Saturday, December 28, 2013

Put Another Log on the Fire!

It is that time of year; the time to reignite the fire.  The time to find that passion and spirit that brought you into the classroom and into the lives of so many students.   It is easy at this point of the year to let the short days, cold temperatures, and wintery weather get you into a negative groove.  Now is the time to sit down and ask yourself some reflective questions to rekindle why you chose to enter the wide world of education.  Here are some things to ponder as you begin your new term…

Do you enter your classroom with the same passion every day?
It is imperative to keep that beginning of the school year passion throughout the year.  You need to bring your best on a daily basis.  If your students sense you lack passion about what you are teaching, they too will lack the passion to learn.  Be excited about what you do!  Go home each day knowing you have given everything to ensure student learning.

Is your classroom a “can’t miss” environment?                                                             
It is essential that your classroom is an environment students don’t want to miss; something they look forward to each and every day.  Whether it is because of the relationship with you, others in the class, or the content you are presenting.  We have to create an environment students are excited about; one like Dave Burgess (@burgessdave) creates in his book, “Teach Like a Pirate,” an environment students would buy a ticket to attend.  If I still taught, I would ask myself a question posed by Erin Klein (@KleinErin) every day before I entered my class: would I like to be a student in my own class?

Do you continually look to improve?
To be successful, you need to live and breathe this statement.  Never settle for status quo and continue to better yourself all of the time.  Look for ways to improve yourself, your teaching, and those around you.  If all you do is look to improve, it is hard to believe success will not happen. 

When is the last time you tried something new?
It is okay to take risks!  It is not necessarily a bad thing that your students see you fail at something; it makes you look human and strengthens your relationships with students.  An environment where it is okay to take risks regardless of the results is essential to a successful learning environment.  Robert Kennedy summed this up nicely with this quote: “Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.”

Are you connected?
Although many believe social media serves little to no purpose in education, those same people have a misconception of how educators purposefully use these communication tools daily.  If you are not part of Twitter, Google +, Linkedin, etc., I suggest you join ASAP.  The relationships you can form are amazing and you are no longer blocked by the walls where you work.  Learning opportunities are available all the time from people all over the world.   Join a Twitter chat; host a Google hangout, who knows what you may gain from the experience.

Twitter Chats and times à  Thank you Jerry Blumengarten! (@cybraryman1)

Are you frustrated?
Remember to take time for yourself too.  You cannot give your best if you are not at your best.  Make sure you schedule some “me time.”  Whether that is a walk in the park, a run, a bike ride, or a cocktail with a friend; make sure you find enjoyable moments outside of school so you can make enjoyable moments inside.

I now ask you to take on a new challenge, take a risk, and push yourself to be the best you can be on a daily basis.  If you expect the best from your students, expect the best from yourself! 

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Make your Mess your Message

     I would not say I was your perfect child growing up nor would I say I was your worst.  Did I reach my full potential?  I think most of us are lead to say no to this question and even as adults we are still challenged to answer this one with 100% accuracy.  I think this is good though, because we should always strive to improve; trying to get better every minute of every day.  It reminds me of a quote by Jon Gruden, "You never stay the same. You either get better or you get worse."

     I would not say my life is, or ever has been, a mess, but the bumps in my road have lead me to where I am today.  There are points in everyone’s journey where they must decide to forge on, or turn around and head back to comfort and safety.  The thing I have learned the most is, the most successful people have bumps in their journey and would have never reached their potential without taking the road less traveled. 

     Well, that is what I did as an eighth grader, took the road less traveled.  To make a long story short, I spent almost one fourth of my year in ISS (In School Suspension).  Why?  As I look back, I cannot tell you why.  Did my teachers not create environments that harbored my creativity?  Did my school not provide the services I needed to be successful?  I would say no to all of the speculations, but I would say I lacked relationships with my teachers the most.   

     That year pretty much labeled me for the remainder of my high school career.  I am sure teachers saw my name on their class roster and the fear and panacea set in; oh no, not that kid!   You see I didn’t use my freshman year to change my image either though; at least academically.   I was that student, the one who’s potential went through the roof, but my effort and attention was focused on everything besides school and its requirements.  

     At this point in my life I needed to answer some questions; how did I want people to remember me?  Was my future destroyed because of my past?  Had my poor choices ended my path to future success?  I will have to thank my oldest brother and his struggles, because these have helped shape and nurture my decisions more than he could ever imagine. 
     From that point of my life to where I am today, I have used my past and my brother’s experiences to drive my pursuit of excellence.  My goals, then and now, are to prove all those that did not believe in me wrong.   I enjoy returning to the town where I grew up and informing the naysayers that I am now a school administrator and watching their reaction.   I was labeled as a young student and my passion to this day is to prove that label inaccurate.   I would say, quoting Robin Roberts, “I have made my mess my message.” 

     My advice to teachers:
·         Encourage those that struggle to continue to set and pursue goals.  
·         Mistakes will happen all through your life; learn from them and become a better person.
·         Avoid labeling students based on their past and look for the good in everyone. 
·         Every person has a story; take time to listen to it.
·         Remember it is not about you…it is about the students.
·         Always do what is in the best interest of students.
·         Continually ask yourself the question; would you want to be a student in your own classroom?
o   Thanks Erin Klein (@KleinErin)
·         Take time to do something you enjoy.
·         Read the book “Teach Like a Pirate!” by Dave Burgess (@burgessdave)

     This is the time of year where we need to rekindle our fire so that our passion to impact students continues to burn bright.  Please take time and remind yourself of why you chose to become involved in education. 

Saturday, September 7, 2013

I Thought I knew, but I had no Idea

As I wrap up the fourth week of my administrative career, I want to share my experiences up to this point. These are the experiences of a new high school administrator in the state of Iowa.  The best phrase I have found to sum up my experience is: “I thought I knew, but I had no Idea!” 

At this point, I cannot help but relate back to my first year of teaching.  I entered the classroom with eight weeks of lesson plans and ideas to change the world.  I quickly learned that my perceptions of the classroom were quite different than the reality!  I had to pitch all eight weeks of lessons and start over from scratch.  I had to develop my ideas and philosophies one day at a time.  Did my teacher preparation program fail me?  Did my student teaching experience not reflect that of a true classroom?  The answer is no, but I thought I was the next best thing and having to start over was a big gut check. 

I know I always have room to grow and will continually attempt to do my best, but I now realize my perceptions of administration were a bit off as well.   Although I did fill-in when our admin was out of the building in the past and I had a wonderful mentor through my admin program, my ideas of what the position required were beyond the scope of the textbook and internship of any program.  I thought I knew, but I had no idea…

1.  Students...they used to like to see me.    Most do still enjoy my company, but to some my mere presence can create an uncomfortable experience.  I now represent discipline; I am now the bad guy, with me, comes consequences.   The conversations with students are different now, but in any conversation the outcomes are the same; doing what is best for students.    The great part is there are cases where you represent hope and light. Poor choices will always accompany teenagers, but luckily I now get to help in the guidance of better choices.

2.  Decisions, decisions, decisions.  Wow!  You do make many decisions as a classroom teacher and each and every one of those is very important.  As an administrator you make hundreds of decisions each and every day.  Administrators make decisions about students, teachers, discipline, curriculum, schedules, activities, athletics, PD, community connections, etc.  I enjoy making decisions but I feel I continually question whether the decision was the best one.  Will it have the intended impact?  Will it produce the desired results?  Rest assured, at least in my case, very few decisions are made in isolation and each are made with the best intentions of the district, teachers, and students.

3.  Schedule, what schedule? As a classroom teacher you have a bell schedule that runs the days and changes your experiences from class to class.   There are many unknowns within those time frames, but whenever that bell rings you are assured your schedule will be back in tact.  As an administrator I have quickly learned the only known part of your day is the start.  You hear the bell and have plans to get to this and to that, but there is no for sure you will get to your plans as scheduled.  You do your best to maintain what you set forth as you need to respect people’s time, but in all reality you have no idea what you are going to walk into and where you are going to encounter each day. 

4.  Social Media…what is its role in Education?  This could be a blog post in itself, but I really think students need to be educated in the true purpose of social media.  What is the true purpose?  I am not for sure I have the answer, but students could use this communication tool in a much more positive nature (@westhighbros).  At this point, I feel I have a daily conversation about appropriate usage and why this is not an appropriate place to handle our issues.  I know our admin team covered this in our welcome back and students do learn as they progress through their years, but it bothers me students air their laundry for the world to see. 

5.  You are a spectator, but duty calls.  As a high school administrator, you no longer attend high school sporting events as a spectator.  You do, but if a situation arises you may miss some, half, or most of the event. Your interactions range from conflict resolution to catching up with old friends.  In some cases, this may be a blessing, but it is interesting to try and reflect on the event you were at and realize you cannot as you did not see much of what you had intended.

I am in no way complaining about any components of my job as I truly love what I do!  I get out of bed every day excited and ready to come to work.  I love the wide variety and unforeseen nature of my role. I love working with students in this capacity as I can impact a much wider scope of students; I am no longer bound by the walls of my classroom. I also love who I work with and appreciate their kindness and willingness to assist me as I learn the requirements of my new role (Jimmy Casas - @casas_jimmy, Joy Kelly - @joykelly05, Kristy Cleppe - @kriscleppe, Kevin Skillett - @krskillett). I write this blog, informative in nature, for those questioning whether they want to become a high school administrator.  

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Why I Lead

            As I begin my new journey in administration I begin with high hopes and fears.  There are many questions and concerns growing along the way.  To ease my mind, I decided to join George Couros’s (@gcouros) Virtual Mentoring Program (#savmp) where George has paired over three hundred and fifty administrators from around the world to guide one another through the roller coaster of educational life.  As part of this program he asked us to reflect on why we lead.  So, here it is, this is why I lead…
I lead because there were so many from my past that counted me out!  As I hear stories from leaders that I look up to like Jimmy Casas (@cassas_jimmy) who also struggled throughout his childhood and school, I cannot help but prove the naysayers wrong.   Don’t take this the wrong way…this is the root of my passion, not the tank that drives me.  I love it when I see people from my past because they are floored when I inform them of my involvement in education.  I have to say they deserve this reaction as my past proves their perceptions.
            I lead because I want to see change.  I want to see educators do what is best for students not what is easiest or causes the least amount of work.   I want to push the envelope and encourage teachers to try new things; I want them to think outside of the box.  I want teachers to bust out of the mold and revolutionize their classrooms and schools.  Seth Godin once said, “Fitting in is a short term strategy to get you nowhere.  Standing out is a long term strategy that takes guts and produced results.”
            I lead because I want teachers to use cutting edge technologies/techniques.  As a classroom teacher I tried to think of every possible way to incorporate technology.  I spent countless hours trying to find that one thing that would revolutionize the classroom.   I want to create an environment where teachers are begging for more opportunities to purchase/incorporate technology rather than complaining why it was purchased and allowing it to collect dust in the corner.  I want to create a culture of leaders where every person has a moment to shine.
            I lead because I am passionate and I want everyone to be successful.   I want to have a meaningful relationship with everyone in my building.  I want students, staff, and colleagues to follow my lead and give everything they can every day and know when they leave the building they have accomplished something.  I want a culture of connectedness where students and teachers feel their accomplishments are appreciated and work to build relationships each day. 
            I lead because of a fear of failure.  I have failed many times in my life and these failures have built me into what I am today.  Do not fear failure, accept it, and use it to build a better you.  Work hard and realize if you are not getting better, you are getting worse; in education there is no such thing as staying the same. 

Friday, July 26, 2013

Looking Out the Window

I begin with a heavy heart, after hearing about the passing of Rita Pierson a few weeks ago.  Her Ted Talk, “Everyone Deserves a Champion,” had a resounding impact on me and my philosophies.  Her speech made me think of the instances where I may have been someone’s champion; and looking back, I am unsure if I fulfilled that prophecy.  The day I heard her speech, I made a promise to myself and those around me: I will forever strive to be someone’s champion! 

            This leads me to a story from my childhood; a story that had a lasting impact on me; a story that I believe has made me a better husband, father, teacher, and leader.  I would like to thank Dave Burgess (@burgessdave) and his book, “Teach Like A Pirate,” for reminding me of the “Hooking Strategy.”   At this point I am sure many of you are thinking; what happened?  What instance in someone’s life can have that kind of impact?   
            Growing up, my father and I spent a lot of time outdoors and continue to do so - we hunt, fish, garden, and explore, whatever we can do in nature we try to continue.  When I was eight years old, one of my father’s friends asked me if I wanted to go fishing with him and his son the following day.  My response was a resounding, “Yes!”  That night was restless, as my excitement about the upcoming activities continued to grow.   I was up early that morning rounding up all my fishing gear; I was ready to go before the sun even rose.  I sat in the house that morning anticipating his arrival and the upcoming adventures.  As the hours passed I just kept looking out the window, waiting for his car to pull in the drive-way.  I remember, I kept telling myself, “It will be any time now, he just got busy.”  As the sun set, I was left waiting for that car to arrive.   He never came. 
            That day had a lasting impact on me as a child.  I remember telling myself that if I ever make a statement/promise to anyone, I would do my best to always follow through and if I could not I would be sure to communicate why and reschedule to uphold my end of the bargain.  I look back and I am not sure if I was ever given a reason regarding why or where this person was, and why he left a child filled with excitement, looking out the window.   He could have been my champion that day.  A phone call, a swing by, a note tucked in the door; anything would have eased the pain.
As I entered the teaching profession I took this experience and vowed to do my best to never leave any of my students with this feeling.  As educators we often do not realize the impact we have on students and the impact of our words.  If we say something to students, we have to ensure we follow through.  If we say, “I will let you know later or I’ll get back to you tomorrow,” and we fail to do so, we have lost!  This choice can be devastating, not only to the child but to you as an educator.  I have witnessed empty promises first hand; and the impact has produced zero positives.  We need to think of what we say each day and ensure we are fulfilling our promises to our students. 

As I enter my first year in the administrative realm of education I pledge to my students, staff, and colleagues: I will do my best to be your champion.  I will work each day to get better and I will always do what is in the best interest of you.  Do not get me wrong, I know there will be mistakes along the way, but in each scenario I will use my experience to grow and improve.  I encourage those reading this post to always try to do your best and never leave anyone looking out the window.  

Friday, June 28, 2013

Your Perception is not Always Reality

I would like to think many of us have our own story, unique and fulfilling, ending how we had always hoped and dreamed.  Realize, I am not implying my story has ended,  but at this point in my story I think I have a good message to share;  when things don't go your way, use that as a fuel to grow and improve.  

As a teacher I always had a high success rate when it came to interviews.  Throughout the 12 years, I applied for four different positions and every time I interviewed, I was offered the job.  I do not think this was because I had any special powers, it was because I was confident in my skills, knew students were the essential component to my success, and knew I continually had to work to improve.  I tried every day to give 110% to my students and then take what was left home to be the best husband and father; if that is even possible.  I tried to do that every day, every period all year long. I was not your 7:30-3:30 teacher, I did not look for ways to complain about what I had to do, I looked for ways to improve my practice and/or improve student learning all the time.  I had always hoped I was going to have that "aha moment," and suddenly I would have had the secret to make every student successful.  I never did find it, but that does not mean my search has ended.

When I decided I wanted to pursue an administrative position my story took a different turn with a few road blocks that I did not anticipate.  I had taught five years and during that time, I felt I needed to refuel my love for learning so I began a program to obtain my administrative degree.   This was a great time in my life as it renewed my passion to learn and the knowledge I was gaining was also rewarding to my students as I often passed on any pertinent information.  Nine years into teaching and two years after my program I began my quest.

Attempt one: failure.  I knew going in this would be a long shot, but you have to think you always have a chance.  I was told the direction of the district was to go outside but I was welcome to be on the selection committee.  A tough answer to some, but I took it as an opportunity to grow.  I could now see what a principal interview may look like; one step back, but one step forward!

Attempt two: failure.  This one was frustrating as well, but this time I at least went through the application process.  It was a daunting task filling out all the questions, taking an online assessment, adjusting my résumé from that of a teacher to an administrator.  This didn't seem worth it at the time as I was not selected for an interview, but the next one would be easier as I had completed one before.  Often, the second attempt at something is better than the first. 

Attempt three: failure. This was a roller coaster but probably where learned the most.   I nailed the online stuff this time and was now moving on to the phone interview.  Wow, did that absolutely kick my butt!   I knew I bombed this portion, but I did well enough to get a site interview.  Now the nerves were flowing, I couldn't sleep, it was hard to teach, I was one step away from my goal.  Interview went ok, nothing great, but I now not only knew the questions, I had my own responses.  The question is, were my responses good enough?  After a few weeks of sleepless and anxiety filled nights I was not offered this position.  I was thinking about just throwing in the towel, I liked teaching anyway.  I took the next few weeks, gathered my thoughts and realized quitting was not in me, not a part of my core values.  Now the true quest began, how do I get better? How do I get the yes I so deeply wanted?   I began a quest of reading, watching, learning, serving, etc., anything I could do to get involved.  No longer was I going to sit back and wait to be noticed, they were going to have to tell me no.

Attempt four and five: failure.  At this point the frustration levels were getting very high; I was on the verge of accepting defeat.  The difference in these attempts is that I went outside of my current district.  I learned a great deal from these as well.  I was able to evaluate where I had made mistakes in the past and adjust.  I was exposed to different scenarios and forced to answer things in different ways.  I was now not waiting for a response, I was promoting myself; a huge piece I feel I was lacking.  I was invited for an interview for one and the experience was amazing, my confidence was soaring.  I gained experiences in an extensive interview process with different committees, a writing component, and multitudes of question and answer sessions.  Although I was not offered any of these positions I gained so much from the experience that success was just around the corner.  

Attempt six: SUCCESS!  I did it!!!  What a great feeling, all the work, time, and effort was noticed and rewarded.  I owe most, if not all of my growth as a leader, to my seven year mentor, colleague and friend, Jimmy Casas (@casas_jimmy).  Through the years he was so patient and helpful, yet stern and straight forward when the scenario called for it. There were times when I thought he had the wrong perception of me but now, as I reflect he was right on with his views of my readiness.  I took all, he and those around me advised, and put them into practice. I was introduced to Twitter and developed a PLN to which I owe some gratitude as well.  Now, another journey has begun and I cannot wait to see where it takes me as this is just a rung of the ladder I am still climbing. 

If you take anything from this, do not take failure as a reason to quit.  Analyze your failures, learn from them, and use those failures to make you stronger. Utilize those around you and if you are not connect do so immediately!  There is an immense amount of very talented people out there eagerly and generously wanting to help.  Never lose sight of your goals and never doubt your ability to reach them.