Shaking Hands and Making Eye Contact

I’ve never been comfortable with shaking hands. I guess it’s because girls aren’t taught to shake hands. I’ve always felt awkward and except for when meeting someone new in a business setting, I just haven’t ever been one to shake hands.

Until now.

The school district I work in has implemented “Capturing Kids’ Hearts” and since going to training I’m a believer in what they are doing as they attempt to transform schools into positive environments.

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As part of “CKH,” I was a happy to add social contracts and give more responsibility to the class managing their own behavior. I already did lots of stuff like that, so it was in my comfort zone. But shaking hands? Not so much. I was incredibly leery and cynical at first when it came to the need to shake student’s hands every day. I had fantastic reasons for why I couldn’t do it.

But, I’m an all in or all out kind of person, so I decided to just give it a try. If I didn’t see it as a good use of my time or students started acting up in the classroom while I was standing in the hallway, I could always go back to my old ways.

So for two weeks now I have been shaking hands with students as they enter my classroom.

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Here I am greeting a student at the door. I look like a dork. Oh well.. I’m being authentic. ūüôā

And here is what I have learned.

It makes a difference.

I don’t know how. I don’t know why, but it makes a difference. I’ve been a teacher for 20 years and I have great classroom management and engagement, but there is a different vibe in my room after greeting students at the door and shaking their hands.

I’ve always greeted students by name when they entered my room, but I’ve always also been doing the twenty different things that need to be done before a new group comes in, so it’s been a distracted greeting at best.

Now, for those couple of seconds, as I clasp the student’s hand and say the student’s name, I give that student my undivided attention. I look at the student’s face. I look in their eyes if they are willing to look back at me, and I smile.

I’m happier.

Maybe because I have to smile at almost 150 students a day in a personal greeting, but I have found myself smiling and laughing more. I still get incredibly frustrated at times, but more often than not, I’m able to find the humor in the craziness of high school students.

My student’s are happier.

Last year, my middle school age daughter said that her goal for school was the same as¬†Mia Thermopolis’ “My expectation in life is to be invisible and I’m good at it.” I wonder how many students decide the same thing, not because they truly want to be invisible, but since they already feel that way, they decide that they might as well make that their expectation.

Well, when you stop and look in a student’s eyes, smile and call the student by name.. there is no hiding.

And what I am learning is that when student’s don’t feel forgotten or hidden, they are happier and they smile more as well!

I’m committed.

Not having those 5 minutes to go to the restroom, return the phone call or prep for class makes things more challenging, but it is worth it. I’m committed to shaking hands with students.

And who knows, one of the best benefits may not be the connection I feel with the students, it may be that my students learn that shaking hands is a normal part of social interaction, no matter the gender!

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My Enneagram Results

The last few months have been a season of self-growth and self-reflection. I have found it to be an interesting and rewarding time. Not necessarily easy, but an incredibly worthwhile effort. After years and years of taking classes, earning degrees and becoming the best teacher that I can be, I decided that it was time just to focus on being the best ME that I could be. For an achiever and goal-oriented person, this was difficult as there is no measure of ME and for/against ME that I can use.

Along the way I read about the Enneagram Type Indicator. This test is a personality test, but it’s more than that. I really enjoyed taking the process. I took the¬†Riso-Hudson Enneagram Type Indicator online at the Enneagram Institute. I chose the long test as would by my norm. If you are going to do something, go all in!

My results overview were that I scored highest on The Challenger, then second was The Achiever, and third was The Enthusiast. No shock!

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But what I really enjoyed reading was the report that came with the test. The report gave insight to my strengths and described me when I am at my best. It also talks about how I view and handle relationships, who I am most compatible with based on enneagram type and how I can work on all relationships from this framework.

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One of the take-aways for me after reading the report is that I felt acknowledged. Yes, I know it’s a weird word to use for a generic report from an institute that has never met me, but yes, acknowledged! My frustrations with my job and career path isn’t a bad thing, nor does it mean that I’m not doing my job to my best of ability. What is means is that YES, I was created for more and I will feel frustrated and stifled as long as I am not being given opportunities for growth and leadership.

Oh how I wish organizations would use personality inventories like this to help make decisions about employees career opportunities and growth potential.¬† After twenty years in public education, I can say without a doubt, if a type description like the Enneagram was used appropriately for job placement, everyone would benefit. Teachers like myself with challenger and achiever personalities would be given leadership roles and administrators with personalities that don’t lend themselves to leadership would be able to look at themselves and be able to overcome their weaknesses by creating the right team.

At the end of the day, I’ve been both in the right place and worked for people in the right place and have been in the wrong place and worked for people in the wrong place. What inspires me is about Enneagram is that I can look at myself and others in the wrong place and find ways to thrive despite the circumstance. I know that after reading the nine types, I am looking at others and myself from a place of understanding and not from frustration. And that is worth gold.

Educators Need To Do Hard Things

As an educator, it is important to remind myself that learning new things and mastering new skills isn’t always easy. I think educators and those in the business of education often found learning to be easy.. and so we forget that for some, learning is HARD.

So for the third time, I’ve selected the month of May to be my month of hard things… in the form of my Handstand Challenge.

Why? Because handstands are HARD. Because handstands force you out of your comfort zone and require not only that you trust your hands and shoulders to hold you up, but require you to balance and hold your core tight at the same time. In essence, handstands require physical effort and mental strength.

I also really enjoy watching my progress over the month. It fits my grit mindset of 20 times to learn it, 200 to master it. So over the course of a month, I’ve captured my learning process over 20 times (31 to be exact) and I’ve done more than 200 handstands because with every up there are 5 to 10 failures. By the end of the month, I haven’t mastered handstands, but I’ve made a lot of progress!

And interestingly, each year I start from a stronger place. Just like the educational foundation that we hope students have as they are given new content; my handstands are significantly better than last years handstands when you look at the data (date and photo).  Even better, when you go back three years, the progress is quite impressive. In 2015, my day 1 handstand was up against the wall outside of my house. I remember clearly being scared that I would fall, that I would slip, that I would break something!

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But even braced against the wall, I was so proud of the fact that I DID IT!

Moving to 2018, my day 1 handstand this year was in the middle of my living room with no wall to brace me, no helper to stabilize me and no pillow to catch me should I fall. The difference this time was that while I knew the handstand would be ugly, I knew I could do it. In fact, my Day 1-8 handstands are all pretty awesome in my opinion.. even though they only last a second or two!

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Isn’t that what we want for our students? Yes, some learning and some processes are ugly, but students NEED to know that they can do hard things! Progress needs to be celebrated and efforts acknowledged.

When was the last time a student was asked to CHOOSE something outside of their comfort zone that would be hard and then given the tools to accomplish it? And I’m not talking about passing the STAAR (state mandated test) test.. but a student-driven academic goal.

So as I look out at my classroom and watch 150 students pass through my door each day, I tell them about my handstand challenge. I invite them to follow my progress on instagram.. not so that they can make fun of me.. some will no matter what… but so that they can see adults in their lives doing hard things.. things that aren’t in their comfort zone.. things that don’t come easy. Because maybe, just maybe, some of these students will remember my sad attempts at handstands when they are in the midst of their own handstand struggles in life and keep going.

Empty Bowls

Months ago one of my colleagues, Beth, the Culinary Arts teacher came and asked me if I would be interested in having my students work with her students on a community service project. Beth told me about the concept of Empty Bowls and how if my students would make the bowls, her students would make the meal and we could donate the proceeds to a worthwhile organization. Sounded great!

So my students got to work. And work they did!! Oh my. They made hundreds of bowls. Some really great ones.. some not so hot. But everyone of my 150 students made a couple of bowls!

Once the bowls dried, the kiln was either running or cooling constantly for more than a month! So many bowls to fire to bisque and then to glaze and fire and then, we had issues with the glaze and many had to be fired again!

It was a tedious process, but the students learned so much and had so much ownership in this project. Students truly cared about their bowls.. significantly more than they would have if it had just been a clay project where they made a bowl.

These bowls had meaning!

We were also incredibly fortunate along the way to have a number of bisque ware pieces donated to my students, so we had some really great serving pieces and mugs that were already fired and just had to be glazed. This gave us a jump start for sure!

So finally it was time for our Empty Bowl Project. We decided to donate to Backpack Buddies of Erath County as this organization makes sure that students that would otherwise go hungry over the weekend and during school holidays have food. Given that a number of my students are recipients of this program, it was nice that they were able to give back without anyone realizing it!

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The night of the event it was cold and rainy.  The soup was PERFECT! The culinary arts students made a perfect meal and some of the board members of Backpack Buddies were able to come and help sell tickets and pottery.

By the end of the evening, we had sold lots of soup and 2/3rds of the pottery was gone. Whew. One of the really cool things from the event was being able to see the pride the students had in their work and their ability to give back to the community.

It was a great event and SHS Culinary and Visual Art students
were able to donate $744 to Backpack Buddies!

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SHS Students with Backpack Buddies of Erath County Volunteers

Leader in Waiting

Waiting is hard. We all know that. It’s especially difficult when the waiting is personal. It seems like I’ve been waiting for a chance to be an educational leader for twenty years. The reality is that I haven’t been waiting “that” long, it’s just hard when I know that I have so much to offer and my skills aren’t being utilized equal to my potential.

Nevertheless, I’ve been adding to my education and my resume. I may not be an administrator yet, but I’ve completed my Superintendency certificate.

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I’ve also written another play and have a research article accepted for publication.

One of my friends recently posted a question on her social media feed that I have been pondering.. “How long do you knock on a door before you accept that it is closed?”

I have to say, I can’t help but wonder if the same applies to me. By no means am I going to give up my dream to be a leader. I don’t have to… I AM A LEADER. But the reality might be that being an educational leader might have me leading and serving in an area that I didn’t plan or expect.

And isn’t that the sum of life. So much of our life happens in the waiting. I can chose to be bitter about the fact that the “fast-track” to administration has never included me. Instead, I’m choosing to learn more, reinvent myself and ultimately, I will be a stronger leader.

 

Definitive Choices

IMG_0456How often do we choose to live in the land of the wishy washy choice so that we don’t have to go all in on something? I know that I do it. And I’m an “all in” personality.. Big time! But there are areas of my life that I need to be reminded to “go big or go home.”

Over the last two days, I had the privilege to work with a number of  high school one act play casts from the surrounding area as they prepare for competition. During this time, I found myself repeating quite a few concepts over and over to each cast. One of those was to make concrete choices and get rid of the wishy washy decisions.  It is early in their production cycle, so many of the notes I gave were quite useable (I hope!) as they have time to truly process what I said and then choose to use my thoughts or ignore them.

This got me thinking about decision making it in terms of real life.¬† I personally love making a decision and then going headfirst into a new adventure. I know that scares some. It invigorates me! My problem typically isn’t starting, it’s finishing.¬† Nevertheless, there are a number of areas in my life where I need to reevaluate my choices.

There have been times that I have chosen to go headfirst down a wishy washy path purposefully forsaking the definitive choice. Sadly, I see that and realize that the window for the definitive choice has passed me by in some areas. Knowing this, I desperately want to stop, and take the advice of business man, Brian Buffini:

“While there is a time to think about a solution, reflect on it and gather feedback from others, there comes a time when you have to forget about input from other people. Be confident in your choices, and stick by them.”

It’s not just about HAVING an innovator’s mindset, you have to USE it!

I’m reading George Couros’ book, The Innovator’s Mindset.

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I love everything about this book! What I am finding interesting is that even though I have always had an innovator’s mindset and have embraced all that being an innovator entails in both my personal life and as a teacher; ¬†I have not always empowered my student’s to embrace the innovator’s mindset.

As I am reading this book, I am pondering many of the norms in my classroom and in my school and asking myself lots of questions. For example:

  • Why do we have to do ______ a certain way?
  • Why do we come from a place of negativity when it comes to rules and expectations?
  • Why do we expect kids to fail/get in trouble/do things wrong?
  • When are we giving students choices?
  • When are students leading learning?
  • When are we modeling the innovator’s mindset?

All of my questions come back to Couros’ examination of student compliance vs student empowerment. It shames me to think about the fact that even in an artistic environment where students are asked to innovate and create everyday, I have always required compliance! OUCH.

But guess what? I am required to comply everyday as well. I have always hated the posted rules, class room procedures and expectations requirement for “good” classroom management. For years I bucked the system and didn’t post things.. but in order to be an “effective” teacher it was necessary to ¬†post these guidelines.

So I did.

And guess what, students that didn’t comply didn’t care which rule they broke. Students that didn’t behave responsibly didn’t check my posted expectations and procedures to see how they deviated from the posted signs. The only thing that my signage did was to show adults that walked through my class that I had “good classroom management.”

So today I yanked my signs off the wall! These signs take up valuable wall space and I’d rather post positive messages and show off student work! What gave me the courage to take down the warning signs? Well, Couros made me do it!

I want my classroom to be a place of empowerment. I want students to be willing to risk it all and try new things in my space. I want to push students to expand their mindset and become an innovator. And I can’t do that from a place of compliance.

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No, I’m not going to have a free for all in my classroom! I am way to organized and driven for that nonsense! But I need to move past the statements that demand compliance.

Instead, here is one of my new posters…

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So yes, in a way I am still demanding compliance.. but the mindset is different. Instead of requiring that students all put the pencils away the same way or put their name on their papers in the same two inch space on their papers, I am demanding that students imagine. I am demanding that students dream, collaborate and inspire others with their work and their choices.

I can’t wait to see how the shift in mindset frees my students and my own personal creativity. I’m sure it will be wild ride, but I know that it will be worth it.

Public Education meet Weight Watchers

Prompt number 16, … Tell a story.. is part of the #EdublogsClub where¬†a group of educators and edtech enthusiasts that blog around a common theme each week.

I’m running behind on my blogging. It’s a sign of the crazy busy schedule. The downside of not being able to respond to the prompt immediately is that I miss out on posting weekly. The upside is that these prompts from #EdublogsClub marinate in my brain for days at a time and I am enjoying the thinking process prior to writing my response.

Anyway, a couple of weeks ago, right about the time the tell a story prompt came out, I rejoined Weight Watchers. For those of you new to my story, I am constantly battling my weight and have a love/hate relationship with food. A few years ago I joined Weight Watchers and changed my life. Since that time, I have struggled continuously to maintain a healthy weight. Thank goodness I love to run, otherwise the struggle would be much more difficult. However, every so often I try something else.. some gimmick, some supplement, some quick fix.. but in the end, nothing has the staying power of Weight Watchers. Why? Because Weight Watchers doesn’t make me change the very nature of who I am. In order to be successful with Weight Watchers, I don’t have to give up the foods I love, I just have to plan and make better choices. The problem is, Weight Watchers ¬†is boring. It’s not flashy. If you lose a ton of weight week after week, you are doing it wrong. It’s steady, consistent..boring. But it works.8535053-An-image-of-a-person-standing-on-a-scale--Stock-Vector-weight-loss-healthy

And that is the very nature of education.

Quality education is boring. I’m sorry, but if you think that teaching is glamorous, you have not lived in the trenches with teachers very long. Teaching students day after day is hard, it is tedious and to be successful, much of what we do is boring. There. I said it! After almost twenty years in education, I feel like I have earned the right to say it… quality education is boring.

Why? Because the very education that students need, the foundation of¬†our content doesn’t change. Yes, education evolves and yes, new technology brings in new elements and new methods, but the lessons that need to be taught¬†and the skills that must be mastered don’t change. And contrary to what so many talking heads¬†would have us believe, the way we teach much of our information must remain the same. That sameness, that one on one, teacher to student, direct content distribution isn’t flashy, it isn’t cool and it isn’t trendy. ¬†Quality education is like Weight Watchers. It is founded in principles that work, it gives teachers the¬†flexibility to make choices that work for themselves and¬†their students within the guidelines provided and just enough wiggle room each week to keep things interesting, but keep them accountable to the group. See?!school-295226_960_720

And what about the flashy, quick fix? It doesn’t stand the test of time. Over the years, I have seen so many state tests come and go. I’ve seen teaching strategies and classroom management techniques questioned and labeled differently so that the latest and greatest buzz words are being thrown around and used. But at the end of the day, quality teaching and learning is still pretty much the same with a few new additions to improve the process. Just like Weight Watchers… the point system has changed, the activity credits adapted, and the delivery options greater, but the methodology and the results are still based on the same research and continued results.

So as¬†the world continues to watch the state of public education, I offer this… let’s help public education be like Weight Watchers! Sure, the no carb diet gets results, but a person can only live without carbs so long before they give up the will to live. Okay, maybe that is a bit extreme… but really, I’ve tried the no carb thing… it’s no fun. Take the “specials” out of education and leave only the basics and you get a no carb education. Sure you can can survive it, but do you want to?

 

I could go on.. like..

Extreme weight loss surgery that leaves people looking malnourished..yep, we have education systems like that too…

And how bout that crazy diet that some go on that put them in a constant bad mood… yep, we have education systems like that too…

Really. I could go on still, but you get it. From the 15 year old girl who lived on Slimfast to the 40 something woman still fighting the pudgy middle, I have learned that the flashy quick fix doesn’t work. Successful and healthy weight loss and maintenance is slow, it’s steady and it’s consistent daily choices.

And that is what I hope for education.. content that is built on a secure foundation that is capable of withstanding slow and steady growth and change not looking for the flashy quick fix, but strong and steady for future generations.

The Pendulum in Education

The pendulum: used to describe to the tendency of a situation to oscillate between one extreme and another.

That is why the image of the pendulum works so well when talking about education “best practices”¬†and trends. ¬†After almost 20 years in the classroom, I have had the opportunity to learn and use a number of teaching methods. Some are worthwhile. Some are not. But every few years the new “great” thing comes out and all of us educators have to¬†sit in professional development sessions and hear about how if we will use this new method our classrooms will be transformed. They never are.

Yes, I’m a bit cynical. ¬†But after all of these years and reading and researching and actually doing the job, I realize that the catalyst for change, the red ball in my picture above is never a teacher in the trenches. The catalyst is a politician, a higher-education researcher, a group of specialists, a retired administrator.. someone that personally benefits from suggesting this new better thing. The catalyst of the pendulum shift is on the outside¬†and only sees what happens from one point of view.

The best classroom instruction change agent.. a would be pendulum shifter… that I’ve ever heard was at our district’s convocation this past August. ¬†His thoughts were radical! (well not really, but they might as well have been watching the response of the people in the audience..)

He asked teachers and administrators to think creatively and to be engaging in their instruction. He asked teachers to invest themselves personally in the process and not worry about the tests so much. (scary stuff for sure.)

Yes, he was selling his books and yes, he made a nice chunk of change for the presentation… but he was living in the trenches and doing what he was asking us to do. (You can find him at Teach Like A Pirate.)

Huge difference. His ideas came from seeing education from the center of the pendulum. While he was pushing for change, he was also being hit from the other side by the realities of his classroom.

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In the end, it was a nice presentation and we went on doing what we’ve been doing.. because there wasn’t an outside force that required change.¬†There wasn’t any follow up, no required test, no paperwork followed.

hmmm. interesting. So I guess this reality becomes my question.

How do we in education become internal catalysts for change that we know is needed?

How do we, in essence, change the direction of the pendulum?

Do we have to wait for the hit to come back at us?

Do we have to absorb the changes in one direction before we can send change back in the other direction?

Lots of questions.

Processing this pendulum concept empowers me. Often I feel completely on the outside of the educational process and that my world doesn’t matter to anyone or anything beyond my students and my classroom.

But that is not the case.

All of us. Every. Single. Teacher is part of the the great pendulum and while we may not the be red ball catalyst, we do impact the structure of education.

With every hit (new law), we respond.

With every thud (new research), we react.

With every swing (new method), we learn.

Our ability or inability to absorb pendulum shifts with grace directly impacts our students. So instead of focusing on the bruising impact that some of these shifts in education policy leave on teachers, I’m going to remind myself that I’ve always loved to swing and that the pendulum and all of its back and forth is just a swing set and I’m going to hold on and swing high!

Redefining Leadership

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This week’s #EdublogsClub prompt was a sticky-tricky tar baby one for sure! ¬†Here is the prompt…

Write a post that discusses leadership, peer coaching, and/or effecting change. Here are some sentence starters that may help you as a work on the ideas for your post:

  • The¬†best school leader I have ever worked for/with‚Ķ
  • Teaching leadership skills to students‚Ķ
  • The qualities of a true leader include‚Ķ
  • Leaders don‚Äôt‚Ķ
  • Leaders never‚Ķ
  • Leaders always‚Ķ
  • I wish my school administrator/boss‚Ķ
  • As a leader, I wish to improve on‚Ķ
  • A leader I admire‚Ķ
  • Peer coaching‚Ķ
  • Effecting change‚Ķ

I pondered what to write about. I have so many thoughts about school leadership! Dang, I’ve been a¬†public school teacher¬†since 1997. I’ve taught in 2 states, in 7 school districts and worked for almost 20 principals. I’ve seen and learned A LOT about leadership! But I also want to continue working in public education and want a job as a campus administrator, so I’m not looking to air out our dirty laundry for all to see!

And then, in my course work I came across a Ted Talk by Drew Dudley and it was a light bulb (or lollipop) moment. If you have 6 minutes, it is definately worth watching!

Here are my takeaways from his talk. ¬†Dudley states “We’ve made leadership something bigger than us, something beyond us. We’ve made it about changing the world.” Further he says that our mindset is that until we do something big enough to deserve the title, we devalue the things that we CAN do everyday.

And finally, Dudley says that sometimes the most important moments, where we are true leaders, where we impact a person’s life, where we change the trajectory of someone’s future are simply¬†moments that are forgotten to us. We move on not even realizing that we made an impact.

So instead of focusing on the things that I wish my leaders did, or the things that I wish my leadership wouldn’t do, I’m redefining my interpretation of leadership. Yes, I want leaders to do big things that will change the world. But more than that, I want leaders (and I am including myself and my fellow teachers) to be leaders that change individual moments in¬†the lives of our students. I want to celebrate so many “lollipop” or forgotten moments each week that everyone starts seeing themselves as leaders. I want to celebrate so many seemingly insignificant moments that impact the lives of students and their families that the students see their own leadership potential.

Because THAT is how we Redefine Leadership.