Monday, November 30, 2015

The Mindful School Leader Chapter 2 #worklifebalance


I read this #NerdyBookClub post and saw myself. I love to read. I read a lot. And I don't always remember what I read. 
This totally describes me:

Jago writes...
"Avid readers often...
1. Value speed over reflection. Such readers seldom pause between books to think about what they have read. They reach for the next one with hardly an intake of breath.
2. Skip anything they find boring. Unlike inexpert readers, these “master” readers feel free to jump past anything that interrupts the flow of a story. They skim descriptive passages and skip altogether imbedded poetry or quotations (for example the medieval tale within Edgar Allan Poe’s “Fall of the House of Usher.”)."

And so, I embark on chapter 2 of The Mindful School Leader, a book I read last Spring, and can hardly remember. I remember the essence of it, but it's really like I'm reading it for the first time. 

This time, I'm determined to remember. With each chapter, I'm writing a little blog post, just to mark my journey, in case I forget it all again. And I breeze past some of the drier science-y stuff. 

This chapter is all about the science of mindfulness.  Mindfulness and the brain. 

Things to note:
  1. Kids and adults are under stress every day. This reminded me of a blog post I read this summer about AP tests, kids, stress, and suicides. 
  2. It is not mindful to text and email school-related stuff late at night and on weekends.
  3. Our experiences are important. So are our thoughts about them.
Some quotes:
"A key element of being an authentic leader is being present."

"To acknowledge an emotion or thought is like opening a door to begin to change your relationship with yourself."

The quote below:

This chapter also has some great beginner's mindfulness exercises, some as short as 30 seconds. I especially want to try the beauty bath. Five minutes like this sounds amazing.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Why do I lead? #savmp

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This post is part of #SAVMP, the School Administrator Virtual Mentor Program and I am excited to be participating with an amazing group of school leaders for the second year in a row! You can find out more at This week's blog post topic is a question that I've been thinking about all week.

Why do I lead? 
I love this question. I think about it a lot. People often ask me how I like being a principal. I hear other administrators talking about being in a leadership role. Sometimes they say things like, "I was ready to be out of the classroom." Others say, "Being a principal is the best job ever." The path to school leadership is different for everyone, and I wonder sometimes if people love it, and if they don't, why not? How did they get there? Why do they lead? And I think about myself. Why do I lead?

I'll start by saying that it IS the best job ever. I love it. I can't wait to go to school. I love all of it. Yes, even budgets, even bell schedules, and drop off in the morning is one of my favorite parts of my day. 

I lead for three reasons.
  1. I love learning.
  2. I love sharing.
  3. I love small moments.
I love learning.

Learning is magical. There is nothing quite like being there when kids are learning. I spend as much of my day as possible in classrooms, talking with kids, and watching them as they try to make sense of their world in big and small ways. The book that delights them, the math problem they conquer, the idea that takes shape and you can see it in their eyes. Every day, it's like I've blown on a dandelion and my wish has come true because I get to be see magic happen for kids. Passion ignited. Smiles of success. Kids digging learning so much that they don't even notice me. 

I absolutely loved being a classroom teacher. It was magical and I was able to create a space where my goal for 26 students every year was to discover the world and a love for learning. I wanted my kids to be so excited about school that they would run to school every day. As a leader, I have the opportunity to help create a whole school with a mission to make every day AWESOME for kids. I get to say yes to all kinds of ideas that might seem crazy but are amazing. I get to create a budget that provides kids with opportunities to prepare for their future- a budget that includes robots and coding and creativity and not just textbooks that inspire no one. 

And the learning? It doesn't stop when school gets out and it's not just for kids. It happens on weekends, at night, on Twitter, and Voxer, and Facebook. I love learning with and from others. Learning happens in the teacher's lounge, on my commute, and at conferences. I think that schools are amazing when everyone in the building is a learner. 

THIS just happened today. On a Sunday. On Facebook-- our teachers learning and sharing! It happens all the time.

And at school...

Teachers PUMPED to open Project Lead the Way materials!
K-12 teachers learning from each other
I love sharing.

As a classroom teacher, I celebrated my students. As a principal, I get to share the story for our whole school! Every day, I get to visit classrooms and share what's happening on Facebook, on Twitter, to our families and the world. I get to make awesome phone calls home for students. I get to post the amazing things happening in our school on our school blog. I love being the storyteller for our school. Love it.

Caught being awesome!
Celebrating our student-led Lego Club! 
Awesome phone calls home on the speaker phone!
I love small moments.

This might be the reason I most love to lead. The small moments. I love getting to know students and families. To be able to take the time to connect and to learn their story. I love being able to provide the quiet, safe space for a student who is having a rough day. I love hugs. I love eating lunch with the funny 4 year-olds who make me laugh every day. I love seeing little brothers and sisters in the car at drop off because one day they will be our students! Every day is made of of many small moments. I lead because I hope that every child piles up enough small moments during their time at our school that they will never forget us.

I lead because each day we are given a dandelion. Just blow, and our dreams might come true.

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Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Notice #gratitude

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As a kid, my dad always told me I should slow down. As an adult, my dad tells me to slow down. "You're always on the go." And he's right. I like to go places. I like to drive places. I like to see people. In a recent blog post, Amy Fadeji reflects on being on the move, and her post really resonated with me. I think it's just who I am. 

And yet, I've felt this year a need to intentionally slow down. To take a breath. To reflect. To just be. 

I'm not good at it. 

I have to intentionally plan to be more mindful. I write it down. I set an alarm to take 10 minutes of quiet at work. I walk. Sunday, I walked 12 miles, today 11. It was beautiful.

About a month ago, our counselor Caroline Hines showed me this TED Talk called Nature. Beauty. Gratitude, and we watched it at one of our staff meetings. 

It reminds us to notice our surroundings. To notice people. 

And I've been noticing more. 

Here are a few quotes from the TED Talk that I can't stop thinking about:

"Begin by opening your eyes and be surprised that you have eyes you can open, that incredible array of colors that is constantly offered to us for pure enjoyment. Look at the sky. We so rarely look at the sky.We so rarely note how different it is from moment to moment, with clouds coming and going. We just think of the weather, and even with the weather, we don't think of all the many nuances of weather. We just think of good weather and bad weather. This day, right now, has unique weather, maybe a kind that will never exactly in that form come again. That formation of clouds in the sky will never be the same as it is right now. Open your eyes. Look at that."

"Look at the faces of people whom you meet. Each one has an incredible story behind their face, a story that you could never fully fathom, not only their own story, but the story of their ancestors. We all go back so far, and in this present moment, on this day, all the people you meet, all that life from generations and from so many places all over the world flows together and meets you here like a life-giving water, if you only open your heart and drink. "

This week, I'm so thankful for my life, the beauty that surrounds us, and all of the people I have had the opportunity to meet. I'm grateful to have time to walk, to travel, and to connect with so many people who shape my life and me. 

By taking time, I notice more. 

Beautiful friends 
Fall colors
The reflection of clouds
Sun on the water
People who inspire and energize me
The Golden Gate
Lines and signs
Sunsets from home
What do you notice?

Monday, November 23, 2015

What's the big deal? #cuerockstar admin

What's this CUE Rockstar Admin camp all about anyways? From the outside, it probably looks like this:
A beautiful location
Selfies with Yoda 
Did I say beautiful location? 
Maybe some dancing?
Or is it just a fancy technology camp for school administrators that happens to take place in a cool venue? 

Why should someone attend one of these camps? After all, we're busy people who don't have time for fun and games. Right? What is CUE Rockstar all about?

I think it's like this video. Watch.

If you think a video about 7 year olds sounds crazy, stay with me. The experience these kids have at this amazing restaurant isn't that different than CUE Rockstar Admin. Here's why:

  1. Amazing location. These kids are in one of the fanciest restaurants in New York City. It's memorable, it's special. They will never forget this experience.
  2. They are together, enjoying each other, being social. This video would not be the same with one kid in it. The sharing of this new and rich experience is more special because they are experiencing it together.
  3. These kids are out of their comfort zone. They're trying things they would never eat at home. But somehow it feels safe because they are all in it together.
  4. They are energized by the experience, and they celebrate. The toast at the end is their high five and their smiles couldn't be bigger!
I also have to think that the expectation these kids have for a dinner out is changed forever. How will McDonalds ever compare?

This IS Rockstar Admin. We are those 7 year olds. 

  1. Skywalker Ranch is "the" beautiful location, one of many different venues chosen to create a special feel and experience for those who attend. For a few days, we journey off to a special world together. I think changing our place helps to change our mindset, too. We're primed for something special to happen when we journey to somewhere awesome.
  2. Connecting. Perhaps the most important thing that happens at these camps. These camps aren't about learning to make a Google form or write on a Padlet wall. Will you learn some new tech skills? Probably. But you'll also learn how to use the tool to change your school or district. The most important learning happens in the conversations, the reflecting, in the thinking out loud. What are you doing that I can take back? What didn't work for you that I can learn from? How can we inspire each other? (See Rockstar Admin reflection posts by Andrew Schwab hereJoe Wood here, Amy Fadeji here, Catina Haugen here, and Ken Durham here)
  3. Get out of your comfort zone! The dancing on Day 3? So fun, but really something we would never do alone. If we can dance together, a room full of school administrators, then what can't we do?    In our sessions, we ask each other tough questions and get vulnerable. In one session, someone said something like, "We do a great job of preparing kids for school. We don't prepare them for the real world." These conversations are HARD to have, or don't happen at all back in our districts. But maybe, just maybe, if we say these things out loud to each other at Skywalker Ranch, it can get easier to have hard conversations when we get home.  
  4. We are energized by the experience! It's tough to be gone from our school sites. But the experience shared over three days can spark inspiration and passion that will hopefully continue to shine on! On the last day, participants also reflect and share publicly their takeaways from the three days. It's not about having a polished plan or even about what you present. It's about making your thinking visible, about being truly open in a group and sharing that we often have more questions than answers and that we are willing to try something new and even scary to make school more awesome for kids. 
Keep on dancing when you get home! 

The Mindful School Leader #worklifebalance chapter 1

Work. Life. Balance. is a HUGE challenge for me, and one I've been trying to be very intentional about this year as a school leader. I'm trying to leave work at a decent time, and earlier on Fridays. I'm trying to take more time to rest and recharge. I'm trying to take time to just breathe during the day at work and actually eat my lunch without working at the same time. I've been doing pretty well, although I could exercise a lot more.

I'm also reading The Mindful School Leader starting this week with a group of school leaders and we are discussing a chapter a week on Voxer. This week we've read the first chapter and each Monday we'll be talking about the book and just informally sharing thoughts, quotes, and questions each Monday. Here are some of my takeaways this week:

A quote:
"School leadership demands time and energy.The interesting thing is that taking time for mindfulness makes school leaders feel like we have more time, not less." 

A thought:
Everything is not urgent.

Things I'm finding make a difference:
  1. Not checking email until I get to work in the morning. The author shares the story of a school leader who started every day at 5 am opening emails and being filled with a sense of panic. By not checking email until I get to work, I'm finding I actually enjoy my quiet commute to work.
  2. More on my commute: I'm now taking that drive time to notice more and practice gratitude-- to see a beautiful sunrise, to notice the clouds or the fall leaves. It's become a time to reflect and just "be" for about 35 minutes each morning.
  3. Trying to not email staff if at all possible evenings and weekends. I use Boomerang to send it later if I really want to write the email on the weekend. Teachers and staff need to recharge at night and weekends to be able to bring their best for kids.

This TED Talk was also mentioned in chapter one. It's beautiful. Interestingly, we had used this TED Talk in one of our staff meetings earlier this year as we focused on mindfulness and gratitude.

"When people see my images, a lot of times they'll say, "Oh my God." Have you ever wondered what that meant? The "oh" means it caught your attention, makes you present, makes you mindful. The "my" means it connects with something deep inside your soul. It creates a gateway for your inner voice to rise up and be heard. And "God"? God is that personal journey we all want to be on, to be inspired, to feel like we're connected to a universe that celebrates life." ~Louie Schwartzberg

Finally, this quiz was mentioned in the book  in case you'd like to try it out.

How mindful are you? Take this quiz: 

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Big Rocks First. #threethings

My three things
One week in, I'm already loving the concept of three things. On my wall I have posted the three things I want to accomplish to feel good about my day. Here are my three things for each day:
  1. Prioritize three things to complete and do them in 45 minute chunks of time.
  2. Show appreciation in writing.
  3. Take 10 minutes each day to eat lunch and have a quiet moment.
This week, I felt super successful at accomplishing my three goals, and every day I write a messy little sticky note with the three things I'm allocating 45 minutes to that day. Most days, I've completed my list. Last Thursday, I entered my office at 4:15 after a training and only had one thing on my list completed. Since no one was at home waiting for me, I decided to stay and get the remaining two things on my list done. At 5:38, I walked out the door with my three things completed. It felt so good! And my to-do list for the next day was already written.

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I'm the first to admit that I need time to process and think about new ideas. Jen Duston had shared the concept of three big rocks, and I needed to hear that again before it sunk in. In our Voxer group, she explained that if you put the big things first, you'll have more time for all of the little things. She calls her three things her three "big rocks" for the day, and she shared that it came from Stephen Covey's 7 Habits. I watched a few videos on the topic and realized something important. 

I was working hard. Doing a lot. But I was choosing to do little things first. My little things weren't necessarily trivial or unimportant, but they were the things I knew I could do in a day. But the result of focusing on just the little things? My big things, the things that needed more focused time weren't getting done and were piling up. Bell schedules. Furniture orders and spreadsheets. And I was feeling overwhelmed by all of the big things that I wasn't finishing. I needed to put my big things, my big rocks, first. Last week, I finally checked some big things off of my list. And I found I still had time for the little things! Even better, I rewarded myself for finishing my list early by filling my time with awesome things like getting into classrooms with teachers and kids. 

Little by little, I'm getting the hang of this balance thing.

Here are a few Big Rocks videos I found that you might like. Thanks for the inspiration, Jen!

Sunday, November 8, 2015

What did I do today? #threethings

I like to think that I'm organized. That I'm an efficient person and school leader. Every single day I feel a sense of purpose. I love my work. 

And I struggle.

At the end of the day, I often look back and wonder if I accomplished anything at all. According to my FitBit, I average 13,000 steps at work. I'm going places. I'm in classrooms. I'm connecting with kids and families and teachers.

But am I getting anything done? My to-do list is the bane of my existence. I've moved it to the Google tasks calendar. I'm checking off things here and there but it grows faster than a California wildfire. 

This week, the number 3 is calling my name. I'm inspired to do three things. 


Last April, Joe Sanfelippo sent me a message via Voxer about his "three things". You can read his blog post where he describes his three. But ever since last April, I've been thinking about THAT vox. The concept of "three things" is a topic for one of our upcoming staff meetings. I've played that vox probably ten times. 

His idea was simple, yet brilliant. What three things do I want to accomplish at the end of the day so that I can feel good about my day?

Then, last week, in another Voxer group focused on finding balance in life and work, Jen Duston shared her strategy for getting things done each day. Her idea, also simple and brilliant: 

  1. Identify three things to get done. 
  2. Allocate a 45 minute chunk of time for each item.
  3. If you finish early, fill the remaining time with something awesome.
For me, the spirit of "three things" starts tomorrow. 

Here are my three things for each day:
  1. Prioritize three things to complete and do them in 45 minute chunks of time.
  2. Show appreciation in writing.
  3. Take 10 minutes each day to eat lunch and have a quiet moment.*
*Yes, this is a real goal. Many days I don't eat lunch or stop for just 10 minutes to breathe, think and recharge. So many of my principal friends share this struggle! 

Every day, I put kids first. I get into classrooms. I'm out and about in my school. I like to think I'm good at what I do.

But I can do better-- starting with three things, posted where I can see them, every day!