Wednesday, August 16, 2017

New Blog, New Website! #KidsDeserveIt

In case you haven't heard, I just relaunched my website!! It's been months in the making, but has had a complete makeover!

Which also means, that I will now be blogging on my main site! So this will be my final post on this blog!

So head on over to my website and follow my new blog! I just posted a new post today!

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Guided in Mentorship #KidsDeserveIt

This post is co-written with the incredible Joshua Stamper. You can follow him on Twitter HERE or check out his blog HERE.

Guided in Mentorship.jpg

“A mentor empowers a person to see a possible future, and believe it can be obtained.”
- Shawn Hitchcock

Throughout our lives, we have been guided, counseled, and advised through hardships, indecisiveness, and lack of direction.  During each stage of our education and our career, individuals such as coaches, teachers, professors, employers, pastors, or family friends have positively influenced the trajectory of our decisions. As educators, we have adopted the same practices by providing coaching, support, direction and advice with our students and staff.

1. Coaching -

Growing up as an athlete, my (Joshua’s) coaches challenged my abilities, allowed learning through mistakes, believed in my potential, and provided honest feedback. At the beginning of my senior year of high school, I had an extremely poor and disappointing soccer tryout. After the tryouts concluded, the varsity coach pulled me aside to explain that I didn’t make the cut. If I wanted to continue playing soccer, the only option was to play Junior Varsity (JV) my senior year. I was devastated by the coach’s decision and my first reaction was to quit the sport altogether. As I was walking back to the campus, the JV coach grabbed me and told me how excited he was to have me on his team. I was sceptical at first but the JV coach provided quality instruction, philosophy of strategy, clarified my role on the team and presented a plan to improve my individual skills. Although I was crushed by not making the top team, the JV coach quickly infused me with hope, excitement, and motivation. After two games on JV, I was promoted to varsity.

After my high school career, I continued to play soccer in college. Due to the coaching I received, I was able to apply the values of grit, determination, and perseverance toward other aspects of my life. These qualities allowed me to grow as both a player and a leader.  Without the guidance and motivation from my JV coach, I would have walked away from a game I loved and missed some amazing experiences, friendships, and teaching.

I (Todd) have had many different people who have helped coach me into the person I am today, professional and personally. My youth minister always challenged my thinking and really helped build a sense of empathy and compassion into me. My PLN (Professional Learning Network) who have helped me grow not only as an educator, but as a writer and communicator, and helped me think through what I truly believe down to my core about what I do.

I am someone who thrives off of constructive feedback. I need people around me who will push my thinking and question my decisions. It helps me become a much more reflective person and always growing. I have had to be really selective over those that I let into that “inner coaching circle” because allowing yourself to be coached by others requires you to be vulnerable and open. And that isn’t always easy or comfortable.

As a mentor, we have used the same strategies to help instill a growth mindset in our students. Unfortunately, in the world of academics, students tend to think they must be perfect on their first try on each assignment, project, and test. As educators, we must provide an environment to allow students to practice and master their skills. Being an educational coach allows the sports analogy and growth mindset to be a reality. If learning is important, then allowing students multiple opportunities to try again is imperative.        

2. Direction

During a challenging time, one of my (Joshua’s) college professors pulled me into his office and asked me a very powerful question. The professor was a man of few words with an impactful and stoic presence. Imagine sitting in front of a visual blend of Albert Einstein and Andre the Giant. At this time in his class, I wasn’t providing my best effort. The professor asked simply, “what do you love?” It was an unexpected question, since I assumed I was going to be reprimanded for my lack of effort. I didn’t really know how to answer. The professor asked me to fold a piece of paper in half to create a list in two categories, “things I love” and “things that make me happy”. He quickly explained, the things that we love we need to hold onto forever. The things that make us happy will not last since they can change with each day. After the meeting, I went home and I made the list, which became my compass of direction going forward.

Through the practice of inquiry, a mentor can provide direction within reflection. Using a series of questions and a basic activity, my professor was able to focus and direct my thinking in a positive trajectory. After our meeting, my circumstance didn’t change but my outlook changed drastically. Mentorship is a process to present possibilities and abilities, not dictate, guilt, or demand the decisions of others.   
Guided in Mentorship diagram.jpg
I (Todd) still remember sitting down with someone I respected and admired in the educational sphere. As we were talking through some of the successes I was experiencing, he asked me “what do you really want to do with yourself? Your career?” I had honestly never really thought of that. I was always a ‘day by day’ kind of guy.

To stop and think through where I saw myself years ahead was hard for me. And as I sat and reflected, it really helped me dive even deeper into some of my core beliefs. Even now I get asked often “are you still going to be a principal next year,” and my answer is always a resounding “YES!”

Taking that time to look at my life a year at a time has helped me see just how happy I am doing what I’m doing. But it’s also given me the ability to continually seek advice over how I can grow in my current role. Consistently taking that time to reflect and plan ahead allows me to focus on areas I want to better myself in and never stop growing.

We both know that having an idea of a direction you’re heading in is important. It doesn’t mean your plans or path can’t change, but we have to have a vision. It’s just like steering a boat. If a boat has no captain guiding its’ direction it will just amble through the ocean. We need to be at the helm, forging a path and making a plan for future endeavours.

3. Opportunity

When I (Joshua) was studying to become an administrator, a new assistant principal was hired at my school. Upon our first meeting, the principal mentioned I was in a master's program for educational administration. The new assistant principal provided an invitation to shadow the position and gain additional experience. As soon as the school year began, I took full advantage of the invitation of learning from my administrators. The assistant principal provided collaborative sessions to problem solve, complete tasks, and implement new initiatives. Due to the opportunities given, I was able to learn through experiencing the many nuances of the position to prepare me for future leadership positions.

Within the mentorship process, it’s imperative to provide others with opportunities to experience new and challenging moments to establish growth. As an administrator, I try to provide the same opportunities to my teachers on my campus and to other teachers within the district so they can see beyond their own classroom. The mentorship process goes beyond conversations. We must develop others through active participation in expanded roles and responsibilities.

I (Todd) still remember every opportunity that has been afforded to me.  I remember the first time someone asked me if I would write a blog post with them. Or the moment an experienced teacher asked if we wanted to teach a lesson together. Or that time when the principal came to me to ask for my help with a project because of certain qualities I possessed.

Those moments when you’re given an opportunity to shine are moments that aren’t easily forgotten. As someone now who has a little larger sphere of influence, I try to pass that along to others. I love being able to bring in people for me to present alongside of when I travel. Those moments where you can allow someone to use their voice, when they haven’t used it publicly before, is a game changing moment. Or those moments where I can ask different educators I admire to write with me. Where I get to watch our two voices combine and work off each other.

As educators, we know the power that lies in providing people with opportunities. But it’s equally important as an educator to take advantage of opportunities that are placed before you and not to turn something down for fear or lack of self-confidence. If an opportunity arises, seize it! Who knows if it might come back again! But at the same time, be thinking about opportunities you can provide to help grow and stretch others too!

4. Advice

I (Joshua) have sought advice from those who have experienced success in areas I want to improve and learn from. By connecting for coffee, lunch, or a formal meeting, I have been able to hear many stories of triumphs and mistakes. Through those meetings, I was able to gain immense wisdom and advice for future actions.
Receiving advice can be a risky or rewarding endeavour based on the source of the counsel. It’s extremely important to create a support system to provide trustworthy guidance. If we aren’t careful, we can construct a circle of deception to feed into our own desires.

I (Todd) know how much I’ve been impacted by the advice given to me by those I choose to surround myself with. Advice that hasn’t always been easy to take, but that I have always needed.

The biggest thing I have learned is the importance of surrounding myself with people who don’t all think like me, who don’t agree with me all the time, and who come from different backgrounds than I do. Sometimes the most dangerous place we can put ourselves in is an echo chamber. I want to receive advice from people who are going to challenge what I think, who are going to question my decisions, but who will still be there to encourage me and build me up along the way.

We both have learned that sometimes finding people to give you quality advice can be hard. We have been lucky to have people in our day to day lives to lean on, but we also both have found many great sounding boards through different people we have met online through social media.  We’ve both seen the walls torn down when you reach out to others and take that risk of putting yourself out here.

Guided in Mentorship quote.jpg

Our careers, much less life itself, is a difficult road to walk. But when we walk down that road with a mentor beside, behind, or in front of us, the walk is oh so much easier. It doesn’t mean all of your issues will be solved or that every decision becomes a piece of cake. But just like Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 says, “Two are better than one. For if one falls down his friend can help him up.” We need those mentors in our lives. And just as importantly, we need to be ready to mentor others as well. In the end, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give” (Winston Churchill).

Sunday, June 4, 2017

10 Educators Worth Following This Summer #KidsDeserveIt

Summer is always a time for learning, connecting, and growing!  Below are 10 people I've connected with recently who I feel like are GREAT educators to learn from, and might just be a few you haven't connected with yet! We're all better when we're connecting and growing together! Show them some love!

Pennsylvania High school educator, Mitchel Meighen, is an educator who is passionate, funny, creative, and all around great guy!  He is always looking to do what's best for kids and finding new ways to do it!

Steele is a educator fairly new to Twitter, but who has been a powerhouse already!  He just completed his first full year teaching and has just relocated to Alabama to continue his teaching career!  He is an exceptional new follow!

Kas is an elementary Principal in Oklahoma.  I have loved following Kas's journey and seeing all the amazing things she shares and feeling her passion through her tweets!

Cornelius is an educator who I highly respect.  He is the definition of a champion for kids and is incredibly intelligent and creative.  I love everything Cornelius shares!

Josh is an administrator in Texas.  Josh is an exceptional leader but also a great writer and champion for all kids.  He is always sharing the work of others and is brilliant in his own right!

I love the work Isis Stephanie Cerda does.  I have been a fan of hers for a while and love how she celebrates the voices of so many.  Always love supporting my fellow Texans as well :-)

Derek is an educator in Tennessee! I have followed his journey for a little while now and he shares some great stuff!  He was also recently the Tennessee Teacher of the Year!

Sara is someone I just recently became connected with and I have LOVED getting to learn from her in my PLN.  A great author, educator, and all around awesome Twitter sharer!

Not only was Michael recently featured on the Ellen Degeneres show, but he has been teaching and sharing greatness all the while!  He is full of energy and someone who seeks to continually be doing what's best for all of our kids!

I got to "meet" Shontisa first on Twitter, but then finally face to face a few months ago! I LOVE what Shontisa shares and the things she does with her students.  She is funny and always seeking to go above and beyond despite the challenge! She inspires ME!

There you go! There are 10 people (you're probably not following) who've recently I've been growing and learning a lot from!  Connect with them!

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Scars #KidsDeserveIt

"Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me"

I have never understood the value in that simple statement.  I have heard it my entire life though, as I'm sure many of you have.  But if there's one thing I'm sure of, it's that words do hurt.

Writing has always been a cathartic experience for me.  It affords me the opportunity to communicate my thoughts much more clearly than if I were to express them verbally.  So here goes...

I guess the best way to start out is by expressing what I know many will understand, I am not perfect.  I have never claimed to be "the best" or someone who even "has it all together".  I have a personality type that never feels as if I'm worthy of any recognition I've received for what I've accomplished.  I know it's a personal flaw of mine, but it's something that's always been with me.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not downplaying some of the work that I have been a part of. I'm just saying that despite some successes I've had in my life, I never quite feel like I've done it right.  And I'm reflective.  I'm always seeking feedback, wanting input, and identifying ways that I can be better for next time.

As educators, we are in that type of profession that allows for constant feedback and/or criticism.  You all know what I'm talking about.  That student who tells you suck at life, that parent who tells you that you don't know what you're doing, that colleague who only complains about everything, and that administrator who makes you feel worthless.  We've all experienced at least one of those in this career.

But sometimes, in this role, we get great feedback too!  We hear ideas on ways we can make our lesson better, we are shown examples of resources we can use to better ourselves, or we get that feedback that there are some things that we do that are fantastic.  And those moments put gas in our tanks.  They help us keep pushing along when the nights can feel so dark.

And then just due to timing, we can feel bombarded by the negative.  That was me this week.

Now before I get into this next part, I don't want this to sound like I'm complaining or saying "woe is me".  I promise I'm going somewhere with this.

In "Kids Deserve It" I wrote about someone with whom I used to work with.  Someone who left our team under very dark circumstances.  And when they left they bombarded me constantly through social media, email, and texting about how I was the most terrible person they had ever met.  How I clearly wasn't a Christian.  How I do nothing right and am only placed here to ruin lives.

It brought back memories of being in High School, being a student who NEVER got in trouble, but one day was called into the principal's office and told (by the principal and assistant) that I was a punk kid who was a loser and would never be a leader at the school or in life. 

Though I knew the words they said weren't true.  They have stuck with me to this day.  Years down the road.  And every time I am feeling not so up to par, those words come sneaking back into my mind.

Then this week, I got to experience something like that again.  Three anonymous sources, shared some feedback with me.  And it wasn't your typical feedback.  It was extremely personal, deeply negative, and meant to cut to the bone.  And it crushed me.   And it brought back the memories.

"When the principal sneezes, the whole school gets a cold".  A phrase I often remember.  I always take that phrase to mean that, as the principal, I help set the tone for the school.  My demeanor and attitude can leave ripples felt all day long.

So when I received the crushing feedback on Tuesday (right after spending 4 hours in a dunking booth), I closed my door and cried.  I let it out.  Then I sat there and remembered that my only option was to take what I could from their remarks, learn from them, and put it on the back burner for now while I go out there and be there for the kids.

So I left my office and went out into the school with a smile, with jokes, with hugs, and no one was any the wiser.

And what did I do later that afternoon and evening? I reached out to my support system.  To people who would help me digest the information and not take it so deeply personal.  And it wasn't easy.  At first I didn't want to tell anyone what was said about me.  I was embarrassed.  And on a crazy level, it brought up those memories from the past, and I sat there and thought "maybe all this venom is true".

And now, it's been almost a week.  And every word that was written is still fresh in my mind.  It still hits me throughout the day and tells me "you're a loser", "no one likes you", "you do a terrible job", "you're a terrible person".  And I know these things aren't true.  I know it.  But they're there.

And the funny thing is?  No one in my day to day work life (except my assistant principal Aaron) knew what I had read about myself.  But the week was capped off with little reminders here and there from staff, from students, from parents, and from my own family who helped remind me of the worth I bring.  Who helped me refocus myself.

So I share all of this for several reasons.  

I share my story to hopefully give some hope to those who are going through something similar.  You are not alone. 

I share my story to remind you that we have to lean on others in times of despair.  And I am the toughest one to get that through my head, because I never want to add to anyone's already busy lives.  But we CAN'T do this alone. And I know without the support of my friends this week, I wouldn't have made it through.

And finally, I share this story to remind us all that words matter.  That wounds left from hateful speech, aren't wounds that heal.  They often leave scars that never go away.  But we can let those scars be reminders that we were strong enough to survive.

I know life, and experiences, are all about perspective.  And I try to keep my focus on the things that I have to be thankful for.  The experiences (good and bad) that have taught me so much.  To keep leaning on my friends around me.

Feedback is important, criticism is important, reflection is important.  But there is a way to do that so that we all can grow better together.

We all have wounds.  We all have scars.  I myself have been guilty of saying or doing things that I knew have left scars in someone else's life and I have tried to make amends for those moments I was made aware of.

But today, my encouragement and reminder to us all, is to think through what we say and do before it's something we can't take back.  And if it's too late, if it's already out there, take the time to find that person and apologize. And mean it.

Scars don't heal, but we can learn from them and become better.  And today, I choose to be better.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Counting Down #KidsDeserveIt

This post was co-written with Roman Nowak.

On social media, so often we see posts of countdowns to the weekend, Christmas, Spring Break, summer; it is usually accompanied by elation and celebration. As students and educators, we often can’t wait until there is a break from school. Why is that? We know it’s because we work HARD!  Education is a tireless job and the breaks are something we look forward to and desperately need.

This “tradition” has been around for many decades. We don’t know about you, but we can definitely remember our teachers keeping track of countdowns. In many cases it isn’t done with a negative intention; however this seemingly harmless practice can have profound consequences.  

You may have heard the phrase “perception is reality”; think about it, when someone online, who is not an educator, sees us gleefully posting about how much we can’t wait for a break, what message does that send? What about to the parents of the children we serve?  It sends a message of “these kids are driving me insane and I need a break” or “Woe is me, my job is so much harder than others so I deserve this break”.  Now don’t get us wrong, teachers do work hard. We work harder than most realize and with many unpaid hours.  But again, what message do we really want to be putting out there?

Let’s have a quick comparison with anyone who has ever trained a dog. We are taught with dogs to be conscious of our tone of voice. When disciplining a dog for a bad action, we should not use a pleasant voice, because a dog will associate that with good behavior. This of course is possible because of that pleasant tone we use to praise a dog. We are also taught to be repetitive with dogs. In order for behaviour to be learned, it must be constantly addressed.

Now let’s come back to school. Hypothetically, from a young age, teachers put down that innocent countdown on a blackboard or a bulletin board. Also regularly, when referring to that countdown, a pleasant and often exciting voice is used by the teacher. Students in turn mimic that pleasant voice and share their excitement from that break from school. We all need breaks because we feel tired, overworked, and uninspired. But we think that maybe instead we should be building up a pleasant tone with the amount of time we have left!

I don’t know about you, but we’ve had those teachers who talk about how they can’t wait to be out of this school.  How they deserve this break.  And as a student, I (Todd) remember a teacher once telling us just that, and somehow, in someway, I felt like the problem.  I felt like it was my fault the teacher was counting down the day until she could rid herself of me and my classmates.

I (Roman) also had a similar experience. As a child, I loved school. It was a place to learn new things, to meet new people and to escape reality that wasn’t always fun. I knew that no matter what, with the teachers that were there, I was in a safe place where I could shine and be recognized. Every time teachers would put up that countdown, I would always feel a sense of being weird and different. While most were like the teachers, happy to be escaping school, I was disappointed that I wouldn’t be in my “fun place” for the summer. These made me feel inadequate. I couldn’t share what I felt because no one would understand. Unbeknownst to be, I kept this tradition alive in my early years of teaching.

This is where our disappointment comes in; disappointment for two reasons. First, we all have been guilty of this practice in our careers. Second, disappointment because the very job we chose out of love for learning and teaching has so many students and teachers celebrating the end moment instead of focusing on the here and now.

And that’s the kind of countdowns we now need to hold in our offices and classrooms.  Not countdowns that celebrate the moment we get to “escape”, but instead countdowns that celebrate the moments we have left. Even more, why not start a count up until the beginning of the next school year, where greater learning adventures and fun will take place? Where all of us, kids and adults alike, will grow together as a family.

Our world is so filled with turmoil and pain.  As educators we are held to a different (and sometimes unfair) standard.  So even though it may seem like a countdown to summer is innocent, we have to take a step back and evaluate.  What is the message we’re sending, even unintentionally?

We know that the message we want to send is that every moment matters.  That even though we look forward to time with our families and time to decompress, we know that at school, that is a child’s safe place.  A child’s place to feel valued, important, worthy, and get the best education possible.

Let’s not countdown the moments until we have a break, and instead starting today, let’s countdown the moments that we have left to make a difference in the lives before us.  Our #KidsDeserveIt.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Speaking Louder Than Words #KidsDeserveIt

Over the past year or so I've really been thinking about the messages we send.  Those things we do that speak louder than the words that are coming out of our mouths.  

Back in January of 2016, I wrote a post called "My Journey: Race, Economics, and White-Privilege".  That post was my first time to really dig into my thoughts, preconceptions, and my own upbringing and how that affects all that I do....even when I don't realize it.

And as I've worked with the students and teachers I work with now, and those I've met while traveling and presenting, I've seen so much.  I've learned so much.

I always talk about how social media changed my life.  How it got me out of my bubble and really opened me up to other ideas, beliefs, upbringings, and so much more. Even while traveling this week in Italy, my wife (who is not active on social media) made the comment of "Every time we travel I gain more of an understanding and appreciation of the way others live.  It's so different than us, but that's ok!".

When I was flying back this week I kept coming back to this thought of how sometimes all we consider when living our lives are the things with which we were brought up with.  Then I remembered this episode of the tv show "Switched at Birth" that aired a few weeks ago that dealt with racial bias.  And it got me thinking.  

There are so many messages that we send that speak louder than anything coming out of our mouths.  And sometimes we don't even realize those messages are being sent because we've never thought of the implications that are being expressed with our actions.  Here are a few that came to my mind....

1.  The people we work with

I work in an environment that is 85% minority.  We have about 50% of our students who are Hispanic and about 35% who are African American.  But when I look at the staff that works at our school, it is not reflective of our student population at all.  And that bothers me.  And trust me, it's not from a lack of trying to diversify.

But when we only have 2 classroom teachers who are African American and only 6 classroom teachers who are Hispanic, out of 47, what message does that send to our students?  When our students walk down our halls they see the instructional aides or the cafeteria workers or the custodians as the only consistent faces of their culture.  It sends a message that "my race is less than".  That "white people" are the ones who will be teachers and leaders.

And we teach all of our students that they can be anything they want to be.  That they are capable of greatness.  But in my conversations with some of our older students, this racial inequality of our teaching staff has actually come up.  Our teachers "don't look like me, so they don't really understand me".

That's why it's so important that we consistently show students the faces and backgrounds of people from ALL cultures who are successful.  That we celebrate diversity (and not just during a month pre-determined by our government).  That we learn and grow ourselves in our understanding of all backgrounds.  That we bring in those from the community who come from different walks of life.  We can do better at this and we have to do better at this if we want to make a real difference.

2.  The way we treat each other professionally.

I can't tell you how many times I've had a student tell me that I know Mrs. So-And-So doesn't like Mrs. So-and-So.  Not because they've seen them fight, but because of their actions.

When I've asked kids how they knew that, they've mentioned seeing one teacher completely ignore another on purpose, or taking a different recess so they didn't have to be around them, or laughing behind their back when they say something, rolling their eyes in conversation, or even having a teacher talk bad about a teacher during class.

We tell kids to be nice, not to bully, and to find a way to work with their classmates.  But when they see the teachers they look up to do that exact thing, what are they supposed to believe?  So often we act like children are too young or ignorant to really pick up on things, but you'd be surprised at how much kids really do pick up on.  

3.  Language

With over 50% of our population being Hispanic, there's a lot of our students who speak Spanish. Because of that I've been very cognizant of the fact that everything I send home must be in Spanish.  But even more than that, I want the signs and things posted around our school to also be in Spanish and it's something I've been working on!

When parents walk into a school and see that everything is written in a language they don't speak or understand, I believe it sends a message of "our language is the only one that matters, learn it or too bad". I don't ever want our school to feel like that.  I want our parents to feel like they can navigate our halls and understand that different things that we have posted.

4.  Books we read

A few months ago I wrote a post for the Scholastic Reader Leader blog called "She Looked Like Me".  Even the books we choose to read ourselves, or read out loud to kids, or have on our bookshelves speak to our beliefs.

Think about the books you're reading or are reading to children.  Do they have the same type of characters every time. Is it always a male protagonist?  Is the girl always having to be saved? Does the boy have to succumb to male stereotypes? Are the characters always animals or pale complected? 

It is so important that we select books to read to our students that represent a variety of cultures and ideas.  That show characters in new lights.  That empower those who are typically placed on the sidelines.  

Reading builds empathy.  And we have to be reading books ourselves with characters unlike ourselves. AND we have to be filling our shelves with those books as well.  To give those options to our children, so that they can find characters that look like them, but also find characters they connect with that are nothing like them.

There are so many more things that we do that speaker louder than the words that escape our lips.  My hope with writing this post is that it makes you stop and reflect on some of the things you unintentionally do in your own life that may be sending a message you don't want to be sent.

Our kids are so impressionable.  They soak it all up.  Little ears are always listening and little eyes are always watching.

So today, let's break down more barriers and let's raise up kids who are not only told they are wonderful and unique but seen it reflected all around them.  Let's allow our actions to speaker louder than our words ever could.  Our #KidsDeserveIt

Friday, March 3, 2017

Blank Pages #KidsDeserveIt

"When we spill our emotions onto blank pages, we can see, through words, the problems that plague us. It is a unique way of healing"  Travis Crowder

Writing, and blogging specifically, have been such a great release for me. I still remember when I started my blog a few years ago. I was terrified to share my thoughts and ideas with anyone and to allow them to see my flaws as person, but also as a writer. I remember making my blog completely private so no one else could see.

As time passed I began to open my blog up for others to glance upon. And then as I became more comfortable in my writing skin, I even began to blog about personal things in my life. I blogged about my frustrations with my skill set at my job, the death of my grandparents, the struggles with students/parents, and more.

And it began to connect with others. But even more so than that, it helped me put my fears, thoughts, dreams, emotions onto a blank page, and work through them.

It taught me I wasn't as alone as I sometimes imagined myself to be. It allowed me to use my stories and experiences to help others understand their own. It connected me with people in ways I had never been connected before.

As I took this idea of writing from the heart, to my students, I watched their hearts pour onto the empty pages as well. I shared my stories with them and in turn they shared their stories with me.

Writing is scary. It opens you up to silent judgements and when you're honest in your writing it can allow you to bare your soul.

But writing also has the power to change lives. I've always felt that my thoughts and experiences were more deeply reflected in my writing than when I tried to tell them orally.

I read the quote at the top of this blog post, from Travis Crowder, last week. It moved me immensely. And I think it hits the nail on the head. Writing is the act of spilling emotions onto the page. It begins as a process for us to get our thoughts out, but when we share that writing it can lead to an even deeper experience.

Writing allows us to see our emotions instead of just feel them. And when we put that writing down on paper, and when we are brave enough to share that writing with others, it can also bring a sense of healing.

I absolutely love reading those heartfelt, honest, genuine, soul searching blog posts. Those ones that you know that person just had to put on paper or else their hearts would explode.

So today I encourage you to write. To put it all out there. But even more so I encourage you to share your stories. Stories are what unite us, they are what builds empathy, and they are what reminds us we aren't so much alone in what we're going through.

Fill those blank pages.