Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Aspiring School Leaders -- THIS is for you!

Having a mentor at any stage of your career is so beneficial, but often doesn't happen after student teaching, unless people personally seek a mentor out. Time constraints and location can often prevent strong mentoring relationships from being formed.

Today, online relationships are often how we connect for personal growth and learning - edchats, blogs, webinars and personal PLNs  --- strong mentoring relationships can also be built through these same digital means!

There are SO many great leaders across the United States that are willing to reach out and support the next generation of school leaders! Our goal is to support aspiring leaders through a series of webinars held by some of these inspiring top leaders.

Webinar topics could include:
  • Interviewing tips
  • The “behind the scenes” of administration
  • Tech tools and tips for growth
  • Work/Life Balance
  • Resume / Cover Letter Building

In addition to the FREE webinars, we want to match experienced leaders up with future leaders in mentoring relationships. We have personally experienced and know the value of mentorship and know it doesn't have to occur face-to-face.  Tools such as Voxer, Google Hangouts, FlipGrid, etc will be utilized to make these unique relationships happen.

Could you use the support?

Know someone who could?

Even if you are thinking about only watching the webinars, please take a few minutes to complete this quick Google Form below. This will help us see what webinar topics would be most helpful to you as an aspiring leader.

We would greatly appreciate you sharing this with others so today’s leaders can help grow tomorrow's!

Current leaders -- we're coming to you next! Please plan to join our webinars, share this with aspiring leaders you know and consider being a mentor!

Friday, August 11, 2017

Words are Tools - Choose Carefully!

Words are tools.  They can sharpen us, make us brighter, fulfill us, or unfortunately drill us down. We need to choose words wisely. You never know what effect they will have on others. My father always said “You can have 100 great interactions with someone, but one sour one can ruin everything.”

I’m so excited about starting the new school year - seeing new pictures on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.  As I head into school year 17-18 my goal is to conscientiously think about the power of the words that I use with my students, colleagues and friends.  Positivity will always win out - sharpening others, building them up, making others better.  That’s truly what education/life is about.  

When speaking to others, both students and adults, the way we deliver our words are extremely important.  What we may see as joking or sarcasm, others may not.  We must keep our intent positive.  Tone and cadence is something that we need to think about as well.

Words that dull us, drill us down, rough up our edges are tough, even as adults!  But as adults we are able to forgive and move on, but our students are not always given this privilege or have the skill set to do so.  These are the students that become chronically absent from school, cut classes, exhibit behavior problems, etc. often because of a word or comment that we didn’t think twice about.

Noticing small accomplishments, saying good morning, giving a fist bump or even knowing someone’s name can change a day for someone.  Sending a note home, making a positive phone call, tweeting or sharing a picture can be a memory that a student (or adult) holds on for a lifetime.  Additionally, “I’m sorry” is one of the most powerful tools for those times that we may have slipped.  

My friend Allyson Apsey (@allysonapsey) and her staff at Quincy Elementary in Zeeland, Michigan even shared a blog (HERE) recently of various ways to greet students and staff as they head back to school!  These "back to school" words are also powerful tools.

I wish everyone a great 2017-2018 school!  May words fill you with cheer, joy, hope and happiness!
Let’s build a better us!


Friday, July 28, 2017

What are you waiting for? Make that PORTFOLIO!

Creating a portfolio is a way to sell yourself and your talents. A friend and I were talking last night about portfolios and I shared that I am constantly updating mine.  It is important that we continually keep our portfolios up to date. In today’s generation, it is crucial to have both a traditional and an online version of our portfolios.

For the past few years I have used as my online portfolio.  It worked well and I was pleased. It is free and user friendly.

Recently I found This free website is made with educators in mind.

There are many ways to create an online portfolio and many websites that will assist you in creating one.  I have used different websites for many things.  For instance, I use Blogger to host my educational blog, and am starting to use as a professional website.  All are free or have upgrades available depending on your needs.

The key is to make a portfolio to represent who you are. Highlight your attributes and share with others prior to even applying for or looking for jobs!

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Dreamers Never Give Up

I spent a lot of time this summer reflecting on the past few years.  Although things have not turned out as I might have liked, I’ve decided I need to see these as learning experiences instead of setbacks.

As educators and professionals we cannot focus on the “fails” or negatives.  We need to see them as growth opportunities.  In what areas can we improve?  Where can we make a bigger impact? What have we learned?

It is a choice to allow the negative to build, gnaw at our guts, consume our thoughts, or we can choose to be resilient.

I choose resiliency.

I choose to take action instead of staying stagnant.

I choose to allow myself to let go and move on from things that aren’t beneficial to me personally or professionally.

I choose to continue to connect with others who support and encourage me.  

I choose to take risks and try new things.

I choose to reach out to others who will help me on my journey.

I choose to continue to dream and set goals.

I choose to encourage and support others in their journey.

I choose to grow and learn from others in as many ways as possible.

I choose to stay determined, passionate and persevere.

I choose resiliency.

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.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

A Cry for Help

Our students need help.  

More than in reading, writing, and math.

More than in self-confidence and self-esteem building in most cases too.

It’s the serious help that many students need, yet few educators are trained to help a student with appropriately.

It’s the taboo notion of mental health/mental illness that often gets seen as “teenage behavior”, “moodiness” or “stress”.  There are higher rates of students needing critical support in our schools than ever before.  Our students are dealing with issues that typical 14 - 18 year olds shouldn’t have to deal with.  We can’t expect them to cope with this illness along with dealing with school, relationships and jobs.

“One half of all mental illness begins by age 14 and 75% begins by age 24”

Schools aren’t equipped with staff to service students with the medical attention that they are in need of, and parents are often in denial. We need to build relationships with community agencies so they can provide staff training.  We need to offer community outreach nights so our parents and communities can work together to see and understand the signs of mental illness.  Together we can get students to doctors and specialists that can help them.

We need to break down the stereotypes and start learning.  Start helping.  Start supporting.

We need the tools, the words, and the advice to allow our students to feel safe.

Let's start today.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Chasing After Lions

“If you succeed at the wrong thing, you've failed.  
If you fail at the right thing, you've succeeded.”

Do you have a dream?  A big dream? One that you are working towards or thinking about daily?  

If so, how are you chasing your dream?  Are you going after it, head on, with no fears?  Dream chasing is running towards a 500 pound lion when everyone else may turn and run away, or when others tell you to back down.

Chase the Lion by Mark Batterson is an excellent book that helps you realize that chasing your biggest dream is actually a very good thing to do!
book cover .jpeg

Many of us have dreams about bettering ourselves professionally or personally.  What’s stopping us?  Is it the fear of the unknown?  The fear of failure?  Why do we back down at the sound of a roar?  We should be charging towards it.

Dreams are more than dreams - they are callings, and at the end of the day, or any given period of time, are you going to be able to say “I did it”, “I tried”, “I faced my fear.”?   You can’t give up.  Reflect on the greats that failed multiple times and where we would be today if they gave up on their dreams.  Henry Ford, Bill Gates, Thomas Edison….sound familiar?

Sure, there are times that we hit a roadblock or other's words sting so badly you aren’t sure you want to go on. But there are always opportunities to keep going.  As Batterson says “opportunities to show kindness, opportunities to show courage”.  Sometimes it’s just as beneficial to help others chase after their dreams.

We need to make the most of what we are given and continue to chase after our 500 pound lions. Sometimes we need to pay our dues and work towards these dreams.  Maybe it’s fighting lion cubs along the way, storing away the valuable lessons that went with each battle.

If you aren’t working towards your dream, why not?  What’s stopping you?

“If your dream is about you, no one will rally around it.  
If your dream is about others, you won’t be able to keep others away.”