Educators: Connect Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself!

Grow Your Professional Learning Network Before You Crash and Burn! 

IMG_2965Education is a profession in which connections are a must. We connect with kids, families, colleagues, and the community in order to provide the best learning environment. What about connections outside of our norm? Educators need a network where they go to receive affirmation, are challenged to grow, and stay current on best practices to support kids. Learning must be ongoing for educators to truly be effective in their efforts to impact their students. We can no longer live in our comfort zone of six hour PD sessions, book studies, and administrative directives for what is to be learned. Every educator must make the commitment to take charge of their own learning; to branch out beyond the local networks and into one of endless opportunities… it is time to step into the social media side of professional learning and grow a PLN (personal learning network).

As a lead learner, I have high expectations for networking within my school family. We are all in different places regarding the level of comfort with social media such as Twitter, but I am proud to say that @CentralCabotpK4 we all have a Twitter handle! I encourage the use of Twitter not only to brand our school and showcase the greatness of our kids, but to promote professional connections and learning for each teacher. My friend Brad Currie once tweeted a graphic that said, “Connect Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself!”, and is the inspiration for the title of this post! Although this phrase makes us laugh, there is so much truth behind it. We absolutely cannot be who we are meant to be for kids if we aren’t connected professionally. We need to seek learning continually, and look for people to follow who will uplift, challenge, inspire, and ignite the passion within us. There is no longer an excuse to NOT be a connected educator. When I hire teachers, this is something I want to know. If the person interviewing isn’t connected, I will not consider the applicant. YES…it is THAT important.

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So…here are some questions to ponder, and they may make you uncomfortable. I say often, “If you are too comfortable, you aren’t growing.” Kids don’t have time for us to be comfy and cozy…they need us to be out of our box, looking for ways to encourage, inspire, and help them find their genius. We stay uncomfortable for THEM. Think on these questions and be honest with yourself…ready?

  • Do you use social media for your own personal learning — -Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Medium, LinkedIn, Voxer, Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat, blogging? (there are so many more)
  • Are there any of the above listed that you have never heard of? If so, are you willing to find out more about them?
  • Do you share with other educators publicly, and often?
  • Do you participate in educational chats via Twitter and Voxer?
  • How often do you celebrate what you do with kids on social media (or do you at all)?
  • How many times a week do you share something you found on social media with a colleague (or do you ever)?
  • Do you connect with families and the community via social media (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Google+)?
  • Do you have a professional profile that encourages others to learn along with you?

If you are unable to answer some of these questions, and are feeling uncomfortable…don’t stress! You can change that today by getting yourself connected in multiple ways. Follow great people and organizations on Twitter to fill your feed with knowledge and inspiration. Find educational and inspirational Facebook pages to add to your personal feed. Set up your professional profile on Google+ and LinkedIn and search for other educators. Most importantly…SHARE who you are with your network. Don’t hide your love for what you do. Share your passion and curiosity with others. Be vulnerable and seek knowledge in areas where you are in need. Do this for your personal growth, but most importantly, do it for the kids you invest in each day. Avoid the wreck. Don’t crash and burn. Connect yourself before your wreck yourself.

Common excuses for not being connected…

  • I don’t have time.
  • I don’t want people to see my business.
  • Social media is all negative and maybe even the devil.
  • I don’t want to be connected.

Here are my responses to these excuses…

  • You make time for things that are important. Contributing to and learning from a PLN is important and a top priority.
  • People better see your business if they are going to trust their kids with you. Our profession should promote transparency, the love of what we do, and how much we value our own learning.
  • For those who follow the wrong people and are in the wrong circle, social media can be negative. It is about who you choose to connect with, and how you choose to contribute. The devil will stay away from positivity, and so will the energy vampires.
  • You don’t have a choice in the matter. We are obligated to be connected locally, nationally, and internationally. It is part of what we do for our kids.

NO MORE EXCUSES. Period. The time is now…to get public, to get connected, to share, to promote this amazing profession in which we have dedicated so much of ourselves to. It is no longer an option to learn in our box. It is time to jump out and squash it. NOW.

Go forth and get connected! The quote below by the inspiring George Couros is one of my favorites to share with other educators. He makes a huge point in how the sharing of educators could impact a school’s culture, and also share with the world ideas, greatness, inspiration, and modeling of connected educators. What if…

Kids as Little People

Education is best known today for its mandates, emphasis on test scores, and a growing number of teachers leaving the profession. Not a day goes by where I watch the news and don’t see something negative about public schools and education in general. What bothers me, and honestly (for lack of a better phrase) ticks me off, is that for every negative news story published in the media, there are hundreds of celebrations and positive stories which go unnoticed. Each day in our public schools, children learn something new, gain confidence, take risks, create, innovate, learn to empathize, and adds a sentence to their future story. While these stories sometimes make the news as an add on “feel good” portion, they are rarely the focus. Why is this? I have a theory, although it can step on the toes of some. We as a profession are ultimately at fault. Why? Because we do not share enough greatness. We do not celebrate enough. We do not honor kids for who they are first and foremost…little people. We focus too much on the student, and not enough on the personality behind the student. Please know I am not pointing fingers here…but viewing education from the perspective of someone on the outside looking in.

IMG_0108Small children are simply AMAZING. They have talents, ideas, worries, humor, and are full of questions. They are busy little people with their own hopes and dreams that are untainted by the demands and reality of our world. They don’t know about the pressures to “fit in”, or to not be as intelligent as the child next to them. No one has convinced them that they can’t do anything they want to do. They dream of being superheroes, ballerinas, princesses, and NFL football players. Who are we to tell them they can’t? Our number one goal should be to remind them each and every day to be who they are, and help them do so. If we want to raise confident kids who won’t give up when something is difficult, we need to ensure them each day to be themselves and to be comfortable with who they are. We are made different for a reason. Each child contributes something authentic to our classrooms and schools. How can we get them to realize their potential? I believe it happens by simply allowing them to exhibit their individuality. We often want kids to conform to the way we do things, when we should be conforming to our kids. How can we foster the idea of being different as a great trait? If we were all the same, where would we be as educators?

I often reflect on the difference in the attitudes and dispositions of our youngest kids (our prek students) and our oldest kids (our fourth grade students) at my school. Both classes of kids are full of incredible personalities, talent, and potential! What disheartens me is the level of confidence in our prek kids compared to our fourth graders. There is a huge difference, and there shouldn’t be. Our littles are continually taking risks in centers, building, creating, drawing, and redoing when things don’t go the way they planned. The prek kids don’t get as discouraged. They simply press on. I’ve noticed the older kids become, the more challenged they are to chase perfection and to give up easily when something becomes difficult or doesn’t go their way. What happens between these years? I believe it is the expectations of kids to conform to routinized school days, one time shot assessments, and behavior expectations with blanket consequences (to name a few). What would happen if we focused just as much on life skills as we do on content?

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The list above is a great start! Modeling this list for kids, sharing examples, and validating when kids do these things helps instill patterns of behavior and dispositions that will help them overcome challenges! Whether it is difficult content, conflicts on the playground, or peer pressure they face, honoring who kids are and enhancing their life skills will help mold kids into people who will confidently take a stand to make a difference. It will foster kids’ self confidence in who they are, which is the ultimate path to happiness and success.

The following video features a child in my school. He is confident in himself and his ability. He knows he is smart, and he knows he is talented. He likes who he is, and he takes advantage of every moment to share his personality! This is what we want from our kids. We want them to shine, even when the world seems dark. We want it to be impossible for someone to take away their sparkle, their personality, their unique way in which they see the world. Before they can be successful students, they must first be recognized as people who can and will contribute to the world around them. Don’t waste an opportunity to let a kid shine, and to let them express who they are. Don’t be the one to dull their sparkle. One more thing…let’s be more like Carson ourselves. Let’s hear the music, and dance like noone is watching. What an example that would be for OUR kids. Now…watch and learn from this amazing little guy.

Kids are little people who will one day be big…let’s make sure they love who they are now, and instill the confidence in them to express who they are meant to become.

Bethany

Working with Family

The following post is written by Bethany Hill, lead learner at Central Elementary. It is dedicated to Renee Tarrant, first grade teacher at Central Elementary, because she was the inspiration. Her one word for 2016 is “thankful”, and she reminds us each day that there is always something to be thankful for. 

first grade Schools are in the kid business, and in many ways we run as a business would function. There is a budget to follow, bills to pay, grounds to care for, and people under supervision of leaders. Within those people are leaders of classrooms, teacher leaders, paraprofessionals, food service, custodians, and the clients…OUR kids. We are in the kid business, but we are more than a place of business…we are a family. We have celebrations and struggles, and we have ups and downs. When people are hurting, we work on helping them heal. If someone is in need, we do what it takes to provide. When someone is sick, we encourage and feed them!  Many may argue that a business must place emotions and personal connections aside in order to focus. Our school family thrives on personal connections and emotions. Love lives at the center of us, and flows from our people each day. Our kids see us take care of one another, and this speaks volumes to them. 

  Our most recent family struggle began in late February, when I learned that one of our teachers was diagnosed with breast cancer. She kept this from her school family for some time, fighting a battle we were unaware of. Each day this woman came to school with a smile on her face; one for each person she passed in the hall, and one for each child in her classroom. She stood before her kids day after day, teaching them, loving them, extending patience to them. She never once wavered from her role as a first grade teacher, team member, and coworker. The day I found out about her diagnosis, I immediately began questioning myself as a leader. How could I not have seen that she was hurting, worried, and not feeling well? How did I miss this? I began thinking about all the days she came to school knowing what she was facing, and we had no clue. I sat in awe, thinking about how I could never do that. I am not strong enough to do that. I was simply blown away by her strength and her courage. 

 The time came for this teacher to share her news with the staff. She approached me before a faculty gathering, and asked me if I could give her a few minutes to talk to the group. We made a plan for her to speak at the end. Her number one request was that I couldn’t touch her or look at her when she spoke, because she would cry (she knows me well…I struggle with NOT hugging people). I promised to do my best, and we carried forth with the meeting. When the time came, I looked to her, cueing her to begin sharing. About 30 seconds went by before I was sitting at her feet, holding her hand (it was just a promise I couldn’t keep!) as she shared her news with our school family. There were tears, hugs, and yes…some laughter about her being too stubborn to lose this battle! Our family gathered around her, and from that moment we were #teamtarrant. 

Now it is May, and she is a survivor. She is winning this fight. Her hair has thinned, and some days she is tired, but she is winning. She is prevailing. She is a SURVIVOR. Her family is here for her, and we will love her through this. In turn she is serving as an inspiration to us. She is proving that there is always something to be thankful for. She is living proof of courage and will to thrive. She is still the same loving, caring, nurturing teacher each and every day. Her kids are so blessed to have her as a teacher. We are blessed to have her as a friend and coworker. We are blessed to have her as part of our school. 

 There is nothing more important than family. We love each other, we hold each other accountable, we keep our school a positive place to work and learn. We do that for our kids each and every day, but we also do it for each other. When one of our family members is down, we pick up the slack to make sure it doesn’t last long. That is what families do. That is what professionals do. We love each other. Our kids need to see that each and every day, and they do. As the lead learner of Central Elementary, I am so thankful and blessed to be able to say that with no doubts in mind. 

It is just how we do business every day, and it’s the best business I can imagine. 

Bethany