Friday, July 15, 2016

Are we there yet? #summerPD #PCT

"Are we there yet?" From the time I was little, every road trip, every plane ride, every vacation included this question. And when my kids were little, they asked it, too. Always focused on the destination which often seemed far away.

And then the other day I was hiking near Carson Pass on the Pacific Crest Trail with my husband with Showers Lake as our destination. And in my mind, I heard the question:

Are we there yet?

So focused on the destination, and yet all around me the most beautiful views you can imagine. As I stopped at to capture moments with my camera, it hit me. Life, and our work is about the journey. This summer has been an interesting one as I realized there is no real way for me to separate my life from my work-- my work is my passion-- and every lesson I learn along the way has meaning for me as a friend, a wife, a mom, and as a leader. And so, in spite of those who say educators have "summers off", I offer this-- learning can happen everywhere! Even on a hike. This blog post was composed mostly in my head along the 12.2 mile journey, and it was somewhere near the top of the mountain when we weren't quite there, unsure if we would EVER arrive at Showers Lake that the title revealed itself: Are we there yet?

Lesson #1: Look
Notice everything. The sky, the color of blue, the clouds, or in this case the magic of a cloudless day. The reflection of the water. The colors of green. And in our daily lives, notice the people around us, their eyes, their smiles, the expression on their face. Don't miss a moment.

Lesson #2: Listen
Quiet is powerful. As we hiked together, I listened to birds, and beetles, and the sound of the wind in the trees. Several times we stopped to cross streams which involved me, unbalanced, navigating across rocks. 

And then I stopped to listen to the sound of the water.  Click below to listen :)
We need to listen more to each other.

Lesson #3: Learn
In my life, I struggle with balance and technology can be overwhelming. But even on this hike I was exploring and learning with technology. The sound of the water I recorded with AudioBoom, a podcasting app, and the picture below is one of my first attempts at taking a 360 picture with the Google Street View app. And I even tracked our progress using All Trails and GPS so I would know IF WE WERE THERE YET!  And after 6.2 miles in, we arrived. Yes! I don't think you can view them properly in a blog post, but I was so excited to learn how to do this! I TRIED embedding code below... can you see them?

Lesson #4: Laugh
Take time to be silly, have fun, and do things that make you laugh. It feels good! Selfies are fun.

Lesson #5: Conserve Your Battery
In life and in work, we have a limited amount of energy, just like our phones! Had I left all of my apps open and the internet on, I would have not been able to track our progress, to record the stream, or to capture images that I didn't want to forget. To conserve my battery while hiking, I always put my phone in airplane mode, which allowed us to hike for over 6 hours and never run out of power. So too, in life, we need to disconnect, to relax, to rest and recharge so that we can bring our best selves to our life an our work. 

In this way, we can enjoy the journey, finish strong, and reach our destination!

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Inspiration Avenue #NAESP16

Before I ever write in my notebook, or type on my computer, I write blog posts in my head. It's one of the reasons I love my commute and that I need to run. So many ideas swirling around in my head that have no hopes of coming together as a cohesive post without serious think time. And usually, my thoughts will remind me of a book I've read. This week is no different, and on my drive home from Truckee today I couldn't stop thinking about this book by Sir Ken Robinson.

If you haven't read it, I highly recommend it-- it was eye-opening for me on both a personal and professional level. The basic premise: you are in your element when your passion and talents collide-- when you feel successful and are doing what you love.

For the past three years, I feel like I've really been in my element- I'm lucky to work in a place that encourages, and even expects me to follow my passion, to take risks, and supports me in doing so. I feel good about the work I am doing, and I still have so much to learn!

Where am I in my element? You'll find me at the corner of Inspiration Avenue and Connected Street, in a place accessorized with piles of books, pictures of sunsets, motivational quotes, and of course a little sparkle!

Connected Street? Before we go too much farther, I have to share that being connected is not what you might think. Often we hear people talk about being connected and that that means "being on Twitter,"  or that if you're not on Twitter that you are not connected. Twitter (and tools like Voxer) can definitely enhance and accelerate your connections, and expand the number of people you can reach. But being connected is so much more- and it's really about building relationships and finding passionate people to push and inspire you. This image by Sylvia Duckworth captures it well, I think.

image link
But this week at NAESP, something happened. My personal and professional worlds collided when my husband joined me in Washington DC a few days before the NAESP conference. When I originally applied to present In DC, I thought it would be a great opportunity to visit our nation's capitol, and I'd never been there before. My husband is a SERIOUS history buff and I knew he would love it. We arrived in DC a few days before the conference, planned some sightseeing and bought tickets to see his favorite team, the Milwaukee Brewers, play the Nationals.

And it was there that I realized that I really had never shared my ELEMENT with my husband. I know he knows I love my job, and am passionate about the work that I do. But I'd never shared much with him about being connected, about blogging, or even presenting. It wasn't a secret or anything, but more that we really had never had education in common until this year when he became a teacher for the first time.

If I had to describe his element, I'd say he is passionate about coaching and teaching, and about baseball and history. But we had rarely discussed our passions, education, or our work much until this year. In the past, we had our kids to talk about, and softball. And all of a sudden our kids were grown.

After 25 years of marriage, somehow we are just beginning to learn about each other and our own interests and passions. 

The week before our trip, I saw Sam's new classroom for next year, and he showed me pictures of his classroom that he had moved out of. It was filled with Life Magazines, college pennants, and his life-sized Darth Vader stood in the corner. How had I never seen his classroom before? It was filled with his passions and interests from ceiling to floor.

In DC, Sam saw a side of me he hadn't seen before- the sparkly me, the one that lights up and is bubbly. This is the me that comes out at work, and definitely when I'm at that corner of Inspiration Avenue and Connection Street. But I'd rarely showed it at home. I don't know why.

And so, I continue to learn. In the next year, I'm so excited to continue my journey to find more balance between life and work. It's hard when your work is also your passion! But I am also excited to embark on a new journey-- one that includes sharing my passion with my family and learning more about Sam as he finds his own Element. I can't wait to see where his passions and talents collide!

Where are you in your Element?

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Quality Time #NAESP16

First, full disclosure. It's a REAL goal of mine to write more often and to write shorter posts when I do write. All this week during my time in DC for the 2016 NAESP conference, I've been composing blog posts in my mind... and they were getting pretty long. And yet, I couldn't find the right words to put on the page. I decided it would be better to write a few short posts. We'll see if I'm successful at keeping this one brief!

This morning I wrote my first post since March on the plane ride to from DC to my connecting flight in Dallas-- and I wrote until my laptop battery died, charging it up promptly upon arrival in Texas. 

And then my flight was delayed. Seven hours in the Lone Star state waiting for thunderstorms to clear. I read a little and wrote in my notebook, going old school with paper and pen, preparing for two book chats later in the week.

Interestingly, the chapter I'm reading in Hacking Leadership is all about building relations ships, and Joe and Tony talk about balancing real time and virtual connections- it's not enough to send emails or thank you cards, or to connect just face to face.

And it reminded me of a book I had read recently--The Five Love Languages. Truly, this book is about building relationships with your spouse, and understanding what fills your love/happiness bucket. Full disclosure- I heard about it from Jen Duston, another principal I'm connected to on Voxer, and was interested in the content--but not really reading it related to my marriage at first. I read it in one night and my mind was blown- and I realized that this book has real relevance for ANY relationships - at home or at work.

Fast forward to NAESP this week, where I was SO excited to meet so many principals who I considered friends but most I had never met face to face. We hugged, we rode the ferris wheel, we laughed, we learned, and we had real face to face conversations about our life and our work and our passions. This picture was taken the first day of the conference and it seemed like we had known each other forever!

The second day, we decided to ride the ferris wheel. Yep, eight principals do fit in one car! 

The third day, the conference ended earlier than I had expected, so Brandon Blom and I Ubered out to sightsee since our flight didn't leave until the next day. So hot, and so fun!

So, remember that balance of virtual and face to face connections Joe and Tony were talking about in their book? Months of corresponding via a walkie-talkie app had allowed us to build relationships prior to arriving in DC -- and it was SO awesome to spend real, quality time together!

And that's when I realized that we were all speaking the same language! Seriously, MY two top love languages are words of affirmation and quality time. This conference was filled with positivity, inspiring words and moments I will treasure forever. My bucket is full!

Check out these #NAESP16 blog posts by Todd SchmidtLiz GardenLindsy StumpenhorstMark FrenchNick ProudBrandon BlomKas NelsonBrad Gustafson, and Lynn Colon - enjoy!
The graphic below describes the qualities of the five love languages, and if you haven't read the book, take a few minutes to take the quiz and see what your love language is-- it was eye opening for me, and really I think would be powerful to know about our colleagues or significant others.

Dreams #naesp16

Washington DC is a city filled with dreams. Everywhere you look, statues and monuments honor the dreamers of the past. Quotes fill the walls with powerful messages that are both timeless and timely as we continue to struggle as a society to navigate our world and each other.

If these are the dreamers of the past, then who are the dreamers of our future? 

We must be the dreamers. 
We must inspire our children to believe in the impossible.
We must imagine a world filled with love and beauty and kindness and peace and we cannot stop believing this dream can come true.

In his closing keynote yesterday, Pedro Noguera spoke about the children in our schools. He spoke about small children who carry large burdens that they cannot explain. He spoke about schools that are failing-- with high test scores-- because they are failing to capture the imaginations of their students. 

As school leaders, every day we touch the future. And now, more than ever, I am sure that the purpose of school is not for students to learn facts or to get grades, but to prepare our students for a future that does not yet exist but that will require them to be able to problem solve, to work together, to communicate, and to create the most amazing world they can dream of.

Schools must become the place where everyone in the building learns to live with kindness and understanding, where we must hold hands and arrive with arms wide open each day, ready to embrace each other with love. 

Schools must become a place where students discover their passions and where dreams are ignited. Pedro Noguera shared, "You can't buy culture. It comes through relationships and honest conversations." The culture of our schools will become the culture of our future. Am I doing enough in my school to learn the story of every single person in our school community? Are we building the relationships together that will sustain our future?

Walking through DC, I kept taking pictures of things that inspired me- quotes, clouds, and even the reflection of the water.  I wanted to remember the feeling I had walking through a city filled with so many dreamers who believed in our future. I wanted to remember the moments with my history-loving husband in our first time in our nation's capitol as he saw it through the eyes of a teacher celebrating the end of his first year in the classroom.

Talking on the phone yesterday, my husband asked me why I liked to go places to learn, like attending this conference in DC. After thinking for a moment, I realized that the learning that happens when I go somewhere, whether it's at a local conference, a far away location, or even on a walk, is not about learning a skill or a tech tool. The real learning comes from the conversations that push my thinking and from the ideas and inspiration. The real learning comes from the connections and the hugs and learning that I'm never alone. The real learning comes when I leave with dreams for our future and feel empowered to change the world, even if it's just by holding one tiny hand at a time.

The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams. 
Will you dream with me?


Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Feedback: What doesn't kill you makes you stronger!

It's like that.

What doesn't kill you makes you stronger. And bears, well, they could kill you. Asking for feedback? Whether it's me asking for feedback from my teachers about my leadership, or teachers asking for feedback about their classrooms, it is truly an act of bravery to put yourself out there and ask for input.

It's scary!

I've been so inspired by Brene Brown's book Daring Greatly - about putting ourselves out there and being vulnerable, and the Teddy Roosevelt quote the book is named after.

This is my second year asking for feedback from my teachers about my leadership style, and our second year asking for school-wide and classroom feedback. (I blogged about it here.) I've been inspired by others, like Eric Saibel, who bravely ask for feedback, and follow up with honest, public reflection, regardless of the thoughts shared.

The topic of today's monthly staff meeting was feedback- I had asked for school-wide and leadership feedback in the last few weeks, and shared some of the results. We also read Eric Saibel's two blog posts (Hold My Hand Through The Scary Parts and Life In A Glass House ) to start the meeting, discussing a quote in small groups.

For fun, we also watched a throwback video that followed our feedback theme! Are you old enough to remember this song? Some of us sang along!

Here's the quote I loved from Eric's post:

And these from Bill Gates:

For me, it was really important to model the process for asking for and reflecting on feedback, even though it's terrifying in many ways. But there is also a lot to celebrate!

Here are a few responses from my leadership and school-wide family feedback forms:

A mixed review
Hot and cold. All valuable.

After sharing my results, our teachers got to work creating their forms to send out, and shared the response form with me. So brave! One grade level even sent theirs as a team! Here are their questions- and they also had the opportunity to add their own.

The results are starting to come in. Scary. Exciting. And some unexpected responses. After sending out the feedback survey, one teacher received this email from a family:

"I've been meaning to send you some positive feedback. [Our child] has really had a transformation this year after moving to Star Academy and I think you are the reason! [She] has always been an [unmotivated] student, I think because she has been bored. Her previous teachers were focused on getting everyone on the same level and passing the standardized tests. There was only one year that [she] did not have a long term sub (including this year before moving to Star), which hasn't helped.

I think it is difficult to be able to teach to each student's ability (I know I certainly could not do it), but it seems you really have a knack for it. On [her] first day of school you had mentioned that everyone learns differently and recognizing that puts you leaps and bounds over many of the educators that my girls have had over the years.

One of the big transformations for [our child]: she likes to read now! Introducing her to the Harry Potter series has her in her room with the door shut actually enjoying to read. This has been huge because getting her to read before now has been a struggle.

And thanks so much for including [her] on the math team. She really, really wanted to make the team and is super excited about 'more math homework.'

After [her] first day, she missed her friends and mentioned that moving to Star may have been a mistake. I asked her a few weeks later if she had any regrets moving. The response, "My only regret is not moving sooner!"

THANK YOU for being such a great influence on [her] We will always remember you as the teacher that was able to change [our child] from being [unmotivated] to interested in school!"

Amazing things can happen if we are willing to step into the arena.
Why not start with asking for feedback?