Be a Miracle Helper

Miracles come in moments. Be ready and willing. ~Wayne Dyer

Miracles happen every day, I am convinced of it. I am not always a witness, or involved in them. It occurred to me recently that I don’t see or experience them often because I do not have a habit of expecting and searching for them. Even more importantly, I have developed a habit of dismissing my responsibility of being prepared with an open mind and heart for the miracles in the moments of every day. I forget some days about the power I have as an educator to be intentional in serving others.

Will I be ready to help a miracle when an opportunity opens up? How can my gifts help manifest little miracles in the moments? I know God uses people to perform His miracles,. I don’t want to miss an opportunity to be a

MIRACLE HELPER! 

img_4758

Education is a profession where we expect the unexpected every day! No day is EVER the same, because kids are very unpredictable variables! This is one of the reasons I love the profession so much, because each day brings new learning, memories, and experiences. There is no assembly line in our schools, and if there were, the belt would wear out quickly!

We make a difference each and every day (positive or negative). Some days the impact is very evident, or is shared with you. Other days we never know what kind of difference we made. Little miracles happen in our schools that we take advantage of, and reflection can help us appreciate the miracles themselves and the role we play in them. A child with special needs recognizing his name for the first time…miracle. A teacher who discovered a student’s home life included physical abuse…miracle. A mom who accepts help from the school for clothing and food…miracle.

Whether it becomes clear to us or not, I believe there are a few simple things we can do each day to be a better miracle helper.

  • Be more intentional with your connections.
  • Observe and listen more.
  • Expect miracles every day.
  • Consider yourself as a gateway of service for miracles.
  • Remember that miracles can happen TO us, too!
  • Wake up each morning determined to see opportunities in every situation.
  • Pray and reflect.

A simple, yet focused list of “to dos” can make the difference in how we serve others, and how often the impossible happens in our lives. Be a miracle helper…the world needs them.

Bethany

What Flavor is YOUR Kool-Aid? 

Several months ago, one of us received a message from an administrator in another school district who asked if he could come visit our school.  In his message, he remarked, “I want to drink the Kool-Aid you’re drinking.”

If we visited your school, what would we notice? If we walked the halls of your building, what would we observe?  If we interviewed the teachers on your campus, what would they say… and could you predict their answers?

Bethany and Danny have never met, (in person,) but they have developed a mutual admiration for one another through their connection on Twitter. Because we seem to share many of the same core values about students, teachers, and building school culture, it seemed appropriate to collaborate on a blog post.

A quick glance at Wikipedia and you see several phrases to describe the phenomenon of “drinking the Kool-aide.”  They include:

“Fervent devotion”

“Great enthusiasm”

To become a firm believer in something; to accept an argument or philosophy whole-heartedly.”

Bethany and Danny are “firm believers” in certain ideas. We have a “fervent devotion” to several core values that we have embraced “whole heartedly” and with “great enthusiasm.”  We are drinking the Kool-aide, and we hope to inspire as many others as possible to join the party.

As we thought about the flavor of our kool-aide, three ideas immediately came to mind.

Positive Energy

First, it with begins with our commitment to bring positive energy into the building every day we come to work. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Nothing great was ever accomplished without enthusiasm.”  We each try to generate enthusiasm in our school in different ways, but it is our goal to be relentlessly positive.

Every morning, Danny begins by playing a clip of an upbeat song (usually no more than a minute).  About once every week or two, he accompanies the song with a contest: the first teacher that emails him the name of the song (or the artist, or the movie it’s from; the contest varies), wins the prize. After announcements are over, he takes 3 Hershey kisses to the winning teacher, and gives one to every teacher who participated.  What does this have to do with “instructional leadership?” Well, it’s fun! And, in his experience, teachers who are having fun are more effective teachers.  It’s fun for the students too!  They love the music, and they enjoy helping the teachers with the contest.  Winning becomes a source of pride for the entire class.  This begins the day with good energy.  After the song, he announces, “It’s a GREAT day to be a WARRIOR!” He’s been saying this for over 5 years now.  It introduces some positivity into their morning routine, and it sets the tone for the day. Positive energy can be infectious, and morning announcements are the perfect time to start your school day with enthusiasm and school pride.  Several weeks ago, Danny initiated a project to inject some positive energy into the month of February. He asked every teacher to email him something they admire about several employees. (He assigned the names to ensure every staff member received three compliments.) Each morning in the month of February, he sent the staff an email with the subject: “My awesome colleagues.” The email contains “shout outs” for 5-6 staff members.  This email has provided some positivity and affirmation for all the staff members during a stressful month.

A strategy Bethany has ingrained into her school culture is that of branding through social media. Teachers all have Twitter accounts, and many use them regularly to share greatness from their kids, classrooms, and the school. Their shares are retweeted on the school’s Twitter feed, which tells a continual story of Central Elementary. Each week the school participates in #CelebrateMonday, a hashtag generated by the brilliant Sean Gaillard, to trend the positive in schools. Bethany, along with many staff in her school family, share and celebrate throughout each Monday via Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter with the #CelebrateMonday hashtag. It has become a Central tradition, one that families and the community look forward to each week as they follow the school’s story. Recently Central did a social media photo challenge where teachers captured memories of playing with children and posted to Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Bethany notes, “Reflecting on the school’s brand gives the staff a sense of pride and helps them all remember what matters most in schools…our culture and relationships.”

Bethany visits classrooms frequently, carrying an office on her back rather than working in an office alone. Her backpack holds her laptop, journal, sticky notes of various shapes and sizes, special note writing pens, and tokens of inspiration. Even when some of “the stuff” takes over, such as emails, paperwork, etc., Bethany chooses to complete those tasks within a classroom setting where she can be involved.  Each week she takes the time to do “sit downs” (this would be the opposite of “walkthroughs”). She spends time listening, observing, and sometimes participating in classes. She chooses particular kids and teachers to leave handwritten notes and/or tokens of inspiration. This is something Bethany considers to be a source of joy for her, and a way to offer validation for kids and adults at Central Elementary. She also uses Voxer as a feedback tool after spending time in classrooms, which adds an even more personal touch.

Bethany believes visibility is one of the most important traits of a lead learner, and one that contributes to a healthy school climate and culture. It is impossible to lead from an office. The fact is, just about everything required of a lead learner can be accomplished “out and about”. The office is reserved for confidential conversations and phone calls, which mostly happen before or after school. Her advice to principals/lead learners everywhere… “BE where the action is. BE where the kids are. BE where the learning is happening.” This means not only physically, but intentionally engage during visibility time! Make connections, have conversations, observe closely, and do lots of listening. Don’t allow the black hole in the office to suck you in.

Collaboration

The second core value that defines our leadership philosophy is a commitment to cultivating collaboration.  There is an abundance of research that demonstrates the crucial role that collaboration plays in successful schools, and all of our experiences working in schools have reinforced this truth.  Simply put, teachers are more effective when they work together for the benefit of students.

At Central Elementary where Bethany serves, the staff has made efforts to move from the idea of “parent involvement”, to “family engagement”. Not all families consist of a parent, and that word can send a message that only moms and dads are invited to become involved with the school. They choose to have a Community in Action (CIA) rather than a Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) because they feel all need to be involved and have a voice in the school. There is no membership required, because everyone is already a part of it. They do have particular facilitators who help coordinate volunteers and manage finances. Bethany says, “We have learned from this experience, and are tweaking things as they build the philosophy of ‘no titles needed’ to lead and become involved.”

bd903661-44b5-47c8-ae1c-7b12069e2fb0b24bea8c-a58e-4e19-9d53-c34f13d0ea31

One strategy Danny has tried this year to cultivate collaboration within his faculty at Thompson Sixth Grade Center is a competition he called, “Collaboration Bling.”  Teachers earn the bling through observing colleagues, through inviting colleagues to observe them, or through participating in Twitter chats.  Just last month, he and his teachers stepped out of their comfort zone by holding their January faculty meeting via a “twitter chat.”  This month, their faculty meeting was held as an Edcamp.

Connecting with Kids

Without question, the most important value that drives us is our commitment to kids.  We hope that there is never any ambiguity about what our faculty stands for and what our schools represent.  We are here to teach kids, to encourage them, to inspire them, and indeed, to love them. The priority of students in our professional lives is one we hope to live out every day we come to work.  We don’t hang out in our office much; we are in the halls; we are in the classrooms; we are where the kids are.

This year, Danny’s school celebrated students by having all of them write their dream on the ‘Wall of Dreams.”  He also asked his staff members to write their hopes for students on the wall outside of the main office.  His commitment to connecting with students and encouraging them is also evident in two more ideas he launched this year.  He set a goal of making 100 positive phone calls home by the 100th day of school, and he committed to doing “birthday selfies with the principal” on each student’s birthday.

b729bd18-b5f1-4d33-948c-9ca00d284b857578df73-65d8-4a88-8bd0-54933a1a3ae5


Bethany uses her visibility to make connections with kids each day. She enjoys capturing success and great character via photo and video to help share the school’s story and to celebrate individual success. She also uses Google Docs to comment on kids’ writing, and for them to share possible posts for the school’s blog. Hugs and high fives are continuous throughout each school day, which not only supports kids, but feeds her soul as well. Purposeful, intentional interactions with kids make lasting imprints on their hearts. We as educators all want to be remembered, and this is a way to ensure that.

e33006b4-f0de-428f-89a6-d24d978a49a5

Central also believes in the power of the selfie! Bethany encourages staff to capture selfies with kids because it makes them feel important and valued. Kids look to us as heroes, and the fact that we slow down long enough to make a memory with them speaks volumes to their souls. Whether they are 4 or 18, this is the case! Central has a selfie wall where staff post pictures, and they use social media to share them as well. Selfies are personal, and can have a specific purpose, or be taken “just because”!

img_7812

We are compelled to come to work every day to make a difference for our students and teachers, and we are convicted by the values that drive us to do what we do.  We are relentless about bringing positive energy, cultivating collaboration, and connecting with kids.

As Matthew Wilder once sung:

“Ain’t nothin’ gonna break my stride

Nobody’s gonna slow me down, oh-no

I got to keep on movin’

Ain’t nothin’ gonna break my stride”

We are all in — day in and day out.  So… what is the flavor of your Kool-Aide?  And is everyone in your building drinking it?

Danny and Bethany

                                             

What if Your Glitch is Your Niche?

 

Before I begin, let me apologize for the wordsmiths out there who know that ‘glitch’ and ‘niche’ rhyme, but look different. It sounds good though!

Glitch: a minor problem that causes a temporary setback 

Niche: a place, status, activity, or employment where someone is best fitted


Famous Failures

The above video is an example of several successful people who, at one time, had a glitch. Maybe their glitch was lack of confidence, or the need for more practice. Maybe it was lack of emotional support or a physical impairment. Some of the glitches are obvious to us, and most likely there were some that were never made known to anyone. These famous failures have a major connection…they all had setbacks. The great thing about a glitch is that it is temporary. We can find ways to compensate, correct, or cope with glitches. They are major when they are happening, and many times, life changing. Once we discover our niche within them, we can press on and be stronger becasue of the struggle.

IMG_3862

I am a very reflective person by nature. Those who know  me, know that I am continually thinking on experiences and how to improve in the future. Reflection always connects to change and the future in my world. I have glitches…many of them! We all have strengths and, yes, weaknesses. When we can begin to separate weaker areas of our life from the glitches, we can discover our niche. Our weaknesses can be seen as glitches, and our strengths are where we find our niche. That is the sweet spot where we have the most influence.

Here is how it happens for me…I turn my glitches into niches! (Or at least I am working on it)

                             Glitch                                Niche
Overwhelmed!  

office “stuff”… emails, paperwork, etc.

Visibility!

Take it with me and work in classrooms where the action is

Negativity!

Naysayers, attack on public ed, energy vampires

#JoyfulLeaders!

Surrounding myself with positive people, seeking opportunities

Mandates!

Emphasis on testing, competition, grading, etc.

Core Values!

Expressing beliefs even if alone, passion for the WHY

Fatigue!

Not enough time in the day

Procaffeinating!

Coffee, coffee, coffee!

Okay, last one was for fun, but happens to be true in Beth’s world. 🙂

Overwhelmed

We all get this way, both professionally and personally. Many times it is when these two worlds collide that we feel the most overwhelmed and ultimately, inadequate. In many ways I create this glitch in my world because I tend to put off the medial tasks that do not directly tie to connections with people. My solution for this is transferring my location in order to be productive, yet involved in the culture and climate of my school. Sometimes I engage more than others, depending on deadlines. For the most part I can perfom the medial task while still being engaged with what is around me in classrooms, hallways, the cafeteria, or playground. Do I still become overwhelmed? Absolutely! I have found that when a day goes by and I have had minimal connections with kids, staff, and families, I feel the most overwhelemed and unproductive.

img_7554-1

Negativity

Isn’t it incredible how powerful negativity is? One comment, one person out of many, one word can suck the energy from a room. Negative people are simply toxic. There is no other way to describe them. My “glitch” is that I try to save the naysayers, the pessimists, and the “gloom and doom” that oozes from them. The truth is, the choice lies within each person on how they choose to view the world. We can influence by providing consistent support and be a light in their world, but we cannot allow them to steal our joy. The time comes where we must continue our influence, but from a distance in order to preserve our own dispositions. #JoyfulLeaders has become my mantra, my filter, my tool for positivity in leadership. What started as a hashtag in my journal two years ago has grown into a movement. That is my niche.

img_7834

Mandates in Education

This one is TOUGH…one that I am struggling with on a daily basis. I have a major glitch…the tenacious and determined kind. My passion often gets the best of me, and I am sometimes unable to withhold my emotions based on what I believe. There is a fine line between becoming negative about the mandates that have woven themselves into our profession, and seizing every opportunity to make a difference with kids, teachers, and in education itself. When I “cross over” to the desolate side, my core beliefs pull me back out. The laws, mandates, and red tape in our profession does not have to define us. We can find positive ways to use them to our advantage in effort to improve learning in schools. I am learning to turn this glitch into a niche in my current reality. As I learn, my core beliefs strengthen. My voice strengthens. My passion grows. That can only add value to what we do.

IMG_0049

Fatigue

One word. Procaffeinate! I am a master of dominating this glitch and turning it into a niche! Coffee. Coffee. Coffee.

Seriously…do more of what gives you energy, whether that is sleep, excercise, eating healthy, or a devotional…DO MORE OF IT! If you do not have an outlet…find one. NOW. Don’t wait. Make it your goal to retire healthy one day.

img_7879

Find a glitch today, and then find your niche. #JoyfulLeaders do this almost without thinking, but we need to pause and reflect now and then to make sure we are on the right track. A strong personal learning network helps me do just that.

Thank you to all of the #JoyfulLeaders who fill my bucket every day, accept my glitches, and help me find my niche.

Bethany img_7564-1

Instead of Hate, Let’s Educate Betsy Devos 

Please read the following article published by The Washington Post, as my thoughts are based upon it. 

DeVos criticized teachers at D.C. school she visited — and they are not having it

I have been through many emotions regarding the changes in education, and the leadership our nation now has in place. I began at disbelief and refusal to entertain the idea of someone leading the Department of Education who has not one ounce of background in public education. The idea was (and still is) ludicrous, and I simply pushed it to the side, not thinking it would happen.  Reality began to set in, and I moved from disbelief to fury. I actually allowed it to consume me, losing sleep and fretting over the future of education and our kids. I began to think of my son, who is in his second year of college as a secondary education major…what does the future hold for him? I admit…I shared my strong opinions with politicians, through social media, with my school family, and anyone else who would listen. 

When Mrs. Devos was confirmed, I was at school in the hallway. I looked at Twitter to find an update and discovered the news. My fury, my anger…all turned to grief. I had to shut my office door and be alone. It had to sink in. It happened. Some may think it to be silly, but I cried for a moment. Real tears. I was hurt that my voice was ignored, along with the voices of millions who pleaded to find someone qualified to lead education. 

Now what? Disbelief. Fury. Sadness. Fear. All desolate emotions that stifle any light of hope from shining through. Mindset. It’s time to change mindsets. This happened. It REALLY happened. What am I going to do about it? 

                            NOW WHAT??? 




Upon my first read of the article above, I felt the need to become angry for the harsh judgement of the teachers in the school Mrs. Devos visited for a very short period of time. After some reflection, I realize that her comment about teachers being in “receive mode” and waiting to be told what to do is not something one could see in a brief visit. That comment is based on her perception of public schools. Her perception is her reality. She needs to be educated (irony here) to understand our purpose as educators. I lead a school, but so do the staff I serve. They are empowered and trusted to make informed decisions regarding what’s best for their kids. They do not sit around and wait for me to tell them what to do. We model leadership for our kids, so we are all leaders from where we are. My prayer is that Mrs. Devos learns this within her first months as she serves in education. It is a calling and a service, not a position which requires an agenda. If we had to produce one, the one and only item on it would be KIDS. 

I tag Mrs. Devos in some of the greatness happening in my school. I share some of my own passions and beliefs with her. I’ve asked her to follow me back so we can learn together. She’s our leader, and I believe leaders can do big things alone. I also believe that everyone leads, but not everyone is worthy of being followed. She will have to prove to me that she is truly out to do what is in the best interests of all kids. I’m approaching this with an open mindset and determination that will allow me to lead with her, along with millions of others who lead in our public schools each and every school day. Our kids need us. ALL of us. I am adamantly against everything Mrs. Devos stands for regarding the privatization of public schools, her opinions on kids with special needs, and many other issues…BUT…I want to lead. I want to be a voice for kids. I want to be heard…

So I will keep tweeting her. I will keep sharing articles about her actions within her role. I will do this with a cautious but open heart because I want to move public education forward. I will do this for the teachers and staff in my school family who lead alongside myself and kids every school day. Mrs. Devos…please join us. 

Bethany