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!