Learning to Lead: A Self-Reflective Survey

I’ve read the book Learning Leadership by Kouzes and Posner twice now – once on my own and again as part of a book study with all the principals in my district. With each new reading, I take away a new idea or a new leadership move.

“Learning to lead is about discovering what you value, what inspires you, what challenges you, what gives you energy, and what encourages you.” ~ Kouzes & Posner (p. 36), Learning Leadership: The Five Fundamentals of Becoming an Exemplary Leader

learning leadership

In the book, the authors spend time encouraging leaders to reflect on themselves, and their own values.  I have blogged about my core values a number of times, but I wanted to take it a step farther and answer all of the questions below, from the book. Please feel free to join me by posting your own answers in the comments or on your own blog.

What do I value?

As an educational leader, I value honesty, integrity, transparency, and equity. I value a student-centered approach to decision-making that honors the hard work educators do every day on behalf of students. I value open communication and active listening skills.

What inspires me?

Seeing students excited about learning inspires me.

Seeing teachers excited about teaching and learning inspires me.

Seeing leaders engaging with students, staff, and community in positive ways inspires me.

What challenges me?

I am challenged by an education system that by its design and original intention created inequitable practices that unintentionally harm students.

I am challenged by beliefs that appear to me to be more adult-centered than student-centered.

I am challenged by educators who seem to have given up on students, in the face of overwhelming frustration.

What gives me energy?

Hard-working people who love their jobs give me energy.

Helping a new leader have their own a-ha moment gives me energy.

Hearing students using academic language in authentic and meaningful ways gives me energy.

Empowering educators to give students voice and choice in their learning gives me energy.

What encourages me?

All of the new teachers who continue to enter this profession on behalf of students encourage me.

All of the new leaders who have made a choice to impact adults and communities in addition to students encourage me.

All of the educational leaders who advocate for public education at the local, state, and federal level encourage me.


How about you? 


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Introducing A New Blog Series

As 2019 begins, I’ve decided to challenge myself with a new blog series. I read Onward: Cultivating Emotional Resilience in Educators by Elena Aguilar (my educational spirit animal!) midway through last year. I loved it, as I’ve loved all of her professional books, but I realized that a deeper study of the work could benefit my own emotional resilience as well as others. I’ve decided to reread the book and use the accompanying workbook to reflect; I will dedicate a blog post to share some of my reflection each month.

In this series, I will focus on the monthly habit and disposition outlined by Aguilar throughout the book, going January through December.  I would love it if you would join me in this journey. If you haven’t yet read this amazing and support book, you have a chance to purchase a copy for yourself before my blog series begins. We could consider this our own virtual book club, as we support one another in cultivating our own emotional resilience as educators. As Aguilar writes, “the opportunity for resilience originates in how we make sense of the things that happen, because interpretation dictates actions”. I plan to use this blog series to build the skills that help interpret stressful situations in the heat of the moment.

This reminds me a lot of my year focused on mindfulness.  In fact, reading Onward the first time made me think about mindfulness quite a bit. I hope this blog series will help remind me to be present, in the moment, of life, and to shine a light on my professional growth.

I reread the Introduction as I wrote this first post. From the beginning, Aguilar defines resilience as a way of being, and something that we can grow through daily practice. She sets the stage for the importance of this, given how stressful daily life as an educator can be. We want to move away from toxic stress and into healthy stress; the statistics of teacher turnover in the U.S. are staggering. As a leader, I want to help other educators do more than survive stress, I want them to thrive as they work towards educational equity for all students. If we want to engender resilience in our students, we must ensure that the adults who work with the students are resilience themselves. I appreciate that Aguilar breaks down the work into three overlapping areas:

  • individual resilience
  • organizational conditions
  • systemic conditions

In the Onward workbook, Aguilar begins with journaling, drawing, and collecting ideas as we prepare to build habits to help us build our resilience. I am a journaler by nature; I reflect best by writing. I am also a collector, of ideas more than of stuff, which aligns with one of my top strengths, Input. I look forward to using the ideas presented in the workbook to prepare for this journey.

Building Resilience

Next up in the series:

  • January – Habit: Cultivate Compassion; Disposition: Perspective


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My Word of 2019

Happy New Year! It’s hard to believe that it’s 2019 already. Just as I have for the last four years, I have selected a focus word for the year. This is different from setting new year’s resolutions. I choose to find a word that represents what I want, need, and hope 2019 will bring into my life, but sometimes the word chooses me. Before I share my new word with you, let’s look back on my last few words.

In 2018, my word was POSSIBILITY with a supporting phrase of Adventures that Stretch. This idea helped me looked differently at what was possible if I shifted my viewpoint. I also enjoyed some incredible adventures that did help me stretch in new ways.

For 2017, my word was CHALLENGE, and it served me personally, professionally, and on a global scale. I love new challenges and appreciated the permission I gave myself to rise to some new challenges and to say, “I’m not going to take this on,” to other challenges.

In 2016, my word was REJUVENATE, with a more internal, physical focus that I needed.

The first time I chose a focus word was 2015, and my word was MINDFULNESS. This proved to be a fulfilling year of learning to be more present, learning to mediate, and to enjoy each individual moment.

My word of 2019 is… SHINE.

Copy of Follow your dreams

There are many ideas that SHINE brings to mind.

  • I would like to SHINE in my work.
  • I would like to SHINE a light on the good work done by and for others.
  • I would like to SHINE as a happy, grounded person.
  • I would like to SHINE as a healthy human.

Have you chosen a word, a goal, or an intention for 2019? Please share!


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What I Read in 2018

When I was an English teacher I used to keep a list of the books I read on my classroom door. I read a lot of Young Adolescent books so I could always make a recommendation for my students. During those years, I also kept a reading journal, writing about what I read and my thoughts.

Now, I keep lists of what I read for my own benefit, on my blog.  I love being able to search my blog to remember a certain book, to find out where I left off in a series (like that of the Jack Reacher series by Lee Child or the Stone Barrington series by Stuart Woods), or just to compete with myself to read more books than I did the previous year.

I must admit that I am a little disappointed that I didn’t read as much this year as I did last year or the year before. I had a few reading slumps this year, I listened to A LOT of podcasts in place of audio books, and I reread excerpts of a number of professional books at work, but none of that added to this list. There were months that I also watched too much TV, so I made a concerted effort to change that habit into more reading.

Looking through my list, it seems that I read more mysteries than anything else – by my favorite authors and new-to-me authors as well. I read very little YA this year, but I did continue to enjoy celebrity autobiographies. There aren’t a lot of professional books on here, but I do have a stack of new professionals books I hope to read in early 2019. There are some books on this list that I have absolutely NO memory of, which is why this blog is as much for my memory as anything else.  But there are others, like The Immortalists that I can still remember in great detail.

If you’ve read my monthly reading updates, thanks for playing along.  If you know of any books you think I would enjoy, please let me know.

2017: 59

2016: 69

2015: 44

What I read in 2018:

  1. Promise My Love (The Bradens Book 7) by Melissa Foster
  2. After You Left by Carol Mason
  3. Culturize: Every Student. Every Day. Whatever it Takes. by Jimmy Casas
  4. We are Going to Need More Wine by Gabrielle Union (audiobook)
  5. Final Girls by Riley Sager
  6. A Leader’s Legacy by Kouzes & Posner
  7. Paris Match (Stone Barrington #31) by Stuart Woods
  8. The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn
  9. The Memory Watcher by Minka Kent
  10. Lead Like a Pirate: Make School Amazing for Your Students and Staff by Shelley Burgess and Beth Houf
  11. Insatiable Appetites (Stone Barrington #32) by Stuart Woods
  12. What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton
  13. The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas
  14. Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich
  15. In the Midst of Winter by Isabel Allende
  16. Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward
  17. Rules of the Game: How to Win a Job in Educational Leadership by Marilou Ryder
  18. The Memory of Light by Francisco X. Stork
  19. Hot Pursuit (Stone Barrington #33) by Stuart Woods
  20. The Good Liar by Catherine McKenzie
  21. Missing You by Harlan Coben
  22. Stories I Only Tell My Friends by Rob Lowe (audiobook)
  23. The Kidney Hypothetical or How to Ruin Your Life in Seven Days by Lisa Yee
  24. Foreign Affairs (Stone Barrington #35) by Stuart Woods
  25. Kill the Boy Band by Goldy Moldavsky
  26. The Fix Up by Kendall Ryan
  27. Same Beach, Next Year by Dorothea Benton Frank
  28. Onward: Cultivating Emotional Resilience in Educators by Elena Aguilar
  29. Pretty Mess by Erika Jayne (audiobook)
  30. The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother by James McBride
  31. Retire Inspired: It’s Not an Age, it’s a Financial Number by Chris Hogan (audiobook)
  32. Scandalous Behavior (Stone Barrington #36) by Stuart Woods
  33. Talk to Me: Find the Right Words to Inspire, Encourage, and Get Things Done – Six Principles of Effective Communication by Kim Bearden
  34. Educated by Tara Westover
  35. Family Jewels (Stone Barrington #37) by Stuart Woods
  36. The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin
  37. Dishonorable Intentions (Stone Barrington #38) by Stuart Woods
  38. The Silent Sister by Diane Chamberlain
  39. The Bay at Midnight by Diane Chamberlain
  40. The Thousandth Floor (Series #1) by Katharine McGee
  41. Sex, Lies, & Serious Money (Stone Barrington #39) by Stuart Woods
  42. This Will Only Hurt a Little by Busy Philipps (audiobook)
  43. The Midnight Line (Reacher #22) by Lee Child
  44. This is Me: Loving the Person You are Today by Chrissy Metz (audiobook)
  45. Thyroid Healing by Anthony William
  46. Medical Medium: Secrets Behind Chronic and Mystery Illness and How to Finally Heal by Anthony William
  47. Run by Kody Keplinger
  48. Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell
  49. Below the Belt (Stone Barrington #40) by Stuart Woods
  50. I am Watching You by Teresa Driscoll
  51. Say You’re Sorry by Melinda Leigh*
  52. Dead End Girl by Lt. Vargas and Tim McBain
  53. Becoming by Michelle Obama (audiobook)
  54. Heartbroken by Lisa Unger
  55. Fragile by Lisa Unger

*I blogged about my reading each month from January through November, but I’ve simply added my December reads to this list, since this will be published when I would normally publish my monthly reads. In December I found free books in two ways: I finally updated my public library card to use their e-reader app and through Amazon Prime. I LOVED listening to Michelle Obama read the audio version of her amazing book!

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The Best Gift Ever

As Christmas approaches, for those of you who celebrate the holiday, I want to share one of the best presents I have ever received. It is a gift that was homemade by one of my best friends, she spent more time than money on its creation, and it has provided me YEARS of entertainment.  It is a perpetual calendar.

This calendar is actually a box full of 365 index cards, one for every day of the year. My friend, who is very artistic and creative, hand wrote a day of the year in the top right hand corner of each card. She also inserted decorative cards for each month of the year. She filled out one sample card for me, so that I knew what this gift was when she gave it to me, back in September of 2013 as a birthday gift.

As you can see by the two sample cards below, each day I write the year and I make a note of something that happened that day.  Typically, my routine in the morning is to write my note about the previous day, and then read what I had written on today’s card for the past few years.  The first year I had the cards, I didn’t write every day (as you can tell by the fact that December 19, 2013 is missing). But once I went through the first year and began again, I was disappointed on any day that didn’t have a note. So I have made a conscious effort to write something every day.

I try to write something positive, though that doesn’t always happen. Sometimes I write about work; others times I write about something I did on a weekend day or after work. It’s usually just a simple phrase about my life.  What makes this so great is that it’s a gift that keeps on giving.  Every day I have as many as 5 little memories to read about. It’s so much fun when I am reminded of something fun or exciting, like my African Safari, or getting a new job, or skydiving! It’s funny when I can text a friend and say, “Hey, remember when you came down to San Diego and we had dinner two years ago today? Let’s do that again soon!”  Sometimes I text someone to say, “I wrote this on my perpetual calendar 4 years ago. Any idea what I was talking about?!” As much as I am a digital woman, despising paper in most of my life, I truly love the fact that I have to handwrite a note each day on these cards. The ability to flip through index cards and get a sense of my life is fun and thought-provoking.

This perpetual calendar is a record of my life over the last 5 years, with space for many more years to come. I truly love this gift and treasure the time my friend took to make it for me. When I mentioned this to her again the other day, she told me I should blog about it. So here it is. Thank you, Lauren!

I encourage you to give this amazing gift to a friend or family member who enjoys journaling, or the idea of journaling without the time! You might ask Santa to bring you this as a gift this year, or you might just create it yourself.


Perpetual Calendar


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Reflecting on Another Year of Blogging

I tend to reflect on my blogging life twice a year – in July, when the anniversary of when I started this blog arrives, and in December, as all of the end of the year lists and notes come around. A few years ago I create a survey to summarize my blogging for the year. Each year I adapt the survey a little, based on my latest reflections.

My favorite blog topics this year:

My most read blog posts from this year:

The month in which I published the most posts:

  • January – 4 posts, down from 6 last January!
  • April, June, July, and September  tied for second place with 3 posts!

The top countries where my blog readers live (outside of the US):

  • Philippines
  • Hong Kong (new to the list this year)
  • Canada
  • Australia
  • United Kingdom

Terms people searched that helped them arrive at my blog:

  • art of questioning
  • leadership voice
  • reflection
  • core values reflection
  • over scaffolding

Blogging goals for 2019:

Last year I wrote: Keep reflecting! Keep writing! Keep reading!  I still have those goals, but I want to add something new for next year.

  • Highlight my coaching posts (past and future) that align with the instructional coaching book I am going to finish soon! #CoachADV
  • Blog more in 2019 than I did in 2018 (26 posts).


Possibility 2018

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A Year of Possibility

Possibility 2018

Every December for the last few years I have spent time reflecting on the past 365 days and looking ahead to the coming year. In December of 2017 I knew that the word possibility was going to be my word. It was through my reflective process that I added the supporting phrase of “adventures that stretch” to my word of the year.

Even though I’ve only blogged about possibility twice this year (Possibilities are Everywhere and Lessons Learned Skydiving), I’ve thought about my word often, and used it to guide my decision-making throughout the year. Possibilities presented themselves to me personally and professionally, and there were a few adventures that definitely helped me stretch. There were also some possibilities that I chose not to engage in, for my own sake. It’s interesting how not doing something is as much of a choice as doing something is.

It’s almost time for me to start thinking about a new word for next year. Even writing 2019 feels weird – how did we get here already? I’m not sure where my reflection will take me next, but I enjoy the process every time. I truly feel that the right word comes to me when I need it, for the right reasons. Some years I lean into my physical well-being or my personal life. Other years my professional growth is calling to me. Stay tuned on January 1st for what my next word or phrase will be. Will you be choosing a word for 2019?

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