What I Read in July 2018

This month felt like a slow reading month. I listened to a lot of podcasts, which limited my audiobook “reading” and I probably watched too much TV! Here is what I did read this month (including an amazing professional book by one of my favorite authors!).

  • Same Beach, Next Year by Dorothea Benton Frank – I love discovering a new author! This story took place in Lowcountry South Carolina and Corfu, Greece, over a 20 year period of time. Two couples, with a hidden past, form a summer friendship that takes them through raising kids, injuries, deaths, and drama. I enjoyed Eliza’s exploration of her Greek routes (and I’m even more excited to start planning a future trip to Greece!) and the memories from my own summers at the Jersey Shore that this reminded me of. Fun summer read!
  • Onward: Cultivating Emotional Resilience in Educators by Elena Aguilar – If you’ve read even a few of my blog posts, you will know that I have a profound respect for everything that Elena Aguilar writes. I loved The Art of Coaching and The Art of Coaching Teams so much that I’ve used them with coaches and leaders for the last four years. This book was amazing on an entirely different level. Aguilar outlines 12 habits and dispositions that will support emotional resilience. She even schedules them out throughout a typical school year at a time when you need each of these in particular. There were so many takeaways I had while reading this book. So many of the educators with whom I work are overly stressed out, anxious, and tired of getting beat up by public perception, public test scores, and self-doubt. I will be encouraging every educator I know to read this important book. A few key quotes that resonated with me include:

Patience is an emotion and a skill.

Learn to recognize your emotions as messengers, as potential sources of energy, and as a fact of human existence.

Healthy conflict can build resilient communities.

Where do you choose to spend your energy?

  • Pretty Mess by Erika Jayne – I listened to the author, a star of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, read this autobiography. It was not very well-written, but it gave me a small glimpse behind the reality cameras.
  • The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother by James McBride – What a beautiful, moving story about one woman’s road to self-love, as she leaves behind family, the Jewish religion, and most of the white race, to raise 12 black children. James’ love and respect for his mother as he tells her tales, all of which he learned through much research as an adult, not as a child, are evident and touching. While this book was originally published in 1996, the racial issues described are still a reality today. But the author leaves you with hope that we have more in common than that which makes us different.
Posted in Reflection | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

6th Blog Birthday

I like to celebrate the birthday of my blog every year (see 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th birthday posts). I started this blog over 2,000 days ago.  I take this annual birthday celebration time to reflect on my blogging life. In the time since I hit publish on the first post I have:

Outside of blogging, my professional life has one official job change, and a variety of job duties and responsibilities over the years. I have presented at national, state, and local conferences. Mentoring became an important part of my life, as a mentee and a mentor. The Aspiring Administrator Academy I began three years ago has now successfully produced at least 12 promotions for teachers becoming assistant principals (AP) and AP’s becoming principals or directors. I am honored to serve in the capacity to impact leadership development and I truly love my work!

Personally, I have continued to make traveling with family and friends a priority. In the past six years I have travelled to:

  • Vancouver (in the summer and the winter!)
  • Turks and Caicos
  • Las Vegas (many times to see friends who are family)
  • Paso Robles
  • Caribbean cruise (St. Kitts, St. Marten, Haiti, Puerto Rico)
  • NJ/NYC (Billy Joel!)
  • San Francisco
  • Chicago
  • Ojai
  • Boston
  • Washington, D.C.
  • New Orleans (work and fun)
  • Portland
  • Napa and Sonoma
  • South Africa
  • Hawaii (x2!)
  • Palm Springs
  • Dallas, Texas (x2)
  • Yosemite
  • Zion and Bryce Canyon
  • Los Angeles (various concerts)

Wow! Making that list was fun. It’s hard to believe that I’ve done all that traveling in just six years. -PAXP-deijE


A deserted beach on Turks and Caicos

As I say every year, when I began this blog I didn’t know where it would lead. Six years in, I don’t know what the future holds, but I know that I will keep writing. I write because I love it, it is relaxing for me, and it’s a great reflection tool. I also write to share and impact others in their leadership work. Thank you for reading this little blog in one tiny corner of a giant Internet. 😉

Posted in Reflection | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Humans Crave Feedback

As a new teacher during my first two years where I taught in a middle school in Virginia, I struggled with classroom management. I was a 21-year old barely-adult who was barely taller than my 8th grade students that first year. They ran me ragged. I know now that I hadn’t set up clear structure or routines within my classroom and I tried hard to be their friend, instead of their respected teacher. Much of this I learned through a lot of trial and error, and then coaching and observations I received and participated in when I got a job in San Diego and truly began to thrive as an educator.

During my first year of teaching I never had one person come in to visit or give me feedback. The same was true for my second year of teaching, until March. When I returned from spring break, I knew that I would be moving from Virginia to San Diego the following summer. Knowing that I would have to apply for a new teaching job in San Diego, I asked my assistant principal, who was my evaluator, to please come observe me so that he could write me a letter of recommendation. Sadly, I had to remind him of this request many times between March and June, before he finally came in for about 15 minutes at the end of the year.  He filled in my evaluation with a bunch of check marks and wrote me the requested letter. Needless to say, his letter was rather generic and I never received any constructive feedback during my first two years of teaching.


CCC licensed work by pixabay.com

Human beings crave feedback.  Obviously, we all appreciate positive feedback and praise, but even constructive criticism is valued when it is delivered by someone we trust and respect. We also seek out acknowledgement. I know the frustration of working hard day in and day out and never even receiving a note of acknowledgement from my administrators. I also know the frustration of being observed and then receiving no feedback whatsoever.  

As I’ve grown as a coach and a leader, I have worked hard to create trusting relationships where I was able to give feedback to teachers I visit.  When I don’t have a trusting relationships established, I still write a note of appreciation to each teacher I visit. I always want to acknowledge their hard work and that I, a virtually stranger, was in their room observing that hard work. So when I conduct classroom observations in my current role as a district director, my first purpose is to coach the site administrators with whom I am visiting. My second purpose is to model that note of appreciation. During this past school year, I visited over 400 classrooms in our district. After each visit, I wrote each teacher an email (and cced the site administrators who were with me) noting something that I appreciated that was going well for student learning. I don’t pretend to be coaching teachers in these emails, because I don’t have established relationships with them. But I am coaching their site leaders and I am building a bridge of trust, where a teacher who is observed receives some acknowledgement and feedback.

Knowing that everyone craves feedback, I encourage you to consider the ways in which you provide feedback to your colleagues.


Posted in Reflection | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

What I Read in June 2018

In June I finished some books I started on my vacation last month. I also read a few books on another vacation this month. I do love a good plane ride to catch up on my reading! I’m halfway through the year, but behind the amount of books I read last year. My summer goal is to watch less TV and read more. Stay tuned for July’s book list!

  • Missing You by Harlan Coben – This is the first Coben book I’ve read in a while that doesn’t focus on his usual main character. I loved how the author weaved the stories of such diverse characters (Kat, her late father, Jeff, Aqua, Brandon, and some very bad guys and catfishing) into interesting twists and turns.
  • Stories I Only Tell My Friends by Rob Lowe – I listened to this audiobook read by the author. I’ve loved Rob Lowe the actor for years. At least two of my close friends told me they loved this book so I had no doubts that I would too. His honesty and charming storytelling were entertaining! Listening to this made me want to go back and watch St. Elmo’s Fire (one of my favorite 80’s movies) and The West Wing (one of the best TV shows ever made!). I was fascinated by the decisions surrounding The West Wing salaries and Lowe’s scenes from the movie The Outsiders.

Rob Lowe

  • The Kidney Hypothetical or How to Ruin Your Life in Seven Days by Lisa Yee – A fun YA book about some typical and atypical high school drama, where a student learns about himself and the world, as we survives some traumatic-to-him events leading up to his graduation.
  • Foreign Affairs (Stone Barrington #35) by Lee Child – I finally downloaded a Library app (Libby) so that I could borrow e-books from my local library.  For all the reading I do, it’s embarrassing how long it has taken me to do this. It was easy to read on my iPad and convenient. As usual, I enjoyed this fast paced Stone mystery, that took place in Italy and France, with a cliffhanger ending in England.
  • Kill the Boy Band by Goldy Moldavsky – This is YA novel that ended up in a pile I’ve had around for a long time. I am a life-long fan of boy bands and YA fiction, so I was excited to read this. Unfortunately, it was not enjoyable as all of the characters were irredeemable. I disliked them all, with their bad choices and poor moral compasses.  That is, unless it was just fan-fiction…
  • The Fix Up by Kendall Ryan – This was a fun, cheesy romance novel I found on my library app, that was a perfect summer read. Camryn has the job to play matchmaker to bachelor Sterling, who will inherit millions if he gets married within the next six months. Of course, Camryn and Sterling are each secretly attracted to the other, and a lot of miscommunication ensues.
Posted in Reflection | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Sit & Get… Compliance

I have been an educator for over 20 years. I have spent significantly more than 20 hours in my career, probably in each school year, sitting in meetings and being talked at. We often call these meetings the “Sit and Get” meetings.  Today I am here to PLEAD with my fellow educators to find other structures for meetings beyond the old sit and get.

I believe that we, as educators, are rule followers and by nature are compliant. If our boss asks us to attend a meeting, we will attend.  If the presenter(s) talks at us for the entire meeting, we will sit quietly, sometimes taking notes. The outcome of meetings such as this is often continued compliance.

follow rules

But as a leader I want much more than compliance.

  • I want to transform our educational systems on behalf of each learner we serve.
  • I want to inspire others to be their best.
  • I want each person with whom I work to discover their own strengths and how they can use those strengths to enhance our collective work.
  • I want to collaborate because two minds truly are better than one.

I know that as leaders and content experts, people often feel that the best way to share information is to tell people all that we know, often in a lecture-style with PowerPoint slides FULL of text.  A sit and get meeting structure does not lead to the educational transformations mentioned above. However, there are other structures that can help us get to those big ideas.

Read & Discuss

Professional readings and discussions can help us come to a common understanding about a key concept, understand a need for a change, or delve deeper into curriculum and instructional information. A facilitator can send out a reading assignment ahead of time and encourage people to read the text and come prepared to discuss it. Sharing a few reflective questions or asking people to bring a favorite quote can help the reading be purposeful. Having a protocol for the discussion during the meeting can make the time useful for all members, as with a protocol everyone has a voice and a role.

[Protocols I’ve used and appreciated include: Save the Last Word, Three Levels of Text, Four A’s, Orchard Cove]

Share & Collaborate

If we believe that two heads are better than one, we want to create structures that allow for our colleagues, our stakeholders, to collaborate with us on work that will directly impact them. For instance, if a district level director develops a discipline plan in isolation, he or she has missed an opportunity to collaborate directly with the site administrators who handle student discipline issues day in and day out. There are a number of ways we can build in opportunities for collaboration into meeting structures.

Similar to the idea above, we can send out a draft of a discipline plan a week before a meeting, asking our site administrators to review the draft and to come to the meeting prepared to share one item they appreciate, one item they have questions about, and one item they are concerned about. We can guide participants through a collaborative discussion protocol at the meeting, where the ideas are shared and collected as feedback to enhance the discipline plan draft.

If we want to collaborate with our staff to make a decision, we can guide them through a dot voting protocol and discussion (here is a thread describing a few options). Dot protocols provide each staff member with a voice in the decision-making process. It’s important to note that a leader should only use a voting protocol when they are truly prepared to honor the vote of the majority. If you ask people for feedback and then ignore you, you risk losing trust and respect.

Another way to gather feedback or to move a group towards greater understanding is to use the Affinity Mapping Protocol.  This is a SILENT but interactive task, that requires collaboration and shares thought process. Getting people up and moving around helps with brain flow as well as overall health!

Mix & Mingle

Sometimes we just need to get up and move and talk in a meeting. As a facilitator, it’s important to read your audience and know when they need a mental or physical break. You can build these into your meetings as brain breaks or as a way to transition from one topic to another. For instance, after reviewing a new initiative overview, a leader can ask everyone to stand up and find a partner from a different team, content area, or table. The pairs can discuss what they heard and what they wonder. The facilitator can give 3-5 minutes for one discussion, and if time permits, ask participants to find another partner to discuss the same ideas or an additional idea (such as what resources they need to begin implementing).

You can also add a mix and mingle as a community builder in as you prepare to take a break in a longer meeting. The facilitator says a prompt such as, “On your way into this 10 minute break, tell one person what you appreciate about him or her.”

Speed Dating

I love including a speed dating option in any meeting I can. I learned this idea from my friend and colleague Shelley Burgess, who described it in her book Lead Like a Pirate. In the past I have asked meeting participants to line up in order of years of experience as an educator or by their birthday month. I then fold the line in half (like a taco) so that the educator with the most experience is facing the educator with the least experience. I provide a discussion prompt and give participants an opportunity to speak. After an appropriate amount of time, I will ask one row of the taco to move down a few spots, so that everyone has a new partner to talk to, using either the same or a new prompt. Every time I use this activity, I get amazingly positive feedback about how fun it was as well as being a powerful way to ignite discussion between very diverse pairs.


The structures above are just a few ways to build in opportunities for participant voice within a meeting, thereby avoiding the dreaded sit and get… compliance.  I look forward to moving beyond compliance and into transformation with each of you. Please share additional structures you have found successful in the comments. unique fish


Posted in Leadership | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Teacher Leadership Academy

This is a blog co-written by a group of teachers who participated in the first Teacher Leadership Academy (TLA) in our district during the 2017-18 school year; I was one of the Amy administrators who created the TLA. 

Teacher Leadership Academy Experience

What is TLA and how did it come to exist (Amy I.)

The idea for the Teacher Leadership Academy (TLA) came from our district’s Title II committee last spring. As we were brainstorming how to build teacher leadership capacity across the district, the committee agreed to two key pathways: teacher leadership book studies and a teacher leadership academy. I found a partner in another Amy, a district leader colleague who works in HR.  We began to create a plan for the year of learning. The committee helped create a promotional video about the academy, with thanks from our communications department. We sent this out in an email inviting teachers to attend an informational meeting to learn more about the TLA.

Our goal was to create an application process so that we could find a relatively small cohort of teachers who wanted to participate in this monthly professional development opportunity; I think our initial goal was 12-20 participants. We received interest from nearly 25 teachers. We brought our Title II committee together to review applications and we selected 17 teachers to participate.  Two of those had to drop out due to scheduling conflicts, so we ended up with a cohort of 15.

We scheduled meetings once a month for two hours after school, which teachers were paid to attend out of our Title II funds.

What made teachers want to join?

I wanted to join the Sweetwater Teacher Leadership Academy because it provided classroom educators opportunities for personal and professional growth, without the pressure/expectation of taking our work into administration. Teachers being supported with time, collaboration and reflection is empowering and engaging for us to cultivate at leaders in our professional learning communities and schools. (Alicia)

I wanted to join the Sweetwater Teacher Leadership Academy because I wanted to gain new skills I could take with me back to the classroom. I also hoped to learn leadership skills I could take with me as an administrator. I wanted to gain as much experience as I could prior to completing my admin credential. I also wanted to learn new tactics for dealing with various issues in the workplace, particularly with issues that may arise in a PLC. (Sophia)

I wanted to join TLA because I was looking for the next step in my professional development apart from the administrative track. I was so excited to learn this was being offered. I was (and am) eager to continue growing and excited at the prospect of receiving mentorship from district leaders as well as learning and collaborating with others in the cohort. (Melody)

Since my long-term professional goal is to mentor current teachers and teach credential courses, the Sweetwater Teacher Leadership Academy provided me with a important stepping stone in my journey towards that goal.  Receiving mentorship was an attracting factor. As leaders, we take care of our colleagues and students’ needs and sometimes put aside our own needs. I had forgotten what I need to do to make sure I am taken care of, so that I can better take care of others. Knowing that I was going to be nurtured by Amy and Amy, as well as other colleagues in the district, was a driving force in my decision to apply for the program. (Anna)

I joined the TLA cohort because I was concerned with a growing trend of plucking “qualified” teachers out of the classroom environment to serve in administrative roles.  My concern was twofold: first, that we would thin the ranks of quality practitioners, leaving less mentors and dedicated classroom teachers; and, second, that this inadvertently told teachers that there was a ceiling to professional growth as a teacher, and if they wanted to aspire to anything higher, they had to become an administrator.  The experience of TLA gave perspective on the district’s growth of leaders both in teachers and administrators as well as opportunities for teacher leadership. (Melissa)

I applied for the Teacher Leadership Academy, eager to improve my skills as a leader. With no desire to pursue the administrator track, I found myself with a lack of growth opportunities within SUHSD. Even though I was hesitant to take on any more commitments for the 2017-2018 school year, I knew this was necessary; and, the cherry on top was that it was led by Amy I, who I look up to as a strong leader. After our first meeting, I realized that this would be, by far, the best in-district professional development I had ever experienced! (Mari)

Enjoyable experiences and anecdotes from the TLA experience

I appreciated the time to collaborate with teachers across our district. Getting to hear experiences from different departments and schools allowed me to learn more about not only teaching practices, but how to use professional learning communities to support teachers and students. (Alicia)

I thoroughly enjoyed the time I spent getting to know other teachers from different sites, understanding the dynamics of different school sites, different ways to engage, and having something to take away from each session. Although I was unable to attend every session, I was pleased at what I learned and the growth I experienced after being a part of the TLA. (Sophia)

I appreciated all the thoughtful materials shared, but I most appreciated the lens that we were asked to look through- a loving and compassionate one that promoted empathy for all personalities. Fun themes that thinly veiled professional challenges, like herding cats, helped frame the monthly growth conversations with self-awareness. (Melody)

I very much appreciated how every monthly meeting was thoughtfully planned out and engaging.  After a long day of work it was a lot of fun to go to the teacher leadership academy meetings because not only were they informative but they included many hands on activities.  I specifically enjoyed the role playing activities, because it provided me with a new perspective. It helped me understand how to work with different personalities which is important to know how to do as an educational leader. Thank you for all the support, strategies and feedback that was provided to us.  I will definitely be putting what I learned into practice. (Maria C.)

Takeaways that have impacted teacher leadership

The time spent role playing, discussing personal strengths and areas of improvement, and having courageous conversations has impacted my teacher leadership. I feel better versed in not only how to manage a team meeting, but to also build and cultivate positive relationships with my peers. Emotional intelligence is pivotal for high performing teams. Through TLA, I am prepared for effective collaboration centered around student growth and success. (Alicia)

I particularly enjoyed asking for feedback and receiving feedback from colleagues, including the principal at my school site. This had the most profound impact on my teacher leadership. It gave me the courage to continue to speak up, while also continuing to work on myself. I feel that I have received valuable tools that I can utilize alongside my peers. (Sophia)

Amy and Amy did a fantastic job leading our cohort through a series of activities, reflective questions, and challenges that pushed us to dig deep into our own perspectives. I enjoyed learning from teachers from across our district. One of the most memorable activities was when we talked about how to deal with “difficult” people; acknowledging that there are different ways individuals can be difficult, helped me accept that the only thing I can control is my own actions and reactions. (Mari)

Next Steps

I absolutely loved my experience in the TLA, and I am craving more opportunities to grow as a leader. Anna and I tweeted that we need a year 2, and no matter if there is funding or not. We’d love to have Amy I. lead us again, and if that is not possible, we will build our own growth opportunities. Maybe that’s the natural progression of an opportunity like this? We’ve been empowered to grow as leaders, and there’s no stopping us! (Mari)

Posted in Leadership | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

What I Read in May 2018

This month I read 6 books. My Caribbean vacation helped to add many of these titles this month and into next month!  As always, I’d love to hear in the comments what you are reading and what you recommend.

  • In the Midst of Winter by Isabel Allende – A work colleague loaned me this beautifully written story. I haven’t read an Allende novel in a long time, and I truly enjoyed this. Three different lives intersect in the middle of a winter storm, and as you slowly learn about each character’s past, you see glimpses of where the future will take them. Each character was endearing in his or her own way. The tragedies they each overcame made them weak and yet strong.
  • Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward – My work colleague (see the book note above) is determined to expand my reading repetoire, in culturally diverse ways, which I appreciated. While I did not enjoy reading some of of the more savage parts of this book (dog fighting described in vivid details and the realities of hurricane Katrina), I am glad I read this book. It was a beautifully told story, with respect for the author’s culture and lived experiences. These characters lived a life so different from my own, I felt like I was eavesdropping on their lives.
  • Rules of the Game: How to Win a Job in Educational Leadership by Marilou Ryder – I heard a few different colleagues reference this book recently, as we gear up for interview season around here, so I wanted to see if it is a worth recommendation.  Spoiler- it is! I wish someone had given me this book 10 years ago, before I began interviewing for my first Assistant Principal position.  The author addresses the move from teacher to AP/VP, from AP/VP to principal, from Principal to district office and from district office to Assistant Superintendent/ Superintendent. She offers practical advice about how to make your paperwork shine, to the legitimate work it takes to practice and prepare for a successful interview to branding yourself. Some of her tips I have learned along my journey, but others were great to hear, even at this stage in my career. I made lots of notes for the next time I plan to apply for a job and prepare for an interview. I highly encourage anyone who wants to be an educational leader and anyone who wants to move to the next level of leadership to read this book and follow the author’s detailed advice.
  • The Memory of Light by Francisco X. Stork – This is a YA novel I’ve had sitting in my house for a long time and I’m glad I finally read it. The story begins after a teenage girl has attempted suicide. She spends time in a mental institution with three other teens, who have mental health struggles. Together, they form friendships as they learn about their own issues and that of each other. There were some dark moments, but the therapist who works with them was good and the reality that time, medication, and therapy would be necessary to “get better” was honest.
  • Hot Pursuit (Stone Barrington #33) by Lee Child – Another Stone mystery with exotic plane rides, a new love interest, a connection to the president, and international crimes. Great read for my May vacation!
  • The Good Liar by Catherine McKenzie – I’m not sure where I saw this book recommended, and when it began with a woman seeing a building destroyed I thought it was going to be about 9-11, but it wasn’t and I was glad to enjoy a new mystery! The building in question was in Chicago and suffered a fire from an explosion. The women in question lost her cheating husband in that building, as well as her best friend. A photographer’s picture of her on the street watching the building burn went viral and led to unintended fame and consequences. I loved the random twists that popped up as the author revealed new details to the reader.
Posted in Reflection | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment