Friday, July 14, 2017

National Principal's Conference 2017

Late last Friday night I found out I was going to be able to attend the National Principal’s Conference in Philadelphia.  I literally booked a room, packed a bag and started driving!  My heart was still racing, along with my now overloaded brain, as I drove home in pure encouragement, excitement and renewed hope in my leadership journey.

The conference was a different experience for me than it was for most I am sure.  I am not currently an administrator, but aspiring to be one. I took in everything - I took copious notes, many pictures and journaled ideas throughout the two and a half days that I was there.  I concentrated on people’s words and expressions and the passion that they had for making education great.  There were times that I laughed, times that I was confused and admittedly, times that I cried.  

What I learned though, is there are great leaders and educators that want our educational system to get better for the people we serve.

For example:
  • Brad Gustafson and Todd Nesloney presented on Building A Culture Conducive to Change.  Granted, many leaders talk about culture changes, but to see the pictures and hear the excitement in their voices as they talked about their schools and their students was refreshing. It was the little things like the teaching with their teachers, giving “spark plug” awards, and having students record messages through green screens in their offices that showed they truly put their students and staff first.
  • Jeff Zoul and Jimmy Casas always amaze me.  They go out of their way to greet attendees in their sessions and make sessions personal.  I am humbled by how both of them would remember who I was from an encounter months ago, but that truly demonstrates who these leaders are.  Their session on their recent publication Start.Right.Now was filled with personal stories and encouragement.  These men are truly humble educators and leaders.
  • Meghan LeFevers led an intimate, small session on Inclusion and the IEP process that I wish more people could have attended. It is so important that as leaders, teachers and educators we fully understand the IEP process and involve ourselves in it.  It’s not just another meeting - it’s about a student and their plan to succeed in school and, ultimately, in life.
  • Todd Nesloney, Ben Gilpin, and Brad Gustafson once again blew my mind with their “This is Us - Ideas to Expand Your Leadership” session.  Leadership and successful school culture truly is about bringing everyone together and realizing what makes your school special.  “Dinner with Gentlemen” rather with “Donuts with Dads” promotes ANY male role model in a student’s life being welcomed into the school. “Tech Taco Night” encourages students to be tech leaders and share what they know with their families.  It’s little things to bring BIG smiles into the building.

This conference was about more than the sessions though.  It was meeting people that I had connected with through twitter for the first time face-to-face (like the AMAZING Sean Gaillard), reconnecting with old college friends (how random!) and meeting new people and having great conversations about our shared passion for students and education.

Aspiring leaders need the opportunity to experience what I was blessed to experience.  School leaders who are reading this, please mentor others like me and find ways for them to attend learning events such as this conference or even state level conferences.  Introduce us to others and help build us as we become the next generation of leaders. We need strong mentorship and role models. NASSP and NAESP - please continue to find ways future leaders can attend this great event.

To my fellow aspiring admins --- don’t quit dreaming!  Don’t give up!  Get involved, attend events that keep you motivated and inspired.  Find a mentor that will encourage you through your journey.  Reach out to me - I’ve been, and I’m in, your shoes.  The world awaits us!!!

Finally, a huge thank you to A Pass Education ( who provided me with my opportunity to attend this year’s conference.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Embracing Feedback

I overheard a conversation yesterday that really has me reflecting.  (Caveat, I wasn’t really eavesdropping, our beach chairs were placed so close to one another that privacy was at a minimum!) A small group of ladies were talking about teaching and the school year that just ended. One lady shared that she was quite upset at how many times her new principal came in to observe her this past year.  She further stated that he left her “areas for improvement” and wondered how could she possibly need improvement when she has been teaching for over thirty years. I fully acknowledge that I know nothing about these ladies or their teaching abilities, and that beach time is meant for friends, relaxing and “venting”, but it provided me with genuine reflection time.

Feedback is crucial to our growth as educators. In order to improve for our students we must not only be reflective in our practices, but listen to what others have to say.  It is important to invite others in (not just for formal observations or performance reviews) but on a regular basis to get a second perspective on what is happening in our classrooms and schools.

As educators we must be open to listen to all types of feedback, positive and constructive. Education changes so quickly and fresh ideas and different ways of thinking only enhances what we are doing. I love the idea of the “observe me” signs outside a teacher's door with the QR code.  The teacher gets feedback from anyone that comes into the classroom.  Feedback isn’t just for teachers either, leaders can also ask colleagues or someone in their PLN for suggestions.

It is equally important to seek out quality feedback if you feel you aren’t getting enough.  Feedback needs to be timely and specific.  Ask questions, ask for support and resources.  It is important for us to seek out what we need for growth.  Observations and visuals are one of the best ways for this.

Equally, don't be afraid to offer feedback. I think as educators we aren't willing to share with others, perhaps thinking we will hurt feelings or come off as egotistical. We can't think that way as we all have areas that we are stronger in than others. Share your strengths and suggestions to others. Provide professional development in areas where you see weaknesses. We need to keep in mind that we are bettering education for students, not ourselves!

From feedback we have the opportunity to reflect, research, take risks, and experiment.  Growth is inevitable.  Take everything in.  See feedback not as a requirement or criticism, but as an opportunity!

Friday, June 23, 2017

The Role of a Mentor

I’ve said it before, I am a huge advocate for mentorship.  Regardless of where we may be in our career, having, and being, a trusted mentor is crucial for growth.  This year I learned a lot, actually more than I ever thought I would, about mentorship.  I’ve been lucky to have mentors who established a framework for me, current mentors who encourage me, and am lucky to be a mentor as well.

What is a mentor?

A Collaborator - Mentors should work with their mentees and offer opportunities to work with others within their organization.  They should introduce mentees to others who could also help them with their career goals. Have a plan or project you want to implement?  Ask your mentee to assist.  This is a great way for them to learn and build their own skills as they advance in their skill set.

A Visionary - Where do you see yourself going in the future?  What steps do you take to get to the next level?  Mentors share visions with others.  They share their struggles, their successes and the steps and obstacles one may face on their path to the next level.  Mentors look forward and see opportunities instead of looking back at failed attempts.

An Encourager - Starting out in a new job or field could be intimidating at first.  Mentors encourage mentees through support and words of wisdom.  Mentors encourage mentees to take risks and are there by their side throughout the process.  

A Believer - A great mentor believes in their mentee’s potential and future.  They provide resources and opportunities for growth. They have conversations about the future and set up guides and pathways with their mentee.  They dream big!  They encourage others to dream big.  Great mentors have a strong “yes” “let’s do it” “how can I help” mentality as dreams are planned out.

A Dreamer - As I stated above mentors should set dreams for themselves and share these with their mentees. If we don’t constantly dream -  dream BIG - we’re not living life fully.  Mentors need to constantly evolve and demonstrate this passion of constant growth to their proteges.  

An Inspirer - A mentor inspires everyone around them to be better and to do great things. Mentors are chosen, selected, respected. They are looked up to and admired for the work that they have accomplished.  Strong mentorship leads to inspiring others to greatness.

A Role Model - By far the most important quality of a mentor.  Being a caring, empathetic, supportive role model will bring this out in the next generation of mentors. It’s ok to have tough conversations, they are needed. It’s ok to not see eye-to-eye on everything too. There is a huge amount of respect and admiration that goes out to one’s mentor, it’s a title to not take lightly.

Again, thankful for those who guided me in mentorship,
and those who honored me with the opportunity.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

SpEdCamp Ohio - A reflection

Earlier this year, I read to great books, Chase the Lion by Mark Batterson and Dream Year by Ben Arment. Both of these books encourages the reader to dream big and do what they can to bring their dreams to life.

I reflected on both books, talked about them with others, and thought, well one of my dreams is connected to other people.  I can work on it, but it “coming to life” is really dependent on others.  I reflected more.  Another dream is bringing needed resources into schools to work on all the mental health/drug problems we are facing daily. How do I get these dreams into fruition?

After a challenging day at work (I’m a special education teacher) it came to me!  I knew I needed to do something that would help my students at a greater level.  The idea of an EdCamp focused on Special Education became my focus.  Could I do this?  I sent out a random tweet and by the end of the day SpEdCamp Ohio had came to life.

I gathered a team.  I secured a location.  I started to get donations and sponsors.  I started promoting.  And promoting, and promoting.  Since this was only the 2nd EdCamp in the nation that focused on Special Education I wasn’t sure what type of crowd we would draw.  By June 12th, the day of SpEdCampOH 2017 we had 102 registrants!!!  

June 12th was MAGICAL!  I was so excited to see so many dedicated educators come together to talk about ALL students.  We discussed co-teaching, mental health, legal aspects of special education, how administrators can assist teachers, data collecting and so much more.  Our board was filled.  Educators were sharing stories, experiences, and connecting with one another.  My heart was full.

I went home that night, still on a high, and reread tweets and messages from friends and participants. I reflected, took notes and actually started planning for SpEdCamp 2018!  This EdCamp served it’s purpose.  It helped others grow.  It brought people together, but more importantly, it gave us ideas of how to best serve our students in the fall.

That night I sent out a survey to the attendees for feedback.  99% of the feedback so far has been positive and encouraging.  There was some feedback that came through that wasn’t constructive criticism/feedback.  For some reason it was a personal attack.  Although it bothered me, I thought about it, talked it over with a good friend and realized that this really was what I needed for my other dream!!!!  As an educator looking to go into a leadership role, I need to develop a thick skin, process this, and move on.  The overall outcome still shows that our EdCamp was a success.

As I sit here this morning, I still get tears in my eyes thinking “THAT REALLY HAPPENED!”  I am excited to think about the future of SpEdCamp Ohio.  Our first event has attendees excited to return to their schools and encourage their colleagues to join us in the future.  I see topics growing, deeper conversations, and connections being established.  Most importantly, I see students receiving the support that they need.

Dreams do come true.  Dream big.  Chase Lions!

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Always Be Humble and Kind

Seven years ago today was literally the hardest day of my life.  

I lost my father that morning to a massive heart attack.  How could someone with the biggest heart have a bad one?

The days after my father’s passing taught me more about life and my father than I ever knew, and I carry that with me every single day.  I knew my dad was a remarkable man, but I had no clue how many lives he touched on a daily basis.

At calling hours we stood and met many wonderful people and heard amazing stories.  My father was a courier, was a blue collar worker his entire life, but he had an impact on others because of his kindness and huge heart.  He was humble and kind.

As the line wrapped around the building of the funeral home, my family was amazed at what we heard.

We met two ladies who were dressed in hijabs, and were custodians where my dad delivered packages. They said “Mr Jim” was the ONLY person that spoke to them every day.  He gave them his newspaper so they could practice English and learn more about the United States.  My dad cared about them.

We met Mohammed, a young man, who just moved to Ohio away from family and friends.  My dad had talked to us about training this young man, but there was more to this friendship than we knew. At the calling hours Mohammed handed my mother an card.  She accepted it thinking it was a sympathy card.  That night we opened the card.  In the card was money.  My dad helped Mohammed buy his first truck so he could start working and delivering packages.  Mohammed wasn’t finished paying off his debt before my father passed, so he found money to give to us.  My dad was invested in making Mohammed’s dream come true.

As we stood in the receiving line talking and hearing stories about my father I realized that life isn’t about fame or notoriety.  It isn’t about being rich or showing off what you have.   It’s about being humble, being genuinely kind and giving all that you have to others.

My father’s service showed who he was.  To me, he was my dad.  To others he was the man they looked up to, respected, honored and loved.  

As I move forward in my life and career I always think about my father (I do every day).  I don’t need to be known for what I do.  I don’t need to have a recognizable name.  I just want others to know I care, that I am invested, that I am there wherever and whenever I’m needed.

Always be humble.

Always be kind.  

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Elite Eight

If you’re a college basketball fan this is the best time of the year.  Brackets, nail biters that go until the last few seconds, late nights.  The whole gamut.  

I’ve always been intrigued by the “Elite Eight”.  Not the “Sweet Sixteen” or the “Final Four”, but the “Elite Eight”. Those who are considered elite are the most successful, the best, the “superachievers”.

I started thinking about my “Elite Eight”- the ones who motivate me, encourage me, inspire me, and make me a better person. The people who want the best for me, are my biggest cheerleaders, but hold me to high standards as well. These are the people who are doing inspiring things in their lives and have huge impacts on others as well. They are undoubtedly "elite".

My Elite Eight are all different and are part of my life in unique ways.  Each of them, however, make me a better person. They make me want to be a better person.

As you watch the games tick away this weekend, think about your Elite Eight.  What impact do they have on you? How have they made you a better person?

Thank you "Elite Eight"!  You make my life better!
(and yes, I grouped people to make my eight, but the groupings are purposeful!)

Monday, February 20, 2017

Risk Taking - It's Worth It!

I still remember the room, the seat in the back of the classroom.  Last year I interned in the high school that I attended, and when I walked past the room a chill STILL ran up my back.

I remember the teacher.  She was a well liked teacher, but, she taught the class I was dreading.   

I waited as long as I could.  I prayed for snow days, for an illness.  The last class I wanted to EVER take was….  SPEECH.  I survived.

I moved on to college.  I have never liked talking in front of others. So why in the world would I go into teaching?  “That’s different” I would tell everyone.

I got through college and two rounds of graduate school.  Speaking in front of others got easier.  But then again, I was constantly speaking in front of groups of my peers.  I was never challenging myself further than that.

I dipped my toe lightly in the "speaking water" and spoke at a few EdCamp sessions this past year, so when someone suggested submitting a proposal for the state technology conference I thought, why not? (secretly thinking that there was NO way MY proposal would get through at a state conference).  It did.

So after advice and support from my friends, I faced my fear and spoke about a subject I’m very passionate about.  And guess what -- I didn’t die. Am I ready to quit my job and go into full time public speaking?  Nah, but I did it, and I would present again.

I actually learned a very good lesson.  In order to truly ask our students (or staff) to take risks we must be willing to take risks ourselves - and share those experiences with others. Leading up to my presentation, friends shared with me their experiences and how it helped them grow.  I, in turn, shared my experience with others and my students! It was definitely a growth experience.

I learned the value of taking risks and trying new things.  I can reflect on my experience and grow and learn from it.  If anything, it’s encouraged me to tackle more challenges!  I’m eager to see what I can try next.