Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Why Do I Lead?

Why do I lead? That question has been lingering in my mind since it was posed to a group I am in a couple weeks ago.  I've been thinking about it, and to be honest, I have been disappointed with myself that I couldn't come up with a profound reason.  A reason that would inspire people and really help them understand why I do why I do.  I struggle with putting it all into words.  So I put it off and decided I was going to let it go and not respond.

Then it came to me...

It came to me as I was sitting in my office with a second grader.  He was talking to a police officer I had asked to meet him.  Not because he was in trouble, but because I was hoping to help form a relationship.  I was reaching out for something to help him connect and help him see a future since he wants to be a police officer when he grows up.  It was the first day of a positive mentorship (hopefully!).

I'll call him Sam.

Sam has been one of my tough ones, even as a first grader last year.  I am constantly working with him.  What do we know about Sam? He's struggling academically.  He's missing foundational understandings that are necessary for him to progress in reading and math.  He can act defiant.  He'll look right at you and do exactly what you asked him not to do.  He's had people give up on him. He's funny.  He craves attention.  He seeks approval from peers and adults.  He comes from a family that speaks another language.  He's made improvements.  He constantly pushes back on staff and I feel like he is waiting for us to give up on him.  He makes me smile.  He makes me cry, and sometimes he frustrates me.  Somedays he makes me feel like I can't make a difference.

But when it comes down to it, I lead because of him.

I believe that every child needs someone that loves them no matter what.  Every child deserves someone to see the best in them even when they can't see it themselves (or show it).

There may be good days and tough days, but I won't give up on him no matter what.
I lead not only for Sam, but all the other "Sams" out there.  As a leader I hope to inspire teachers to always see the good in students and never give up on them.  

Ted Talk - Rita Pierson - Every Kid Needs a Champion

"Every child deserves a champion: an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection and insists they become the best they can possibly be." Rita Pierson

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Start Somewhere

When trying something new there's always a risk. You wonder if it will turn out right or the students will get it.

Over the past two years teachers have been trying new things whether it is with new math strategies or close reading with text. One area we are focusing more on is speaking and listening.  Not just because of the new standards but because it is right for students.  Students need to engage and make sense of their learning.

When trying out new things, there's going to be times we're a little unsure and apprehensive but we have to be willing to take a chance and try. What's the worst that can happen?  It doesn't turn out how we expected? So what! The students will be ok and we get a chance to reflect, learn and grow...and try it again. 

As my district focuses on speaking and listening this year, it's leading us down a path where some haven't been before. We're shifting from seeing speaking as delivering a speech in front of the class to being able to engage in collaborative conversations with other students in the classroom to deepen learning and understanding. So many questions come to mind: what does this look like? How do I teach it? How do I assess it and give feedback? 

We may not have all the answers figured out just yet, but we don't have to wait for the answers to get started. We have to start somewhere. So where do you start?  Start with the standards. What do they say? What are students expected to do by the end of the year? Then work backwards. What do you have to teach and facilitate in the classroom? 

I am inspired by many teachers I've seen take the risk and start. They were a little unsure of how it would all turn out, but did it anyway. Whether it's starting with structured partner share or sentence starters for conversation, they're doing it. 

Recently I visited a first grade classroom and students were engaged in literature circles. I was amazed to see and hear the students sharing their ideas and going back to the text to support their ideas. Was there two way conversation going on? Not yet, but the teacher started somewhere. She taught the students the roles of lit circles and how to listen and focus on the speaker.  The teacher has the end in mind and knows where she wants the students to go from there. Was she a little nervous about how it would turn out? Absolutely! But that didn't stop her from starting.

What have you been wanting to start this year but have held back because of uncertainty? Stop waiting. Take the first step and start.

Monday, October 5, 2015

The Power of Connection

When I think about our students, I think about the fact that more, now than ever before, we are trying to teach them how to communicate and collaborate with their peers.  With this in mind I think about the following:  How are we, as educators and leaders, communicating and collaborating with others?

As a teacher you may feel limited to the teachers at your school site and the time you have during the school day to collaborate and learn from each other.  As an administrator, most often, you have no one.  So you give up?  What would we want our students to do?  Problem solve? Reach out? Find other ways?  Of course!

For me, it all started with setting up a Voxer account. I'll be honest.  I was reluctant and skeptical before taking the step.  I actually even poked fun of others who had an account because I didn't quite understand the purpose or the potential that Voxer could open up for me.

In the few months that I have had an account, I have gained more that I ever thought possible:

* I have people to problem solve with and offer different perspectives beyond that of those in my school district.
* I have a forum to share ideas, ask questions, and learn from others across the country.
* I've connected with people who inspire me and challenge my thinking.
* I've found people who help motivate and encourage me.
* I have a chance to learn and grow daily!

With today's technology, there is no excuse to not be connected and collaborating with others. It's quick, it's easy, it fits into my schedule. 

Whether it's Voxer or another pathway, take a risk and get connected. Instead of limiting yourself to the teachers at your school, why not open up and collaborate with the entire grade level district wide? Schools across the county? Why limit yourself to the administrators in your district? Making connections and collaborating with others will not only affect your life but it will impact the lives of the students at your school. 

Thank you to all who continue to support me, inspire me, and help me grow. I can't imagine doing this without you!


Thursday, September 3, 2015

Take Care of Yourself

As I finish up the second full week of school tomorrow I can't help but reflect on the fact that I miss summer. Summer was filled with relaxing, reading, working out, and time with friends and family.  It was time to relax and recharge.  It was a time to take care of myself. Then, August hit!

When August arrived, everything shifted.  The once quiet campus was filled with energy and excitement: new kids registering, returning families dropping by to say hello, and teachers making their way back into their classrooms. Not only were they focused on getting their classrooms together, but grade level teams were meeting to plan lessons and discuss new ideas for the upcoming year.  It was just the beginning of the countless hours that the staff will continue to put in throughout the year.

I was excited when the first day of school finally arrived.  Greeting the kids as they walked onto campus, seeing the excitement in their eyes and smiles on their faces validated all the work that we put in to preparing for the first day. Popping into classes the first two days and seeing the students engaged and connected with their teachers and classmates added to the energy.  It reminded me about why I love what I do and put in all the hours of work. 

After the first days passed, everything else began to hit: deadlines, parents, professional development, site plans, students having meltdowns, scheduling, sub request, CELDT testing, meetings, and more! All of the a sudden the refreshed feeling from summer quickly started to disappear.  My days and nights were spent focused on work and the things that rejuvenated me during the summer were pushed aside.  I had to stop, reflect, and think about what I was doing.   Can I continue?

I can! But I must continue to take care of myself along the way. As I look back over the past couple of weeks I think about our lives as educators.  In education our time and energy is most often spent taking care of others. We take care of the kids at our school during the day, and often the hours after work are spent thinking about what we can do to help a specific child or children.  Many of us leave school to go home and take care of others in our lives, but what do we do to take care of ourselves?

I realized that in order to do the job that I do, I must put aside time for myself.  I know this isn’t something easy to do; it’s something I constantly struggled with last year, but I realized how important it was in order for me to do what I do everyday.  The thing is, we can’t wait for the three-day weekend, a week off for the holidays, or even summer vacation to take care of ourselves; it needs to happen all year.

So I challenge you (and myself) to do something for yourself every day.  Whether it be running, walking, hitting the gym, time with a friend, picking up a good book…do something!  You matter and it's important to take care of yourself. 

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Freedom to Explore

This past week I enjoyed a trip to the Exploratorium in San Francisco with my two boys. With our summer filled with sports, friends, swimming and more video games than usual, I was looking forward to a day disconnected from devices and letting them explore and have fun.

I was amazed by all of the exhibits and hands on activities for the kids to explore. Their favorites included pedaling to create energy to power light bulbs and other objects, seeing how black sand from boulders reacted to magnets, and the Tinkering Studio.

As a mom and educator, the tinkering studio was by far my favorite; more specifically, it was the one section that allowed kids of all ages to design and build a unique creation.  Walking into the area, there was a sign posted for kids to read and then the walls were lined with peg boards.  Containers were filled with wooden pegs, funnels, tubing, ramps, and other materials.  Kids were given the chance to be creative, problem solve, build, reflect and refine.

While watching my two boys create a design, try out the marble, and then make adjustments, an idea came to me: Could I have something like this in my school?  Maybe it's a place where all classes can sign up for times, or maybe it's something that's opened up at recess for kids to explore.  What if it was a mobile station that could be moved around to different classrooms?  I don't have all the answers yet, but I am excited about the possibility.   I continued watching not only my kids, but kids as young as 1 1/2 years old build and
My boys creating their pathway for the marble. 
have fun for hours on end! I watched as kids used: critical thinking, teamwork, and problem solving.  The whole time they were excited and having fun!

As a mom, I'm always thinking about how I can get my two boys to get along and work together.  On this day, I didn't have to do a thing!  They worked together and supported each other while trying to accomplish their goal of getting the marble to travel down the path they created.

As educators we're always thinking what can we have them read? What technology can we incorporate? What do I need to teach them? How do I teach kids to work together?  Maybe we're asking the wrong questions.  Maybe it's not about what we can teach them, but instead it's what experience can we provide so they can learn?  

Life is not about giving kids the answers and explicitly teaching all there is to learn. They need a chance to play and figure things out.  A chance to problem solve and experience failure, but then get right back at it with another idea.  So as you enter this school year, I challenge you to think about what you can do to provide experiences for the kids to explore and have fun while learning at the same time!

Sunday, July 19, 2015


For weeks now I have been saying I want to start a blog.  I was hesitant because I've never written one before and was worried to put myself out there.  Well, here it is, my first blog post - finally getting it done!

Last month I finished up my first year as an elementary school principal and was looking for something to inspire me.  As a classroom teacher I loved attending conferences to learn new things to apply to my classroom and school site.  I loved that feeling of excitement and inspiration I would walk away with after attending. Where could I find that as an administrator?  I wondered if it was even out there.

A friend of mine mentioned NAESP and recommended we should attend.  After checking it out online, I figure what it was worth a shot.  As I headed down to Long Beach I started to think to myself, what do I want to walk away with from the week?  What am I hoping to get from this conference? I wanted to learn.  I wanted to be inspired. I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone and connect with other administrators.

The opening keynote by graffiti artist Erik Wahl blew me away.  It was truly an inspiration to hear his story and watch him in action.  The emotion evoked was something I will always remember.

When Erik asked the question, "Who can draw?" only a small amount of hands were raised.  He asked us to think what would happen if a group of preschoolers were asked the same thing. Of course, all hands would be up.  Why is that?  What have we done in society to change kids' beliefs about themselves and their capabilities? School has been dominated by the push of math and reading, but there is so much more. Art inspires creativity, thinking outside the box and taking a risk. Art lets children use their imagination.  Every child sees themselves as an artist, our challenge, my challenge, is to help students keep their creativity going from when they enter my school until they leave.

Sometime it pays to take a risk.  As Erik said, "We are almost naturally resistant to stepping out and taking a risk because we were taught to be logical.  We were taught to take all of the ideas and narrow them down to one." Nothing is learned in life without pushing yourself and taking a risk. What's the worst that can happen? You fail? Failure is an opportunity to grow.  Without failure, we're not taking risks and we're not growing. According to Erik, taking a risk is overcoming FEAR (False Evidence Appearing Real). Personally for me, reaching out and connecting with others in Long Beach was taking a risk.  It was outside my comfort zone.  Sitting down and writing something to post for everyone to see is taking a risk.  How can I continue to take risks? How can I get teachers and students to take risks?

As the summer comes to a close and the new school year is quickly approaching, I am excited for what is yet to come.  I am excited to work with my staff to ensure we encourage creativity and risk taking with our for ourselves and our students.