Summer Brings the Chance to Re-gain Your Balance

How will you spend your summer?

Summer offers us the chance to “sharpen the saw.”  Stephen Covey encouraged us to seek balance in our physical, social/emotional, mental, and spiritual lives.  When all four dimensions are in balance, the result is personal and professional synergy.  The sum of synergistic living is always greater than its parts.  When all four dimensions are balanced, everything falls into place.

The modern educator can easily be overwhelmed by the challenges of teaching and leading.  If we don’t take the time to renew ourselves on a personal and professional level, we won’t be effective in supporting the growth of our students.  The greatest gift of being an educator is that every school year starts anew.

What will you do to sharpen your saw this summer?  What books will you read for personal and professional pleasure? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment or posting your ideas on Twitter.  See below for a few summer reading ideas.

The Ultimate Summer Reading List for Teachers via Scholastic:

http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/article/ultimate-summer-reading-list-teachers

The best books about educational leadership via Amazon.com:

http://www.amazon.com/Best-Books-About-Educational-Leadership/lm/R1TJOMF4RU830V

Top Ten School Leadership Books via @AngelaMaiers:

http://www.angelamaiers.com/2010/06/top-10-school-leadership-books.html

Are you a resilient educator?

Are you a resilient educator?  How do you respond when things don’t go your way?  This week was challenging for me.  I’ll spare the specifics, but I’m finishing the day wondering where things went wrong this week.  The most alarming part of having a bad day or week is the feeling of losing control.  How can you get that control back?  Here are a few suggestions that might help.  I’m going to try and take my own advice.

Put Your Day or Week in Context

Everyone has their moments.  Was this day or week an anomaly?  Unless you’ve started a new pattern of behavior, next week will be better.  It has to be.

Keep Your Sense of Humor

If you can still laugh at yourself, you’ll be okay.  Humor doesn’t fix everything, but it signals the start of turning your bad mood around.

Re-center Yourself.

Take some time to reflect on what went wrong and why, but don’t get stuck there.  Make a conscious decision to get back on track.  Think of a few strategies that you can use next week to steady the ship.

Face the Music

If your week went wrong due to relationship issues, decide if you need to directly address someone.  Nothing keeps your stomach turning more than unresolved conflict.  Pick the right moment and have a heart-to-heart with those who are connected to your stress.

Get Some Me Time

Do something for yourself.  Go shopping, go for a walk, a run, a bike ride, or just go somewhere!  Time alone helps clear your thinking.  If you’re comfortable being alone with your thoughts you will always have a way to cope with stress.

Get Back on the Horse

Start the new week believing in a fresh start.  Avoidance is a poor strategy for anyone who wants to have a better day.  Hold your head up, smile, and say something positive to the first few people you see.  You’d be surprised how quickly you can build the momentum you need to have a great week!

Educators and school leaders can and should model resilience.  If we want students to respond appropriately to stress, we should show them how.  We don’t have to discuss every detail of our personal lives, but sharing anecdotes that illustrate the times we have overcome stress can help students develop their own strategies.  It’s okay to show your humanity.  Your students will be all the better for it.

Advice from A Great PLN!

The topic for #mdeschat last night was looking toward the New Year.  While the challenges of teaching and leading are many, it was reassuring to hear the hope and energy expressed by many in last night’s chat.  The last question was “fill-in-the-blank” and the answers are a good example of the power of positive thinking.

“2015 will be a great year because…

@WalterReap

…I will continue to avoid “the box” and create an environment where creativity is valued.”

@BarbaraGruener

…I am surrounded by passionate educators who uplift, encourage, empathize, understand, care, support, hope, heal and love.”

@stony12270

…we have amazing resources to utilize as educators! Twitter networking has no limits!”

@teacherwithtuba

…that beats the alternative.”

@justin_heid

…more and more educators are stepping out of their comfort zones for the benefit of student learning and growth.”

@krisyvonne

…I will listen to understand.”

@JonHarper70bd

…each day my own PLN grows and I get to learn from brilliant people who have much to teach me.”

@TiawanaG

…I will continue to build strong, long-lasting relationships through social media.”

@Renglish71

…I have family by my side, a career that’s invigorating, and a network of colleagues on Twitter to support me!”

@ppw78

…I have a balance between work and home and a child graduating high school.”

@Mrs_Abi_VR

…I’m lucky enough to have another year in the world’s greatest profession!”

@SchooLeader

…I have decided to make it so.”

Such inspiration from people who spend every day supporting teachers and students!  Perhaps Brandon Kiser’s (@SchooLeader) last statement says it best, 2015 will be great if we only decide to make it so!  That spirit of thinking reminds us of our potential.  Is it possible to make significant change and progress just because we decide to?  I sure hope so.

Reflections by a first-year assistant principal

Elizabeth Manning is a first-year assistant principal at Richard Henry Lee Elementary in Glen Burnie, Maryland. She is hosting #mdeschat this Thursday at 8 p.m. ET.  Her topic for the night is reflecting on the calendar year.  Elizabeth took the time out of her busy schedule for a little reflecting of her own.  Her responses to the questions below provide insight to anyone interested in pursuing a career in educational administration.

Tell us about yourself.

I moved to Maryland 9 years ago when I was hired to teach at Tyler Heights Elementary.  Since then, I worked for the district Title I Office and the Elementary Network Support Team.  My current position, however, is one that I have been ambitiously seeking for a while, and I am grateful that I can call Richard Henry Lee Elementary home.  I am thankful to be back in a school setting interacting with teachers and students on a daily basis.

As a new assistant principal, what has been your biggest challenge this year?

My biggest challenge was learning how to do things the Richard Henry Lee way.  Each school has a culture that makes them unique, forming relationships with staff members early on has helped me become a quick learner as to how business is done here.  At the beginning of the school year I would say to people, “I don’t know, what I don’t know.”  As I get to know the students, the staff, and parents, it is increasingly evident that this school is student-centered with a focus on literacy and STEAM initiatives, but not to the abandonment of creating lifelong learners and responsible community members.

What has surprised you?

It always surprises me how fast both the day, and school year, is flying by.  I often feel like I’m out at morning bus duty, take a walk through the school and next thing you know, I look at my watch and its time for lunch duty!  It doesn’t seem possible that we are already well into December and will soon be writing 2015 to date our papers.  Finding the time to fit everything into our fast-paced days is something I’m working on improving.

How have relationships changed from your transition as a teacher to administrator?

As a teacher, it is easier to find a “buddy” who is going through the same things you are experiencing, within your grade level or at your school.  As an assistant principal, there is no one else with your job in your building.  I’ve had many roles as a “teacher leader,” but the dynamic shifts when the role of “evaluator” is added to your responsibilities.  Conversations are constantly about “What is best for the students?” as opposed to what is fair and equal to my grade level, my classroom, or my current role.  I am thankful to have a principal who is a great mentor and has offered suggestions on how to make the transition from, “teacher leader” to “student-growth leader.”

What advice would you give an aspiring administrator?

If I could tell an aspiring administrator anything, it would be “do your homework, don’t be complacent.” If you are prepping for the SLLA (School Leaders Licensure Assessment), then study, read books and take practice tests.  If you are prepping for an interview, read books and talk to assistant principals, principals, regional assistant superintendents (or principal supervisors) to get feedback or advice.  Then, when you are finally hired as a new assistant principal, keep pushing the envelope to try new things, read the latest research, journal about your experiences (or blog), communicate frequently with your principal and take the time to reflect!  The key is to prepare to work hard.

How do you think the second half of the school year will be different than the first?

My challenge for the first half of the year was learning the “what’s, how’s, and who’s” of the building.  Now that I’m familiar with school procedures and student names, the second half of the year will be a big push for continuous development of the action steps on the school improvement plan.  With the new PARCC assessment on the horizon, it will be important to keep our academic focus narrow so we can achieve our goals during non-testing times.  The entire school year is a time for growing our students into the kind, caring, capable learners that will be the responsible community members of the future.

Thanks, Elizabeth, your reflection skills will make you an excellent principal!

Thanks PLN!

Thanksgiving is a great time to reflect.  I am lucky to have a wonderful wife and two great children.  I remind myself not to take that for granted.  No matter what challenges life may bring, your family is always there for you.

On a professional level, I am thankful for many of the great educators and colleagues I have met through Twitter.  Thanks to…

@Jonharper70bd for becoming an inspiring writer/blogger whose posts are elegant and poignant.

@RunnerBliss @KNESconnoisseur and @jaimer9578 for motivating me to become a better runner.

@WalterReap @lindamcToth and @rachelamstutz for making #mdeschat a successful professional development tool.

@psikeffer @MrCsajko @janercooper @Ms_Stover @missreed  and @Grade3withMissB for always adding great insight to the #mdeschat conversation.

@JessMuonio and @LTaylorELA for sending out tweets that make me laugh.

@buttercup01em and @MrsToal05 for using Twitter to connect with our school community.

@RHLeeESAACPS teachers who have embraced Twitter to connect with parents.

@PrincipalDerby @RegAMF42 and @MrMoxley for setting such a great example for how social media can enhance communication with parents and colleagues and also for their green school efforts and advocacy.

@nlattimore for being such an inspiring leader and Ravens fan!

and, finally…

to @ppw78 for her partnership and unwavering support!

I have certainly missed many others who make me a better person and educator.  Thanks to everyone who has taken the time to help me grow.  Enjoy your Thanksgiving, see you on Twitter!

Why Should Educators Blog?

I began blogging a year ago today. This is my 70th post in a calendar year. I was never the type to keep a journal. When I was eleven years old I was given a diary for Christmas from my mother. I dutifully wrote in that diary for six weeks, then my entries trailed off to nothing. Maybe it’s a guy thing. We’re just not a reflective gender. Nevertheless, I started writing Common Sense School Leadership on October 7, 2013.

For me, Twitter was the “gateway” from micro-blogging to full blown blogging. The connections and conversations I had with educators across the globe motivated me to better understand the issues that connect us all. Twitter helped me find my voice. It is a great venue for trying out ideas with an audience that is generally supportive and interested in a meaningful dialogue.

There are thousands of blogs out there. Mine is nothing special. So, why bother? Why spend the time writing about issues in education? Here are three reasons you might want to consider blogging:

1. To grow

Blogging makes you think deeply about your views and beliefs. Who knows how many people will read your blog? While we may hope that others find our musings at least minimally interesting, our growth comes through the writing process. The more you write about topics that you are passionate about, the more you understand yourself.

2. To connect with others

The opportunities to connect with colleagues are often limited by our schedules. How often do you have time to discuss important educational issues with others? Blogging (and reading others’ blogs) expands your learning circle. When you share your blog with others, you meet people from all over the world. The only thing you have to do is dedicate your time, energy, and willingness to the process.

3. To learn

The concept of professional learning is being redefined. It’s no longer about attending an “event.” Blogging cuts out the middle man. It gives you direct access to innovative thinkers and doers. You no longer have to wait for someone’s book to come out or for a great speaker to present at your favorite annual conference. Many blogs focus on the practical aspects of our profession. This means that you can get tips, suggestions, and ideas in real time, when you need them- no waiting necessary.

So, what’s keeping you from blogging? Not enough time? That’s the one thing no one can give you more of. Blogging can be done any time of the day. You just have to decide it’s worth it. You have value. You have great ideas. We need to hear them. Give it a try!

Things I Forgot After 13 Years Away from the Classroom

This is a guest blog by veteran educator, Deborah Wooleyhand.

I was recently asked to cover a class at a local elementary school during state testing.  The teacher I substituted for was administering the assessment to a student with one/one accommodations.  I quickly agreed.  How hard could it be?  I was a kindergarten teacher for 18 years, so covering a class for a few hours would be no problem.

I have been out of the classroom for 13 years.  I forgot how children like to push the limit with a sub, even if you are married to the principal.  I forgot how fast a 5 year old can move, even when his shoes are untied.  I forgot how long it takes to get every shoe tied.  I forgot their shoes don’t remain tied for very long, even when you double-knot them.  I forgot that when one student wants a drink, suddenly the entire class is parched.  There is a lot I forgot while sitting behind a desk at district headquarters.

I also forgot that:

  • Children like routines and any disruption to their schedule matters.  The reality is no matter how detailed the lesson plan is, it cannot possibly capture all the important facts about each student in the class and it can’t explain how each routine is carried out. So when the schedule changes to accommodate testing and staff members are pulled to assist with testing, it matters.
  • Children have challenging behaviors, but they don’t mean to be challenging.  The schedule is different and they are trying to cope. 
  • Children love and are protective of their teachers.  They are happy to have a sub as long as they know their real teacher is okay and most importantly, coming back.

As you can see, there is a lot I forgot during my 13 year absence from the classroom.  Mostly, I forgot about the impact of decisions made in an office far from any school on the children in that school.  Decisions are made about testing, curriculum, and instructional methods, but we need to be mindful of how those decisions impact the daily operation of the school and ultimately the classroom.  We need to be reminded about the challenges teachers face on a daily basis as they juggle the demands of the curriculum with the needs of students and concerns of parents.

If, like me, you have been away from the classroom for a while, I encourage you to re-connect with the schools in your district.  Find a way to spend some meaningful time working with children in a classroom.  No matter what your current role is, the experience will remind you of why you do what you do.  I am sure that when you go to work the next day, you will have a renewed sense of purpose because you will have been reminded of how your position impacts the lives of children.  That is something none of us should forget.

Debbie Wooleyhand is an experienced pupil personnel worker for a large Maryland school district.  She can be followed on Twitter @ppw78.

Hold Fast to December

I have always enjoyed the month of December.  There is no better place to be during the holidays than an elementary school.  Hopeful young faces spark warm feelings of seasonal spirit in jaded adults.  Excited children make December the best month of the school year.  Instrumental and choral performances liven up the schoolhouse.  December makes us young again.  Memories of holidays past come flooding back with every simple sight and smell.  Hold fast to December.

For teachers, December is the calm before the storm.  They embrace December because they know what happens in January.  Every day is a step closer to the second half of the school year.  Time accelerates after December.  December is a fun and family-centered time.  Even the “busyness” of December is slower than the pace of days from January to June.  In December, I pretend that January isn’t coming.  It makes me feel better.

Hold fast to December.  Drink piping mugs of hot chocolate with dollops of whipped cream.  Wear your pajamas all day and do nothing.  Read a book.  Take your dog for a walk.  Have a staring contest with your cat.  Visit family members.  Check on your neighbors.  The joys of December are limitless.  January will come.  The approaching year will be easier to celebrate if you get everything out of December.  Make plans.  Go slow. Go fast.  Just go.  Hold fast to December.

Education- A Thankful Profession

As Thanksgiving approaches, I have many reasons to give thanks for being in the education profession.

Teachers Still Matter

No matter what changes have come, or will come our way, teachers still matter.  In fact, they matter now more than ever.  Teaching is about relationships.  The best teachers are those who figure out how to connect with each and every student.  Changes in curricula, pedagogy, technology, and standards will never supersede the critical role of teachers in making learning meaningful. The best indicator of student success is still the teacher who stands in front of the classroom every day.  I am thankful for that.

Principals Still Matter

Effective leadership remains central to the success of our schools.  Principals must provide support to students, families, and teachers.  When they do, there is no limit to the good things that can happen.  The role of the modern principal is complex. The changes taking place in education can make one’s head spin.  Good principals ensure that teachers are not overwhelmed by the external pressures placed on them.  They provide stability and reassurance when they are needed most.  I am thankful for that.

Parents Still Matter

The partnership between schools and families is as important today as it was fifty years ago.  Parents send their best to our schools everyday.  They trust us to protect and educate their children.  That trust is humbling when you think of the challenge it presents.  Nevertheless, when parents and schools collaborate, students achieve at higher levels.  Parent involvement remains a key indicator of student success.  I am thankful for that.

Students Still Matter

Watching students enter the building every day is one of the most satisfying parts of my day.  At the elementary level, students run and even skip to the front door.  They say good morning (most of them).  They smile, they hug you, and they tell their teachers how much they love them.  The other day one of our second grade students sent out this tweet:

“i love this school and i will never forget my time i love my teacher…shes the most awsome teacher in the world.”

Does it get much better than that?  The hopes and dreams of our students are as strong today as ever.  I am thankful for that.

Education Still Matters

I am blessed to work in a field that serves as the starting point for all professions and careers.  I get to see children learn and grow every day.  When teachers, principals, parents, and students work together it’s like a symphony concert.  The “music” that is made in these schools is passionate and enduring.  The education profession still matters.  I am most thankful for that.