Saying No To a Challenge

My word of 2017 is challenge. While I may not think about it every day, it does creep into my subconscious and reality fairly regularly.

This month I faced a number of small challenges that had me reflecting on my word (amongst many other things!). I was surprised when I had this thought:

Just because a challenge presents itself, doesn’t mean you need to take it.

This thought is not rocket science and it may not have surprised anyone else, but it was an important thought for me during a particular challenge. This idea gave me permission to say no.

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Saying no can often be a challenge. So while saying no alleviated my stress about not accepting a challenge before me, I was still mid-challenge as I made that decision. I guess challenges are really all around us every day. Part of the decision-making is when to say yes and when to say no. And for me, once I’ve said no, I want to be at peace with my decision and not have any lingering guilt or “What if…” thoughts.

These are my thoughts at the moment. I’m sure another challenge will present itself soon and I will be reflecting on that!

 

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March ’17 Reading Update

This month I read 5 books, bringing my 2017 total to 12.

  • The Silent Wife by A.S.A. Harrison – I liked this mystery, though the ending came quickly and without enough detail for me. I really enjoy when an author chooses to tell a story through flashbacks and flashforwards, and when the chapters are from the perspective of different characters. In this book, every chapter was told by the wife or the husband, alternating. While I didn’t like the weak, fake character of Jodi, I really didn’t like how Todd, her philandering husband, treated her or any other woman.
  • All the Missing Girls by Megan Miranda – This mystery really bothered me as I read it! The story was told backwards and I felt like I hadn’t paid enough attention in the beginning. However, the reality is that the narrator, Nicolette, only learned and revealed pieces of the truth slowly as she told the story, backwards. It was a very interesting plot choice, and I was desperate to get to the end to understand the entire story of how both Corinne and Annaleise disappeared.
  • Without Annette by Jane B. Mason – I started this YA book after having dinner with a friend who reads MANY YA books! It was an interesting story about two girls who leave their hometown to attend a private boarding school together, hoping it will positively impact their personal relationship and their lives. The school isn’t exactly what they thought it would be, and Annette gets caught up in being popular while Josie watches her fade away. I liked the authentic characters (Josie, Penn, Roxanne) mixed with the stereotypical high school cliques.
  • The Search for Baby Ruby by Susan Shreve – This was a pre-YA kind of book – a mystery for young readers. It was a cute, simple read for me while on spring break. Jess, the youngest sibling, is forced to stay behind to babysit her niece, Ruby, during her sister’s rehearsal dinner. Ruby is kidnapped and Jess is on a mission to find her and save the family from more drama. Whenever I read a mystery where kids are the main characters/ sleuths, I find myself rolling my eyes a lot! This was no different.
  • Best Friends for Life by Andrew Norriss – As you can guess, I have a large pile of YA books in my house that I decided to start plowing through while I had some time off! This was a really cute, sweet story, with a very serious lesson about teen suicide. The main character Francis, meets Jessica, and then learns that she is a ghost. Francis ends up befriending two other loner teens, Andi and Rolland, who can also see Jessica. As their friendship develops, they all work to help Jessica figure out how she died, why she is stuck as a ghost, and what her purpose is in their lives. There is no sex or drinking or swearing in this book. It’s a very sweet tale about friendship that also addresses self esteem, bullying, gender stereoytypes, weight issues, and teen suicide. I highly recommend this book to any educators who work with young teens, or to teens themselves, or to parents of teens.
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Quotes That Resonate, Volume 6

When I read, I often pause to make note of certain quotes that really resonate with me. Over time, I like to look back at the quotes and reflect on why they stood out to me. Here the quotes that recently resonated with me.

“Leadership is not about building trust so that the hard work of improvement can happen later. It is about tackling the work in ways that build trust through learning and making progress together.” ~Viviane Robinson, Student-Centered Leadership

This is the book from which an earlier quote jumped out at me last month when I first began reading it! This particular quote resonates with me because, as a leader, I was constantly trying to balance my sense of urgency (and fast-paced work style) with the need to build relationships with my staff. I often got advice to go slow, to wait on the important work, and to focus solely on the relationships. People said that I wouldn’t be able to get anything real done in the first year or two. This was shocking and upsetting to me, as a new principal in a high-needs school. I managed to find my way by building relationships about the work as we did the work collectively.

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This quote was my first #BookSnaps. A colleague shared with me the idea of sharing quotes by using SnapChat. There is now a hashtag on Twitter full of these snaps, which are great to read. The quote above stood out to me because of everything I’ve been ready about praise. In education, we often want to praise every little effort, especially for students who have traditionally struggled. What research tells us now, though, is that insincere praise, or praise for effortless tasks, can hurt the learner more than help. I’ve begun to refocus on the importance of feedback for learning, not praise for the sake of happiness.

 

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My second #BookSnap came out of a fiction book, The Woman in Cabin 10, by Ruth Ware. The quote itself reminded me of the many podcast I listen to that address wrongful convictions. It also reminded me of the upcoming documentary, Time: The Kalief Browder story, which documents the sad tale of a teen who spent most of his three years in prison, awaiting a trial, in solitary confinement. Solitary confinement is a modern form of torture for anyone, especially a teen whose brain is still developing. Browder committed suicide after his release from prison, and the torture he endured was a likely cause of the mental illness he suffered.  Our justice system needs some serious help, and this story is one of many that needs to be told.

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February ’17 Reading Update

Books I read this month:

  • 1984 by George Orwell – As you may have heard, with the recent political climate there has been an increase in sales of this book.  Since I never read this book, I thought now was a good time. I have heard of “Big Brother” and knew the basic premise of the story, but really didn’t know the specifics. I listened to the audio version of this book and was horrified by the comparisons I could make to what is going on under our current president. The idea of an all-knowing, all-seeing, all-hearing government that controlled all messages and rewrote facts as lies for a manipulative populace was scary. I don’t believe I would have understand the many levels of this story had I read it in high school. The main character, Winston, struggled to come to grips with the lies and the control the government had over his peers, and ultimately over him and his thoughts.
  • A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara – This was recommended by one of my favorite book friends, Melanie, who’s recommendations I always like. This book was over 700 pages long, so I feel like I should get credit for reading MANY books for this one! The first 100 or so pages were a little slow, as you got to know JB, Malcolm, Willem, and Jude. But once the story really got into the Jude and Willem life-long relationship, with MANY trials and tribulations, I was hooked. I haven’t read many fiction stories with multiple male main characters, so this was a refreshing change for me. I fell in love with Jude and Willem throughout their love story. I was devastated by the sad twists and turns that came towards the end. When I finished the book, I had to sit and grieve my own loss, as finishing the book was really closure on my relationship with these deep characters.  What a fascinating story!
  • Escaping the School Leader’s Dunk Tank: How to Prevail When Others Want to See You Drown by Rebecca Coda and Rick Jetter – I’m glad I read this book, but I can’t say it was a fun, uplifting read. This is one of the first educational books I’ve read that tells the darker, political stories that happen in education. The authors share real stories from leaders who have survived nepotism, cruelty, and emotional abuse by bosses and colleagues, all while in jobs where people said they were working “for kids”. I began to learn about this world when I first became an administrator. It is a reality in some, not all, educational settings. I think this is an important read for all administrators, if for no other reason than to be armed with information. The authors gives some relevant strategies for surviving these harrowing experiences.
  • The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog: And Other Stories from a Child Psychiatrist’s Notebook – What Traumatized Children Can Teach Us About Loss, Love, and Healing by Bruce Perry  and Maia Szalavitz- I’ve heard Dr. Jeff Duncan-Andrade speak three times in the last year and he has recommended this book each time he spoke. I finally read it this month and I wish I had read it 10+ years ago. The book follows the treatment plans these doctors created to support children after major traumas. They detail the development of the brain, why we need to meet children at their emotional, not physical age, when treating them, and the importance of understanding infant and child development. As I was reading, I kept picturing one specific student in my mind. When I was a principal, this 1st grader had recently come to live with his grandparents after his drug-addicted mother was put in jail. I don’t know the specifics of the first 5 years of his life, but I know they weren’t great. By the time I knew him, he was diagnosed with ADHD, ODD, and was resisting just about everything in his classroom and at home. I wish I had known more about the brain development addressed in this book back then. I hope that today that young man has found the support he needed to grow up and be a functional citizen.
  • The Woman In Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware – When I saw a review of this book, I knew I wanted to read it. I read the author’s first book last year and enjoyed the fast-paced mystery. I liked this one even better, though it was creepy to read. From the initial home burglary, to the scary drama at sea aboard a luxury mini cruise, this was an eerie story that tortured the main character, Lo. There were too many characters to keep track of, from the guests to all the crew aboard the ship, but the “bad guys” were well developed and haunting throughout.
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Making Time for Classroom Visits

The next topic in my Time Management for Leaders Series is all about making time for classroom visits. I believe that outside of ensuring the safety of students and staff, the role of instructional leader is the most important part of a school leader’s job.

As I work with new leaders, I often hear frustration and stress from them about their inability to get into classrooms as much as they would like. In addition to the importance of maintaining an organized and focused calendar, as discussed in Calendar 911, there are some things a leader can do to make their time in classrooms efficient.

  • Take your work out of the office and into classrooms- There are many leaders these days who have set up mobile desks in order to work anywhere on campus at any time.
    • If you have a lot of low-thinking tasks to complete on your computer, consider if you can do them while sitting in the back of classrooms. Your presence will be noticed, you will get work done, and you will see and hear learning in action.
    • If you have a pile of low-level discipline referrals on your desk that require you to speak to students, consider taking the referrals out to classrooms. Observe a classroom for a few minutes, then pull out the student with whom you need to speak. This gives you time to see the students in the class where they had an issue, and then speak to them without them having to miss extra time out of class.
  • Set a purpose for your classroom visits – New leaders will often find a free moment to leave their office, but when they get into classrooms, they aren’t sure what they should do. When observing classrooms, a leader needs a purpose. Are you visiting
    • In order to look for evidence of a school-wide initiative or recent professional development (such as daily objectives or a student interaction strategy)?
    • to complete a formal observation?
    • to provide the teacher with constructive feedback about teaching and learning?
    • to focus on English Learners’ participation?
    • to observe the students with the most behavior problems?
    • to observe for alignment to state standards and appropriate level of complexity?
    • to ensure teaching and learning are taking place?
    • to determine what percentage of class time students speak?
  • Create a note-taking guide that aligns with your purpose – Based on all the different reasons listed above that you might visit a classroom, what you would write down to share with the teacher would be very different. It’s important for a leader to be prepared to capture the appropriate data in order to provide evidence-based feedback. Here are some examples:
    • When looking for schoolwide implementation of a specific strategy, you goal may be to capture the total number of classrooms using the strategy, and to what degree each room was implementing. You could them summarize this data for your staff without any teachers’ names included. This could be captured on a table you create ahead of time, or in a Google Form.
    • When completing a formal observation, you typically need blank paper (or wordprocessing document) to script as much as possible.
    • When visiting for general teaching and learning observations, it is best to select something specific to observe. In order to provide evidence-based feedback to teachers, having a narrow purpose and a clear note-taking guide helps. If you walk into a room without a purpose, your feedback may become disjointed.

 

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Time Management for Leaders Series

Calendar 911

No More Inbox Ailment

 

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January ’17 Reading Update

I keep track of what I read each month for my aging and fading memory and for the fun of sharing my reading pleasures with others! Last year I wrote about my reading experiences each month in an update. By the end of the year, I had forgotten what many of the books I read were about, and my experiences didn’t necessarily remind me of the plot details of the stories. Therefore, this year, I hope to capture a short summary so that I can look back and recall more about the books I’ve read.

During 2016 I read 69 books. I hope to beat that record this year. Here is what I read in January 2017:

  • Someday Someday Maybe by Lauren Graham – After listening to Lauren Graham’s memoir last month, I knew I wanted to read this fiction book she wrote back when she was still on Parenthood. In her memoir, she said that many people think this fiction story is based on her life, but she said that wasn’t completely true. As I read, I pictured a goofier, curly-haired version of her as Frannie, the young woman in NYC trying to be an actress. I liked reading about Frannie’s auditions, friends, and celebrity encounters, which were entertaining because of how ridiculous (and probably realistic) they were! It was nice to see Frannie catch a break by the end of the book, both in her acting career and her love life.
  • The Together Leader: Get Organized for Your Success – and Sanity! by Maia Heyck-Merlin – I purchased this book after hearing about the program in a district’s presentation at the Learning Forward conference in Vancouver last month. At first, I thought the book was going to be just like The Breakthrough Coach program that helps school administrators organize their time to spend more time in classrooms and still have a life outside of work. However, this book was much  more detailed and went way beyond calendar and email organization. Maia takes you through how to set small and long-term goals, how to use those goals to set priorities, then use the priorities to plan your calendar of tasks. I think this would be a great tool for new leaders and anyone needing to create a new organization system to be more efficient and productive.
  • The Case Against Sugar by Gary Taubes – This book was exactly what I needed to read, as my sugar addiction is very real! It’s a dry, detailed look at the history of the sugar industry in America, and a summary of various research studies conducted to prove that sugar was not harmful (during the era where fat was bad!) and the new interpretations that tell us how detrimental sugar is to our healthy in many ways. I might need to reread this every year, to continue to battle my addiction to sweets. For my own health, I’m making a concerted effort to lay off the added sugar whenever possible.
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Marching for Equity

Last week I traveled to Washington, D.C. to participate in the Women’s March on Washington. From the time it was announced and my friend Shelley invited me to join her, I knew this would be one of the first ways I would take action after the presidential election. I also knew that this fit right in with my word of the yearchallenge.

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Everything that has happened since the election has challenged me- my personal beliefs, my beliefs about other Americans, and how I want to react. I vowed that 2017 was the year I would step up to the challenge and take action whenever and wherever I could.

As a self-proclaimed introvert who does not do well in large crowds full of strangers, I also knew that the experience, though well-worth it, would be a big challenge for me.

I traveled to D.C. on a red-eye that was arriving the morning of the inauguration. While I wish I had been on one of the planes full of women in pink hats heading to the march, my plane including many people excited to attend the inauguration, and there was a sea of red hats imprinted with a certain phrase about America that I will not type. Coming from the very liberal state of California and the echo chamber I’m still fighting to see beyond, this was truly one of my first experiences hearing people talk about this election in very different ways than I have been (with my friends, family, and colleagues). I have to admit I was shocked when a woman literally called Trump “a god sent to save us” and said that “CNN was truly the worst fake news” she had ever seen.

I appreciate this experience if only for the fact that it gave me a real-life glimpse into the beliefs of the Americans who did vote for Trump and who, even after his first dizzying week in office, still believe he is the right person for the job. It also solidified my gratitude that I was able to use vacation days to leave work, travel across the country, and take part in something greater than just the election.

After landing in D.C. and meeting up with my friends and seeing the inauguration and the protests that had broken out around the city, we braved an Uber ride from Arlington into Adam’s Morgan to check out the Women’s March pop-up shop. We thought we would be able to pop in and pop out with some memorabilia to get us ready for the march the next day. Little did we know what we would find:

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There was a line of people from the shop all the way down an entire city block. We walked to the end of the line and found out that people had already been in line 1-2 hours and the line wasn’t moving fast or often. This was the first time that I realized how big the march might truly be.

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We stayed in line for awhile, admiring the local businesses that were giving away free coffee to the people waiting in line out in the cold. It was fun to feel the positive energy all around us, especially knowing we had just seen videos of angry protesters across the city. This one street was full of happy, engaged citizens who had traveled from all over to join forces and collectively say that women’s rights are human rights.

The next morning we could feel a buzz in our hotel, as women all around us were gathering up signs and warm clothes and heading out for the big event. That buzz became exhilarating as soon as we got within 2 blocks of the rally location. Everywhere you looked, there were people, mostly women, smiling, laughing, carrying signs, and preparing to march for so many causes personal to each individual.

Upon arriving, we saw some young girls with bags of free hats. These were the infamous pink hats (with another name). I took a hat because the crowd was already a sea of pink hats and I was feeling odd, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to wear it. Then I opened it up and I saw this:

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I was so blown away by the message that was shared by the woman who donated her time, energy and supplies to make this hat for the march. After reading her important message, I knew I would proudly wear the hat she made, and I would not let my own crowd-related anxiety bother me because I am lucky to have never experienced the trauma that she has dealt with. This was also the moment that I appreciated why women had chosen to take back the word that Trump has used to describe sexually assaulting women. This was one of the messages of the march- his words do not have power over us.

The message with my hand-made pink hat shows how personal this march was to each and every person who participated. At first, I was marching because:

  • I believe that women’s rights are human rights.
  • I believe that empowered women empower women.
  • I believe that no one has the right to determine how a woman handles her own body.
  • I believe that no American should suffer losing her or his civil rights because of political decisions.
  • I believe that our current government needs to know that actions against civil liberties will not be tolerated (even if the liberties in question are not being taken away from me).
  • I know that I feel safe to speak my mind because I was born into white privilege. I want to use my safety to speak up on behalf of others who don’t have a voice, who are scared to speak up, or who are unable.

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As the day progressed, I was also marching to honor the struggles and challenges that so many people, especially women, and even more so, women of color, face day in and day out. I was marching to hear their stories, to try to understand an ounce of their pain, and to let them know they were not alone.

I was also marching for my students. I’ve been an educator for 20 years, and I have worked with students from many races and ethnicities, from varying levels of poverty or wealth, and from a multitude of backgrounds. But here are a few who stand out right now.

  • I think about a student I had who was HIV positive. She contracted the disease in utero, from a mother who was a drug addict and was dead by the time I taught this student in 8th grade. I wonder if she is still healthy and I worry that she will not have access to affordable health care knowing her pre-existing condition.
  • I think about all the Mexican-American students I’ve worked with over the year. So many of my students were born in America, but live a dual life- one foot in Mexico and the other in American. They speak two languages, live in two cultures, and are now scared they will be kicked out of their homes when “the wall” is built. Some of these students cross the border regularly and this wall is terrifying to them. Some of them worry about never seeing their families again.
  • I think about a colleague of middle eastern descent who, as an educator, has experienced ethnic-based stereotyping and harassment from other educators.
  • I think about students for whom the right to a free, public education has been a gift that has brought them amazing, life-changing experiences.
  • I think about LGBTQ students, who fear for their lives and worry that they might not be able to get married, a right that was so recently won.
  • I think about students, especially black males, who worry whenever they see a police officer.
  • I think about students who often only eat two meals a day- the breakfast and lunch provided at school.

The 500,000 people surrounding me throughout the Women’s March on Washington were all marching for different reasons. One of my favorite parts of the march was seeing and hearing those reasons. The songs and chants that would just start up in the crowd gave a window into why people chose to join this movement. Hearing one person call out, “Tell us what democracy looks like,” and then hearing the entire crowd around us respond with, “THIS is what democracy looks like” gave me chills. We sang “This Land is Our Land” and “Lean on Me” multiple times throughout the day.

Here are some of my favorite signs.

 

 

I was honored to be able to join my friend and her 13-year old daughter in this amazing experience. When I see pictures of the marches from all over the world, I am so happy that I was there, in D.C. (below!), with so many others. I am proud of my fellow global citizens who took the time to stand up for what they believe in.

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Many other people have written about this topic with more eloquence and/or depth than me. If you would like read other pieces that I enjoyed, see below.

As part of my get-outside-the-echo-chamber project, I have also read articles that did not look favorably on the march, as well as articles about the March for Life that took place just the other day. I continue to challenge myself to see other sides of these big issues. Right now, I do not see this as a political (Democrat vs. Republican) issue. I am using my voice because I see civil liberties in jeopardy. They have always been in jeopardy for some people (who don’t look or sound like me), but I see it clearly now and cannot ignore it any longer.

This experience changed me. It lit a fire in me. I am determined to step up to the challenges I see before me, ready to use my words and to take action based on my convictions. I am fired up and ready to go (another chant heard throughout the march!). Stay tuned for more in my year of challenge.

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