Sunday, December 1, 2013

Ready or Not!

Ready or Not?

My niece Lindsay is having a baby today. She’s a 29 year old, college graduate, an officer with the Georgia Bureau of Investigations, married to a great guy, and a homeowner in a nice neighborhood. We were sending text messages back and forth about a week ago, and she wrote, “I don’t know if I’m ready. I’m scared. I’m worried.” I sent a message back that no one is ever ready for parenthood, and what she doesn’t know now, she will learn along the way.

My own 23 year old son is here visiting for the Thanksgiving holiday, and I can say I am still learning. There is no way that I was ready 23 years ago for all of the experiences, challenges, tears, hugs, smiles, fights, and love we have shared. 
25 Years Old and "Ready or Not"
As a teacher during the day, I tried to be a teacher at home, too. I read to my son, took him to museums, national parks, church, etc. Yes, I felt comfortable in the role of teacher. But he has been a teacher too, and I the learner. He taught me that I wasn’t ready but I was ready to learn. He has taught me not to give up, on him or myself. He has taught me to be patient and persistent, to look at things in a new way, to compromise, and to ask for help from him and our “village”, to be resourceful (and as a single mom for more than a decade I really needed to be resourceful). And most recently, during this visit, he has taught me that I still have so much more to learn. He’s a great human being (my time to brag: an Army veteran, a small business owner, a person of compassion), and we have done a great job teaching and learning from each other. But he’s not a perfect young man, still facing dilemmas and challenges, and I am not a perfect parent. We are a family work in progress.

The many lessons I have learned from my son Steven I am trying to apply to my job as Assistant Principal of a 1:1 device school. Two years ago when it was determined we would go 1:1, I thought there was no way we were ready. No way! Good thing I had my son as a teacher.
  • We cannot give up. “How can we make it work?” needs to replace “It can’t work” (thanks Susan)
  • We must be patient and persistent. We won’t find every solution overnight and new problems will pop up everyday.
  • We can learn new things and look at problems in a new way.
  • We can compromise. We don’t need to create a long list of rules for the students or be in control of all situations or scenarios.
  • We need to ask for help from the students, from the feeder schools, from the parents, from the district, from the community.
  • We need to be resourceful. How can we communicate our needs and see that our students get what they need to be successful? 

We have come a very long way in such as short time. We can be very proud of our accomplishments (my time to brag again: we are ahead of many large districts in our implementation of technology, we have more teachers doing amazing things than teachers resisting, our students are seen as experts by the teachers and community), and we have done an unbelievable job of teachers being both leaders and learners. But we are not done learning. We will continue with our own dilemmas and challenges. We will face the common core, lack of word processing experience, and problems not yet imagined. We are a school in progress.

My wish for Lindsay today is a safe delivery of my great-niece Gracie Ann. And of course, I hope she and her husband Matt have many years of learning ahead.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Life Advisory Council

How many times have you seen “It’s a Wonderful Life” with Jimmy Stewart? I was thinking about that movie recently, and about the dilemma young George Bailey faces when the local druggist accidently poisons a customer’s medicine. George knows the consequences if he doesn’t speak up, yet when he does, the pharmacist doesn’t listen and responds with a quick smack to the young man’s head (and sore ear). Not sure how to react to the situation, George looks around the drug store and sees a “sign”. Many people might ask for a sign telling them what to do in difficult situations, but George’s sign is an actual sign hanging on the wall; “Ask Dad…he knows”.

 I’m rarely faced with life and death decisions regarding poisoned medicine, and when I do ask for help, I’m rarely smacked in the head. But I do have struggles, dilemmas, feelings of defeat, and tough decisions to make, and I am thankful to have my very own Life Advisory Council: those I turn to. The members of my advisory council are administrators, teachers, and counselors but they are also neighbors, church members, family, and long time friends. I think my council can be divided into categories:

Give it to Me Straight: I don’t need you to pick me up, pump me up, or tell me what I want to hear. The members of my Life Advisory Council in the “straight” category push me to do it better, give me honest feedback, and help me grow.

Don’t Let Me Get Too Big for My Britches: (this one is especially for my AEL buddy J. Perez). I need you to remind me where I came from and that I have spent many summers without any new shoes. The members in the “britches” category remind me that there is someone ready and willing to take my place, help keep me humble, give me honest feedback, and help me grow.

Keep Pushing Me: I need you to help me remember that I am always a teacher and always a learner. The pushy members of my council make me sign up for conferences and trainings, show me their shiny new gadget and challenge me to test it out, try something that makes me uncomfortable, give me honest feedback when I try something new, and help me grow.

Tell Me You are Proud of Me: I need you to build me up when I am tired and sad and feeling defeated. Remind me of how much I have accomplished and encourage me to keep my head up. The cheerleaders on my council believe I can do something long before I believe it myself. They give me honest feedback and they help me grow.
If you are on my council, you know who you are. Sometimes you are in the cheerleading category and sometimes you may need to remind me not to get too big for my britches and you sometimes have to give it to me straight. But you are always a part of my Life Advisory Council, giving me honest feedback and helping me to grow.

I hope my teachers and my students find their council in life. We all need a group of people to help us figure out what to do when we know we must act, yet not sure which direction to go.

Thanks to my Life Advisory Council it is indeed a Wonderful Life.

Friday, August 23, 2013

It Starts Today. #SAVMP

It was 1974. Patty Hearst was kidnapped. Ted Bundy was on a homicidal spree across the country. Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s homerun record by hitting number 715. There was an oil embargo against the United States, and fuel shortages began.  It was the year of the Watergate scandal, and President Nixon resigned. Our country was in a Space Race and Cold War. And my family moved…again!

I was 10 years old when September came, and it was the night before The First Day. My sisters and I had our clothes in neat piles on the dresser, and we went to bed early as directed by our parents. I was upstairs in my bed, pulled back the curtain, and stared out the window at Washington Elementary, Public School #5, New York state. From my view I could see part of the playground and at least one wing of classrooms. I kept thinking about the kids I would meet, the supplies I would need, and the exciting things I would learn.
4th Grade

I went to Washington Elementary for about 7 months; we moved again in March. Although that does not seem like a long time to me now, I had many treasured experiences at Washington. I was in 4th grade, and 4th graders changed classes for math and language arts. I remember entering school shortly after the first week, when my current math teacher excitedly showed my neatly completed homework to the “advanced class” math teacher. They had no test scores for me, no previous year data, and maybe an end of the year report card from the former school, if it had made it into a moving box. There were no fax machines, and request for records went through the mail and took months to arrive. But a week into school a teacher saw potential in me and saw that I needed to be challenged and took me to her peer for help. In my mind, I became a math wiz that day; someone believed in me. I also became a scientist at Washington. My teacher taught us how to observe the world, and I remember taking that so seriously that I kept a journal about what I saw on my way to school each day. I was observing! I was a scientist.

Unfortunately, not all experiences at Washington were positive. I endured taunting and teasing from many 5th grade boys; I was new, I wore glasses, I was smart. The combination was not a formula for popularity for me. I was also poor. I didn’t know how poor I was until a teacher told me.  She didn’t tell me in an innocent, meant well, kind of way. No. She humiliated me in front of my class when I wasted two sheets of paper. Didn’t I know my parents didn’t have the money to spend on more paper? Didn’t I know my parents had 8 other kids to provide for? Didn’t I know paper costs money? It was probably my single most humiliating school experience.

Today is the first day of school for my 7th graders. Did they have trouble sleeping last night, although their well intentioned parents sent them to bed early? Did they have a troubled stomach just thinking about today? Are they dreaming dreams about the possibilities and promises of a new year? Will our school staff validate those dreams? Will we be the ones they remember for convincing them to believe in themselves? Or will I allow them to be bullied? Will I allow them to be disrespected and humiliated by adults? I have spent the summer focusing on professional development, reading books, attending conferences, and reading thousands of tweets. It’s time. I must head out the door today, greet each student, and convince them that this is the place. Their future begins today. They can be a math wiz, a scientist, an athlete, a musician. It starts today. 

Friday, August 16, 2013

What Do I Believe Our Schools Should Be? #SAVMP

What Do I Believe Our Schools Should Be? #SAVMP

Earlier this week my husband and I went to his brother’s house for dinner with the family. His brother Grant and wife Vicki have adorable two year old Emily and newborn Edward. As it typically goes for young families with small children, one parent fixed dinner while one chased the toddler. I had the job of snuggling with my 6 week old nephew while they talked about how both of their children are already exhibiting different personalities. Grant said that Edward is calm, full of smiles, and is an easy going baby. Vicki said that even as a small baby Emily was more like her. Emily ran from toy to video to sofa while her mom speculated that her daughter will likely be on student council, maybe in a sport, and worried about her grades. Edward on the other hand, according to Grant, will likely chill at home, while his sister runs around. Listening to them talk about their kids and seeing their eyes look at the full potential of each one of them made me think about what I believe our schools should be.
Emily Winding Down
I kept thinking about Emily and Edward as I walked to a local coffee shop with my friend Audrey over the weekend. I have watched Audrey’s daughter Hope grow since kindergarten and now Audrey was talking about Hope’s final year at college, the University of Redlands. She was also looking at her daughter’s potential. Hope was an English major and was considering her options for after graduation. Audrey had helped both of daughters through private college, watching the older Holly graduate with a degree in Religious Studies and struggle to find a job. She knew an English major would not lead to an instant career, either. Despite student loans and lack of an instant job for her children at graduation, Audrey was happy both of them studied where they were most interested and chose degrees that made them happy.

I think that is how I believe how our schools should be. They should be a place where young children explore, run from one activity to another (maybe Emily or even Edward), and find their passions. I want Vicki, Grant, Audrey, and all parents to know that their children’s potential and their dreams are safe with me and nurtured by me. When I look at their children I am inspired to work harder and to help them find their future.

So next week when my 12 and 13 year olds return, I will see my niece and nephew, and I will see the young lady I have known since kindergarten. I will nurture their dreams, I will help them find their passions. I don’t want to let them or their parents down. 

Monday, August 5, 2013

Why Do I Lead? #SAVMP

Why Do I Lead? #SAVMP

“You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” Ghandi

We all need people with us on our journey who believe in us before we believe in ourselves. For me, my husband Eric, and my former principal and friend Susan, have encouraged me, pushed me, and applauded me long before I believed I deserved it.

A few years ago I decided that I wanted to start bike riding. Riverside has miles of paved bike baths along the Santa Ana River, and I always thought it would be cool to ride along the river all the way to the ocean; this ride is sometimes known as “Smog to Surf” (I live in the smog; Huntington Beach provides the surf). I had no workout routine and was in terrible shape, but my husband said that if this was something I wanted to do, he thought I could do it. I wasn’t convinced I could do it. I was afraid it would be too hard; I would fail. He took me riding almost weekly and helped me pick out a helmet. I whined, I whimpered, and I made excuses. However, after six months of training, I did it. I rode from Riverside to surfside; it was 35 miles. Not sure it would have happened if Eric hadn’t believed in me before I believed in myself.
My Bike

Professionally, I have been really lucky to have had principals who saw leadership qualities in me, before I saw them for myself. I remember the exact day my principal, Susan, informed me that I would be taking over the duties as instructional technology site specialist on campus. Years later we sat together planning professional development for general education high school teachers. When we had the list of needs completed I asked her who would be providing those trainings, and of course, she looked directly at me, removed her glasses, and said, “Are you kidding? You are!”. I look back at that moment as the moment I truly started leading. I had been department chair and presented technology inservices, but this was the scariest and riskiest moment of my career. The PD was well received by the teachers and I was able to observe implementation, change, and progress. That was about 6 years ago. Since then I have not stopped being afraid and I continue taking risks.

So maybe that’s why I lead. It’s scary, it’s risky, but I can be the change! I will forever be thankful to Eric, Susan, and so many others who have made it safe for me to be afraid and safe for me to take risks and for believing in me. It’s my goal to believe in others, including my middle schoolers and teachers, and help them face fear and take risks. They are the future leaders.