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.

https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/warning-signs-of-mental-illness

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.”


Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Celebrating Culture




A culture of celebration can be created and fostered through celebrating the little things everyday.
  • Allyson (@AllysonApsey)


“Give people high fives just for getting out of bed. Being a person is hard sometimes.” Kid President


As educators, there are things that we can celebrate any day of the week. We love kids, we work to get better every day, we work through challenges, we embrace changes we never asked for, and on and on.


As a principal, my main customers are my staff members. I celebrate them in many ways:


  • Positive feedback for their awesomeness, sharing specifically the amazing things they are doing for kids.
  • Allow the school community to celebrate with us by posting videos on YouTube highlighting strengths. Here is an example: https://youtu.be/SQjpZIvrP0Q.
  • Tweeting out the great things teachers are doing for our kids:


Key to culture of celebration is the consistency and focusing on specific things that contribute to the culture and the success of students. When the school leader celebrates teachers and their successes, teachers will celebrate students and their successes.


Celebrating the little successes every day leads to big successes! Amazing things happen when people feel positive and strong--they celebrate each other, they are willing to take risks, they approach problems with a growth mindset, and there is joy in the air.

Developing relational culture takes time
  • Tim (@Tim_McDermott1)


Developing relational culture takes time. That is why it is important for principals to celebrate the wins as teachers make changes with their instructional practices, the way they collaborate, the way they manage their classrooms, or when they take risks and try something new.  The small wins matter to people (Amabile & Kramer, 2011). They build momentum and keep people moving. A talented principal recognizes these moments and knows when to celebrate and recognize them. DuFour (2015) states, “Effective principals will not wait for monumental accomplishments before celebrating” (p. 242). A culture of celebration and recognition leads to developing further trust amongst the members of a school.  


In my first principalship I wanted to build relationships and create a culture where we would celebrate our learning and our growth. So we instituted a tradition or ceremony of “tossing dogs”, in Batavia we are all Bulldogs so I thought that would be an appropriate stuffed animal to toss.. At every staff meeting teachers could take a small stuffed animal and publicly recognize another staff member and thank them for something they did for another teacher or a student and toss a stuffed dog to them. If a staff member received the dog they were able to keep them. It was really cool to walk into a teacher’s room or a specialist's office and see a small collection of dogs sitting on a shelf or a desk. I also dedicated one staff meeting towards the end of the year where teams would get up and share a celebration from the school year.  The only rule I had was that they couldn’t do a dry and boring Powerpoint. Here is an example of the fourth grade team and their journey of implementing guided math. Teams needed to be creative in the way the wanted to celebrate their journey and growth. The final tradition I started took place at the end of the school year where we would spend time together as a staff honoring those members who were moving schools, retiriing, etc… and then we would do something to recognize and celebrate each other. The first year each person had a piece of construction paper mounted to cardstock that went over their head and hung on their back with a piece of yarn.
File_000.jpeg


Every staff member had a pen and we spent 15 minutes walking around writing personal notes on each other’s paper. It was really great to provide meaningful comments to a teacher and to look around the room to see the same thing being repeated dozens of times.


Amabile, T. & Kramer, S. (2011). The progress principle: Using small wins to ignite joy, engagement, and creativity at work. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press.
Dufour, R. (2015). In praise of American educators and how they can become even better. Bloomington, IN: The Solution Tree Press.


#high5challenge
  • Jodie (@jodiepierpoint)


Derek Oldfield and Paul Bailey and I were part of a Voxer book study reading Kids Deserve It. Although we were active in the book study group, the three of us often chatted in a separate voxer chat and the idea of spreading positivity throughout schools nationwide was inspired.  We brainstormed and decided we would have a high five challenge, encouraging teachers, staff and principals to give out high fives as well as write letters and make phone calls home.  

We promoted our challenge through Twitter using the hashtag #high5challenge.  We were amazed at the responses, videos and pictures that we received from across the United States. Teachers were writing messages on student’s desks, writing positive notes on bracelets, dancing and high fiving in cafeterias!  Looking through the hashtag every night simply brought joy to each of us.  

To celebrate the educators we sent out #high5 #KidsMatter bracelets in hopes that although the two week challenge ended that the positivity would continue.  Kids do matter, and celebrating them with such simple ways as high fives and notes home sure does go a long way!

Culture is built over time, through deliberately focusing on celebrations, whether big or small. Spread positivity, celebrate daily, and then bask in the warmth and joy that exudes from the environment. We would love to hear how you have built a culture of celebrations, share with us in the comments or tag us on Twitter!

Monday, January 2, 2017

"BELIEVE" #oneword


When I started reflecting on what my one word for 2017 would be I knew I wanted it to be more meaningful and purposeful to me than the words I chose in the past.  My past words “determined” (2015) and “hope” (2016) were great words, but in all honesty, I didn’t put a lot of passion in them throughout the entire year. I was determined in 2015, and I had hope in 2016, but this year, I will fully embrace my word.

This year my word is BELIEVE. I find that I gravitate towards sayings that include it.  As you can see, there are many things I own that have “believe” in it;  my planner, a 10K race I completed, and a quote that sits on my fireplace. I see it every day and in everything I do - “believe” is something I believe in.
IMG_2863.JPGIMG_2866.JPGIMG_2865.JPG


  • I believe that I can be a better daughter, friend, mentor and teacher. I know that I am able to give a little more every day and show others how important they are to me. I will be present and listen to see how I can do this.  

  • I truly believe that as educators we can move forward in making the future better for our students.  I will be cognizant to their needs and build strong relationships with them.

  • I adamantly believe that there are better ways to teach and meet the needs of ALL our learners and I will do all I can to ensure that I advocate for these students and families.

  • I believe that the world is filled with kind, helpful people. Most people want to do their best, so I will support others as we grow and learn together.

  • I believe that through the support of others I will achieve my professional goals and continue to grow and learn throughout the journey.

Having the strong conviction of believing I can will make these goals doable and achievable. Sure, I will need help achieving my goals, but I believe that my friends and strong network of supporters will help me do just that!  

A gift for myself to remember everyday to "believe"