Thursday, December 15, 2016

Connecting Across Borders #KidsDeserveIt

This post was co-written with the INCREDIBLE Roman Nowak.

For years we’ve heard, or talked, about the power of being a connected educator.  About how when you put yourself out there and learn from and with others, it changes you.  It grows you. It gives you a perspective you may have never had before. Today, we even encourage such connections, through various platforms, in the hope that it will bring about lasting change.

Both Roman and I have been in the educational field for several years.  One of us completely in the Canadian education system and one of us in the United States education system. One of us with a focus and experience at the elementary school level, the other at the high school level. Opposing educational spectra meant to blur traditional divisions and create a lasting impact.

We’ve connected with other educators in our areas and in our own countries.  We’ve learned and we’ve grown.

But for the first time, we connected with someone in another country: each other. Two passionate educators who strive to transform the learning experience for kids, to bring about change, by starting with the heart.

We met through unique circumstances.  Roman had just finished reading “Kids Deserve It” and was able to convince me to come present in Canada.  We met before the event and immediately formed a friendship.  A friendship that has only grown exponentially since we parted ways. You see, if we are going to make a lasting impact for students by starting with the heart, we will have to lead and collaborate through the heart as well.

How is that even possible? And what’s the point?

Two educators, from different parts of the world are able to collaborate together, plan together, and be an encouragement to each other across international lines. And this is only a beginning. The power of change lies in the importance of human connections.

By connecting and growing together we’ve been able to see the subtle and the prominent differences in our education systems in each other’s countries. We’ve been able to see how alike, yet different, our cultures are. We’ve been able to discuss educational policies, institutional differences, lessons, teachers, unions, and so much more. Through all these discussions, there is always one common denominator : how will our decisions make things better for our kids. In education we often talk about change, transforming pedagogical practices, adding new technology, trying new apps. However, in the end, if our decisions don’t help improve learning, well-being or student engagement, are they really good decisions?

You see, there is great opportunity in learning and growing from others in your area, your state, or your country.  But imagine the even greater learning when you connect with someone from a different country or culture.  Not only does it help you grow, but it helps grow your worldview, your ideas and your experiences. It also reinforces what we tell our kids : learning happens beyond the school walls.

We can’t all travel the world and meet fascinating educators.  But social media has destroyed those boundaries and allowed us limitless opportunities to connect, learn, and grow together.

Every child on this Earth matters.  It doesn’t matter what country they’re coming from.  But it will take all of us; it will take every one of us, working together, to bring the best education possible to every child.

It won’t be easy and it won’t happen quickly, but if we keep tearing down walls and collaborating, one by one, we will all make it happen. Because in the end #KidsDeserveIt.

Friday, December 9, 2016

7 MORE Educators Worth Following #KidsDeserveIt

About a week or so ago I wrote a blog post called "10 Educators Worth Following".  It took off like wild fire. My goal in writing that post was just to introduce readers of my blog to 10 people they probably weren't following, that are sharing great info online and doing exceptional things in education.  It did so well that I wanted to introduce you to 7 more people you probably aren't following, but in my opinion should be!

Roman Nowak is an educator in Canada.  I had the pleasure of meeting Roman face to face a few weeks ago.  This guy is the real deal.  He's creative, out of the box, extremely passionate, and really pushing to instigate great change.  He is someone that has pushed my thinking, helped me grow, and continually is an encourager.  I can't recommend this follow enough! (**yes some of Roman's tweets are in French, but he still shares some great stuff!)

Where do I even begin with Adam Dovico.  Adam is someone I have looked up to for years.  He used to teach at the Ron Clark Academy, he wrote the must-read INCREDIBLE book "Inside the Trenches", and he even co-founded @ROCKmathEd.  He is a phenomenal individual who I have learned a great deal from.  He's also got one of the biggest hearts for kids. I love learning from Adam.

Chad Arnett is an educator in Ohio.  I absolutely love learning from the things Chad shares as well as the activities he's constantly attempting.  Chad has been dipping is toe more and more into Twitter and would be a great "up-and-comer" to connect with!  He's also quite the Walt Disney fanatic!

Jofee is an elementary Principal and quite the amazing one at that.  I have had the pleasure of meeting her face to face and I can tell you she was super sweet, encouraging, and full of passion and ideas.  Jofee is someone that is always bragging about the teachers and kids that she works with.  I love that!

Ike Ramos was recently a guest on our Kids Deserve It show.  I was blown away by the talents and passion of this man.  He was a great guy to talk to and hear about his philosophies of learning and education.  He's also quite the rapper and does a lot of work with Flocabulary!  I love seeing what Ike is up to and sharing about.

Sean McComb is a force to be reckonwed with. He is a champion for teachers and students alike.  Oh, did I mention he was also the NATIONAL teacher of the year in 2014?  Sean is passionate beyond belief and someone I greatly look up to.  Sean pushes my thinking and makes me want to be better every single day.

Kharmia Richards is an educator in Texas!  She is a powerhouse.  She is funny, smart, and passionate about kids and education. Kharima shares so many great resources and ideas and is always trying to push thinking in all educators.  I love what Kharima shares!

So there you go, 7 extra people I think are worth a follow!

Remembering My Why #KidsDeserveIt

If you were to ask someone what the job of an educator is in today's world, I'm sure they would say something to the affect of "Their job is to teach our kids what they need to know so they can pass that test, or go to college, or get a job".

But for anyone who's been in education very long, you know our jobs are so much more than that.  In addition to the job we have of educating a child with the standards required for that grade level, many times we also: become surrogate parents, buy clothes/food for our students, teach them how to become good citizens, organize after school events, before school events, attend extracurricular activities....oh and somewhere in there we try to still have a life too.

Thursday evening I was reminded of just what we really do as educators.

Thursday evening was our annual Family Holiday Night at my Elementary School.  This a fundraiser put on by our Parent/Teacher Organization.  Kids and families can come for a night of games, pictures with Santa, and then a Holiday Movie with pizza and popcorn.  It's always a great event!

The night went off without a hitch! We had a great crowd!

After making sure all the families had left, I went up to the front to grab my things and lock my office.  After grabbing my stuff, I made sure the front doors of the school were locked (as I always park in the back and sometimes forget to check!).

When I was making my way back through the office to head to the back doors, I saw one of our 5th graders asleep on our office couch.  I knew right away who it was.  This little boy was one we see quite often in the office.  He's a young man that we have invested in for several years now.  As soon as I saw him there I knew what had happened.

You see, at 3pm earlier that day he had stopped by my office to ask if he could come to the Family Night even if he didn't come with family and if he didn't have a ride home.  I knew his family wouldn't be there.  So I reminded him that we have to come with an adult or we can't stay if we don't have a ride.  He said ok, and walked away.

When I saw him asleep on the couch I knew what he had done.  He wanted to so badly to be at school, instead of somewhere else, that he stayed after, attended the family night and then fell asleep in the office on the couch.  And the worst part? He didn't stay to see students who were his friends, he stayed to see his friends, the teachers.

I gently woke him up and told him it was time to go.  Knowing I couldn't just leave him there, I grabbed his backpack and told him he was gonna get a ride home from me.  I checked him with again to make sure no one was coming, just to be sure. And of course the answer was, no.

This young man doesn't say a lot at school.  One of the things he struggles with is using his words when he gets frustrated or overwhelmed.  So as we walked to the car, we walked in silence.  

I already knew where he lived because I've made several home visits over the last few years.

Once we got to his apartment, he sat in my car.  I let him know we were home, and that I would see him tomorrow morning bright and early.  He turned, looked right at me, and said "Thank you for taking me home Mr. Nesloney".

I almost lost it right there.  This young man doesn't always choose to have that kind of attitude or use those kind of words.  But as he got out of my car, and walked towards his door I was reminded of one simple fact.....

As educators our job is so much more than to prepare a child to pass a course, a grade-level, or a test.  As educators we get the opportunity every day to touch and change lives.  We get to invest in hearts as well as minds.  We get to hold kids as they cry, sneak off to Wal-Mart to buy a new pair of shoes for a little girl with holes in hers, slip an extra $10 in the little boy's lunch account so he doesn't eat a cheese sandwich that day, go to their football game because they off-handedly told you no one else would be there, and more.

As I drove home, after dropping him off, I was filled with a mix of emotions.  I was heartbroken for so many of our kids who come to school just to be loved.  But at the same time I was hopeful, because I know my team is filled with people who would have done exactly what I had done (and have before) without a second thought.

When people ask why I'm in education, when they ask why I work with kids from poverty when I could be in an "easier" area, when people ask why I stay in the district I'm in, I will look back at this moment and remember my why.  That one little boy that I was able to drive home and show an act of kindness to.  That is why I'm in education, because our kids need us.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

The Forest For the Trees #KidsDeserveIt

I'm sure you've heard of that saying of "you can't see the forest for the trees".  I have heard it before, but this week it was spoken to me by someone I greatly respect and reminded me of something.

Sometimes we get so deep into things as an educator....the grading, lesson planning, parent meetings/phone calls, assessments, data, behavior concerns, and so much more.  Those things are a real every day part of our lives as educators.  But sometimes those things can consume us so much that all we see is what's right in front of us: the trees.  And we lose sight that there's a whole forest out there.

I'm so often guilty of this.  I was being really down on some things that I was trying to accomplish on my own and with the help of others.  I was asking my advisor, "Am I doing ok" and "Am I doing enough" and "I feel like I'm getting it all wrong".

That's when she looked at me and said, "Todd, you can't see the forest for the trees".  She reminded me that sometimes we need someone in our lives to grab us by the shoulders, look into our eyes, and say STOP.

To say, take a step back.  Look at the big picture for a moment.  Realize that what you're doing matters.  What you're doing IS making an impact.

And it lead me into another revelation....I have two friends who I talk to on a daily basis.  Two friends who are absolutely FANTASTIC educators.  One is in a "newer" position outside of the classroom (but still in education) and one is dealing with their first year in the classroom, period!

I talk to them, and hear the incredible work their doing, and am blown away time and time again.  Yet every time I tell them how great they are or how I'm stealing one of their ideas, they say things like "It's really not that great" or "I could be doing better" or "I'm not as great as _________".

Every time I'm blown away.  How can these two not see how fantastic they are? How can they not see how they're twice the educator I was at that point in my career.  I admire their work and steal their ideas on a daily basis.

And I was reminded this week that I tend to be the same way.  I feel like my stuff is junk when I see the greatness of others.  I feel like a failure, like someone who really shouldn't be sharing ideas out there because there are voices that are stronger than mine.  Ideas that are more creative then mine.

I realized I had to stop.  I had to stop doubting the gifts I had been given. I had to start believing my voice held worth.

It's funny to say that when I've had some great experiences and opportunities in my life. Heck I even co-wrote a book!

But yes, doubt and self-worth are two things I am working on, on a daily basis. Some days I do a much better job at it than others.

But I write this to share my side.  To show that we all deal with doubt, insecurities, and getting lost in the trees.

When we focus so much on that tree right in front of us, we can lose sight of the forest.  We can lose sight of the bigger picture.

So today, I choose to rest in the fact that I come to work and give everything I have, every day, for these kids. Some days I am a success, and other days I am not. But each day I will go to bed knowing that tomorrow, I will wake up again and try again.  These kids need us to own our genius (as Angela Maiers says) and to bring our best for them every day.

Don't get lost in the trees. Step back and enjoy the beauty of the forest.

Friday, December 2, 2016

12 Educators Worth Following on Twitter #KidsDeserveIt

Every so often I love to use the platform I have to recognize other educators in our field.  I have learned so much through tools like Twitter.  But those tools are only as good as the people you choose to surround yourself with!

These are some educators online who I think have some great resources, ideas, and just flat out big hearts for kids! I hope you show them some love and follow, interact, and learn alongside them!

Jordan is a first year, 3rd Grade teacher in Missouri.  Jordan is dynamite.  He is creative, energetic, and always trying new things for his kids.  And what's better? He's a first year teacher!!!  He is trying to build his PLN online and is sharing things he's doing in his classroom.  Jordan is a definite must follow as I'm sure he's going to be "one to watch" with some of the things he's doing in the classroom.

Nate is a 7th grade teacher in Indiana.  I had the pleasure of meeting Nate a year or so ago when he was JUST getting started on social media.  Nate is a huge encourager and passionate about truly doing what's best for kids.  He's full of great ideas and is someone I would definitely recommend following.

Teresa is a Middle School teacher in New York!  Teresa is a powerhouse.  She is excited about kids and learning but just as excited about sharing that with the world at large.  Teresa is someone who is active online and wants to connect, learn, and grow.

Keith is an elementary Principal in Florida.  Where do I even begin with Keith?  He is always going above and beyond for his students and teachers.  He's got an INCREDIBLE TEDx Talk and is always sharing.  He wears costumes, plays with kids, and isn't afraid of stepping outside of the box.  Keith teaches me something every single day.

Shaina is an educator in Texas.  Shaina is someone who's super passionate about technology and using tech with kids to have them create!  She shares countless great ideas and always has me checking her feed to see what's new in EdTech.

Tom Spall is an Instructional Technologist in Texas. Like Shaina, I view Tom as a leading voice in what's happening in Google and EdTech.  Tom is funny, active, and always willing to lend a helping hand to help you.  He's got great ideas and is coming up with things I would have never imagined! I love learning from Tom.

Like Jordan, Ciji is fairly new to Twitter.  I have come across her tweets recently in different feeds and I have really enjoyed them. Ciji is super encouraging, and shares some awesome things going on at her school as well as just encouraging things in general.  Ciji is another "one to watch"!

Julie is a Reading teacher in Texas.  Julie's passion for what she does shines through on her Twitter feed.  She is constantly sharing the greatness going on in her classroom and online. Julie is also one who will connect and learn alongside you.  She puts herself out there and wants to continually be growing.

Matthew is an Elementary Principal in Illinois.  Matthew is another active user of Twitter and one that loves amplifying others.  He's constantly sharing great links, sharing his own thoughts, and sharing encouraging messages.  I love checking out his feed!

Amy is an Instructional Coach in Texas.  What I love about Amy, besides that fact that like the others on this list she's always sharing her ideas, is that Amy isn't afraid to learn from others.  Amy sent me a DM one day asking to come hang out at my school....with 6 of her colleagues.  She came asked questions, interacted, persicoped, and more.  I love when people step out and learn from others, but Amy really is the real deal.  She is constantly sharing great ideas!

Of course, I have my buddy Chris Pombonyo.  Chris is a PHENOMENAL teacher!  The things he does in his class blow me away.  He is so passionate about doing what's best for kids and loves sharing out his ideas on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.  He's full of energy and has already been recognized by some pretty great organizations for the work he's done! Chris is def one to connect with.

Dana is an award winning elementary Principal in Texas.  Dana is one of the kindest people.  I had the pleasure of very briefly meeting her in June, but have followed her online since.  She is doing amazing things at her school and for kids.  She is passionate about change and is someone I strive to be more like!

So there you go! There are 12 people I am really loving learning from right now! Great people to check out, follow, and connect with!

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Let's Be Thankful #KidsDeserveIt

Thanksgiving.  That time of the year when we take just a little more time to think of things we're thankful for.  As I was making a list of things I was thankful for, our students kept coming to my mind.  And how we could view so many of them as having trouble making a thankful list, but in reality, they're able to notice the "little" things so much better than us sometimes.

I was having a conversation with a student this week about her behavior.  She's a tough cookie. She's been a "project" of ours for about the last year or more.  She's got a lot of pain built up in her life, and that sometimes comes out of her in the most unfriendly ways.

As she had another episode, I pulled her into my office.  I asked her what was going on, and of course she didn't want to talk about it.  She never does.

So I tried a different approach.  We have three staff members in particular who are working or have worked a LOT with her to get her in a better place.  I told her how much her teacher loves her, I told
her how much our assistant principal loves her, and then I told her how much her teacher from last year loves her.  Because truly, they care about her so much.

Then I told her, that the way she treats those who care about her, hurts them.  And that some people can only take so much of someone being hateful to them before they throw their hands up.  Before they walk away.  Before they say "I've tried everything and I just don't know what else to do".  Before they say, "Does she hate me??" We've all felt that way before about a student or loved one.

And for the first time ever, I saw something different in her.  She looked at me and said "I don't hate them.  I love them a lot too."

What?!?  I had never heard her say that about anyone.

And she sat with me in my office and she cried, with me.  We talked about how our emotions can sometimes get the better of us.  It happens to all of us at one point or another.

But we can't let our emotions control us all the time.  We can't let our hurt, our anger, our pain, push others away just because we choose to lash out at those we love.

We talked about how it's ok to be angry.  It's ok to struggle with work or friends.  It's ok to want to cry.

But we have to verbalize those emotions.  We have to ask for help.  We have to show that we're trying to change and be better.

Did I truly get through to this child? Who really knows.  Only time will tell. And I know she'll lash out in anger/pain again.  But maybe, just maybe she can see a little more that we care about her so very much.  That we want to help her, to be a part of her life, to walk with her down this road.

I tie that into Thanksgiving because I am so thankful to have the job I do.  I am so thankful to work with kids that come to us broken in a thousand pieces, hoping to find someone with a little glue and time to help them put the pieces back together again.

Teaching is a special profession.  It's not something I feel I have to do, but I get to do.

And I am so incredibly thankful to work alongside people like YOU every day.  People who pour their heart, soul, time, blood, sweat, tears into these kids.

People who are more than just educators.  People who are life changers.

Our job isn't easy.  Our job doesn't always feel rewarding every day.  But I am thankful you walk alongside me with these kids.  That you jump off the ledge with me.  That you take risks, love deeply, and keep pushing yourselves.

I am thankful for our parents we have how are doing the best they possibly can to raise their children.  I am thankful for our district administration who makes decisions they feel are for the betterment of kids.  I am thankful for our own personal families who deal with our tears and time away from home because we love what we do.

Thank YOU for what you do.  There is no way I could ever express how needed and appreciated you are.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Some Have No One Else #KidsDeserveIt

This week I was reminded of the simple fact that we have children at our school that have no one else.  That we're they're only one. The only one who encourages them, celebrates them, believes in them.

I have students come into my office every day for "Hats Off" calls to celebrate them.  Friday something different happened.  I had called home to celebrate a third grader who struggles with school quite often.  He was so excited about his "Hats Off" card.  As we called mom (and had her on speaker phone), I told her the great reasons why I was calling home and how proud of her son we were.  I then asked her, as I do every parent, if she'd like to talk to her son to celebrate him too.  Her response? "No, that's ok. I can talk to him later if I feel like it".

Wow.  Did I mention she was on speaker phone? And her son heard the whole exchange.  I watched this little boy lose all sense of excitement and instead put his head down.  It broke my heart.

But it was a reminder.  A reminder that our kids come from homes where they aren't always taught of their worth and value. And socioeconomic status doesn't always play a part.  These kids come from home full of monetary wealth and homes devoid of any material things.  Kids are kids.

It was a reminder for me to hug our kiddos a little tighter.  To give a few more high fives.  To dance a little more.  To laugh as much as possible.  To celebrate every single moment.  For we may be the only way celebrating that challenge and I want to be the pebble in that child's pond of life where ripples are felt for years to come.

Remember this next week, as we get closer and closer to the Holidays, that the holidays aren't happy experiences for all of our students.  Some dread those days where they have to be at home instead of being at school.  And because of that fear and dread they will act out in different ways.

We have to have a big enough heart to love them anyway.  To forgive them time and time again.  To wrap them in compassion, patience, and honesty.  We have to show them we aren't going anywhere, we aren't going to abandon or give up on them, and we love them so very much.  Because we might be the only one.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Learning from Others #KidsDeserveIt

This past week I had the experience of visiting a friend's school and seeing what they were up to.  I've always been a believer in connecting with others online and learning from and with them. But that is only a piece of the puzzle.  To truly learn from someone you have to see them in action!

Time and time again, I have learned so much more from personal visits to schools rather than conferences, webinars, and trainings.

This week I was able to spend a day at Brad Gustafson's (@GustafsonBrad) school in Minnesota.  Brad and I have been friends for years and talk on a daily basis.  Brad (and Ben Gilpin) have been my constant source of encouragement and coaching as I've entered this administrative world.  I met Brad on Twitter, and over the last couple of years through Twitter and Voxer we've become great friends. Our wives are even good friends now and we have traveled together on several occasions.

It's one thing to hear about things someone says is happening at their school.  It's another to see it in action, especially since Brad was just recently awarded the National Distinguished Principal for Minnesota.

I was so impressed with many things I saw.  From the student work posted everywhere, the amount of teachers trying innovative seating/classroom design options, to the clear focus on literacy (student AND teachers advertising what they're reading), to the friendly little touches such as the welcome mats and signage.  It was a great day with lots of learning.

I share all of this to remind and encourage you of the power of connecting with others.  I always say "no matter where you work and how talented the people are that you work with, your ideas are still limited to the four walls".  Putting yourself out there and connecting on sites like Twitter really does expand your learning and opens doors like nothing else.  Then when you can push those "twitter" connections to the next level, and make face to face learning happen, it's a whole new ball game!

Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Words We Choose #KidsDeserveIt

Every one of us know what is feels like when someone shows interest in who we are as a person.  When they truly care.  Each of us also know what it feels like when someone says something hurtful that feels like it cuts us to the core.

Our words are powerful.  Aldous Huxley once said "Words can be like X-Rays if you use them properly -- they'll go through anything. You read and you're pierced."

I have a friend who I met 8 years ago.  His name is Sergio.  He was staying with a family friend of mine as part of a foreign exchange program.  It was his very first time in a country other than his own (Venezuela).  He knew no one. He knew no English.  When you're thrown into an environment like that, it's terrifying.  Sergio quickly learned English though (he really had no other choice!)  Sergio and I, for whatever reason, also became quick friends.  He made it through his year of the Exchange Program and afterwards I went out and spent 3 weeks with his family in Venezuela and experienced a taste of what life was like for him, where no one spoke the language I spoke.

It's been eight years, but Sergio and I finally were reunited this week.  It was like not a moment had passed.  We laughed, we learned each other's languages again, and we had a great time.  It was then that I sat with Sergio as we were reminiscing.  I asked him how exactly we had become friends.  His response hit me and was the reason for the the title of this post.  He said "When I came to this country everyone treated me differently.  I was different.  Some thought I was dumb because I couldn't speak English.  Some people talked to me really slow.  But after being here for a few weeks, you were the first person who asked about me.  Who tried to speak my language and get to know the real me.  What I liked, what I didn't like, about my family.  You really cared."

That simple statement reminded me of how powerful our words truly are.

Our words can build up.  They can connect us, change our lives, and develop friendships we would have never expected.  But as I've seen in my own life and the lives of others, words can destroy to.  They can place mistrust, they can destroy reputations, they can cut you all the way to the bone where you wonder if you will ever heal from the hate that was thrown at you.

Every day we come into contact with others we have a choice with how we use our words.  Whether it's in what we say, the look on our face, of our body language.  Those are all forms of communication.

This week I encourage you to think about the words you're using with your students, your co-workers, and your families.  Let's be extra cognizant about the words we choose.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

When We Choose to Serve #KidsDeserveIt

So many times I have seen how much our jobs are like those of servant leaders.  We must continually give of ourselves day after day not only to our students, but to their families, our co-workers, and our own families.

Because of how our jobs so easily look like servant leadership I think sometimes we forget that, as good people, we still need to serve others in different ways than just teaching and giving up of time.

This week I was able to help serve food in the cafeteria.  It was something that had been on my "to-do" list for a while.  Monday evening and Tuesday morning before work I took an hour and a half "Safe Food Handler" course and then a 40 question test.  I passed and got certified to handle food!

It was such a joy to serve next to our hard working cafeteria ladies as they serve our students every day, many many many times thanklessly.  I loved the looks on kids faces.  My favorite quote of the day? "Mr. Nesloney, do you still work as our principal or were you fired?"

With the world we live in today, especially with the way our future political leaders act, it is so much more important now that we show compassion and servant hearts towards all.  So often our custodial or cafeteria staff are viewed as "less than" the rest of our school family.  I wanted to show our students that we can stand next to anyone, regardless of stature, race, viewpoints, whatever and still do something good.

I don't share this as a "woah look at me!" story.  There are numerous instances on a daily basis where I haven't served in the way that I should have.  Where I haven't set the example I know I wanted to set.  But life is about learning.  It's about growing.  And it's about continually finding ways to get better.

So my challenge for you this week is to find someone to serve.  Find someone you can give up some of our resources or time to help, to stand next to and work alongside of.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Leave it in Your Car #KidsDeserveIt

Every day when we come to work, we have a choice.  That choice looks very simple on paper, but in reality it isn't quite that easy.

What is that choice?  That choice is to come to work with all of our baggage or to leave it in our car.

Our students show up to school every day with their own pain.  The absence of a parent and they have to take on the adult responsibilities, the cycle of physical/emotional/sexual abuse at home, the fear of the electricity or water being turned off again, gangs down the street, drugs sold out on the front porch, family member arrested again, little brother sick and no money to get medicine, drunk parent coming home late again, and so on and so on.

When our kids come to school they come longing for a safe place.  A place where they feel loved, appreciated, and wanted.  A place where the monsters go back under the bed for a little while.

They long for a place where they can escape the harsh realities they're forced to live in outside of school hours.

And sometimes they come into a school (or a classroom) where the adults haven't left their own baggage in the car.

Buildings (or classrooms) where they employees are angry and take it out on their students.  A classroom where they teacher never smiles.  A classroom where students are told to sit down, shut up, and do their work.

As adults we all have bad days.  And some of us have more bad days than others.  I am by no means saying that you don't lean on your school family. You do! Go into a colleagues room and just sit and talk and cry.  Go into the office and find a quite space to be alone for a little.  Take a walk around the building to clear your head. All of that is ok!  We all need our "moments".

But what we have to remember, what we can never do, is bring our personal baggage into the classroom.  When we walk into that room, all of our own personal things disappear, and we have to be there completely for those kiddos. And sometimes we have to "fake it til we make it" and put that smile on and bring the energy regardless.  Our kids deserve to have the best, most encouraging, and safest place in the world when they enter your room.

Let's make this week awesome for our kids! #KidsDeserveIt

Sunday, September 18, 2016

When Doubt Creeps In #KidsDeserveIt

Something I wrote about in "Kids Deserve It!" is the feeling of doubt. The wondering if you're good enough.  Every one of us at one point or time doubts our gifts, talents, and abilities.  We wonder if we're in the right job.  If we really know what we're doing.

Sometimes that doubt comes from our own insecurities and sometimes it comes from the words of others and sometimes it comes from a failure we've experienced.

The truth is, we all deal with doubt.  Just like darkness, doubt can creep into our beliefs and begin to control the way we feel about ourselves.  It then affects our actions and those around us.

I could list off a million times where I doubted my gifts.  When I had to have a parent teacher conference and the parent ripped me a new one.  When a kid told me they'd rather be in any other class in the world except mine.  When a teacher told me I was a terrible leader.  When every single person on my campus worked their butts off, and we showed growth, but it still wasn't enough.

Doubt creeps into all of us.  It can break our hearts and our spirits if we let it.
So how do we deal with doubt?  I believe we face it head on.  

Here's a few ways I try not to succumb to doubt:

1.  Make a list of the things you know you're good at doing.

2.  Go to trusted friends/coworkers/colleagues and ask them for support and encouragement.

3. Write notes of encouragement to someone else.  When you lift up others it lifts you up as well.

4.  Spend time with kids, doing kid things. The sense of wonder, forgiveness, imagination that can only be found in a child is remarkable.  Many times as a teacher I gave up my conference period to go sit in a kindergarten classroom or go to PE with my kids just to change my mindset.

5.  And finally, remember.  Remember that you are here for a reason.  That you were placed into the position you're in for a reason.  We never see the rainbows without the storms. Those are what help us grow in our profession and in our personal lives the most.

Remember this week as doubt closes in that you are enough.  That you are important.  That you are valued.

Remember that we can do anything we set our mind to.  That the easy path was never one we wanted to go down.  We learn most from our struggles and trails, and that TOGETHER we can get through this.

So this week, lean on a co-worker or one of us in the office.  Ask for help, relief, a hug, whatever.  Write notes to others reminding them of their worth.

But most of all, spend time with those kids, just being a kid.  Play at Recess, go to PE, sit for 10 minutes in a grade level that isn't yours, eat lunch in the midst of the kids.  Release some of that stress and just be a kid again.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Pilot is the Last Off #KidsDeserveIt

I just returned from watching the movie "Sully" about the Miracle on the Hudson.  For those of you unfamiliar with the events from several years ago....a plane was taking off from NYC and while ascending it hit a flock of birds.  The birds took out both plane engines.  While deciding if he could turn around and land at the airport, the pilot Chesley Sullenberger, determined he couldn't make it and instead made the decision to do an emergency landing in the Hudson River.  All 155 passengers and crew survived.

While watching the movie and seeing the kind of leader that Captain Sully was in that instance I couldn't stop thinking about education administrators and the parallels.  Here were some of the things that stuck out to me.

1. The pilot always remains calm.  Every leader knows there are days that are more stressful than others.  But even in the midst of a crashing airplane, Captain Sully remained calm and collected.  He trusted in his instinct and did what needed to be done to protect those onboard.  As leaders we must do the same. Though I struggle with always remaining calm in heated moments, I know how important it is that we do.  Our team needs to know that it will all be ok.  That together we can do this.  That the leader has things together enough that others have a little more hope in what's coming as well.  For when the leader doesn't remain calm, the whole plane goes crazy.

2.  The pilot knows it's not all about him/her.  Again and again Captain Sully gives credit to his entire crew and to all the emergency responders, Ferry Employees, NYPD, and more for saving all 155 souls aboard that plane.  He never takes credit.  Good leaders do the same.  They know that for this thing called "school" to work it takes every single piece working together.  The custodians play just as of an important roll as the teachers, the nurse, the front desk reception, the cafeteria workers, the librarian, and so on.  As soon as a leader claims credit for the success of a school, you know that leader has no clue about what's going on.  We must work together and give credit the entire team, every part, when success is reached.

3.  The pilot is more concerned about others than himself.  One thing that stuck out to me greatly was the Captain's concern for all aboard the plane.  As soon as they were rescued, all he cared about was how many were alive.  How many survived? Where were they? Who was hurt?  He knew he had 155 souls on board.  He wanted to know if they were ok.  A leader must care so deeply about the people he/she is left in charge of.  They must check in on them, take care of them, hurt alongside them, and seek to help them.  If a leader is to lead they must know what's going on with their crew.

4.  The pilot answers the hard questions.  Throughout the movie, Captain Sully is continually questioned about the decisions he made when deciding on an emergency water landing.  His integrity is questioned, his demeanor, even his past.  As administrative leaders it is the same.  In the end we must answer to what happens in our school building.  When a fire breaks out, when a child is hurt on the playground, when someone is caught destroying property or stealing, and more.  The leader must answer to what has happened under his/her watch and what decisions were made after.  And often times, the leader must answer those questions in a closed room and cannot share his/her responses with the public at large.  That is probably the hardest part.  When a leader must answer to things that have happened, but cannot share with his/her staff what went on behind closed doors.  But leaders must.  They must be ready to answer the hard questions and stand behind the decisions they make.

5.  The pilot is the last off.  In the movie Captain Sully makes sure all of the passengers and crew are off the sinking plane before he decides to exit.  He wades through freezing water just to check every last seat.  In education, as leaders we must do the same.  We must continually check in to make sure everyone is where they need to be and is safe and sound.  We check on the kids, we check on the staff, sometimes we even check in on the parents.  Those bodies in that school building are, in the end, our responsibility, and a good leader makes sure that they're all taken care of before he/she disembarks.

There are so many other reminders that I took from this movie as well, but those are my top 5.  I hope to be even half the leader that Captain Sully was and still is.  I hope to lead with a calm strength, to take care of and care deeply about my crew, to answer the hard questions, and to always be the last one off the plane.

Though I have lots of work to do in becoming that leader, I know that every day I am growing just a little bit more.  If you've seen the movie too I would love to know what may have stuck out to you the most!

The Light and the Dark #KidsDeserveIt

The metaphor of darkness and light has always been a powerful one for me.  The whole idea that darkness seems all encompassing.  Like it is suffocating.  Like you can't escape it or that it's weighing heavy.  But then, with even the tiniest spark or flame, darkness runs.  It clears the way.  It doesn't take a lot, it doesn't take huge effort.

I think about that and tie it in with our jobs as teachers.  There can be a lot of darkness in our profession.  Looming deadlines, overwhelming work loads and expectations, upset parents, disobedient kids, difficult co-workers, and so much more.  And sometimes that darkness feels overwhelming.  Sometimes it feels like it's suffocating us.

But in those moments when darkness surrounds us, we have to choose to be the light.  We have to choose to strike the match or be the spark that sends darkness away.  We have to find that hope we can cling to, those people who will surround us with their own flames.  Darkness will overtake us if we let it.....or we can choose to be the light, not only for ourselves but for someone else as well.

One important way I see us being the light is by what we share online.  A family member came up to me a few weeks ago to vent about "all you people in education".  She told me that "I can't stand when I see a teacher complaining about something on Facebook. They choose that career, they work with KIDS for goodness sake.  If I were to complain about something with my job, my boss would call me and write me up or fire me, but I see it from teachers all the time."

That really hit me.  Even this week I saw teachers from all over the country who were complaining about things from their job on Facebook.  "The kids were crazy today"...."I felt so disrespected at work"......"I hate all this paperwork I have to do as a teacher, why can't I just teach??".....and you know what? Those are REAL and VALID complaints! They are! But think of the message we're sending to the world at large when we get on social media and complain about a job where we impact lives.  What kind of message are we sending? How would you feel, as a parent, if you saw your child's caretakers complaining about all they have to do to take care of your child?

We have to think twice.  We have to make sure we're spreading the light, not the darkness.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Day the Pirate Surprised #WebbElem #KidsDeserveIt

Every chance I get, I talk about the power of social media.  I tell people the value in getting connected, sharing your story, learning from and with others from around the world.  I still get that "alien look" (like we talk about in "Kids Deserve It").  I still get those eye rolls, huffing and puffing, and those 'I'll never do that' comments.

But yet again, Monday was another example of why I choose to be a connected educator.

Monday was our first day of the new school year with kids.  We were so excited.  We were ready.  Because if you remember back in May, I wrote about how we didn't get a last day of school with kids.

The first day went AMAZING!  My team killed it with the excitement and bonding with kids.  There were smiles, hugs, and high fives everywhere.  It was a pretty perfect day (besides a few arrival or dismissal hiccups, like every school haha).

But the epic part came at the very end of the day.

You see, I do car rider duty every day.  So I was outside, in the HOT Texas heat, in the middle of two lanes of cars, directing first day car rider traffic.  Then, out of nowhere, I see a guy walking up to me.  Immediately I knew who it was DAVE BURGESS!

I remember the first words out of my mouth were "what?!?  What are you doing here?!??"

And I remember looking around and my teachers were all freaking out because they knew who he was too.

You see, Dave was traveling through Texas from one city to another, passed by a sign that said Navasota, knew I worked there, so he pulled over, looked up the address of the school, and decided to do a surprise drop in.

It's also worth it to note that I've known Dave for a little over 4 years now.  I followed Dave on social media because of reading his book "Teach Like A Pirate", then I was able to meet him while I was at an event in San Diego, and from there we've grabbed dinner a couple times, chatted over social media and the phone a bunch....oh....and he published my first full fledged book "Kids Deserve It" with Adam Welcome :-)

Well after getting over the shock that Dave was at my school, I begged him to stay about 30 minutes because we always do a quick "end of the first day; we survived!" staff meeting.  Of course being Dave, he said yes, and he was able to meet my whole team and even share a magic trick or two.

I share this story first of to show everyone how much of a great guy Dave is.  But I also share this story to share another example of the power of being a connected educator.  I would have never been connected with Dave, much less having him surprise my school, if I had never taken the leap on social media.

And now because of that act of bravery of putting myself out there, not only did I get a surprise visit, but my whole staff got to experience a little of the awesomeness as well.

It truly was the perfect ending to an incredible first day of school.

Can't wait to see what happens next!  As our theme this year states, "Let the Adventure Begin!"

Here's a video Dave made of his visit to Webb....

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Jesus, Friend of Sinners #KidsDeserveIt

There have been a select few posts I've written over the years that have addressed my faith more blatantly than others. As an educator and blogger, I've tried to walk the line of sharing without beating over the head.  Of allowing things to come out as they may.  My faith is a part of me and not something I hide, but it's also not something I shove down anyone's throat.

The last 6 months have been an extreme roller coaster in my life.  From the release of my first book, to the loss of 3 close friends and/or family members, to so much more I can't even put into words here.

And then I've watched the horrific events that have taken place around the world, this last year especially.  Because I have chosen to connect with others from around the world, I've been aware of horrific monstrosities for a while now.  But because of how prevalent things have become, even someone with their head completely in the sand knows about the pain that surrounds all of us.

Then there's the election.  No matter what side you're on, or where you sit politically, I think we can all agree this presidential election year has shown it's ugly side.  We've seen the mudslinging and name calling before in elections, but this year it's different.  This year it feels so much more....personal.

As I've written about several times recently, music is my calming force.  Music is what helps me heal.  On the way to work this morning, the song that came across my phone was "Jesus, Friend of Sinners" by Casting Crowns.  As I was reminded of the words to this song, I just sat and wept.  Truly wept.

So today, I wanted to share some of the things that stuck out to me. And yes, more than normal, there is a heavy religious slant to this post.  But, regardless of your beliefs, Jesus was a man who set great examples and shared great stories for us that we can and still do use today.

And before I begin I wanted to define this word "sinner".  So many take offense to that word.  The dictionary defines sinner as, "someone who violates a law, command, moral code, etc".

Jesus, friend of sinners, the truth's become so hard to see
The world is on their way to You but they're tripping over me
Always looking around but never looking up I'm so double minded
A plank eyed saint with dirty hands and a heart divided

I love how the song starts this way. It starts personal. It addresses the fact that we have to look at ourselves before we can even begin to think of looking at others.

I think about myself personally.  The times I've lost patience, lost hope, yelled, said something mean, talked about someone, made a poor decision even when I knew what the right decision was.

I think about how many times I let my pride get in the way.  I let my fear control my actions.  Sometimes the biggest person that stands in the way of the light, is us.

And I have to daily, if not moment by moment, look at myself and decide if the actions I'm taking, the words I'm speaking, and the thoughts I'm thinking are reflective of my faith.

Oh Jesus, friend of sinners
Open our eyes to the world at the end of our pointing fingers
Let our hearts be led by mercy
Help us reach with open hearts and open doors
Oh Jesus, friend of sinners, break our hearts for what breaks yours

Let our hearts be led by mercy.  I love that.  The idea of giving someone mercy even when they don't deserve it.  Because I promise you, I don't always deserve mercy.

And the words "Help us reach with open hearts and open doors" and "break our hear for what breaks yours"....that just chokes me up every single time.  We have to keep our doors and our hearts open so that we can be there to when someone needs us to be.  And we have to also be empathetic.  We have to allow our hearts to break alongside others and see the pain, feel the pain, and help lead to healing.

Jesus, friend of sinners, the one who's writing in the sand
Made the righteous turn away and the stones fall from their hands
Help us to remember we are all the least of these

In the bible, there's a story about a stoning.  And Jesus stops, kneels down, and writes something in the sand.  The bible never says what he writes in the sand, but after writing it, the people drop their stones and walk away.

So many times in situations we want to pick up that first stone and throw it.  Because we believe that person deserves it.  But we have to remember that we are the least of these.  That we aren't, and never will be, better that those around us.  Every one of us makes decisions and choices that are less than worthy.

Nobody knows what we're for only what we're against when we judge the wounded
What if we put down our signs crossed over the lines and loved like You did

This is to me, one of the most timely lines in the song. More and more these days we hear people complaining or picketing or revolting.  But just like these lyrics say, no one knows what we're for when we do that.  They're only reminded of what we're against.

We're given a great opportunity to put down our signs, put down our pitchforks, and stop yelling just long enough to cross over the lines and show love.  Show compassion.  Show forgiveness.

It won't always be accepted.  And even more so it won't be the popular option either.  But there was never been a hurt that's been healed in a protest.

You love every lost cause; you reach for the outcast
For the leper and the lame; they're the reason that You came
Lord I was that lost cause and I was the outcast
But you died for sinners just like me, a grateful leper at Your feet

I love that I believe in a Savior who came to save every lost cause. Every outcast.

As an educator now, I try to live by that.  I try to live a life of gratitude for the forgiveness I've been shown, but I also try to make sure to be and an extra voice or set of hands to those who are still outcast.  To those who are still lost and hurting and alone.

You are good, You are good and Your love endures forever
You are good, You are good and Your love endures forever
You are good, You are good and Your love endures forever

And finally these words.  These were the reminder I needed this morning.  That even when I don't understand, even when my heart feels shattered into a thousand pieces, that God is still good. 

That I will never truly understand why things happen the way they do.  But I don't have to.  I just have to trust and know that God's plan is perfect.  And even though I don't know why things happen the way they do, or what people hurt, or why there's war, famine, loss, and more.  I DO know that I have a God who loves me.  Who wants what's truly best for me.  

And sometimes we have to go through the storm to see the rainbow.  And in the midst of the storm, all we can see are the dark clouds, be drenched by the pouring rain, and have the thunder clapping in our ears.  But once it passes, once we make it through the storm, there's that rainbow that comes out on the other end.  That rainbow that's there to remind us beautiful things can come from darkness.

So today I share this song and this post with you in the hopes that it brings you a little comfort.  That it may bring you a little peace.  That may even remind you of what we can do when we love others the way we've been loved.