State of Texas.

When we look at campus accountability there are four areas we ultimately hope to meet.  But if we meet at least 3 that is a success.

I sat in a meeting with 5 other principals in my district.

As I sat in that meeting, one by one, I heard campus after campus celebrate that they had either met 3 of the indexes or all four.

Then we got to my campus.  I flipped open the accountability packet.

One.  Just one.

We met one of the accountability indexes.

I was crushed.  I felt like every eye was on me.  I felt destroyed.

I didn't say a word the rest of the meeting.  I cried the entire way home.

I remember sending a Vox to two of my best friends and I told them I thought I was done.  That I clearly didn't know what I was doing.  That obviously I wasn't a good leader, that these scores showed otherwise.  That all that work was for nothing.

I've debated long and hard about sharing this story.  This side.  But it was Ben Gilpin who encouraged me to share.  The reason why?

Because this is what a high stakes accountability system can do to us.  It can, in the matter of a few seconds, make us forget all the ways that we touched and changed lives, and instead focus on the scores and act like that is the only true measure of a "good education".

Now don't get me wrong.  I'm not saying that the scores aren't important.  They are.  BUT, they are only a piece.

And in a matter of minutes, I got lost in the scores and judged my entire year on one day of testing.

It breaks my heart to think of how many other educators feel the same way with this high stakes testing that has become so common place.

I'm still reeling, but today I can sit here and still look at last year as a resounding success.  I know lives were changed.  I know we made HUGE strides in so many areas that those 4 indexes don't and can't ever measure.

So today, even though I've cried many tears, I stand up ready to face another year.  To keep growing.  To keep stretching.  Today, I stand with my head held high.