It's that time of year where I wonder how I will get it all done. Between preparing for enrollment in my buidling, planning professional development, and the to-do list that is a mile long, I’m beginning to feel very overwhelmed. Oh...and let's not forget that I still have to be a mom, cook dinner, do laundry, and just be there for my kids.
While moms aim for perfection and beat ourselves up for what we didn't do, we must remember that our kids are very forgiving. They don't care if you feed them spaghetti again or if you grab a pizza on the way home. They don’t even care if you take 30 minutes to walk on the treadmill. What they care about is being heard when they are ready to talk or a hug when they’ve had a bad day. They also care about what our mood might be when we walk in the door after a long day at work.
It is up to us to decide our attitude. It is up to us to decide how we show up each day.
Yesterday, a friend of mine lost her battle to cancer. Throughout that battle, I saw an example of what we all hope to be when fighting for our lives....positive, hopeful, and strong. I think of how she always said, “It’s all good!” It didn’t matter if she was in the middle of feeling crappy because of the chemo or had the best day with her second graders, her attitude was positive and her smile bright. She was a beautiful example of what we should all strive to be….someone who looked for the wins in every day. Someone who realized that we are not perfect and that life is not perfect, but we should live it anyway. Someone who had every reason to feel defeated but stood up to fight the good fight.
It is this attitude that I plan to take into my school year. It is her words that will run through my mind if I begin to complain too much. It is her example that will help me smile when the days are good AND look for the wins on the days that are tough.
Because it's all good.
We will miss you, Cori.
If this first year as a principal has done anything, it has taught me that I still have a lot to learn about myself. Even though I'm 41, I'm still learning and growing every day. And, even though this journey has just begun, it has already taught me so many lessons.
I'm learning that I need time
One of the big lessons I've learned this year is that I really need time to process situations. I've always considered myself someone who thinks quick on her feet, but that isn't always the best route to take when dealing with students, staff and families. I have found that I often need to take the time to process the situation and seek advisement when appropriate.
I'm learning how to stay neutral
There are many times that I'm sure that the people around me wonder why I'm not showing more emotion in a situation. When a teacher or parent comes to me concerned, it's my job to figure out what is happening and how I can help. In order to do that, I've really got to stay out of the emotion of it all. This can be difficult because I'm a pretty emotional girl. However, that has come back to bite me a time or two!
I'm realizing that I need support, too
This job is pretty lonely. I'm a girl who loves working with teachers, but now there's a wall that has to be there. I don't like the wall. I'm not a person who wants a wall that separates me from those I work with. It goes against who I am in so many ways. Because of this, I've learned that I need to ask for support from family and friends. I've also been lucky enough to be able to reach out to the people on my Voxer groups to ask questions, share frustations, celebrate edu-wins, and laugh. My Voxer groups have been my life line every day on the way to and from work! (Looking at you PIA and MAPS)
I'm realizing that my attitude is everything
My days are never the same. I love that. Even though it can cause stress and strain, I love that my career path makes a difference to all those around me. With that being said, my attitude can make all the difference in the world. I strive to find my positivity so that every situation gets the best me I have to offer.
For the love of education is why many of us are called to be teachers and administrators. Without this love, many of the challenges would break us down. Without this love, many of us wouldn't continue to challenge ourselves. Here is a quick look at how my love has been at work this year!
What has been your ONE biggest struggle during this school year?
As a first year principal, it's rather difficult to pinpoint ONE big struggle. To me, every aspect of the job is new. I love how my days are unpredictable and full of new challenges. If I have down time, I fill it with visits to the classrooms so that I can see learning in action. Otherwise, I am working on one fire or another. Every single moment is a learning experience to me.
However, if I was going to pick one struggle that I have, it's finding balance. To my husband, this comes as no surprise. When I start something new, I throw my whole self into the process. There are many times that I come home and I am still processing my day while trying to keep up with house and family. I come home later than I should, work at home more than I should, and I beat myself up about how I could do it all differently. It's a struggle, but I need to offer myself the same grace I would give others.
Share TWO accomplishments that you are proud of from this school year.
1. I'm proud of myself for being me and not changing to fit some standard. Like I mentioned in an earlier blog, I'm a little weird. I tend to be forward thinking and I'm all about thinking outside the box. I think this way of being is reflected in many of my decisions.
2. Bringing coding and STEAM into my building. I'm very passionate about computer science and STEAM activities because they get students working together, problem solving, and creating. I think all of these skills will be important to them as they go through school and life.
What are THREE things you wish to accomplish before the end of the school year?
1. Survive my first year with out any major incidents!
2. I hope that some of things I am passionate about will have inspired my staff to do at least one thing differently.
3. I also hope that every single staff member feels comfortable with coming to me about anything.
Give FOUR reasons you remain in education in today's rough culture.
1. Because our students and staff need a voice who is willing to stick their neck out for them. Our profession is often criticized and I don't mind being the voice that speaks up against those who criticize educators and treat them as anything less than the professionals they are. (#ksleg)
2. I can't think of a single thing that I'm more passionate about.
3. I love learning alongside other educators so we can continue to grow and do what is best for kids.
4. And most importantly, kids deserve having a group of people who will do whatever it takes to help them.
Which FIVE people do you hope will take the challenge of answering these questions?
I really hope that some of my staff take this challenge...so I guess that's going to be more than 5! I think it's always good to reflect on what is going well and why we got into this profession in the first place. It's a great way to feed our souls and reconnect with our purpose.
One thing I've learned about myself over my years in education is that I'm a little weird. Yep...weird. I think differently and I do things differently. And over the years, I've learned to embrace it.
At first, I didn't know I was different because of the educational experiences I was lucky enough to have. First, I went to a magnet high school located in Wichita's City Hall that was always doing things outside the box. Then, in college, I worked at a preschool that was all about project based learning and doing what was developmentally appropriate for kids. In these settings, apparently weird was the norm.
With the adoption of CCSS and the Next Generation Science Standards, I feel like my weirdness has been vindicated. If you unpack the standards, you find these precious little things called practice standards. Within these practice standards, it becomes clear that we no longer just want to know what a child knows...we want to see what the child can do with that knowledge.
Tamara Konrade once told me something that I hold true to this day....our standards are the curriculum and textbooks and the other tools are resources we use to teach them. If we allow that statement and those standards to lead us, our kids will be able to apply their knowledge all the way up to the top of the Bloom's Ladder!
In July of 2014, I was training to be a building level trainer for Project Lead the Way along with my friend, Cori Wolff. As we were going through the training, I was all about the STEAM/STEM aspect of PLTW. I was totally invested...until we got to coding.
Coding. Something that seemed foreign. Something that seemed above and beyond my capabilities. Something I quickly turned away from.
Flash forward a few months later when Twitter was buzzing about the Hour of Code! As I was watching my Twitter PLN posting their Hour of Code Certificate, I found myself wondering if this was something I should give another shot. I asked my friend, John Martin, to direct me to the best place to start and he directed me to a few sites like Code.org.
That weekend, I took the time to do the Hour of Code on Code.org and quickly realized how valuable this was for students. I was hooked and convinced that these were the puzzles of the 21st Century. I quickly learned that my students felt the same way!
A year after I attended the PLTW training, I found myself training to be a Code.org affiliate. What a difference a year makes...
I tell you all of this because I was once the non-believer. I was once the teacher who turned away from coding thinking it was just for certain people.
I also tell you this because I've also learned that the Hour of Code isn't just about coding. The Hour of Code is a movement to push educators to think outside the box and think about how computer science is in every aspect of our students' futures. It is the gateway to all things computer science. And computer science is the gateway to endless possibilities in the STEAM driven classroom.
And let's face it, a STEAM driven classroom is exactly what the CCSS is about.
What do you wish every classroom had in your building?----
While talking the with my Principals In Action Voxer group, I posed the question above. I had been brainstorming on my 40 minute drive home on how I could get all the things I wanted for my building while also providing all the professional development for my teachers. I was overwhelmed with all that I wanted to do and wasn't sure where to begin. I realized that I needed to figure out what was the first priority for the building and what was the bare minimum that we needed to launch the kind of thinking I wanted to see for our students.
Making our schools comfortable for students to learn and work in was one of the areas we all agreed on. We don't want to be just another institution pushing out students like a factory. We wanted our learning spaces to be welcoming and feel like a second home. We wanted our classrooms to be filled with areas for kids to explore learning through technology and hands on materials. We also believed that there should be enough reading materials to appeal to all students. We wanted them to feel welcome to explore, learn, and create.
The second (and most important thing we wanted) was to have a school full of people who are passionate about kids and education. We want them to be eager to learn alongside students. We also hope that they are doing as much listening as they are talking. We want them to teach the students and not just the curriculum. In others words, we are wishing for everyone in our schools to be innovative, student centered, and risk takers!
I believe that this all starts with me. I must encourage risk taking and thinking outside the box. I must be willing to take those same risks. It starts with me and I plan on rising to the challenge.
I have many words and phrases that I like to focus on to help keep me moving forward in my life. Many of them are my go-tos when I need assistance under stress...words like believe, be brave, and listen with an open heart. However, while looking for this year's one word, I struggled. I knew I wanted it to apply to work, family, and my health, but that seemed to be a lofty goal for just one word.
After much reflection (and some time reading through inspirational quotes on Pinterest)
I found my word:
transformation: a thorough or dramatic change in form or appearance.
When I read that definition, I knew I had found my #oneword.
"Your time as a caterpillar has expired. Your wings are ready" is a great metaphor for the transformation I have been making this year from teacher to principal. I'm no longer a teacher, but I am far from feeling like a "real" principal. Yes, I have the title and I complete the work of a building administrator, but I know I am far from being where I want to be. Over this next year, I hope to move forward in my transformation from classroom teacher to administrator.
Another area where I need the magic of transformation is when I drive home at night...I need to transform from principal to mother and wife. Often, I take the 45-minute ride to reflect. My goal is that I will be kind to myself during that reflection and let go of the day by the time I walk in my front door.
My final area of transformation needs to be how I take care of myself. Being responsible for my family, 370 students, 40 staff members, a home, and a school can take up a lot of my day. Just typing that makes me tired. But, it doesn't mean I can't find time to eat right, move more, laugh with my friends, go on dates with my husband, and relax with the kids. In fact, I need to do those things to find the girl who felt good about herself before I began this journey last summer. It will take great focus, but the transformation to feeling like my old self will be worth it.
Leadership can be a very tricky thing. As a first year principal, I often find myself humbled that I am in this position. What an amazing opportunity I have to be the voice for staff, parents, and students. Every day, I get to try to make a difference and that makes me feel pretty damn lucky.
However, some days aren't always rainbows and butterflies. Some days are plain tough! Especially when I have to make a tough decision that may not sit well with my staff and I have to ask myself some questions:
The answers don't ever feel easy, but they aren't that hard to find if we are asking ourselves the right questions:
Having a staff that comes together to find ways to make it all about the kids is one of my best resources! When I pull together a team to help problem solve the needs of a particular student, it's a beautiful thing. The most productive time a staff can spend together is when they are working hard to find the answers to help a student succeed. It's in those moments that our purpose becomes clear. It's in those moments where we forget all about 'me' or 'we' and it becomes all about them.
At the end of those imperfect days, I can rest easy knowing that we did what was in the best interest of the child because we put the child first.
Growing up, I loved school. I was a social kid who loved interacting with my friends in class, at lunch, and at recess. School itself I could take or leave. When most of your days consist of direct instruction, worksheet, rinse and repeat, you tend to learn to just turn in your work and hope for the best. Even in elementary school.
That all changed when I took a leap of faith to go to the Downtown Law, Public & Social Service Magnet High School. Downtown was a magnet high school for juniors and seniors located in Wichita’s City Hall. Our school was a project based high school where we were asked to dig in and learn by doing. We were also provided mentors in our areas of interest to help us learn about the real world while interning at their place of business.
To say the transition between my traditional high school and Downtown was life changing would not be an exaggeration.
When you go from the traditional classroom to one where you are solving real world problems, there is a major shift from being spoon-fed knowledge to having to work for every morsel of information. I was no longer just going through the motions of school. I was fully immersed and an active participant in my learning for the first time in my life.
As an educator, I know there is power in direct instruction. I know that sometimes a worksheet is appropriate. But, I also know that there is nothing more powerful than letting kids dig in and discover. I know that giving them ownership of their education gives them so much more buy-in to what you are asking them to learn.
I lead because I hope to influence teachers to think outside the box. I hope that we can give students opportunities to take their learning to the next level. I want to make it the norm that we give students real world problems that they have to solve in creative ways by researching and creating. I want my students to have the same excitement I did when I went to the magnet school.
Finally, I lead because I want my own children to have the opportunity to learn the way I did. Problem and project based learning isn’t just a concept for me; it’s a mission.
A few years ago, I was sitting at EdCampKS learning about why I should be on Twitter. They told me all about how I could use Twitter to build my PLN (professional learning network) and follow other educators to learn about new ideas to add to my classroom. So, I signed up....and then quickly forgot all about it. Why? I didn't see the value. I had no idea who to follow and I didn't understand the hashtag business! I just seemed to be floating around Twitter-space with no sense of direction.
About a year later, I was sitting at another conference called Podstock. Podstock is an awesome conference held by ESSDACK every year in Wichita that attracts amazing educators and presenters from all over the country. And guess what? These people were on Twitter and doing it well. Luckily for me, they had a Twitter 101 class just for teachers like me...teachers who might be on it, but had zero idea how to put it to use. That class opened my eyes to all the possibilities. I finally got it! I totally understood why I should be on Twitter connecting with others from all over the world. This was truly a game changer.
When I was switching roles from teacher to building principal, it was a no brainer that I needed to start connecting with other principals across the country. I started looking for hashtags related to principals and stumbled upon #PrincipalsInAction. I loved the feel of this hashtag because it was all about being positive and finding ways to connect with kids. The mission of #principalsinaction is clear: be seen, be in the classrooms, help teach, be a voice for the students....and above all else...do what's best for kids, even if it makes adults uncomfortable.
What's scary is that Twitter is just the beginning. There are so many other ways to connect with educators and learn. The power of social media in education is powerful and I know that I would not be the educator I am today without it.
Principal of PreK-6th Grade