Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Non-negotiables for schools - is JOY one of them?

If you've been following my blog for a while, you know that I strongly believe in the power of relationships and that every student needs at least one "go-to" adult in their school

So recently while at a state leadership conference, I attended a session led by Carla Tantillo Philbert (@_coolclassroom) called "Strengthening Staff and Student Relationships via Social-Emotional Learning and Mindfulness."  I'm always looking for new ideas on how to increase my and other's abilities to connect with students. 

In the session, she talked about the non-negotiables at her school. She called them the no matter whats

At her school, it was a non-negotiable that adults wouldn't use eye rolls and that adults wouldn't say, "Shut up." While I think we can all agree that these are great reminders and that they shouldn't be used in a school, it got me to thinking about unwritten rules that we have for school staffs. At her school, it was known, it was discussed, and it was stated out loud. 

We were all raised differently, with different family, educational, and social experiences, so what may be acceptable to one person may not be acceptable to another. Additionally, if empathy is the building block of good relationships, we must seek to understand our differences and create no matter whats for our schools that are inclusive for ALL of our students.  

In a previous post, I shared advice from expert Cynthia Tobias about non-negotiables. While she gives advice on how to deal with a strong-willed child, I believe her advice stands true when working with most students. 

Here are some areas where schools can discuss and decide on their non-negotiables:

  • Communication with students
  • Communication with parents
  • Administrative support
  • Assessment
  • Joy
  • Classroom Climate
  • Teacher Collaboration 
  • Instructional Technology
  • Lesson Design
  • Professional Learning
  • Instruction
  • Equity
  • (What else would you add to this list?)

It's important that we explicitly define what our non-negotiables are in our schools. 

I hope you will share in the comments your examples of non-negotiables you have for yourself and ones that your schools have established. Our work matters, and we're better together!

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Teachers use Flipgrid to leave words of encouragement for students

Have you caught the "Flipgrid Fever" yet? 

As the school year winds down, you may find Flipgrid to be the perfect option to capture reflections, stories, advice for future students. 

Flipgrid fever started last fall at our school at a day of teacher-led PD, where teachers could choose their sessions - from Instagram to Edpuzzle to Canvas to Kahoot to Flipgrid

Flipgrid was a huge HIT with teachers across our building in different disciplines. 

There are some teachers at our school who were a part of our Technology Professional Learning Series this year, and they have been using it for book talks, class reviews, class messages, and more!

As April was drawing to a close and the last month of school approaching, thoughts of finishing the year strong were on my mind. For a schoolwide professional development day last month, my part was the opening of the day. I knew I wanted my time with the staff to be interactive and meaningful. 

My friend Debbie Campbell shared several motivational quotes and videos with me as I was trying to decide what to include in my presentation to the staff.

I shared the quote above with the teachers and reminded them of the power of our words. 

The video is powerful, and it's a great reminder of the influence we have as teachers to positively impact a child's life. 

After watching the video, teachers were asked to leave a a few words of encouragement for our students as exams were aproaching and stress levels increase during exam time in a high school. 

While some of our teachers had used Flipgrid before, it was still a new tool to many of our teachers. 

Teachers were given space in the cafeteria to move to a quieter place to do their recordings. 

Just like students when they first use Flipgrid, some teachers were a natural in front of the camera while some found it difficult to be pleased with their recordings.

The Flipgrid code was shared with students so that when they need a word of encouragement, they can find them from our Hoover High teachers. 

(Scroll down below to see some of our videos!)

I would love to hear your ideas for finishing the year strong and/or how you use Flipgrid at your school! Please leave a comment below.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Leadership Lessons from Brene Brown

I'm a huge fan of Brene Brown. She is a researcher on shame, vulnerability, and courage. As a school leader for almost 20 years and a person who is always trying to get and be better than before... I find that her lessons are extremely valuable and on point. I hope you enjoy this post and feel free to share your comments below about lessons you have learned from Brene Brown. 

On a personal note:
Only God and the enemy (as my friend Sarah Johnson says) know the struggles I've gone through with shame and how it has impacted my life. So when Brene speaks or writes, I take heed to the message she delivers. The bag of rocks that I have been able to reduce, pebble by pebble, has been possible by the teachings and impact of people like Brene. Shame is a heavy burden. Through reflection, actions, introspection, and responding to feedback, shame can be lifted or reduced to a manageable amount. I encourage anyone who is dealing with shame to seek out help. Reading the works of Brene is an excellent start to a long but rewarding journey. 

Brene's most recent book, Dare to Lead, is full of lessons for leaders. One important note I want to state is this: "Leadership is not a title." Leaders are leaders through their beliefs and actions. This book is for most everyone, and the lessons are applicable to most, regardless of possession of a "leadership title." 

Brene Brown defines a leader as "anyone who takes responsibility for finding potential in people and processes, and who has the courage to develop that potential."

Courage is contagious.

Brene's research supports the idea that vulnerability is "the emotion that we experience during times of uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure." Sometimes, people tend to see vulnerability and courage at opposite ends of a spectrum, but Brene defends that one cannot happen without the other. The other interesting component about vulnerability is that trust and vulnerability walk hand in hand. The best leaders understand that they don't have to wear a protective armor or be perfect to be considered effective or courageous, and they definitely know that perfection is not a building block of trust. Leaders provide psychological safety for their teams to be vulnerable with and in front of each other. Leadership creates a safe space that is an integral part of the work that teams must engage in. 

Clear is kind.

Leaders have to have courageous conversations with others. They have to share feedback with others, and leaders determine the tone, words, and emotions that will be used while giving feedback. Brene reminds us that when we give unclear feedback to try to "protect others' feelings", we're really just trying to make ourselves feel more comfortable. 

I've experienced first-hand how a principal I have worked for has effectively "circled back" to a contentious issue at hand. Brene shares this lesson: "In my research and in my life, I've found absolutely no benefit to pushing through a hard conversation unless there's an urgent, time-sensitive issue at hand." As leaders, we have to remember that clear feedback is HARD to hear sometimes. As leaders, we can't own the other person's emotions. They are going to be mad, hurt, surprised, and more. 

"We can't both serve people and try to control their feelings."  
- Brene Brown, Dare to Lead

Who we are is how we lead.

While it can be very hard to do, it's important for leaders to connect with our own emotions as well as the emotions of those we lead. Brene describes Armored Leadership vs Daring Leadership, which consists of dichotomies such as "Being a knower and being right vs. Being a learner and getting it right" and "Rewarding exhaustion as a status symbol and attaching productivity to self-worth vs Modeling rest, play, and recovery."  

While fear will always be present when we rumble with vulnerability, our response to fear will determine our success as a leader. 

Dare to Lead is full of practical ideas that are backed by research, and Brene's writing style is concise, real, and relatable. I encourage everyone to put this book on their reading list! 

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

10 ways to move from surviving to thriving

Surviving to Thriving

Too often, we get busy and in a rut. We put others ahead of ourselves, and it leads to living in survival mode and playing the blame game. 

"My schedule's so busy, I don't have time to exercise."

"Of course it's not my best work. I just don't have time to make it perfect."

"It is what it is."

Maya Angelou Quote

How to know if you're in survival mode

1. Everything is a reaction. There is no thinking ahead or being proactive and preventive.

2. You're looking for the path of least resistance, not the path to excellence.

3. Procrastination is the norm. 

4. You don't have time and energy to deal with others. You prefer to be left alone. (You even push others away.)

5. Stress is at an all-time high, and you feel like you're going to snap at any minute.

6. You constantly compare yourself to others - your home, life, children, job, vacation, etc. 

How to go from Surviving to Thriving

First, you have to recognize that you are in survival mode. (This is not usually the hard part.) 

Next, ask yourself these questions:
  • What is important?
  • What is necessary?
  • Where do I want to be in 1 week? What will I do today to get closer to my goal?
  • Where do I want to be in 1 month? What will I do this week to get closer to my goal?
  • Where do I want to be in 3 months? How do I get rid of barriers so that I can get to my goal?
  • Where do I want to be in 1 year? Who do I need in my life to help me get there?

Finally, try these...

  • Do things each day that you love and are passionate about... a dance class, yoga, volunteering, painting, singing, etc.
  • Sit in the sun and soak up Vitamin D.
  • Try a new recipe - healthy or decadent!
  • Read a book or blog post by someone who inspires you
  • Listen to a podcast by a thriver
  • Call a friend and meet up for coffee, dessert, and connection
  • Take a walk or exercise. 
  • Do something kind for others

Surviving to Thriving

Each morning, set your intention to THRIVE that day. It may seem harder than just surviving, and it may push you out of your comfort zone. If you are ready for a change, it will be "hard thing" that you will appreciate. Just remember to take it day by day, and even hour by hour. If you need help, feel free to reach out to me via Voxer or Twitter. 

Monday, March 11, 2019

It's time to rise up

Sometimes things happen, and it's as if someone is trying to get a clear message to you through related events. 

I will try to weave the pieces of the story together here, and share my reflections of the past week.

Piece #1... 

Last week, American Idol returned to television for its seventeenth season. I'm a sucker for reality TV, especially when it includes singing (something I would LOVE to be able to do well.) 

One very talented singer brought Lionel Richie to tears, and her story is captivating. 

Shayla Winn, who goes by Shayy, is a 17-year old from Virginia who started going blind about a year ago. 

Being a blind singer is not the inspiring part. How Shayy has handled this right turn in her life is what is extremely inspiring. (What else inspires me?)

During the show last week, Shayy says that about a year ago she was having trouble seeing the whiteboard at school, so she thought she would need glasses. At the eye doctor, several tests were run and the optometrist told her that she needed to go to the ER immediately. 

After having an MRI, Shayy was told that she has a brain tumor. 

On the show, Shayy says, "I got dragged to my MRI and that’s when they found a tumor in my brain. One doctor was like, ‘Okay, Shayy, I’m going to try and save you from going blind. I was like, ‘What’d he just say?'”

Shayy shares that when she got home from the hospital, she couldn't see well and going back to school was hard. Kids were cruel. They kicked her cane. 

On American Idol, Shayy shares that she asked her mom at one point, ‘Why did that happen to me?’ 

Shayy also says, "But on the other side, I have people that have been really supportive and I have made new friends. There’s a whole other side to life that I never knew about. People are always going to say, ‘You can’t do this, you can’t do that.’ But you can do it. You got it!”

I love how Shayy says that she has made new friends and there's a "whole other side to life." Finding new friends as a teenager is HAAARD. Shay is a champion. She shows that it can be done. She reminds us that for whatever struggle we may be going through, there's a light at the end of the tunnel, and we will be stronger for it. 

If you can't see the video on your device, watch here: 

Take a few minutes to watch the video above. Go ahead. I'll wait on you. 

Shayy has an amazing voice, and her choice of song is spot on. "Rise Up" by Andra Day is a perfect song for this inspiring teenager who we can all learn from. 

Rise Up

You're broken down and tired
Of living life on a merry go round
And you can't find the fighter
But I see it in you so we gonna walk it out
And move mountains
We gonna walk it out
And move mountains

And I'll rise up
I'll rise like the day
I'll rise up
I'll rise unafraid
I'll rise up
And I'll do it a thousand times again
And I'll rise up
High like the waves
I'll rise up
In spite of the ache
I'll rise up
And I'll do it a thousands times again
For you
For you
For you
For you

When the silence isn't quiet
And it feels like it's getting hard to breathe
And I know you feel like dying
But I promise we'll take the world to its feet
And move mountains
We'll take it to its feet
And move mountains

And I'll rise up
I'll rise like the day
I'll rise up
I'll rise unafraid
I'll rise up

If you believe in yourself and work hard, you have a fighting shot at having your dreams come true.  
-Mindy Kaling

Piece #2...

Yesterday, on Sunday, I saw an Instagram post by my friend, Sarah Johnson. 

It read, "Came across this photo of my first principal experience. Loved those kids, that staff, the community and remember this moment vividly. That lady at the wheel had no idea the fires that would forge her into the woman she is today."

Having walked across come hot coals in my life and career, I could totally relate to Sarah's words. I immediately thought of Shayy and the positivity she exuded on American Idol as she had a fire that she had to walk through to get to the other side.  

We say "iron sharpens iron," but it's really the iron PLUS a significant amount of heat. We need the fires, plus the iron, to mold us into the strong leaders of today and tomorrow. 

"Isolation does not breed confidence."
-Suzanne Roff, Ph.D.

Piece #3...

In our most recent podcast episode of Rising Tide Radio, Allyson Apsey (@AllysonApsey) and I discuss the value of reflection. 

You can listen to Episode 4 above. If you cannot view it on your device, you can play it here:

Through these three seemingly unrelated events, I've realized a few things.

The first is the value of having a strong support system as a conduit to confidence. Confidence comes when there are others who can empathize, challenge, and appreciate the meanings that we make in our lives. 

Ultimately, confidence and the ability to rise up comes from within. It means changing the inner narrative to one of positivity and hope, and it may mean changing long-held negative beliefs about one's self. 

It's time to set the bar high and have tough-to-reach goals. 

As these three pieces of the story weave together, the message comes through loud and clear...

It's time to rise up. 

Sunday, March 3, 2019

How to beat decision fatigue and avoid burnout

This post contains affiliate links. All opinions are my own. Thanks for supporting

You had to make 10 decisions before lunch, then after lunch you had 15 more to make before dinner. 

Have you been there? 

Educators frequently experience decision fatigue. There are literally hundreds of decisions that are made during a week, and decision fatigue is a real thing.

What is the best lesson design for this topic on this day?

Since yesterday’s results weren’t where you thought they should be, what’s next?

What is the best seating chart for my students?

What do I do now that this student has disrupted the class?

Should you allow a student to leave the room to run the errand he’s asked about?

Will my students be able to rise to the occasion when we do ______ (another decision) in class?

The student is using his cell phone during class. How do I address it? Do I address it?

Can I get my copies run before the IEP meeting?

What do I want students to do as they finish their test while others are still testing?

When is the best time to get by the bookkeeper’s office?

What is the best way to approach this issue with this person?

Can you relate?

We often overlook the amount of fatigue and stress that making continuous decisions puts on our emotional as well as physical health. 

I want to offer a few suggestions on how to combat the fatigue by decreasing some of the decisions that have to be made each day. 

We don’t call our plants selfish when they need water. Let’s be okay with the idea of taking care of ourselves when we need it. 

Use Classroom Systems

Systems work when they are more than words on a paper or an idea in our heads. Think of classroom systems as practices that support students by predicting outcomes and increasing efficiency.

For example, what is your system of collecting papers? Returning papers? 
What system is used for times when students want to leave the room to go to the restroom or run an errand?

Having systems in place reduces the number of decisions that have to be made because students understand “how things operate” in the classroom and procedures can be followed. 

Does this mean that students won’t ask to do something that’s outside the boundary of the system? Absolutely not. But it gives the teacher the opportunity to say, “This is how we do _____ in this room,” without having to spend time deciding to allow or not allow a certain action. 

Make decisions on the weekend when your mind is fresh

There are some decisions about the work week that can be made on the weekend. The first has to do with food and nourishment. I’ve always been a fan of planning a weekly menu for my family, and on the weekend, I do meal prep for my weekday lunches. 

Last year for my birthday, I purchased for myself the RP Strength Diet Template, which limited my food choices even more. Now, I grocery shop at Aldi. How does this help me? While the number of food items that I choose to purchase is lower because of my diet template, the number of food choices that I have to ignore in Aldi is considerably smaller in the smaller grocery store. It reduces the number of decisions I have to make about my lunch menu for the week. 

How many times after a long day of making decisions did you go home and NOT want to decide what to have for dinner? Or maybe instead of making a decision, ou drove through the fast food restaurant and picked up dinner for the family. Your body craves good food and nutrients, and it's easy to forget this component of being at our best mentally and emotionally by feeding our body nutritious foods. 

What if you made your lunches and snacks for the week, then all you had to do each morning was to pack your lunch? 

What if your dinner menu for the week was already decided, so all you had to do when you got home from work was to prepare it? 

Wardrobe is another decision that can be made on the weekend. Go ahead and decide which outfit you will wear each day of the workweek, so that you won’t have to make that decision in the morning before you go to work. 

If you’ve got Netflix, there’s a wildly popular show called Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, which is about decluttering our homes and only keeping the items that spark joy for us.  (You may remember Marie's book called, The Life-Changing magic of Tidyup Up: the Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, that she wrote back in 2014, and it was a #1 New York Times bestseller.) 

Try going through your closet and keeping only the items that spark joy, and you will lessen the decisions you have to make in terms of what you wear to work, and as a bonus, all of your choices are sure to bring you joy!

Let technology work for you

On my desktop, there are three tabs that I keep open each day. The first is email, the second is my calendar, and the third is my Google Drive. I know exactly where those three tabs will be during the day, and those are the ones I access the most. 

I put everything on my calendar so that I can forget it. With the number of decisions that I have to make each day, I don't want to use up brainpower trying to remember details that my calendar can remember for me. 

Have a morning and evening ritual

Your routine will be personal to you, and one person's ritual will not be the same for another person. 

Do you like yoga? Maybe you stretch in the morning. 

Are you a coffee drinker who loves to birdwatch? Maybe you have a cup of coffee and watch birds for ___ minutes. (Yes, setting a time limit is an important constraint of a ritual.) 

Are you a blogger/writer/journaler? Spend ____ minutes writing before your day of work gets started. 

While there are many recommendations for morning rituals, I also believe firmly in evening rituals, especially during the work week. My husband and I have a ritual we do each evening just as it is getting dusk. We like to "walk the estate," which simply means that we walk from one end of our driveway to the other (our driveway goes all the way around our house) and sometimes through our backyard. We talk about our dreams for the house and yard, recap events of the day, and talk about upcoming events. It's a time that we look forward to, especially during the long, warm, summer days. 

Having an evening ritual helps to close out the day, reduce stress, and relax in order to get a good night's sleep. 

Here are some ideas for evening rituals:
  • Have a cup of hot herbal tea and read for pleasure
  • Journal for 5 minutes, writing down all the things you are grateful for from the day
  • Try this exercise from Jim Rohn: Review your day and close it out. Tomorrow, you can't bring back anything from today, so you must be mentally at your best to bring your best to your day.

“At the end of each day, you should play back the tapes of your performance. The results should either applaud you or prod you.”  
-Jim Rohn

I hope these ideas will help you to recalibrate and stay energized. We need educators who are compelled to bring their very best to each and every day, which means finding ways to combat the decision fatigue that we all experience. 

If I can provide personal coaching or assistance to you to help you increase your personal productivity, please don't hesitate to reach out to me via email. 


Saturday, February 9, 2019

Stay away from the "non-apology" apology

Sometimes, I like to tell stories. 

Sometimes I like to get straight to the point. 

Today's post is one of the latter.

Apologies are important. 

Here's why

  • Apologies show that you acknowledge that you made an error. 
  • Apologizing shows that you take responsibility for your behavior. 
  • It shows remorse for behavior that may have hurt another person. 

How to apologize

1. Get straight to the point. 

2. Don't use the word but, such as "I'm sorry, but ___________."

3. Be sincere.

~ ~ Examples of how to apologize ~ ~
I'm terribly sorry for __________. How can I make this right?
        (not getting the paperwork done on time, filling out the  paperwork incorrectly, not planning well, etc.)
I'm sorry to be late. I ____________. (missed the bus, got stuck in traffic, didn't allow enough travel time, got stopped by a teacher on the way here, etc.)
I apologize for what I said earlier.  I'm really sorry. 
I've thought about what you said. I apologize for _______ (what I said, what I did, my actions, etc.)
I heard what happened. I'm sorry.

What if you don't apologize? 

When you don't apologize, you run the risk of damaging relationships. Hurt feelings can grow, creating chasms that may not fully be restored. Trust is broken, and your reputation may suffer. 

Apologies are courageous.

No one likes making mistakes, especially ones that may hurt someone else. When we do take the step to apologize for a mistake, it creates vulnerability and opens us up to shaming, blaming, and possibly even attacks from the person(s) to whom we're apologizing. 

In addition to being vulnerable to another person, apologies can also feel like we're admitting that we're not enough, or inadequate in some way. 

Apologies are opportunities.

When you apologize, you are opening the door to rebuild trust with another person. You are creating an opportunity for dialogue about restoration, and you are creating an opportunity to make amends. 


Don't apologize with the expectation that the other person(s) will forgive you. Prove through your future actions that forgiveness and trust can be earned.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Turn your car into a mobile university

Listening to podcasts has not always been a favorite activity of mine. You see, I enjoy reading the written word. When I have the option of reading a transcript or listening or watching a video, I will always choose the script. 

This is ironic, since I recently started recording a monthly podcast with my friend Allyson Apsey. I have also begun to listen to podcasts in when I'm in my car, even though my first choice is to interact on Voxer. Time permitting, I will listen to podcasts, too, as I try to follow Brian Tracy's advice to turn my car into a "mobile university."

Not happy with the podcast app that is on my iPhone, I started searching for an app to get my favorite podcasts organized. I thought that if I could get them organized in a way that I liked, then I would be more likely to listen. (And it worked!)

As I researched, I learned that these apps are called "podcatchers," and I found one that I really like. 

The Overcast app is orange with a white circle and something that looks like a radio tower in the middle of the circle.  (I keep most frequently-used apps on my first screen. Have you organized your apps like that, too?)

In the images above, you can see the podcasts I've saved in my Overcast app. (The only one you don't see is Rising Tide Radio, the podcast I host with Allyson -- it wouldn't all fit in two images, so I just thought I would note it here.) 

I wanted to share these screenshots with you in case there are some podcasts you want to add to your collection. They're all favorites of mine, but I really enjoy listening to Ali Brown and the women she interviews on Glambition Radio. I've got several blog posts marinating right now based on things I've learned from her podcasts. 

You will see the Glambition Radio podcast at the bottom of each screenshot because that was the last podcast that I listened to. It's another neat feature of the Overcast app so that you can pick up where you left off when you open the app.

I recently added the student-led podcast that my friend Hans Appel started, called Award Winning Culture, so I thought I would show you how easy it is to add and organize podcasts in the Overcast app.

From the main screen, you can click on the "plus sign" in the upper right-hand corner, or even just enter the name of the podcast and do a search.

If you click on the "plus sign," you can then enter the name of the podcast or the URL if you have it.

I entered the name of the podcast, and these are the podcasts that appeared. I then clicked on the Award Winning Podcast,


Then I clicked on "Subscribe," then "Done." The podcast was added to my list.

When you open a podcast from the list, you will see choices for the unplayed episodes or all episodes (played and unplayed.) This is a feature I really like, because I like seeing which ones I have listened to in case I want to re-listen to one vs. listening to a new one. 

When you click on "Settings" for a podcast, you have several options to customize the podcatcher app to your liking. 

In the app, you can also create playlists (I haven't ventured there, yet), choose whether to download or stream episodes, and use Smart Speed. Instead of using 1.5x or 2.0x to speed things up and get chipmunk-like results, Smart Speed dynamically shortens silences in conversations. Voice Boost is another favorite feature of the Overcast app, allowing easier listening by normalizing volumes between voices and when listening in noisy situations. 

Other productivity posts:

**Since taking the screenshots for this post, there are three more awesome podcasts that I've added to my Overcast app: The In Awe podcast by Sarah Johnson, Transormative Principal by Jethro Jones, and My Bad by Jon Harper.


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