Monday, June 7, 2021

Finding My Way With No Map or Compass

Finding My Way

I didn't always know I wanted to be an educator. I went to college and started out majoring in Engineering. After midnight stays in the Engineering lab during volleyball season, all while not getting the computer language to output what I needed it to, I changed my major to Biology. I was going to go into cancer or AIDS research, hoping that my contributions would be able to help save lives. (I didn't realize that my passion for helping others would manifest itself in my coaching and mentoring young people for almost 30 years!)

1992 Berry High School Lady Buccaneers Softball

In the spring of 1989, I was asked to volunteer coach the softball team at my high school alma mater, Berry High School. It was then, in that opportunity, that I found my life's purpose. I transferred from the University of Alabama-Birmingham that summer to Samford University to play softball, and I began taking education classes. 

I graduated from Samford University in December 1991, and I got a long-term sub position at Simmons Middle School, in the Hoover City Schools district. I was the assistant softball coach with Jim Brown at Berry High School. Little did I know that I would be coaching again with him again, 18 years later!

In the fall of 1992, I started teaching and coaching at Pelham High School. I stayed there for 4 years, but in 1996 I left education to work with my husband. We opened a gym and were personal trainers and gym owners. It was during that time away from education that I learned that my calling was to be an educator. 

In 1998, I got a teaching and coaching position at Vestavia Hills High, a cross-town rival of my alma mater, Berry High School. (Berry High School had closed a few years before I started working at Vestavia due to the city building a new, large high school to replace Berry. It was called Hoover High School.) During my time at Vestavia, I learned an incredible amount about tradition, excellence, and leadership. After teaching there for 6 years, I entered my first role in administration as one of the assistant principals, and I stayed in that role for 3 years. My commitment to mentoring new and aspiring school leaders is because I still remember what it was like to go from being one of a hundred people in the building who all did the same thing (teach) to being one of 3 people in the building who were administrators. As the AP of Curriculum, I was the only one who did my job at the school, and this was before social media was in the picture. It was very challenging, but I'm grateful for the experiences that have shaped me as a leadership coach and school leader.

From 2007-2009 I was at Hewitt-Trussville High as Principal. I met some incredible students and educators during that short time, but it was the transition God knew I needed to get me to Hoover High. (I went back to the classroom at Hoover High for two years, 2009-2011, and was assistant softball coach.) While in the classroom 2011, I had an experience where I literally was the person to save a student's life. God put me in the exact place He needed me to be. Since that day, there has never been a day that I've gone to work and questioned it. I know that even today, as I finish out my last days as a school administrator, I'm doing exactly what I am supposed to be doing. There are no countdowns, no wishing the days away. It's purpose-driven and faith-led. Only confidence. Have you ever felt that way?

Since the summer of 2011, I've had the privilege to serve as Assistant Principal for the awesome students and staff at Hoover. It's been a long run and a wonderful one, full of ups and downs, but always a lot of joy. 2011 was also the year I began to connect with educators all over the world via twitter. Finding other educators who were doing awesome work in their schools and learning from them while also getting to share our school's story is something that profoundly impacted me personally and professionally.

This summer I will be retiring from public education. I'm not sure yet what God has planned for me, whether it will be education-related or not... but I know that it will be for His purpose. I love this quote, Man makes a plan and God laughs. There are so many times that I've made plans then prayed about them. Now I pray, then I make plans. 

While my plans are to retire from the school administrator role, I've been having negative messages play in my mind about how I will now "fit" in the persona that I've created for myself through work, connections, imagery, and writing. Am I still compelled? Will I be able to contribute? Am I enough? Will I find purpose?

|RELATED POST: Be Your Own Champion 

I've slowed down my activity on social media and on this blog these last few months while I've been introspective and listening. I've been searching to find out what is the next destination and where the next trailhead will be. As time has passed (it's now been about 4 months since I first shared the words with our principal... "I'm retiring in July."), I've come full circle in my thinking and actions. 

What has bubbled up and through the negative thoughts is the mantra that I've shared with my husband and daughters repeatedly over the years: It's not about the destination, it's about the journey. I fully embrace those words, and I'm excited about the next steps of this journey. 

THANK YOU to all the readers of this blog. You've inspired me over and over with your comments, your messages, and your insights. I apologize for the silence over the last few months, but I'm back and I've got some great things to share from podcasts & books I've devoured recently, and just some plain crazy ideas I want to share with you. Feel free to share a comment below, or connect with me on Facebook or Twitter. 

Friday, January 1, 2021

My Three Words for 2021

Who would have thought that back when the clock rolled over to the year 2020 that we would be ending the year like we have! 

As we wind up this crazy year, one practice keeps me grounded and hopeful going forward is the practice of reflecting on the year and choosing three words to guide me throughout the next year. This is a practice I learned from Chris Brogan, and one that has proven to be beneficial to me both personally and professionally.

Since 2014, I select three words at the beginning of the year that will set my intentions, drive my actions, and align my purpose throughout the year. 

Choosing three words is something Chris Brogan has been doing since 2006. He sums it this way: 

“The three words are a shorthand representation of your bigger story. It’s kind of like how an icon isn’t the software program. It’s just a way for you to mentally access all the work you’re doing.”

Before I choose #my3words for the new year, I spend some time reflecting on the past year. (Thankfully, the weather has been pretty nice in Alabama so I have been able to do my reflecting during my outdoor runs - my best thinking time.) 

Here's what Chris writes about choosing your three words:

Choose any three words you feel will guide you forward. I can tell you a few things about this:
  • Don’t make it a phrase. “Publish the book” is a terrible choice. “The” is wasted.
  • Try to make the words actionable. “Expand” is better than “bigger.”
  • The more utilitarian the word can be, the better. These words have to be your compass.
  • Stick with the 3 words all year. Every time I’ve changed one a month or two later, the year mucks up. I can’t explain it. But I can report it.
  • Years where I’ve tried “fancy” words with layers of meaning, I lost the thread. Use plain words, maybe.
  • BUT the words don’t have to mean anything to anyone but you. Don’t worry about explaining them.

In 2020, one of my words was BUDGET. I started in January and learned, studied, and calculated. I'm proud to say that I've learned a great deal and put it into action throughout the entire year. There are so many great people that are in the debt-free community that I've discovered this year. I'm thrilled to go into  new year armed with knowledge and consistent habits that will lead our family forward in a positive way.

INVEST, in its most obvious form, is an extension of the learning I experienced in 2020. Now that I've learned to budget, I want to learn about investing and growing the money that I've learned to budget. 

Other ways I want to invest in the new year:
  • I want to invest in old and new relationships. 
  • I want to invest more time for experiences and travel for our family
  • I want to invest in myself - from exercise to personal growth and learning new skills 

STRETCH is another word with several meanings for me in 2021. Hubs and I plan to start doing yoga together at home in the evenings, which will be entertaining as well as physically helpful. 

STRETCH also applies to my work life. After 15 years in school leadership, I still want to keep learning and adding to my "leadership toolbox." It means having to get outside my comfort zone and continue to try new things. 

There's one other area that will require a stretch, and it has to do with what I've learned about budgeting in 2020. What I've discovered from the frugal, budget, and debt-free communities is that I was not the only one who didn't know how to budget! I turned 52 in 2020, and I felt that everyone else must already know all the things about budgeting. Turns out I was way wrong. Now, I want to give back. I'm a teacher at heart, and I want to teach others what I've learned. I'm stretching myself in 2021 in a new project where I can do just that. (Be on the lookout for it!)

DISCIPLINE was one of my words when I began this journey in 2014. There were so many signs pointing to getting back to having this word as a daily reminder in 2021. 

During 2020, I had participated for 50 days in the #75hard challenge until I had minor surgery that sidelined me. I ran 4-6 days per week in the summer, usually averaging about 20 miles per week. I decluttered many rooms in my house and completed several DIY projects. I saved a lot of money and paid off several credit cards during 2020. Whew! 

I'm not looking for accomplishments, I'm looking for consistency. I'm looking for the action that causes you to "do it even when you don't feel like doing it." While I got a lot done in 2020, there were still times that I wasted time. Times when I procrastinated. Times when I "should have." I plan to change all of that in 2021. 

Jocko Willink fires me up! I love his message, and I hope that I will be able to confidently say at the end of the year that I. am. disciplined.

I hope these words have inspired you to create and share your own words for 2021. If so, please share them in the comments or on Twitter or Facebook

Past #My3Words Choices
2014 - Discipline. Intentional. Balance.
2015 - Rhythm. Bravery. Fitness.
2016 - Focus. Purpose. Do.
2017 - Pivot. Go. Grow.
2018 - Lift. Create. Relentless. 
2019 - Practice. Execute. Be.
2020 - Consistent. Empower. Budget.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Rethinking Assessments during COVID-19 and Beyond

The pandemic has caused us to make many changes in our everyday life, causing businesses to re-think their business strategies to remain relevant and open during these challenging times. It’s no different for education. For centuries, “school” has remained consistent and almost unchanged overall. 

With people all over the world making and implementing new plans and new ways of doing things, we wanted to focus on the topic of assessment for this blog post.  

There are some hard questions that have been raised by educators about assessment:

  • Is formative and summative assessment necessary during the pandemic?
  • Do tests need to be proctored and/or timed?
  • Can it really be considered an assessment if students are allowed to use notes and resources to craft their answers?
  • Is it possible to move beyond assessing what students know to what students can do with their knowledge (apply, create, iterate, solve)?
  • Are we measuring what we value?
  • How can we use technology to assist in the creation of authentic and interactive assessments?

Matt Enlow’s tweet on December 2 started a thread that gave insight into changes that teachers were making and although there is no one size fits all assessment solution, there are ways in which we can grow and assess better.

Below are five ways we found that assessments and final exams might be given and adapted during COVID-19 and beyond. 

1. Student Choice

Design tasks that allow students to spiral back through the most important standards you have covered during the semester.  Let students earn points for the challenges that they take on. Here's a challenge board that teachers can customize.  Another way to approach this type of assessment is to list the standard and then it’s the student’s job to submit evidence that they understand or have mastered it. The length of time across the bottom of the board could be adjusted to grading periods or to the complexity of the challenge. An example of a product that might be submitted was created by high school student, Shirley Zhu, “Combinatorics: Sticks and Stones”  

2. Evidence of Mastery using Flipgrid 

Create a Slide Deck and have each slide with a standard or learning target that students can submit a flipgrid response to. Check out the Bingo Card he created for students and the Slide Deck with Instructions.  Students are presenting evidence and it’s in short snippets. If they are recording something in Flipgrid, it’s specific and not drawn out. They hit their target and move on to show evidence on the next standard in another Flipgrid submission.  Everything is linked in a slide deck which makes it organized and easy for the teacher to assess. 
     **Pro Tip: To make assessing the Flipgrid responses quick and efficient, organize students as individual topics in flipgrid.  Greg Kulowiec explains this hack here

3. Final Exams or Epic Finales by Anthony Crider
Could exam week become the best week of the year?  Anthony Crider took the traditional exam and flipped it upside down to create a culminating experience at the end of the semester.  After seeing a colleague tackle a final by asking one really good question, he set out to do the same thing. 
“It took me longer to come up with that one good question than it did to pick 100 questions for my introductory astronomy class. I also trimmed the question down to be as short as possible, requiring students to “unpack” it even before answering it. As one student wrote to me afterward, “I think I spent as much time figuring out what the question was asking as I did answering the question.” 
“The unspoken truth of education is that we don’t want students just to learn the material; we want them to want to learn the material. The final exam closes the book on a semester of learning. An epic finale primes the students to discuss the topic for weeks (or years) to come and to leave the classroom amid a bit more awesomeness than when they arrived.”

4. A Google-Proof Assessment
Developing an assessment that allows students to use their notes and the resources that are available to them on a daily basis.  It is a question that can not be directly answered via Google because it requires analysis, interpretation, and application. The web will be a very helpful resource for students in collecting information related to these questions, but search engines will not lead to easy answers. Use Blooms Digital Taxonomy, adapted by Andrew Churches, to help craft questions that cause the learner to create, evaluate and analyze. Creating these questions will take time and practice. Get with your team and divide the learning targets that you’ll be accessing and use this template to help develop your questions. 

5. ePortfolio - Collecting Evidence of Learning   

A portfolio allows the assessment to shift and have the learner own the assessment process.  John Spencer has a great collection of resources to help establish a portfolio process to collect evidence of learning and has included steps to take while curating a portfolio during distance learning. 

What sets people apart from others in the 21st century is knowing what to do with the information that is available to them, not simply having the information. Developing the skills of curation, evaluation, synthesis, and application should be goals within any assessment.   

How might the next assessment you develop look different? How would you lead teachers to re-think and change their assessments?

Monday, December 28, 2020

Be your own champion!


I think most educators are familiar with the TED talk by Rita Pierson. She boldly stated that every child deserves a champion. "Kids today" need adults to guide them, encourage them, and help them to become more than the child ever thought he or she could become. 

What I've come to realize through many years in education with many different experiences is that the ability to champion someone else starts with being our own champion. 

This is where the theory and the practice get muddled. In theory, we can say, "I can be my own champion." But in practice... it's a rollercoaster.

The knowing-doing gap is easily understood in a food / healthy eating analogy. We know the foods that are "good" for us (nutritious) and the ones that we should avoid based on our health and fitness goals. When we KNOW what we should eat and we choose to eat something that does not align with our goals, there's a gap there. A knowing-doing gap. (This gap can be found in most areas of our lives, sometimes wider, sometimes smaller... but this analogy seems to resonate with many, many people, whether they have a knowing-doing gap in this area or not.)

Have you noticed that when you get ready to be a champion and begin to work at being a champion, you are faced with cynics, dreamstealers, and complacency? 

Have you ever had someone to say to you, 

"Are you sure that you're the right person for that?"

Or what about... "I don't think that's going to work."

I once had a teacher say to me: "I never trust a female in an authority position." 

In the case of Rita Pierson's quote, "Every child deserves a champion..." maybe you've heard people say, 

"It IS what it IS with THOSE kids."   or   "If he doesn't care, why should I care?"

This past year, 2020, has shown us all kinds of difficulties and challenges. It has caused us to pivot in ways we didn't know we could, and it forced us to create a new dialogue and perspective about education, how we lead, and what we value. 

As we approach the close of the calendar year, we begin to think about what the rest of the school year will look like and how we will be different in 2021. I challenge all of you to join me in this journey. Let's be our own champions so that we can champion others. We are going to face negative people and those who think it can't be done. Let's change the narrative. Let's not wait on someone else to do that; let's take the lead on having hope, doing the work, and forging ahead. 

Over the holidays, my husband and I broke out the Table Topics conversation starters while we waited on friends to arrive, and the question on the card read (and I paraphrase), "If you could be witness to any sporting event, what would it be?" 

The event I chose was when Roger Bannister broke the 4-minute mile record in 1956. Until Bannister did it, no one believed that the mile could be run in less than 4 minutes. 

What a legacy that has been left by Roger Bannister and Rita Pierson! It has me asking the question of myself, What legacy will you leave?

Teach like a champion. Walk like a champion. Talk like a champion. Lead like a champion. Work like a champion. Love like a champion.

Bring it on, 2021!  

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