Quotes That Resonate, Volume 7

Without fail, when I am reading something there are often quotes that feel like they literally jump off the page, demanding that I stop and reflect. These quotes resonated with me long after I finish reading the text.

“When educators fail to pay careful attention to teacher learning in schools, conditions of teaching and learning remain the same. Only through learning will individuals change and grow.” ~ Stephanie Hirsh and Tracy Crow, Becoming a Learning Team

As I read up in preparation for a number of professional learning experiences with teachers and leaders in our district this year, this quote jumped out at me. One of the reasons I made the transition from teacher to site and then district leader was my passion for support adult learning. The more invested I became in my own professional growth, the more excited I was to support the professional growth of others.

“How we influence each other through conversations is key to creating a healthy culture at work.” ~ Judith E. Glaser, Conversational Intelligence: How Great Leaders Build Trust and Get Extraordinary Results

I just started reading this book and this quote jumped out of the introduction.  I appreciate the message that what we say and how we say it impacts our culture. Many school systems today are working to address inequities and to enhance their organizational culture. Paying more attention to our conversations, our relationships, can make a positive difference in this work.

“These systems don’t require enormous amounts of money. What they do require is thoughtful professionalism on the part of educators and school staff who are given the time, knowledge, and resources to work together in a quest to ensure that every student is successful. That should be within the grasp of every school in the country.” ~ Karin Chenowith, from “What ‘Unexpected’ Schools Do That Other Schools Don’t

As I continue to work in systems that are trying to revise our PLC process to improve student learning outcomes, I am always saddened that all school systems in America cannot yet provide teachers with time and resources to collaborate. The knowledge is already there, but if educators don’t have time to collaborate, their collective knowledge will never be known.

 

What quotes are resonating with you this week?

 

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July ’17 Reading Update

In July I read 3 books, making my 2017 total 24. At this rate, I’m going to have to double my reading rate to beat my 2016 total. I’ve actually been reading and rereading a number of professional books for work, but all that reading (and working!) doesn’t count for this list yet.

  • Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America by Michael Eric Dyson – I borrowed this book from the same friend who loaned me Hilllbilly Elegy, which I finished last month. It was quite an experience to read these two books in quick succession. What I appreciated about Dyson’s message was the balance between historical facts, modern day realities, and practical advice for white Americans. He speaks clearly from his own perspective and lived experiences, with concrete suggestions for ways in which we, white Americans, can begin to repair the damages done to black Americans since the beginning of our country. For anyone who struggles with the call of Black Lives Matter or the horrors of lives taken by police during random traffic stops, this is a must-read book. Really, it’s a must-read book for all of America, especially in these times.
  • Unnatural Acts (Stone Barrington #23) by Stuart Woods – This book felt like a story-within-a-story. There were elements from #22 (Shelly from the FBI) and Herbie’s story line as he moved up in the law firm, and Stone and Dino in and out of the stories.
  • Good as Gone by Amy Gentry – This was a random impulse buy! I went into a book store (!) to buy a travel book. When I walked past the table with summer paperback mysteries, this one jumped out at me. Julie was a 13 year old kidnapped out of her home, and she suddenly appears on her parents’ doorstep 8 years later. I liked how the author told us the backstory backwards while the current story moved forward. This was a quick, easy, fun read, though it was a sad and dark story.
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Appreciation Matters

*This story was originally published in Fueled by Coffee and Love, a collection of short stories by educators, edited by Mari Venturino. You can purchase a copy of the book here; all proceeds go back to educators and classrooms! The book is such a positive, uplifting reminder of why we all entered this amazing profession. Mari is seeking entries for Volume 2, so consider submitting your own story!

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Being an elementary principal is as close to being a rockstar as I’ll ever be.  Walking around campus and hearing students call out, “Miss I!”was so much fun!

When I was principal, our school had a Friday Flag event each and every Friday morning. The entire school community met on the back playground where we did the pledge of allegiance, made announcements, and where one class would lead us in a song for the week.  These songs were often patriotic or fun kid-pop songs that we all knew the words to. This was one of the ways in which we built our community.

Each Friday I would make my way to the back of the school after finishing my morning supervision out front. [Don’t be jealous of the glamorous life of a principal!]

On this particular Friday I was the last to arrive out back. All of our students were gathered with their teachers and many of their parents, in a large semi-circle. There was our usual flag and microphone set up ready and waiting for me to begin. Only, before I could reach the microphone, a teacher was holding it and beginning her own announcement.

I can’t remember exactly what she said, but I remember that I began to cry almost immediately. She quickly explained that today was now known as “Miss I day,” and that today they were all here to appreciate me. All of a sudden, each class held up a sign the students had made. I saw “We love you!” and “Miss I-nspirational!” and many other cute messages on banners around the playground.

After the announcement, a group of teachers came up to the front and sang a song. But this was not one of our usual Friday Flag songs. The staff had rewritten lyrics to “Walking on Sunshine” to be all about me.  This was an inside joke that showed just how well my staff knew me. They knew that I had worked at Chuck E. Cheese as a teenager and that “Walking on Sunshine” was the song I was required to memorize a dance routine to as part of my job.

Hearing my hard-working teachers sing a song they had written to thank me for being leader was overwhelming.

When I returned to the office, still wiping away the tears of joy and gratitude, I was met by yet another surprise. My office staff were all wearing the same t-shirt, and the shirt had a picture of me on it! They had made their own appreciation shirts to wear just to make me laugh!

One of the best days I ever had was when my staff planned an appreciation day for me! But it wasn’t because it was a day all about me. This day helped me see the impact I was making as a leader. Leaders know how important trust is when building relationships.

Three years earlier, I came to this school as a brand new principal, new to the district, new to the elementary level, and just plain NEW. I worked hard to get to know the staff and I struggled with how to let them get to know me.  We, collectively, worked hard to support our students, many of whom came from rough situations outside of school.

As we got to know each other on behalf of the challenging work we shared, I learned how valuable appreciation can be. Leaving a simple hand-written note to thank a staff member for doing something didn’t take much of my time, but it brought me closer to individuals. Making sure that each of my weekly bulletins and Friday Flag announcements included some note of appreciation for a job well done by a student, a parent, or a staff member, became invaluable.

Receiving a thank you from a staff member or a hand-drawn card from a student also meant a lot. Being an elementary principal is a very isolating job. During most of my time as a principal I did not have any assistant principals, counselors, or other administrative support working alongside me. I relied heavily on my amazing secretary, my dedicated head custodian, my literacy coach, and my lead teachers for support with academic and operational tasks.

I tried to acknowledge hard work and dedication as much as possible, but it is never enough. Educators today work harder than any other profession, in my opinion. We serve as the teachers, counselors, nurses, therapists, parents, friends, and coaches for hundreds of students every year. We work long beyond “contract hours”  and our work follows us everywhere- sometimes in the form of stacks of papers to be graded and other times as a sleepless night spent worry about a homeless student and his or her family in crisis.

What I learned from “Miss I” day was that appreciation matters. No matter the role you play, please take time to share your appreciation with your colleagues, your mentors, your friends in the trenches with you, doing this work that is a calling for us all. Appreciate big and small things. Appreciate a kind gesture, a smile in a busy hallway, a functioning PLC, an empathetic leader, a supportive colleague, and anything else that helps you be the best you can be for our students every day.

I appreciate each and every educator I’ve worked with and learned from. I appreciate each educator who is reading this collection of stories. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

 

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Taking Time to Build or Strengthen Relationships

It’s the beginning of a new school year in my district; we work on a modified year-round calendar. Many leaders have already hit the ground running, filling up their calendars, facilitating professional development, planning activities, and preparing for our students’ arrival. Today’s advice in the Time Management for Leaders Series is all about slowing down!

A new school year brings leaders the opportunity to build or strengthen relationships with individual staff members (and students!). While I am a big advocate for maintaining an organized calendar for efficiency sake, now is the time to step away from your office and lead by walking around.

As an assistant principal and a principal, I made a point to visit each teacher’s classroom during the opening set-up days before students returned. While these visits took me out of the office and away from the non-stop stream of emails and phone calls I received, they were a powerful way for me to build new relationships or renew past relationships with each staff member. Not only could I check in with people about their summer and their family, but I was able to see how their room set-up was going (very important in an elementary setting!), and I could offer my support physically, emotionally, or professionally. These short little personal visits told a story about my staff members as individuals and as members of our learning community.

My Superintendent is a great example of this throughout the year. She will pop in to various department offices just to say hi and greet staff members.  In a district with over 40,000 students, you can imagine how many staff members we have, and she makes each one feel like she knows them personally (and for many, she does!).

My advice to new leaders is:

  • make time to build relationships with new staff members (or all staff, if YOU are the new one!).
  • strengthen past or current relationships by checking in; don’t assume that one positive interaction last year is enough to maintain a good working relationship this year.
  • lead by walking around – make time to visit individual classrooms, departments, and other settings where your staff members work.
  • make time for this relationship-building by adding it to your calendar and prioritizing this work!

The time you invest in relationships leads to deeper trust, which can enhance your team, school or system’s culture.

What other advice would you offer leaders with regards to building or strengthening relationships at the beginning of a new school year?

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Time Management for Leaders Series

Calendar 911

No More Inbox Ailment

Making Time for Classroom Visits

Organizing Resources to Share

Working with an Assistant

 

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My Blog is 5 Today!

Each year, on July 14 (or later if I forget to hit publish on time!), I take a moment to reflect on my blogging journey. In 2012, after attending my first ISTE conference, I started this blog for my own learning and growth. I use this blog as a place for my own written reflections. It’s nice to capture what I’m reading and thinking about and then to be able to look back at it over the years.

In five years, I have written a lot about coaching and listening and reflecting. This year I started a new chapter- The Time Management for Leaders Series. As I support new leaders, time and again I see that time management is a struggle. My hope is to capture in one place the advice that comes out of coaching conversations I have with new leaders.

My word of 2017 is challenge. Though I haven’t blogged about it a lot, I have continued to focus on ways to challenge myself personally and professionally. A simple challenge I give myself each year is to read more books than I did the previous year (since I started keeping track again via this blog).

  • In 2015 I read 44 books.
  • In 2016 I read 69 books.
  • So far in 2017 I’ve read 22 books, so my challenge is to pick up the pace!

Some days when I click publish, I never know if anyone will read the words I’ve put out there into the universe. When certain blogs are read or retweeted, I’m happy to know that my words resonated with someone. When you, my reader, comments on my blog, I appreciate the dialogue we can begin around these topics. Thank you for reading my words. I appreciate you taking time from your busy life to step into my reflections for a moment. If any of my thoughts give you pause for consideration, I honor your time and I’d love to hear from you.

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June ’17 Reading Update

This month I read 3 books, bringing my 2017 total to 21.

  • Golden Prey (Lucas Davenport Series #27) – by John Sanford – I hadn’t read a Sanford Prey book in over a year, and I really enjoyed this one. However, I feel like I skipped at least one book in the series, so now I have to go back and figure that out! In this story, Davenport is a new U.S. Marshal, and he goes after a long-time criminal who is hiding out all over the south. Davenport eventually needs the help of Bob and Rae, two other Marshals, and they make a great team tracking cell phones of killers all over the place until a final, deadly shoot-out. This was a fast-paced, classic Davenport mystery.
  • Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance – This book has been on my list for awhile, and I was able to borrow a copy of it from a work friend. I remember first hearing about it around the elections, and someone said this was a good read to understand Donald Trump’s popularity in various states. What I appreciate about this story, is the first-person perspective from a young man who survived a childhood with a lot of trauma, came out the other side more successful than any of his family members, but still struggling with the emotional trauma he endured. Reading his statements about work ethic (or lack there of) and the importance of school (or the lack of any belief by some) within his own “hillbilly” Appalachian community was fascinating. Everything he described was so different from my own lived experiences, which is why this is an important read for many, especially those of living on either coast and familiar with our unearned advantages in life.
  • D.C. Dead (Stone Barrington Series #22) by Stuart Woods – This is a book by another one of my old favorite mystery writers, who I just rediscovered! I realized I haven’t read a book by him in MANY years, so I have A LOT to catch up on! I went back as far into this series as I can remember and I’ve jumped back into the Stone and Dino detective life. I love these books because they are quick, fun, silly stories that ridiculous characters and unlikely bad guys (though I guessed this one pretty early on).
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Revisiting My Core Values

A year ago I explored my core values with an activity by author Elena Aguilar. I wrote about the experience here. My three core values, based on that activity were:

  • Equity
  • Making a difference
  • Trust

This weekend I participated in the first two of five sessions of the Women in Educational Leadership (#WEL) Institute, here in San Diego.  One of the activities we did was to discuss our core values.

The presenter provided us with a set of at least 25 words, on individual cards. We were told to put each card face up so we could read each individual card, on which was written a core value. Our deck of cards also included blank cards on which we could add a word that was important to us, if it was missing from this collection. Because of my previous work with core values (see the post linked above for more details), and the passion I have for this concept, I added the word “equity” to my deck of values.

We slowly had to turn over sets of cards so that we had fewer and fewer words face up. In the end, we were to select our top four core values. These are the four I ended up with today:

  • Equity
  • Integrity
  • Empathy
  • Creativity

Similar to each of the times I’ve taken the Strength-Finder quiz, I was interested to see my list of core values shift slightly since lat year. Granted, the list of words for each activity was not identical, but neither is my current state of mind. After a day and half of focused work with a large group of women leaders representing 27 districts across Southern California, I had a different perspective than I might on another day.

Looking at this list of four words today, I’m reflecting on what resonates with my leadership and learning world.

My leadership vision is to provide equitable learning opportunities for student and adult learners. After attending a two-day workshop with the National Equity Project, getting to know my colleagues through an equity lens, and really reflecting on my unearned advantages and disadvantages, equity is more important to my leadership work than every before. I believe I will continue to be driven by this core value until I know that each and every student receives a quality education that sets him or her up for success in life.

Integrity resonated with me today more than “trustworthiness”, which was in my top ten list of words. I respect leaders who do what they say they will, who follow through, who are morally just, and who are honest. I still believe that trust is a critical factor in building relationships, which build a positive school culture. However, when it comes to transformational leadership, integrity is what drives me and what I seek out in colleagues and mentors.

I know that empathy would not have been on this list had I done this activity 10+ years ago. It is only as I get older, more experienced, and possibly a little wiser (lol!), that I know how important empathy is to my leadership. Due to my life experiences, which are very different from that of the students I serve, as well as many of the colleagues with whom I work, I cannot speak from experience about certain situations. However, I can have empathy, by listening to understand the feelings of others. Empathy makes me a stronger leader, one is more prepared to fight against inequities on behalf of students who may not have a voice, or alongside colleagues ready to take up the cause.

Creativity surprised me today! If I had to narrow this list to three, creativity would not have made the final cut. But I kept it in the top four after an interesting discussion I had in a small group during the Women in Educational Leadership Institute. After reading a short excerpt about Steve Jobs, and his unwillingness to accept mediocrity, my group and I discussed how often we, in education, are willing to accept programs and instruction that is mediocre, in favor of building or maintaining relationships. The more we talked, the more I realized how important it is for leaders to encourage educators to be creative, to get out of routines that aren’t serving our students.

As always, I appreciate the opportunity to take time to reflect. I think that every educator is a leader and that every leader should be able to share their core values. Our core values are what drives us to do what we do, say what we say, and be our authentic selves, no matter where or how we lead. IMG_2180

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