Sunday, July 13, 2014

Teach Them How To Fish

A few weeks ago I picked up my son from open gym.  I experienced a large mix of emotions.  As he was scrimmaging with kids two to three year’s older, shirts vs. skins I saw my son growing up way to fast.  He is my first born child and will be ten years old in December.  Although he will always be my baby I realized I have less time with him now then I have experienced already.  In nine years he will be graduating from high school.  People are so right to say don’t blink.  I was very proud as I watched him scrimmage.  The older kids were much more skilled, but he hustled and embraced the moment.    This experience made me reflect upon whether or not I could have done that at his age.  Parenting is never an easy task as there is not a manual that comes with child birth.  Occasionally I ask my parents what they did when I did these things.  Often the answer is, we didn't have to deal with those things.  Well the fact of the matter is our students are impacted by many more challenges as our society operates much differently today. I have so much more to teach my son to prepare him for his future, to help him become the best person he can be and the years are flying by way to fast.

Sure there are different challenges with different generations of education, so I am not saying we need to go out of our way to make things easier on them.  What I do feel is that there is an important need more than ever to teach our youth how to handle raw emotion, communicate with others, and provide them with the skills necessary to be proactive and productive.  I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the Jostens Renaissance conference in Orlando, Florida this past week. This years theme was the Joy of the Journey.   There was an extreme amount of energy from educational leaders, teachers and students.  It was great to see so many people focusing on the commitment for all students to graduate.  Thanks to Mark Brooks (@rockdog6912) and Frank Zucker (@jostensringguy) for this great opportunity.

Ninety percent of the conflicts I work with have developed in response to a lack of skill.  The students are lacking skills in dealing with emotions, conflict avoidance, and proactivity.  In most situations students have reacted based on their raw emotion.  From my experiences we have adults who struggle with this as well. One of my favorite sayings is that you give a man a fish you feed him for a day, but if you teach him how to fish you will have fed him for a lifetime. This week I have the opportunity to present to new administrators.  The topic I have been given is proactive discipline.  While preparing my presentation I began to reflect on my first few years as an administrator.  I was sitting in their shoes two years ago wondering whether or not I would know what to do in different situations.   Questioning whether or not I was ready for this or if I had enough experience.  Who am I to have tough conversations with parents as I am just a young parent myself?   I had a great team and staff who provided me the push to move forward with this professional goal.  I was excited, motivated and ready to learn.  To new administrators this is what I have learned.  It is a R.A.C.E., but one so worth running!
Accessing Technology

Everything you do as an administrator roots itself in relationships.  As a new administrator you need to get to know your staff, students and parents in order to build trust. They must feel that you are invested in them and care about them on a personal level.  This is a proactive skill.  By creating these relationships you lesson the likelihood of future problems.  When dealing with discipline seek first to understand then to be understood.  Take time to have one to one conversations and follow up quickly as it builds credibility.  It is okay to ask for help often.  You don’t have to have an answer right away and it is okay to tell them you’re not sure but will find the right answer.  Lucky for me I was surrounded by a great team who was always willing to help. (@casas_jimmy, @joykelly05, @mwdegner, @ColinWikan, and @krskillet)  I have had a wonderful mentor who has taken time to help me grow both professionally and personally. Thank you Joy Kelly.

One of my challenges is with the rapid increase of technology in schools.  The major issue is the lack of skills that our parents have in educating our children at home as they don’t have the knowledge themselves.  Our students have access to a much larger audience all around the world but don’t have knowledge about the impact it can have on their future.  It is our responsibility as educators to teach them how to embrace technology as a tool and not a toy.  It is also our responsibility to support and educate the parents at home.  We are a 1:1 school and I have learned a lot over the past few years about the challenges that come with making sure students can access technology.  It is a proactive discipline as well. 

Proactive discipline is a culture that must be developed in your schools.  The culture in a school is really based on the adults in the building.  We need to model the same things that we expect our teachers to do within their classrooms.  Plant the seeds, nurture, and help them grow.  We must provide clear expectations of excellence.  It is very important to infuse a sense of school pride and community.

As new administrators you will grow through experience.  You will make more decisions in a day then you could have ever imagined.  The conversations will get easier and your ability to ask the right questions will get better.  Always make decisions in the best interest of the students.   Again seek first to understand and then to be understood!  The days are very fast paced and you cannot measure impact on a daily basis, but you are not leaving the classroom.  Your classroom just got larger and much more diverse.  Enjoy the race and always remember to stop and drink some water.  Reflection is learning and learning is growing.  I wish you the best in your first year!

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Mindsets from Philly. “The Fish Philosophy in Education”

Have you ever observed a fish after it has been caught by a fisherman or when it has been washed to close to shore that the water is not quite deep enough for it to escape?  It can be sad and disturbing but if you change your mindset just a little bit, it can actually be very motivating.  The survival skill in the fish is to flap and wiggle with all its might; trying to free itself.  The moment that follows this is what has caught my attention.  The fish stops, relaxing as if it has almost given up.  The breathing slows for a few seconds, but then all of a sudden the fish goes right back at it trying to free itself.  Why does this intrigue me?  I can relate this fight to education.  Unlike the fish, the fight is always worth it because we are here to serve our students.  Having said this, what are our survival skills?

Recently I had the opportunity to travel with 19 other staff members to a conference in Philadelphia.  We saw the sites, visited an amazing school and participated in great conversations.  As I sat down to reflect on what I have learned and what I can apply at my school I can recall two things that impacted me the most.  Spending time with my staff and being mindful in education.

First impact was our staff enjoying time getting to know each other, educational discussions, and time just to sit back and visit with one another. I learned a great deal about our teachers and I am blessed to be one of their leaders.
This reminds me of the “Fish Philosophy” in which I included in my curriculum as a business teacher.  It was inspired by a business that is world famous for its incredible energy and commitment to service—the Pike Place Fish Market.

They identified four simple practices that help anyone bring new energy and commitment to their work.  Many organizations around the world are using the FISH! Philosophy to:
   • Provide amazing service that makes customers want to come back again and again.
   • Build a culture where employees love to give their best every day.
   • Build effective leaders who inspire through their example.
   • Improve teamwork and build trust.

So what is the philosophy?  It includes four simple practices

Be There: When people need you, they need all of you. Setting aside distractions and judgments to be fully present is a sign of respect. It improves communication and strengthens relationships.

Play: You can be serious about your work without taking yourself so seriously. Play is a mindset more than a specific activity. It allows you to throw yourself with enthusiasm and creativity into whatever you are doing, in a way that is natural, not forced. "Playing” with ideas helps you find solutions to everyday challenges.

Make Their Day: Simple gestures of thoughtfulness, thanks and recognition make people feel appreciated and valued. When you make someone else feel good, you feel good too.

Choose Your Attitude: To actually choose how you respond to life, not just react, you must be intentional. When you get up, decide who you want to "be" today. Moment-to-moment awareness is key. Ask yourself throughout the day, "What is my attitude right now? Is it helping the people who depend on me? Is it helping me to be most effective?"

The descriptions were taken from their website so I can’t take credit for those, but I don’t need to add any details.  The principles speak for themselves.  You can watch a preview of the video at this website
During our trip we practiced every principle of this philosophy and I believe it had a positive impact on each and everyone one of us! The second take away from my trip was the importance of being mindful in education.
 Being mindful in education is very similar to the Fish Philosophy, but it focuses on the individual state of mind. 

I attended a workshop at the conference that addressed being mindful in education.  First I want to compliment my district for always looking for ways to improve and to serve our students, staff and community.  Our students are very blessed, but with this commitment sometimes come costs.  I find myself as an educational leader, mother, wife, sister, friend, daughter and much more always feeling as if I can do more.  This isn't a bad thing but I have come to realize that we need to stop and enjoy the moment!  "Smell the roses" as some would say.

We constantly have that little figure on our shoulders saying do this, add this to the list and I have to get this done first.   Don't get me wrong our tasks are important, but sometimes we forget the most important survival skill.  I attended a workshop on being mindful in education because I have observed staff members very stressed out as they are always working very hard on doing what is best for students.  Even in my own life I have had moments where I think wow time just needs to stop and I need to slow down. 

I see my nine year old son asking me every morning what is the plan, what’s going on tonight, or what’s next.  Many times we will be having a great time, but he will be worried about when it is over and what happens next.  I love that he likes to stay busy but I have to remind him to enjoy the moment.  My favorite saying, “Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened"!

The workshop I attended focused on how important it is for us all to just take 5-15 minutes out of our day to just slow down, meditate if we must and enjoy the moment.  Sometimes we are so focused on what happens next and being proactive that we forget to slow down, enjoy the moment and celebrate successes.   This small window can rejuvenate us so that we can continue to do our best work.  We don’t always need to solve the problem right then and there.  Just like we need to listen to others you needed to listen to yourself as well.  “Be Mindful!”  Our challenge as educational leader is to model this for our staff and students.  We must also advocate for it or create opportunities for it to exist.  

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Benefits of the Struggle Bus

Last year I had the incredible opportunity to listen to two very successful coaches at a conference in Kalamazoo, Michigan.  It was very interesting to hear about their experiences and insights on what is most important in working with youth and how they built successful programs.  One of the most important messages I took home with me is best stated in the following quote:  You have to get 1% better today.  You have to love the anticipation; you have to love the struggle.  You are only one swing away.  This quote was taken from 11 time national champion and hall of fame coach, Sue Enquist of UCLA.  In her message she shared how she would always build failure recovery lessons into her practices. Her players would never be perfect but they do have to recover from an error for them to be successful on any given night.  She was very passionate about this life lesson.  Everyone has a board of directors that help shape who they are.  How do we build failure recovery into raising and educating our children?  How has failure helped you grow professionally?

Over the past couple of months I have been reflecting on how I can improve professionally in my administrative role and personally as a parent.  Through my experiences I have seen myself in situations as an educator and as a mother where I ask myself why don’t they see what I see. How many of us say if I knew then what I know now I would have done things differently. Well it all boils down to experiences which have helped us gain the skill and knowledge to be successful.

Why don’t they see what I see, it seems so simple?  Brain research tells us that many changes take place in the brain during adolescents; however the brain does not look like that of adults until the early 20’s.  When we see our children experiencing failure or disappointment it feels like the sky is crashing down on both them and us. Even as the administrator in the room, I just want to save them and help them, but the real question is what will they learn most from in order to set them up for future success.  As a parent I have noticed that I feel the pain even deeper than our children do. In most cases, our children bounce back from their disappointments relatively quickly, but yet we often stay stuck in them for way longer than we know is necessary or appropriate.  I have noticed this about myself as a parent and thought I need to start responding to this in a very different way.  We cannot shelter them from everything.  My message to my kids is you are going to make mistakes, you are going to have disappointments, but what you learn and how you respond to them is what will define your character.  Kids can learn through disappointments and failures.   I can as a professional learn through mine as well.

I will tell you this was one of my biggest challenges moving into administration just as much as it is a challenge as a parent.  I know in my heart that many times the acceptance of failure is the most important lesson, but at times very hard to deliver it.  Dropping students from courses, suspending from school, encouraging difficult conversation, enrolling in challenging courses, and providing other interventions for situations that are inappropriate for the school environment can all be difficult when you know the student just does not have the skill or mentality to make better choices.  Maybe they lack the motivation or direction.  However, how will they learn if they don’t fail or if we don’t hold them accountable? We are doing our children and ourselves a major disservice by not allowing them to experience failures and disappointments. The challenge is how to you set them up for success in learning through that disappointment.  How do we respond?

Over the past year I have experienced a shift in my thinking.  From the beginning I was programmed to make things all better from the minute I held my children in my arms.  That's what moms do right! Keep in mind that as children grow up so do their challenges.  At times when my children did not follow through on tasks, talked back, tried to argue, or didn't meet expectations I was sure to hold them accountable.  I remember on several occasions trying to talk them through the poor choices and what the right thing was to do, but I wasn't paying attention to what was really important. Getting them to learn through their experiences.  I have realized I have to communicate my expectations, stand my ground on what I want them to learn and not get into the verbal battle of explanation.  Don’t get me wrong there is a need for conversation in order to teach the expectation but when they make a poor choice or don’t follow through on a task my simple response is quick and to the point. I am sorry you choose to do or not to do this; therefore we are not going to be doing this today. No warnings, no threat just clear expectations. I let them learn through their experiences. My children teach me about this each and every day.  There are challenges when we lose our patience and we get frustrated but how we react to these challenges will determine what they learn from it.

When we talk about failure it is really more about letting our children learn from the feeling of discomfort. Discomfort can be from worry, fear, disappointment or experience of the natural consequence.  So what do they learn from this? 

  • Children will learn coping skills and how to avoid similar situations.
  • They will develop a tolerance of discomfort.  This is part of life.  Everyone will experience times where they are frustrated or uncomfortable.  They have to learn how to manage these situations and develop a tolerance for them.
  • Challenge the sense of entitlement.  I read an article that suggested if we constantly shield children from discomfort they learn that they shouldn't have to feel anything unpleasant in life.  This is a false sense of entitlement.
Three Questions We Can Ask:
  1. What role did you play in this?  This is the part that the child can control or what they can change. This should be the focus of their learning.
  2. What are you going to do differently next time?
  3. What did you learn from this?
Some thoughts to keep in mind:
  1. Don’t waste the good moments on that voice:  What I mean is not all situations need a long explanation.  Time place and manner.  Run, hug and laugh away the bad moments.  Enjoy those funny conversations in the car ride.  My son calls it car chat!  Many times he would say wait, save it for the car!
  2. Next time you want to step in and try to prevent your child from failing or facing disappointment, take a moment to sort out your own feelings, and ask yourself: What am I afraid of? There is no getting around it, even though you may try to shield them from it, and find ways for them to avoid it, your kids will at some point have to face the dreaded agony of disappointment/failure.  How will you respond?
  3.  It’s okay to be human.  We won’t always get it right.  Say you sorry and let them see you learn from your mistakes.
  4. Be willing to let go and respond. The cards will fall where they may. When they have disappointments or failures and they feel sad and defeated be there to love and support them, and to help them regain their footing so they can put their cards back on the table.
I look at how much I have learned over the past 13 years in education. Some of my largest strides I have made professionally and largest impacts I have had on students has been a result of a disappointment or a challenge.  Remember to get up and keep getting up.  This is how we learn to walk and then to run.  By falling down a lot and then getting right back up.  Its never to late to make an impact.

Monday, June 24, 2013

So you want to be an administrator?

One year ago I was blessed with the opportunity to put my administrative degree to the test.  I was blessed to move into a Dean of Students position within my current school district in which I had previously taught for nine years.  My question was am I really ready to leave the classroom?  This was a difficult decision but what I came to terms with is that I am still teaching, just in a different capacity.  I was ready for the challenge and excited to learn more. 

After taking this move the most famous response from family, friends and colleague’s was oh so you decided to turn to the dark side.  The Dark Side?  Having been raised by educators I had heard this comment before and had probably used it at one time or another.  I would laugh because I remember hearing the chatter about the “us versus them” philosophy.  I am sure the philosophy comes from many different experiences and different capacities, but I was raised by educators so I understood the basis of these comments.  These individuals meant no harm and we had some good laughs but after a year of experience I aim to change this philosophy as much as I can.  So here is what I have learned:
As educators we have one of the biggest challenges that many may or may not understand.  We make a difference in the lives of our children.  Taylor Mali says it best in the video on  Whether you’re an administrator, classroom teacher, and counselor or work in some other educational capacity with youth today our goal is to educate students in order for them to be successful in the economy of tomorrow.  Students have different stories, paths, skillsets and expectations.  We cannot all have a toolkit comprised of what it takes for them to all be successful but as a team we can make this happen.  Somewhere along the way we have created an “us vs. them” philosophy but who is it really about?  It is about the students and what each individual student needs to be successful.  What do students need to be successful?  Well it all starts with relationships which I will address in another post. Today I would like to communicate my thoughts on this separation between staff and administration.

As the Dean of Students this year I remember worrying about whether or not I would know what to do in certain situations.  There is not a book that tells you directly how to handle every situation that comes your way in administration.  Lucky for me I had great mentors and support systems that helped me find my way.  I know that relationships are so important in dealing with students and staff.  Being the right person at the right time may be enough to change a person's life forever. Asking the right questions and listening may be enough to get them to be the first graduate in their family.  In this job I have seen how situations can bring up this separation between staff and administration.  So how do we do this and starting changing this philosophy?  Well you can’t change anything without identifying the root of the problem.  I believe the root of the problem is past experiences, accountability, communication and purpose.  Prior to my first year in administration I was given a book by my principal, Jimmy Casas called Shifting the Monkey: The Art of Protecting Good People from Liars, Criers, and Other Slackers by Todd Whitaker.  This is a very quick read and I recommend it.  Negative attitudes are draining.  This is a must-read for every leader, in every profession! Leaders sometimes place more work on their best people, while letting the slackers avoid challenging tasks. Dr. Todd Whitaker offers simple, logical ways to lessen the burden of the best employees, while raising expectations for others.  The reason I recommend this is that we have to communicate with one another to diminish the us vs. them philosophy.  Without great communication, people read between the lines, draw from past experiences and this is where negativity begins to grow. 

So why am I passionate about this change?  In my first year as an administrator I was blessed to work with a strong team comprised of Jimmy Casas, Joy Kelly, Matt Degner and Kevin Skillet. We had some great laughs, challenging moments, and many great conversations on how to help our students as well as our staff.  We make it a priority to listen to our students, parents and our staff in order to do what we can as leaders to help them be successful.   I found myself amazed by the different issues we dealt with on a day to day basis.  I remember thinking to myself, so this is what goes on in the main office.  I can see why we don’t see them in the classroom as much as we would have liked, or why they seem to be out of the building a lot.  Teachers should really shadow an administrator and I think it is important for administrators to stay connected to the classroom as well.  I found myself in several situations asking myself, well was that the right consequence for that student?  Should I have been more aggressive?  Was I too easy?  Oh I should have asked that?  Well my team was very comforting as they still have some of the same thoughts.  Each student is different and they all have different needs.  I can relate to this from my coaching years.  Some players respond to aggressive coaching others need a little more positive interaction.  There may not always be an obvious answer but taking the time to listen, teach and hold them accountable is what I found to be most important.  It is important to involve staff in this process as at times they may know the students better.  We just need trust and relationships as well as the knowledge that we are working together to help these students be successful.   It is a priority to communicate to staff that we are here to support them in their efforts. 

So my goal is to continue to communicate that I have an open door.  I want to support my teachers as well as hold them accountable.  I have an amazing person in my life that has the ability to just listen and then ask the right questions.  I aim to model what I have learned from him.  What I want my teachers to understand is that as administrator I am here to support them. As adults we are not always going to get it right.  It is the purpose behind what we are doing that is important and how we reflect on those practices so that we can continue to grow.  Our goal within a rigorous and relevant curriculum is to help our students achieve at their highest standards.  I understand that at times we will have the difficult students but as a team we can connect with these students in some capacity we just have to be willing to listen and ask the right questions.  We need to be willing to seek out resources and not feel as if we have to attack the issue on our own.  We need to build the relationships with each other as well as our students.  It is no darker on one side then the other.  The sides are just different parts of a toolkit that we must have in order to help students achieve at their highest level.  We are a team with different tasks, different strengths and different weaknesses.  However our purpose is still the same.