Saturday, January 30, 2016

It's Only 30 Minutes #KidsDeserveIt

I've always said that I believe January and February to be some of the hardest months of the school year.  It's getting over that hump into the spring, testing is kicking in (at least in Texas), behavior starts to escalate again, people are getting on other people's nerves, and you feel like there's way too much on your plate.

As an administrator now, and knowing what I know, I have to be aware of that when making decisions and asking for my teachers to help with things.

And I feel like it's also my job as a leader to be aware when stress exists and try to help ease or alleviate that stress.

Sometimes with things that I'm told I have to pass down to my staff, I don't get a lot of options about what I have to ask my team to do.  But you see, there ARE things I can do.

I have plans for something for our February staff meeting, but I'm not sharing those secrets yet haha.

BUT, I will share something I started this week, that I'm already seeing great results from....

Sometimes we just want someone to notice how hard we're working.  Sometimes we just need a minute, we just need a break.

As the leader, I have a lot of things I have to complete and do, but most importantly I have to take care of my team.  Those kids and my team are my number one priority.  Paperwork and other things can happen second.

So this week I started by selecting 7 "winners" and notifying them by email they were selected.

Within the email I let them know that this week was their special week.  They could select a 30 minute time period, that matched with my calendar, that I would come and cover their classes and give them a break.

Some chose the first 30 minutes of the day so they could show up late, some chose a period combined with their lunch to get an extended lunch, and others just chose a time that worked for them.  But the point was that I noticed they needed a break, and I stepped up to the plate and gave up my time to show them I noticed their hard work.

I did a bug lesson with Kindergarten, I read to PreK and worked in centers with them, I did a writing activity with 3rd grade, I helped give a test in 5th grade, I read to and taught a writing lesson to 4th grade, I helped 1st grade at recess and came inside to finish an assignment, and two teachers said they didn't need the break but appreciated the thought!

Did it require me to give up my own time where I needed to complete things?  Of course it did.  But I've always said that I was never going to be an administrator who left the classroom, so this "gift" from me also allowed me to get back into classrooms and have face time with kids as their "teacher".

I hear leaders tell me, "I can't give up that kind of time" or "My teachers would't take me up on it", but my response to that is that as the leader of this campus I have to give up my own time for the benefit of the team.  There are so many of my responsibilities that I can get done when kids aren't in the building, and in reality, when those kids are in the building I should be spending every moment I can working with them and the rest of the staff.

So when you notice the stress.  When you see that people aren't feeling noticed are heard for their frustrations or hard work, it's time to step up.  It doesn't have to be covering their classes, it can be something totally different.

But the way I look at it is, it's only 30 minutes.  And I loved every one of them.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

My Journey: Race, Economics, and White-Privilege #KidsDeserveIt

Inequality is something that has received more and more national attention lately.  From economic injustices, to racial prejudice, and so much more. From shootings, to marches, to court cases.  It's everywhere.  And it's something that is heavy on my soul.  Something that my personal journey has led me to.  So I wanted to take this place to share my thoughts, my story, my heart.

I'm white.  There's no denying that.  I grew up in a home of white middle-class parents.  From birth, my family was able to provide all my basic needs.  I was never denied a service when I went somewhere.  I wasn't stared at because I looked different or whispered about as I passed by.  Women didn't clutch their purses as I walked past them, I wasn't called racial slurs, I was able to

Growing up in southeast Texas though, I saw prejudice.  Especially racial-prejudice.  I just didn't know it at the time.  But, oh what I know now.

My parents divorced when I was leaving 6th grade.  I moved with  my single-mom to a new town.  A town a little more racially diverse.  I learned what it was like watching my mom struggle sometimes to make ends-meet.  To provide my brother and I with things we wanted or needed.  I saw fear of being able to put food on the table.  I learned about hard work.  I caught a glimpse, just a glimpse, of what it felt like to be "poor".

When I was little, I grew up around people who looked like me.  I often heard the n-word, derogatory names for Mexicans, hurtful terms used to describe the LGBT community, and more.  But the funny thing is I never found myself using the words.  Not once.  For whatever reason, I could sense the pain in those words and knew they'd never leave my mouth.

I share that background of myself first, to lead into who I've grown into as an adult.

I remember being in college, working to be a teacher, and being in a city that was filled with families who did not speak English.  I remember saying things like "if you're gonna live in this country you need to learn our language, ENGLISH!", "you shouldn't come over here if you're not willing to put forth energy to learn it", and so on.  I was convinced I was right.  I heard others backing me up, telling me they agreed, so why would I be wrong?

My how things have changed for me.

I remember my first eye opening experience was when I visited Venezuela for 3 weeks in 2009.  I went to visit a good friend of mine and stayed with his family.  It was my first trip out of the country.  And I was surrounded by people who didn't speak my language.  The only person I could comfortably communicate with was my friend.  No one else spoke English.  The first few days were ok, but then it became overwhelming.  Not being able to feel like I could express myself.  From that moment...something in me clicked.  Working with students where almost 40% of them were hispanic, I came back with a different appreciation and understanding.  Not a complete one, but a deeper one.

Then, I became a "connected educator" about 3 years or so ago.  I stepped outside of my realm of familiarity and my eyes were opened.  I connected with educators, students, thought leaders from around the world, and my eyes were opened.  I met people of all educational, racial, and socioeconomic backgrounds.   And I did more than talk, I listened.

I then started EduAllStars podcast (with my buddy Chris Kesler), and began interviewing game changes in education from all walks of lives and I heard their stories.

I think to me that made the biggest impact.  Stopping and listening to people, where they came from, what they fought through, the struggles they faced and still faced.

I remember talking with a Hispanic Principal and hearing him tell me that to this day, even with National Awards and World Wide recognition, he will still have parents call him a "stupid Mexican" or a "wet-back".

I remember talking with a teenager at an educational conference who told a small group of us what it was like being bullied because of his sexual-preference.  To see the incredible work he's done worldwide to help others, and the daily battle he himself still faced at school.

I listened to an African-American teacher tell me about how a parent of one of her students said she should teach his child because she was a "stupid n-word" (he used the word).

I sat in a room with a group of diverse kids and listened as they told me the hardest thing about school was that there weren't adults that looked like them.  That all their teachers were white, and often the felt like they didn't connect.

My heart broke.  It still breaks.  These stories aren't from years ago.  All four stories listed above are from the last 8 months.

I feel like we can do more.  I feel like we can work together more.  And I don't mean just one group.  I mean all of us.  Every single one of us has played a part in the way things are now, and it will take many of us to make a change.

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

I look around now and on the news see constant hatred still spread.  Telling us to kick people out of our country because of race or religion.  Telling us to shoot at or boycott cops because of skin color.  Telling us one person is better than another because of money, skin, religion, language.

I know I'm white.  I know I'm middle class.  I know, now, that there are privileges that have been afforded to me because of those things.  But I also understand more.  I also now am aware of those things, and being aware makes a difference.

I'm by no means saying I completely understand the plight others face.  I never will.  You don't understand, until you walk in those shoes.  But the more I watch on social media of people still proudly spreading hatred and misunderstanding, I couldn't stay quiet.

I teach in a school where only about 10% of the students are like me.  I work with little hands, bright smiles, tiny bodies.  I work with kids who have limitless potential.  Kids who will change the world.  Kids who sleep on dirt floors.  Kids who eat only what is served at school.  Kids who have skin color that is darker than mine.  Kids who speak more languages then I can.  Kids whose dream is just to make it to college.  Kids who coming to school is the only time they're guaranteed a hug.  Kids who battle drug use at home, violence, abuse.  I have 750 students under my charge, who I have no choice but to fight for.  To try and understand.  To connect with.  To be their voice.

I want to be more.  I want my voice to speak more, louder, out for those who aren't like me.  I want to be a voice for those who don't feel they can stand up.  Who don't feel they'll be heard.  I want to stand along side them.  I want things to change.

So today, I share my story.  My journey from being who I was to who I am right now.  I'm not done growing.  I have more to understand.  But I'm in a place where I can see that all of us matter.  Every skin color, every language, every religion.  And I'm tired of what I see around.  I want to be the difference.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

A Game Changer: Teacher Meetings #KidsDeserveIt

So I'm in the middle of something that has already become a game changer for me (and hopefully my team too!)

Coming back from the holiday break I really wanted to get some one-on-one face time with each of my team members.  I wanted to spend more time listening to them and hearing them.  Now, my team has 80 members, so it was going to be no small undertaking.

Well this past week I met with every single teacher on campus.  I sent out a Doodle (which if you haven't heard of or used it, you must, it's so easy!) for teachers to sign up for a time to meet with me.  I let them know that it wouldn't take more than 15 minutes and I just wanted to chat.

So over the course of the week I sat down with each teacher and listened.  I asked them just a couple of questions:

1.  I always started with asking them how their break went and if they actually relaxed any.
2.  I asked them what their goals were for this semester.
3.  I asked them what their one word was going to be for this semester to focus on.
4.  I asked them how I could better help them (and then took time to share with them that my goal for this semester was to be more academically involved; team teaching, modeling lessons, taking intervention groups, reading to classes more, etc; so they needed to think of ways to take advantage of that!)
5.  Then I ended with asking them if there was anything heavy on their hearts about the campus or culture that they wanted to share.

For me, the meetings were a game changer.  It was so nice to just be able to give each teacher individual attention.  To just sit and listen.

I loved hearing the goals they set for themselves and the reason they chose their one word.

I also really enjoyed hearing their ideas on how I could better support them and what issues they may or may not have with how things are going.  It was great for me to really hear that our staff was really feeling good about the campus as a whole and work that was taking place.

One familiar phrase that kept being brought up is that they felt; encouraged, challenged, and like a family where we're all working towards a common goal. Loved that!

I took notes during every single meeting, because my goal is to have these meetings again in two months and check in with each member about how they're keeping up with their goals, as well as their one word!

And next week I meet with all our other team members who aren't classroom teachers.  I can't wait to hear from them as well!

So my challenge to other administrators is to make time in your schedule to have those face to face, one on one, conversations.  Remember that we have time for what we make time for.  It really makes a difference.

Friday, January 1, 2016

My #OneWord2016: "Ours" #KidsDeserveIt

I've thought long and hard about my #OneWord that I wanted to focus on for this year (2016).  I wanted a word that had several meanings to me.

So after much thought I finally chose my word.  This year my word is...Ours.

I think so often I can focus on things like "my" students, "my" family, "my" career, "my" school, "my"self, and so much more.  And I was thinking of a word to focus on this year I realized that a lot of the times the words I would come up with were very selfish words.  Words that were all about me, me, me.

Then the word "ours" came to my mind.

Being a connected educator has taught me a lot.  But I think the biggest thing it's taught me is how we are so much better together and that we can not do this on our own.

The school I work at isn't mine.  It's ours.  It's a family created by parents, community members, staff members, kids, and more!

The career I have isn't mine.  It's a reflection of the people who are around me.  Those who push me, make me think, challenge me, question me, encourage me.

The "me" I'm trying to better, isn't all about me.  I can't do it alone.  I have to trust more of those around me, I have lean on more people for help, I have to be willing to open up more.

The kids we service aren't mine.  They're ours.  And it will take every single one of us to help make an impact in their lives.  Because the impact I leave today, may be made even deeper by the impact you leave tomorrow.  We can't look at students as "mine" or "yours", we have to realize that every kid that enters a school is all our kiddos.

The family I claim isn't even mine.  Some people view family as blood relation, but I see it as so much more.  My family has grown greatly over the last few years and I don't even look at it sometimes as my family, more-so as our family.

So when choosing a word for 2016, I decided on "ours".  I want to think more about us.  About working together, sharing the spotlight, building together, crying together, celebrating together.

I want us to make this year OUR year!

What is your #OneWord for 2016?