Sunday, January 22, 2017

We All Need Growth #KidsDeserveIt

Something we talk about quite often is growing.  Growing as professionals and personally as well.  Not one of us has reached that pinnacle of knowing everything.  Though sometimes we all like to act (yes, even me) like we do!

As campus leaders part of our job is to work with teachers to help them grow.  We send them to (and bring in) PD, we do walk throughs of their class, sit with some of them one on one, and use the T-TESS process to help us along the way.

We're always pushing you to help teachers grow.  Sometimes it's uncomfortable, sometimes it's fun, and sometimes it's hard and makes them want to cry or walk away. But one of my favorite lines to think about is, "How dare we ask our students to come to school every day and learn, if we're not willing to keep learning ourselves".

But one thing I never want to do, is I never want to ask my team to do something I wouldn't do myself.  That's why I'm passionate about reading to classes, doing morning/lunch/afternoon duty, helping plan lessons, team teaching, modeling lessons, sitting in PLCs, working with our PSP coach, and more.

I know for me that I have a lot of growing to do as well.  I make it a point to do a self inventory every week to remind myself of things I'm working on, ways I'm growing or trying to, and things I need to do to continue my growth.

One of the most dangerous phrases in education is "we've always done it that way".  But I'd like to say another phrase that's dangerous is "what I'm doing is working better than others, why do I need to grow?"

One way that I've tried to share this with my team is through our Swivl Recordings.  We have a Swivl robot and it's amazing. The teacher wears a marker/microphone around their neck and the robot turns and follows the teacher as they move around the room and speak.

Since we finished all our teacher evaluations before Christmas, during January we wanted to continue growing. So we're recording every teacher for 30 minutes in January and the teacher then will watch their recording and submit a written reflection over what they see and how they're addressing the two areas of refinement we identified in December.

Yes, recording yourself, much less watching it, is scary.  I hate hearing my voice, seeing the way I move, etc.  But I know when I did it as a teacher, there were GREAT things I learned.  But since we asked our teachers to do it, my admin team felt we needed to do the same.  So over the last two weeks myself, as well as my admin team, went into classrooms and taught a lesson and recorded ourselves.

Then during our staff meeting this week, the teachers will get to choose which admin lesson they want to watch, and THEY will rate US using our T-TESS (State of Texas) evaluation system.  Then myself, and my admin team, will spend the spring semester working on our areas of refinement based on how the teachers rated us.

Was/Am I terrified to do this? Of course!!  But as campus leaders we must also be growing, learning, and modeling. Plus I view myself as an INSTRUCTIONAL leader.  How can I call myself that if I'm not actively teaching, growing, and bettering THAT craft??

Growth is something we're all doing, or should be doing.  So let's remember to keep pushing, keep trying, and keep growing this week.  It's when we go through something and DON'T use it as a lesson to learn that things become dangerous for us as professionals.

But, when we talk about growth, one thing I think we also have to think about is our growth in learning and understanding different cultures, backgrounds, stereotypes, and more.  I saw the video below earlier this week and couldn't stop the tears from flowing.  How many lies do we believe, not only about our kiddos, but about people in general.  Let's take the time to learn about and truly work to understand and respect everyone.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Self Negativity #KidsDeserveIt

I know that each of us has worked on a team or campus where people complain.  Where people are negative.  They don't like a certain person and talk about it all the time.  They don't like a decision that was made and complain to you about it for hours (or sometimes days).  The parents are annoying. The kids are annoying. The curriculum, the school board, the central office, the principal, the cafeteria workers, and so on.  If we look for just a few minutes it is very easy to find something to be negative about.

But often, what I think is even more dangerous is when we begin to talk negatively about ourselves.

I have a few educator friends that I talk to on a regular basis.  One of those friends, every time I will compliment him or say something was impressive, he will shoot me down. Tell me it's not that big of a deal, that everyone does it.  Or that others do much greater/cooler things than him. 

I have another friend who every time I compliment or encourage him, he ignores it and flips it on me and how I do something well.  And I am constantly trying to get him to accept the compliment.  To feel worthy.

And I have one more who with every compliment, he says "yes, but I have lots of growing to do" or "well I'm not as great as __________".

I get so frustrated when trying to build them up because it seems like they don't even believe in their own greatness.

And then I find myself doing the exact same thing when I am complimented or encouraged. I deflect the compliment. I say I'm not as good as someone else.  I claim you just "caught me on a good day".

Why is it so hard, for us as educators, to take a compliment?  Why do we have to be so hard on ourselves and negative about what we are doing right.  We're all in this profession because there is something great that we do.  And though it's hard to remember that, we must.

I will always remember what Angela Maiers told me... she said "Why aren't you sharing your genius with others? When you sit there and don't ever share your great ideas or what you do in your class/school, you're doing a disservice to others in our field, because then no one gets to learn from you and you bring great things to the table"

I see every team member on our campus do something incredible on a daily basis.  It's why I'm always pushing them to share out their class activities on Social Media, I want the rest of the world to see!!

So this week my challenge to you is, try and make it a point to accept any compliments that come your way and take some time to share your brilliant ideas with others.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

It's Time to Speak Up #KidsDeserveIt


On Friday, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) released information on a new Texas Rating system.  It's a very simplified rating system that gives every school and district in Texas ratings on a A-F scale.  Even though this system will not officially go into effect until August of 2018 (yes, 2018), the state released preliminary ratings to the public at large on Friday.

If you've been following the news at all lately you've seen the outcry for educators and districts alike at the disdain for this new system.  For the first time in all my years in education, I see districts rising up with one voice to stand against this injustice.

What's the injustice you might ask?

In my opinion, the injustice is the misunderstanding of education.  

There has been much research released lately that discusses the simple fact that schools that have higher minority and poverty stricken families, score lower than their counterparts.  That if you remove the standardized testing from the equation completely, you would be able to figure out school ratings based on minority groups and socioeconomic status alone.

And that's the problem. The people who are making decisions concerning our schools and our students have often never stepped foot into a public education classroom since they themselves were students.

So how does this happen?  It's partly because of us.  Of educators.  We haven't stood up or spoke up.  We haven't stood TOGETHER to speak out against injustice.  Not enough of us have called legislatures, written letters, marched to Austin, wrote about it, or spoke about it.  We complain at our schools. We say they just don't get it. But I'm tired of doing just that.  I'm ready.  I'm going to use my voice this year and I'm going to speak up.

But why is it important to speak up now?

Because our schools are so much more than a A-F rating.  Out of 4 domains, my campus (Webb Elementary) received three "F" ratings and a "C" ratings.  How does that make a parent or community member feel? How does that make our kids feel?

I know for me, even though I know the great work we do, the "F" ratings hurt, and cut deep.  I know they're not reflective of the work we ARE doing at our school, but still I know the scores are out there in the public conversation.

What does this rating system not take into account?

It doesn't measure the progress we've made in connecting with families.  It doesn't measure that we had over 350 families come to our Hot Dog Cookout at a local apartment complex every semester.

It doesn't measure that we had over 580 MEN come to or our Dinner with a Gentleman with their child.  

It doesn't show how excited our students are to come to school.  

It doesn't measure those children we have connected with and helped find success in an area for the first time in their life.  

It doesn't measure the fact that our nurse has spent over $500 of her own money this year to buy students deodorant, toothpaste, or even clothes because they couldn't afford it themselves and were too embarrassed to ask for it. 

It doesn't show the excitement our students have for our new "house system" (from the Ron Clark Academy) that has brought everyone together, taught about teamwork, and is helping kids learn character traits and grow into better citizens.

It doesn't measure the child who spent the entire day in her kindergarten classroom for the first time this year, because she's been working with her teacher on self-control and finally went a day without hitting another child.

It doesn't measure the little boy who's crying in the office, because he doesn't want to go home this weekend and is begging to stay with one of us.  As we consol him and teach him how to live through difficult things.

It doesn't measure that many of our teachers spend HOURS a week attending Little League football, baseball, soccer, and T-Ball games.  Or the dance recitals.  Or the kickboxing competitions. Or the cheer and gymnastics events.

It doesn't measure that we've decreased our ISS and OSS rates by over 90% in less than a year because we've been teaching students how to manage their emotions and react in different situations with respect.

It doesn't measure that we've built a love of reading in our students where teachers are advertising what they're reading, students are sharing book recommendations on campus, checking out library books at unprecdented rates, and reading in during dismissal and arrival (because they WANT to).

It doesn't measure that our Counselor worked with many different families this Christmas season to surprise them with groceries or Christmas gifts so that way they could actually celebrate the season with a little less stress.,

It doesn't measure the countless CPS calls, parent counseling, drug and alcohol lessons/counseling, or sexual abuse that we help kids and families work through.

It doesn't celebrate our innovate teachers who are trying flexible seating, classroom transformations, cross grade-level collaborations, lessons with Olympic Athletes, Skype with classes from across the world, and so much more.

No, what the system judges us on is one test.  One day for some kids.

Does it take into consideration that maybe that morning two of our students were dealing with their father being shot the night before in a fight over drugs and they are having trouble focusing? No.

Does it take into consideration that despite the work we've done to teach them otherwise, a group of 3rd graders are overwhelmed by the pressure put on them by the state to preform for their underperforming school? No.

Does it take into consideration the immense stress our teachers feel to get out of "Improvement Required" or "F" ratings, even though deep down we know we are more than that and we ARE providing a good education? No.

What this system does is create environments that are demeaning to teachers and families. Teachers who are fearful of their jobs because they are doing everything they can to improve scores, but fighting the poverty and emotional battle is just as important.   

The system adds extra pressure on school boards and Superintendent to "fix" schools.

How do I convince my teachers that they are working their butts of and doing a great job of filling in gaps and raising up children, when the state just told them their school is failing?

How do I convince my parents that the school their sending their children too is a school that is truly changing lives AND educating their children at higher ways than we have every done before, when the state just told them their school is failing?

How do I convince my students that they are NOT the cause of our low test scores.  That they are not failures.  That instead they are inquisitive, bright, energetic, world-changing kids who despite their home challenges still come to school every day ready to learn, even though the state just told them their school is failing?

It's a battle.  A battle every day to not define the work our school is doing because of a standardized exam.  An exam that doesn't truly measure the work we do. 

But fight on I will.  And fight on WE must.

We have to speak up and share the greatness that goes on in behind our school walls, even when the state says we're a failure.

We have to rise up and show up every day to give our kids and parents the best education they could ever dream or hope for.

When you work in an environment that is overcome by poverty, you realize what these ratings do to a community.

And I will not be silent.  I will not complain behind school walls or in small groups of educators.

What I will do is I will shout from the rooftops and in every forum I can find, about the INCREDIBLE work my team does on a daily basis.
What I will do is write my state legislatures.  I will call them.  I will march to Austin if I have to.
What I will do remind my students that they are wonderful.  That they are more than ANY test score will ever tell them they are.
What I will do is tell my team, as often as I can, the wonderful work they do and that the countless hours they put in are not wasted.
What I will do is continually share with our parents how hard their children, and the staff at our school, are working, in a broken system, to give their children the best education possible.

My question is though, will you join me?

Fear #KidsDeserveIt

Fear. When you think about that word I think we all have something different we think of.  Some have a fear of snakes or spiders.  Others may fear the thought of losing someone or dying alone. And in the education system we have fears too.

The fear of failure is one. We work in a system where someone is always judging us. They watch our classroom management, our understanding of the standards, our interactions with our students, our interactions with our peers, our curriculum planning and more.  We all handle fear in different ways too.

Some of us do what is minimally expected without getting in trouble so that we can coast by and make things easier on ourselves and limit the possibility of failure.  Some of our are so controlled by our fear that it can stop us in our tracks and make us perform worse than we could have imagined.  Some of us are good at facing our fears and we tackle each one as they come.

The thing to realize is that all of us has fears in our professional careers.  But what we can't ever do is let that fear control us and the decisions we make.

We have to not only find ways within ourselves to face our fears BUT we also have to continually lean on those around us to help us face our fears.

I think about the things I've faced, and am still facing in my career.  There have been countless times where I convinced myself that I could fix it on my own.  That I could face it on my own.  And every time I come back to the realization that we weren't meant to do this alone.

And yes it's scary asking someone for help or even allowing them to see that I'm not strong enough to do it on my own.  But time and time again, when I allow those walls of insecurity to come down, I find that there's someone on the other side who connects with my fear, or understands it, or is willing to help me through it because they care.

Fear can control us if we let it.  But what we have to remember is that we're all growing.  We're all facing struggles and battles and our own insecurities.  Some of us are really good at sharing those, while others aren't.  But when fear begins to creep into our lives. When it begins to cause us to stumble or lose our breath, or doubt our gifts and abilities, that is just the moment where we find our people and lean on them to remind us.

And if you're struggling finding your people, reach out to those online.  We're all in this together and if you can't find someone who can help you, maybe we can.  Or maybe we can help you find that person.  The only true weakness is when we don't seek out the compassion and help of others.

My friend, Brad Montague (who also just happened to create Kid President) filmed this beautiful story about facing his own fear. I love it so much and share it everywhere. Could be great to share with your students too.  The world is a scary place. Share anyway.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

My #OneWord2017: Hope

Well we're here, 2017.  Every year brings the opportunities for goals, dreams, things you want to change, ways you want to improve.  For a few years now I've seen the idea of choosing "one word" that you want to define your new year. I really wanted to think about this, and truly choose a word I wanted to encompass my goals for the year.

So the word I chose this year was, "hope".


Hope for growth...there are so many ways that I want to grow.  As a person, a husband, a brother, a friend, and as a educator and leader.  I tend to be a pretty reflective person who easily notices my shortcomings.  I see constant opportunities for growth and betterment.  So this year I hope to make more headway in those areas.  That I am not defined by the things I lack, but instead seek to become the best person I can be. 

Hope for change....I hope that more and more educators can bind together to continue to make changes within our field that will be in the best interest of our children.  Far too long I've sat silent, or allowed others to stand up and speak out, and this year I seek out to stand up myself.  To use my voice to work more closely with policy makers, politicians, parents, other educators, and more.

Hope for compassion.....I hope to continue to see people of all backgrounds come together.  To continue to see walls torn down and not built up.  I spent a lot of 2016 (and 2015) educating myself on other cultures, religions, upbringings, parts of the country/world, and I want to continue to educate myself.  We have to seek to learn about others if we ever will seek to empathize with them.

There are so many things I look forward to doing and experiencing this year.  From more writing, to continuing to work with my team to make changes at Webb Elementary, and more.  My word is "Hope" but I know it's more than that.  You can't just sit back and have hope.  You also have to have action.  And through my hope I will choose to act.  I will not be silent.  I will learn, change, grow, speak up, be more visible, connect face to face more, read more books, continue to find ways to embrace creativity and imagination, to be a voice for those silenced, to empathize more, and the list goes on and on.

I know there will be many times I will fail this year.  Many lessons I will learn.  But I also know that my hope will not be shattered.  I may fall, but I will rise again, ready to tackle the next moment. Our #KidsDeserveIt