Sunday, July 26, 2015

Seeing Things with a New Perspective

The picture above is a street crossing on my {almost} weekly Saturday morning running route. It was here that I had an "aha" moment recently. One that reminded me how easy it is to get blinders on due to ease and routine.

About a month ago, after running this route for over 10 years, my eyes were opened to something new. The actual "event" is not exciting nor groundbreaking. It DID make me pause, and I'll share more about that later in the post.

Here's the path I've taken for over 10 years. In the bottom left corner, you can see where the sidewalk ends and makes a 90-degree turn to the crosswalk. For over 10 years, I've been following the sidewalk, checking both ways for traffic, and crossing to the sidewalk across the street. Once across the street, it's a sharp 90-degree turn to the left to stay on the sidewalk. 10 years.

But, you see... about a month ago... my eyes were opened. 

Instead of crossing straight across and making the sharp left, someone ahead of me crossed where you see "New path" in the picture above. 


So simple, yet I had not seen it. For 10 years.

Once I saw it, it was a light bulb moment. It's so much better for my knee and ankle not having to make the sharp turn, and it's efficient. And I hadn't seen it.
Because what I had been doing was working for me. I never questioned it or looked for a "better way." 

While I couldn't see a different way in this situation, I don't feel like I'm generally a person who gets stuck in ruts. I like change, and I like looking for new ways of doing things. Here are four ideas for NOT "doing it the way it's always been done."

1. Be open to learning from others. In the example above, I needed to see someone else model a new path for me. I was open to seeing what he was doing and applying it my own journey. There are so many people doing wonderful things in the world, it's not hard to find others to learn from. It's important that your mindset allows you to be vulnerable and open to learning.

2. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Not doing it they way it's always been done means change is a permanent resident in your life. The changes aren't always big and aren't always painful, but if you aren't prepared to go through the ups and downs associated with change, you won't be able to persevere through them. The change I experienced in the example above was easy and small, but there have been many changes that I've experienced that made me feel like my world was falling apart. During those times, I had a good support system and I'm disciplined about giving myself positive self-talk, so I got through them and still welcome change whenever I can.

3. Help others. This may seem counter-intuitive do doing something a new way, because if we're going to help someone it's going to be about something we're knowledgeable about... right? When we help others it helps us to see the bigger picture and how what we're doing fits in it. When we do that, we have greater clarity and opportunity to fine-tune, improve, or change what we do.

4. Create something new. Whether it's a tutorial for your staff, a new blog post, a video message, or other creative project, the act of creating can help bring ideas and information together in a new way. Just be sure to act on the new information.

The old adage, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it," may seem applicable for something that's working. But I challenge you to see things with fresh eyes. You may be able to see another option, but if you get stuck, don't hesitate to contact someone else. You, like me in the example above, might just need someone else to show you the way.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Can I Call You?

As an administrator, I make plenty of phone calls home that are for not-so-positive reasons. When I get to call home for something great, like a Praise Referral, it gives me such a good feeling because I know that it makes the parents' day! 

Just last week, Carrie Busby and I were sharing with teachers strategies for calling home for both positive reasons and negative reasons. We gave them all a goal for the new school year, and it's called the "Friday 5."

It's not something that we came up  with, but it's something that we wanted to share with our teachers. I know that several of my friends who are administrators do this, and it is a terrific way to build relationships with parents in a personal way.

On Saturday, I was out walking my dogs and I thought I would check my Voxer app to see if there had been any updates in our Women in Education Leadership group since we're about to start a book study. I had a surprise waiting for me in the form of a Vox from my friend, Dr. Neil Gupta. Neil and I "met" via twitter, and he participated in a book study I led via Voxer with teachers from my school, Melinda Sears, him, and Jeff Zoul. 

Neil left me a wonderfully encouraging and inspiring message that I needed to hear that day! I smiled as I listened to it, and then I let my husband listen to it because I was so appreciative of his kind words. {{Thank you, Neil!}}

That phone call was powerful. I have been thinking about it all weekend. On the way to work this morning, I thought to myself, "I'm going to do a Friday 5" to educators home and away who are doing great things for their school, staff, and/or students. 

So... I want to call you. Inspire you. Encourage you. Thank you.

I want to pass it on. 

Send me your Voxer handle and I will call you this school year!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Special PD Sessions in July

You may have read my previous post about our teacher-led summer PD we have been doing at our school this summer. We've had sessions each week that are led by teachers and a few led by administrators (and, in my opinion, we're ALL teachers.) During June, we had a lot of technology sessions since we're making a school-wide switch from iPads to Chromebooks. Our teachers have been learning about Google, Hapara, Chrome extensions, and their Chromebooks. The teachers leading these sessions have done a phenomenal job of giving classroom examples and doing what they do best... teaching others.

But July. How I love July. The sessions in July have been about teaching & learning. On July 8, the 2015-16 Alabama Teacher of the Year, Jennifer Brown, and her colleague Marla Hines came to HHS and led a session on Instructional Rounds.

Jennifer and Marla started Instructional Rounds at their school, and they changed the teacher culture to one of collaboration an trust among the faculty. Jennifer shared stories of teachers taking risks since they had observed a colleague's classroom and saw different instructional strategies being used. It was a fun morning and the participants were fired up about Instructional Rounds at our school. 

To kick off the next week, our PD session was listening to student voice and learning from students. We had a panel of students who had just graduated who agreed to come and participate, and they shared with us (teachers and administrators) what we're doing right at Hoover High and areas where we can grow. 

The students were very open and honest and gave us great feedback and ideas. Because we are a large school, we work really hard to make the school "feel small" in two ways. We encourage positive relationships between teachers and students and emphasize that we want each student to have one "go-to" adult in the building. We also encourage students to get involved and provide a lot of opportunities for them to do so. As one of the students on the panel stated, "Hoover gets small when you find your group."

Last week, we had three sessions, two of which were led by administrators. John Montgomery, one of our assistant principals, led a session called Classroom Strategies for Dealing with Difficult Students. His first tip: Always find something positive about the student. He shared experiences from situations that he has dealt with as a grade-level administrator in charge of discipline, as well as situations he faced as a teacher and coach. 

On the same day, Carrie Busby and I led a session called Communication Skills and Strategies. I think our profession does very little of this kind of training, and Carrie and I shared positive and negative examples of communication home to parents.

Here's one example we shared:

We role-played a phone call home, and we asked the participants to do it, too. They worked with a partner, both taking turns acting as a teacher and as a parent. Carrie and I were ninjas - we walked around and listened to the role play and more insightful, the conversation the partners had after the call! We shared out as a group, and teachers all agreed that they needed to have a script on hand as they made their phone calls.

We shared strategies for diffusing angry parents as well as ideas for positive communication. At the end of the session, one of the participants said, "Y'all need to do this for the entire faculty!" Carrie and I felt really good about the session and the feedback form the participants. It was a good refresher for teachers who had been in the profession for a while, and it was terrific insight and training for our newer teachers.

Last Thursday, Lesa Gibson and Susan Norris led a session called Motivating Reluctant Learners. They are both excellent teachers who create a safe environment for students. Students work hard for them because they like them, respect them, and feel respected in their presence.

Lesa, and English teacher, said that on the first day of school she has two sentences written on her board and asks students which one is correct:

"I want to teach English to you" 
"I want to teach you English"

She goes on to tell the students that while both are grammatically correct, her philosophy is the second one. I love that she is so explicit and open with her students on the importance of teaching them!

Their presentation was interactive and based on this article from How to Reach Reluctant Learners.

All in all, the sessions were terrific reminders of why we do what we do. Relationships matter!

Friday, July 3, 2015

Keeping Balance

As I was scrolling through Pinterest the other day (like I do a lot), I ran across this graphic. It was on Employee Engagement Across the Generations, but I found myself checking out what it said about Generation X. 

Here's a clip from it:

Somehow, that looks an awful lot like me! I am definitely a Generation Xer, and the workforce values above are also my LIFE values.

I had to snicker, because BALANCE has been on my mind a lot recently. I believe in working hard, but I also believe recreation time and breaks from work. Along with that, I know that as an introvert I need quiet time for myself to recharge. AND, I need opportunities to be creative.  I admit, sometimes I feel like I've "run into the wall" and need a re-boot. 

I like doing it all. It stokes the fire in me. So to keep the fire burning, I've got to keep balance of all the things I want to get accomplished. Truth be told, sometimes I don't even get to what it is I want to do. When I have too many of those days, it tends to dim the fire within. I start procrastinating. I start seeing the entire elephant and think, "How do I eat this one?!"

Balance doesn't mean doing everything equally, nor does it mean spending equal time on everything. There are times when I don't get to do DIY projects, or when exercising has to take a back seat. There are other times when I stay at work late or when I don't get enough quiet time for myself.

As I re-examined my priorities, I knew that there were some events and habits that had been creeping into my days since school had gotten out that were causing imbalance for me. 

For instance...

The week before school got out, we got a new puppy. I'm the one who's been getting up early with him, and in doing so I've been having my coffee and watching HGTV while petting/watching him. Normally, I get up and have my coffee while I write on my blog or read twitter. I usually spend quiet time going over my upcoming day, too. 

If you've been following me for a while you know that I'm not a late night person. I like to go to bed early and get up early. Since summer's been here, my teenage daughters have been hanging out with friends most nights, so I've stayed up late waiting on them to get home. It's another disruption that has caused imbalance for me.  

Hubs and I have a DIY project going that has taken up almost all of our free time. We're still not finished with it, but there are other things that have to happen before we can finish it completely. We have an upper and lower deck at our house, and the lower deck was built around a hot tub. We removed the decking around the hot tub, had the hot tub removed, and we rebuilt the lower deck. We also leveled the yard and created a pea gravel patio. This has taken several trips to Lowe's, lots of measuring, lifting, cutting, and nailing.

These three things have contributed to imbalance for me, but also because I still thought I should be able to do all of the other things I wanted to do while all of this has been going on. What I didn't do (and should have) was to give myself some grace. It took a trip out of state (to the ISTE conference in Philadelphia) for me to get away from responsibilities at work and home to make a re-commitment to myself. 

But what if we can't get away on a trip out of state? How do we do a re-boot?

Here are some ideas:
  • Make over your morning. Get up 15 - 30 minutes earlier. 
  • Send the spouse and kids out for an afternoon/night, while you stay at home.
  • Go to the office when no one else is there. 
  • Spend the night in a local hotel. 
  • Go for a hike at a local park. Plan to spend the day there.
  • Spend a few hours at the local library.
  • Use the time to re-boot. Ask yourself, "What do I need more time for?" Also ask, "Is this just a season, or am I feeling a trend that will last a long time?" Another important question for ourselves is, "What do I need to change in order to feel more balance?"

We can't always carve out lots of time. The small pockets of time during our days must be used wisely - for work, play, pondering, and/or creating. 

What do you do when your life gets out of balance? How do you re-boot?

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Some Things Haven't Changed

My father-in-law is visiting with us for a while as part of his cross-country journey. He lives in Phoenix, Arizona, but he's made a trip across the United States pulling his small Casita travel trailer behind his truck. He's been to Missouri to see his grandson play baseball, visited his sister and his brother in Indiana and Kentucky, and when he leaves us in Birmingham, he's planning to go to the Florida coast for a while before returning home. 

You may already be able to tell that he's a very interesting man! He tells terrific stories and is always ready for a laugh. Most interesting to me is what he spent most of his life doing, and that was social work. He started out as a teacher, then became a social worker and eventually ran children's homes in Florida, Wyoming, and Tennessee. 

He was a social worker for 30 years, and he's been retired for about 15 or so years. He isn't on twitter, and he hasn't been to educational conferences... but as we were talking the other night about my job, he said something that reminded me that the very essence of teaching hasn't changed and won't ever.

He said, "I was a social worker for 30 years, and what it all comes down to is very simple. It's about relationships."

I bet we'll be saying the same thing 30 years from now!

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