Be Their Diehard Fan

A fan is someone who is enthusiastically devoted to their sports team, musical artist, author, or an entertainer. The best trait about a diehard fan is that no matter what happens, even during the weak points, in the end, that fan always give their team their full support, with the knowledge that it will all eventually fall into place. Some of us call this unwavering faith.

I believe that the best educators and leaders apply these same foundations to their classrooms. Great teachers are not fair-weather fans, and they are DIEHARD fans for their students. Great educators also believe that student behaviors, academic levels, or backgrounds will NEVER stop them from loving or fighting for their students just as hard. After all, when our students show signs of distress is usually the moment they need our cheers in the fan section the most.

While working alongside students and showing that I will never give up on them, students taught me more about life, resilience, strength, and love than I could have ever imagined. I am better because of their strength.


Isn’t it a beautiful thing that while we dedicate ourselves to become their fans, that they become our number one supporters, too?


Whether students have positive or negative behavior stats or have winning or losing records in school- Be their diehard fan. Even our most supported students need us in their fan section more than ever. You will have no greater of a fan than your students if you become their diehard fan FIRST.

A thoughtful card I received from a student.

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How to Strengthen Relationships with Students

Building relationships with our students and colleagues are THE most important work that we do as educators and leaders.  Taking the time and energy to strengthen relationships with kids will help them grow to be better individuals and learners. Moreover, human connection is THE essential piece in LIFE, not just the field of education.

But, my caveat is this: Do not try to “manage” kids, but instead INVEST in them. When you invest in students and their interests, talents, and skill sets, your return on the investment will always be greater and more rewarding. Whether you are a kid or an adult, everyone wants to feel genuinely cared about.  Therefore, you can never go wrong by devoting your spirit to those you serve.

Throughout the years of working with kids, here are some of the most meaningful pieces that I believe are crucial to enhancing the relationships that you create:

  • Be present

  • Greet and welcome every single student

  • Listen and value their different perspectives

  • Get to know more about their family, hobbies, and passions

  • Look at every student interaction with a non-judgemental lens

  • Let students start over with a fresh slate when mistakes happen

  • Never, ever give up on them

  • Show that you want to learn from them, too

  • Bring the strengths of every single student to the forefront

  • Empower students to lead and make a difference

  • Be true to you; It inspires kids to be true to themselves

  • Be fun; Never take yourself too seriously

Image result for rita pierson quotes
Image Credit: TED/PBS

Significant mention: When thinking of strengthening relationships with students, the above quote from the beloved Rita Pierson is the beacon of what we should all strive for. Even if you have already seen the TED Talk 1,000,000 times like me, share it with someone else to ignite the spark within them as well (Or watch it below!)

Whether you are reading this during your last few weeks of school, or next October, or in August of 2049- Relationships will always be paramount. Everything changes in life, but relationships are our constant. The year, the month, the season does not matter. What matters is that we never give up on our students and always find time to strengthen the connections we already have to help them become who they were destined to be.

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Podcast Featuring Students-Why EVERY Student Should Have Makerspace Learning Opportunities

A group of 5th graders and I have been working closely on diving into Makerspace type learning and thinking. Students have explored the concept of thinking differently in a variety of ways.

Background

But, before we jump into how we learned and our podcast, it is important to discuss the meaning behind our reasoning. Although the new and shiny Makerspace gadgets are pretty cool, what is more important is the thinking behind it. You can have all the robots and gadgets that Amazon has to offer, but if the focus is misguided and focused solely on the tool, we can hinder the growth of our students. But, when done with intention, Makerspace type learning allows for students to be curious inventors and creators, rather than being static and rote problem solvers.

In the blog, Curiosity Commons, there is a fantastic post that highlights the benefits of Makerspaces called, “Makerspaces: The Benefits.”  One of my favorite quotes within this post is:


“Maker education fosters curiosity, tinkering, and iterative learning, which in turn leads to better thinking through better questioning.  I believe firmly that this learning environment fosters enthusiasm for learning, student confidence, and natural collaboration. Ultimately the outcome of maker education and educational makerspaces leads to determination, independent and creative problem solving, and an authentic preparation for real world by simulating real-world challenges.”


Needless to say, Makerspace learning is incredible, and our kids agree!

The Podcast

While working with the 5th-grade students, we glanced over at our new Snowball Ice Microphone and we thought to ourselves, “Wouldn’t it be neat if we shared our learning of Makerspaces with the world?” After we had this initial thought, students started saying things like, “Every student should get a chance to learn like this. Let’s create a podcast about Makerspaces and send it out to as many teachers and students as we can” and “I hope our podcast can make another kids life better!”

Here is our Snowball Ice Microphone- The quality is pretty sharp for $49.

Remarkably enough, within a couple of minutes, we plugged the microphone in and started recording the podcast on the spot. Students asked if I could host and they could give the insight! So, here is our organic podcast that we created in 10 minutes with zero editing, just pure excitement for learning and sharing; Click the orange “play” button below to listen.

Highlights from the Podcast

Students discussed the power of Makerspaces and how it helps with:

  • problem-solving “real” problems that can change the world

  • creating new things

  • the “important kind” of teamwork

Our 5th graders also discussed the power of using YouTube to foster learning, so I challenge you to ask this question in your classroom:

I was in awe by the way our students eloquently stated their thoughts with such a candid and authentic approach. I love seeking out opportunities to hear their perspectives to help me learn and grow. As one of our students said during the recording:


“When we work in groups we are just solving problems, like math problems. Whoever solves it then solves it, and that’s it! It’s over. But, with Makerspace learning you just can’t do everything on your own, you have to work together.” 


Beautifully stated and powerful. Give Makerspace learning a try and even share this podcast with your students or teachers. If you are looking for Makerspace resources, give this website MakerEd a try.

Also, our students would LOVE some positive feedback or questions about the podcast. Please comment below!

Here is the Chibi Lights LED Circuitboard our students created and referenced during the podcast

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Are We Fostering or Suppressing Lifelong Learning?

Lifelong learning is a crucial process that is unarguably paramount for any human being to survive and thrive. Each day, we learn new things about the world around us.

Yet, lifelong learning is more than acquiring new information over your lifetime. The important piece of the puzzle is having the desire to actively seek out new ideas while being able to transfer and apply these concepts to a variety of contexts and dimensions.

When we think of lifelong learning, we need to do everything in our power to ensure we avoid:

  • Trying to forcefully manufacture lifelong learners
  • Over structuring learning in a way that makes it unrewarding for kids
  • Spoon feeding every learning experience students have

Although we have good intentions with the learning for our students, we sometimes get stuck in a pattern of doing things the same way we have always done it; Therefore, we can inadvertently suppress the passion for learning.

Nevertheless, we can rewire our thinking to give lifelong learning the definition it deserves so we can foster and inspire environments to be the spark for new ideas, new passions, new interests, and new discoveries. But, these discoveries are not made to be information banks. Imagine the problems that can be solved, the ideas that could be created, and the connections that could be built if students saw first-hand the beauty of learning and the power it has on changing the world.

Discovering new learning has power. Just imagine the problems that can be solved, the ideas that could be created, and the connections that could be built if students saw first-hand the beauty of learning and the capability it has on changing the world.

Lifelong learning in its true form is:


ongoing

voluntary

self-motivated


Now, let us embed students as THE focal point and take a moment to visualize your school day tomorrow. Ask yourself:

  • Are learning opportunities ongoing for students?

In other words, do the learning opportunities expand in breadth and depth over time while giving students multiple opportunities to apply and connect learning?

  • Are students voluntary members in how they learn?

In other words, do students have a choice in their learning? and Do they want to be apart of the process?

  • Are students self-motivated and empowered to learn? 

In other words, are students trusted partners and included in their learning conversations, while given the power to help guide how they learn each day?

Based on the answers to these questions, make small tweaks to your approach day-by-day to include these elements and watch the progress that occurs. While you organize and create your content and curriculum, keep these questions at the center of what you and your school does.

Remember this:

We can develop the best curriculum, but if we undervalue the inquisitiveness of our kids, we miss the mark.

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Unleashing Your Limitless Potential

Image Credit- Tamara McCleary

What are some of your OUT of this WORLD dreams and aspirations? Which dream is so big and crazy that you even doubt its possibilities?

Name that goal: _______________________.

We are often told to dream big and to reach for the stars, but on the same token we are later advised to be “realistic.” Being logical is important in many instances, but what is actually needed more in this world are people who are OBSESSED with their dreams and passions. People who have dreams that seem unfeasible to the average person. People who can visualize their goal to see the picture of success within their minds. Then, ultimately people who do whatever it takes to make their dreams a reality each and every day.

We need people who are not trying to be realistic. We need people who are trying to change the WORLD for the better; And when you are trying to change the world, you do not do ordinary things. Instead you commit to…


Reach for aspirations that are limitless.

Welcome failure.

Never stop soaking in knowledge.

Continually adjust and adapt.


Do not welcome or invite the crab-in-a-bucket mentality into your thought process. If you have not heard of this theory, let me explain: Sailors notice that while traveling across the blue seas and capturing crabs, that one crab in a bucket can claw his way out of the bucket successfully with determination. But, once the sailors start adding more crabs into the bucket, the other crabs start fighting and clawing relentlessly to ensure that one crab does not escape.

As the Chinese proverb says in the image above, “The person who says it cannot be done should not interrupt the person doing it.”

When we minimize the potential of others, we diminish the leaders and possibilities that “could be.” But, the worst case of all is when we also crush the potential within ourselves. It starts with us. When we shut down our possibilities and start believing that it “can’t be done,” we belittle our true GREATNESS.

Now, remember the goal you named earlier in this post. Unleash that dream and limitless potential within; These dreams are your calling. Be unstoppable and welcome dreams that are illogical, for this is the only way we can change the world.

Then, through your motivation, modeling, encouragement, you can help give that same gift to others which is the greatest gift of all.

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Bring Excitement into Testing Season!

MAP testing time is upon us.

This testing window can be a stressful time for students and teachers alike. But, the worries can compile for students who are taking the test for the first time. Going into MAP testing, it is essential that we continue to keep our students front and center.

Adults tend to worry about the logistics and scheduling of testing, while kids want to know questions like, “When can I get a drink of water or when can we take a restroom break during the test?” These questions are incredibly valid. Students basic needs are always important, throughout the year and during MAP testing.

If we take the time to ask students what they want to know, while answering their inquiries in an enjoyable way, we can find a recipe for success where the knowledge can be communicated and understood.

Recently, staff members asked if I could create a MAP Test Q & A where students could ask and answer questions about the MAP in hopes of giving more information about the MAP, especially for our 3rd-grade students who have not yet had practice or experience with the MAP.

I wanted us to embed fun elements, music, a green screen background, and most importantly kids leading the way with production; By empowering our kids in this venture, we show that their opinions and expertise matter. For example, our students came up with the idea of adding bloopers and dance moves to the end of this video to add more personality and excitement; I believe this thought really added some fun and joy to the video. We even asked high schoolers from our district their thoughts about the MAP to gain further insight.

Students who were featured in the video are already creating buzz about how awesome they think it is. Students keep asking, “When is everyone else going to see the video?” We cannot wait for our student population to view the video this month!

During testing periods and beyond, let us bring the same enthusiasm and energy that we bring to our schools throughout the school year!

Click on video below to watch:

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My Hopes as an Assistant Principal

This upcoming school year I will begin my journey as an Assistant Principal. I am filled with feelings of gratitude and enthusiasm; I am honored to have the opportunity to serve and to learn from such a remarkable administrative team and staff.

Throughout my experience as a leader, while taking on various leadership roles within the school community, I have grown and developed my vision and beliefs. I know that without a doubt, I will continue to do as I learn even more within my new role. I look forward to what my insights will be and how I will evolve.

But for years, I have written down my goals, dreams, and questions to keep in mind when I continue to help make decisions for kids, staff, families, and the school.

This past week, while visiting my new school, I saw that our Head Principal had this amazing question posted on her door- “This principal will ask what is best for kids?”

Her question inspired me and sparked an idea. I decided today to put my goals, dreams, and questions into an acronym that will display some of the internal and external questions I will ask myself and others; Since we are a Leader in Me School, I felt that the word “leader” was a good fit.


Here is my draft copy that I will continue to revise and post on my office door. I want to live by these questions each day. I do not plan on simply asking others these questions because these prompts are for myself just as much. By posting these questions, I hope to make them more visible and real, while holding myself accountable.

  • L – Are we LOOKING towards the future?
  • E – Are we doing what is best for EACH child?
  • A – How can I be ATTENTIVE and help?
  • D – Are we focusing on the DISCOVERY and joy of learning?
  • E – How can we EMPOWER our students, staff, and families to lead?
  • R – What are we doing RIGHT, yet how can we improve?

Closing thought: Thank you to everyone who has lifted me up, inspired me, believed in me, and given me the opportunities of leadership that have helped prepare me for this moment. I am eternally grateful.

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5 Characteristics of People Who Inspire Others

Nothing refreshes the soul more than being around another human being who inspires and lifts you to new dimensions. I yearn for these moments of inspiration and feel fortunate to feel inspired each day.

When I think of people who have inspired me in the past and present, they tend to embody these five traits (along with many others). In no particular order, here are characteristics that inspire others to be all they can be:

1. Servant Heart

The best leaders are the best servants. The most inspiring people are the people who love others with all their heart and all they are. Servant leaders make you feel that they will drop anything at any time to help you and to love you, without any expectations. Servants are fountains and not drains; They aim to lift people UP as a result of their presence.

       2. Brave

All progress begins with someone who is brave. I like to think that we were all called to be bold. But, when we think of someone who is brave, we often imagine a warrior geared in steel, ready to fight for war. But, bravery does not always look like this because bravery is seen even in the smallest circumstances.

Furthermore, being brave does not mean that you are not scared. Bravery often means that inside you are trembling and terrified, but you do the right thing anyways.

It is also important to note that people who are brave are more likely to be risk-takers. Individuals who are courageous understand that once you fail, you do not fail forever.

       3. Vulnerable

Love and vulnerability are the only bridges that can unite us.  When people express an unpopular belief, try something new, ask for help, and admit that they made a mistake, they are vulnerable. Being open and vulnerable allows you to be seen, but that exposure can be enough to scare us away.

Yet, ironically enough, when you are around vulnerable people, you become more naturally vulnerable as a result. Seeing others share often gives you permission to do the same. People who “dare greatly,” as author Brene Brown puts it, can be the catalyst to help themselves and others be all they can be.

       4. Accepting of Others

When we think of the idea of accepting others, there is more to it than we would like to admit. Accepting others is not:

  • Being tolerant
  • Making sure others do things that “make you happy”
  • Directing others to be more like you
  • Having people do things your way

Accepting others for who they are is a life-long skill that we must practice daily to evolve in our practice. Being graced in the presence of someone who is accepting gives others permission to be EVERYTHING they are.

People are more likely to grow and be the best versions of themselves when they are near a team of people who accept them for who they are from the beginning.

       5. Tenacious

Those who are tenacious are persistent and exude determination. When they have opportunities to give up, they do not take them. These individuals do take a moment to breathe and regain their vision, but they always keep their eye turned to the future.

It is important to note that people who are tenacious are not tenacious solely for the purpose to be relentless. Their tenaciousness is focused around values and visions that they hold dear. More often than not, their values are centered around serving the people, community, and the world around them.


What traits do you think that I could I add to the list? Who are people who inspire you to be all you are? 


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The Tough Stories That Deserve to Be Told

Image Credit: oprah.com

Teaching is hard. Leading is hard. Both roles are meaningful and worth it, but that does not make them any less difficult.

Although I believe in perseverance and positivity, I also believe in being authentic. Some of the tough stories that we are coping with as educators and leaders can weigh us down if we do not have the opportunity to share them.


I will never forget my first year of teaching. I was working at a low-income school, and my class was filled with a dynamic mix of behaviors and needs. One particular student in my class was destructive to the classroom, to staff members, and to students on a daily basis. I was genuinely scared. But, on the surface, I held it all together and did whatever I could to keep the other students safe. Staff members in the school knew how tough this situation was and praised how well I was handling it, especially since I was a first-year teacher at the time.

Inside, I felt hopeless and terrified. I kept a smiling face on and was as proactive as possible with what was going on, but I did not expect to encounter this experience during my first year of teaching. Although I appreciated the praise from others, all I wanted was a shoulder to cry on or a person that I could tell my worries to. However, since I had a handle on the situation, others seemingly thought that I was doing just fine on my own.


I think many of us have similar stories like this that we can relate to within our career.

Sometimes positive and tenacious spirits can be the best attribute, but it can also be your Achille’s heal.

We sometimes assume that if we are usually a positive person, that we cannot open up and share struggling points; That by sharing something negative that is happening to us, that it also makes us negative. We also think that if we share our pitfalls, that we then place that burden on someone else; So, to avoid this, we handle it ourselves.

But, I know now from experience that we cannot put the weight of the world single-handedly on our backs as educators and leaders. We can remain positive and determined, yet still share our tough stories with someone else. This is what makes us real. This is what makes us all authentic. We are all going through struggles and we are not alone.

From my background with leading new teacher induction programs to leading curriculum and department teams, to working hand-in-hand with teachers on a variety of grade levels, I have gained much valued insight. It is a beautiful thing to share the successes of your day and what is going right. But, also, sometimes what people need is a listening, trusting, non-judging, and open ear willing to hear anything and everything.

As Maya Angelou says, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” We understand that quote as it relates to our students entirely but resist the urge to apply it to our personal story. Do not be afraid to be vulnerable.

Taking this idea further, take a deeper look at the people around you and find ways to lighten the burden of others as well. Lifting others up can be the most effective way to lift your spirits as well.

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Reverse Innovation: Do More with Less

I live for lessons and ideas that I can apply to all areas of my life; Reverse Innovation is one of those transformational ideas.

To give you a short backstory, a few weeks ago, I stumbled across a TED Talk from

Vijay Govindarajan titled “Reverse Innovation.” Needless to say, I was pulled in instantaneously. I thoroughly enjoy learning from global experts in all areas: business, finance, leadership, education, and more. We often stay in our own bubble of expertise to a fault. I have found that there is a plethora of learning that can take place from listening to the successes, and trials, from those in other professions.

While watching Govindarajan’s TED talk, I was hooked. Although his principles mainly apply to the global economy, they can truly be transferable to a myriad of pursuits, careers, and passions. I also recommend reading Govindarajan’s book, Reverse Innovation: Create Far from Home, Win Anywhere.
The above infographic depicts a few of my favorite points from Govindarajan:
  • “Do a lot more with a lot less”
  • “Change from value for money to value for many (people)”
  • “Be curious about all problems”
  • “Think ambitions over expectations”
  • “You cannot unlock new opportunities by using the same logic” 
These concepts are written effortlessly, yet have a much more complex meaning. Furthermore, the meaning of these interpretations can change drastically based on the perspective you bring to the table.
Govindarajan even shares real stories of how reverse innovation is changing the developing world by offering “universal access to world-class quality” at low prices that are unheard of. For example, a $30 artificial leg was made using recycled plastic yogurt cups from Thailand doctors; Can you imagine? Miraculous innovations are occurring all around the world, even in unlikely places.

Applying the Concepts to Education

With tightening budgets and growing expectations for educators, one may find it difficult to transpose the above ideas to education. There always seems to be more things we want for our students, yet not enough money to make it all happen on the surface. But still, educators all over the world are finding ways to be innovative and “doing more with less” while focusing on the people, ambitions, and opportunities before anything else.  For example, design thinking, Project Lead the Way, STEM, Makerspaces, and Cardboard Challenges are just some of the ways teachers are advocating for these ideas by using inexpensive items like legos, cardboard, and ducktape.
I am curious to learn from you: How are you, your colleagues, or your school “doing a lot more with a lot less?
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