Whales & Collective Efficacy

Let’s be honest…it was just a matter of when and not if I would write about whales. I love whales. A lot.

My first whale experience was about 12 years ago when the redheads and I went to Sea World with my grandparents. I was in love from the very first moment I locked eyes with Shamu . Since then I have sought opportunities to see whales, watch whale movies, google whales…I think you can identify a pattern.

In 2016, on a trip to Seattle, my sweet husband took me on a tour to see whales in the wild. I fell in love all over again the first time I saw Gray Whale #56 breach the water.

Last year, before a conference started in San Diego-I booked a whale watching tour for myself. I just couldn’t pass up the chance to see the whales as they migrated north. It was a magical afternoon, truly, magical.

This week I was reminded of my magical, solo whale “watching” trip while learning with an elementary staff about the importance of “small wins” and building collective efficacy. We were connecting the concept of change management in corporations to the massive change effort our teachers undertake in their classrooms as they grow our students over the course of a year.

The article (Change management is a dolphin, not a whale — https://www.torbenrick.eu/t/r/ixe) contained this graphic:

And as we were discussing the connections and applications to our work in schools, I remembered that on my solo, magical, whale watching trip…I didn’t see a whale. Not one whale. Yet, even without the whale-it was one of the most beautiful, memorable, exciting days of my life. I saw more dolphins and sea lions and seals and birds than I could count or name!

Big wins are the goal-but I think sometimes we don’t take time to truly appreciate, much less, celebrate the small wins that get us closer to where we are going.

Next week, I will be back in San Diego, and I booked the same whale watching tour for a second time. Why? Because ultimately it was a successful trip, and you will never see a whale if you don’t get back on the boat!

I am learning to keep my eyes open for the “dolphins” in life, on my team, and in the work we do together for students. I am learning to find ways to help others spot their own dolphin-sized accomplishments. I am learning to honor progress, even in small increments. I am committed getting back on the boat-never giving up on the whale-sized goals-for me, for us, and for the students we serve.

Still learning,

-Ash

Lucky

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St. Patrick’s Day is one of my favorite holidays. At my house we skip right over Valentine’s day and have been known to have green colored…well, everything, on March 17th. As the granddaughter of Bob O’Toole, it is a day that reminds me of my sweet Irish PaPaw, and I feel like the whole world puts on green and remembers him with me. For a day it seems everyone feels “lucky”…


Several years ago when I moved into a curriculum writing role I had a conversation that changed my entire perspective. I was talking to a parent who expressed sincere gratitude for their child’s second grade teacher. “We were so lucky to have a teacher who really loved to teach writing, and who passed that love and skill on to our child”.

Lucky. Like finding a four leaf clover or winning the lottery.

The comment took me aback, and I floundered for a reply in the moment, but found a way to accept the compliment on behalf of the true hero. My real response was in the two years of work that followed as we developed a viable and guaranteed writing curriculum and implementation plan for our district.

No student should ever get “lucky” and receive quality instruction. This thinking about “luck” and “lucking out” was a driving force for me in the work that I did as a curriculum coordinator, but I could not have predicted how it would impact my thinking long term.

In my work with adult learners in the professional learning space, I run across the same conversations, with the same theme on a regular basis.

  • “I was so lucky, I had an amazing supervisor during my student teaching.”
  • “My principal is really committed to my professional growth so I get so many amazing opportunities. I feel so lucky that he was moved to this school.”
  • “My mentor teacher was a real blessing to me, they invested so much in my growth as a first year teacher. “
  • “My department does things a little differently, I had a 3 year induction program. I feel so lucky to be on this team.”

I love to hear stories of when professional learning, mentoring, and systemic support work!! I am a product of effective professional learning, dedicated mentors and supportive systems. But what I know in my heart is that for every good luck story, there is inevitably a bad luck story: Someone who was overlooked, who didn’t get a mentor, who struggled on their own for their first three years, who’s leadership didn’t seem to notice they were drowning, who’s department lacked an adequate support structure.

When teachers aren’t lucky…neither are students.

I truly believe that when teachers are engaged in meaningful, collaborative, reflective learning it impacts their practice, extends into their classrooms, and positively impacts student success.

Every teacher, on every campus, in every department, in every district, first year or 34th year, deserves a system of professional learning that provides access to quality, meaningful, relevant professional learning. A system that honors their expertise. A system that engages them in work that matters. A system that prepares them for the challenges ahead. A system that provides coherence. A system that ensures that no one has to hope that they are lucky.

Developing systems to provide access for teachers is the mission that wakes me up in the morning. My hope is that we keep finding creative and innovative ways to support each teacher  in their growth as they support our students. It is my goal that every day in our system feels like St. Patrick’s Day…where everyone is lucky…and we are all…

Still Learning,

-Ash

Seventeen

My first baby is seventeen today. There are moments when it feels like just yesterday I was bringing him home from the hospital, swaddled and new, but most days that feels like a lifetime ago.

As a high school teacher, teenagers have always been my favorite, and I honestly don’t wish for the days or years when my boys were smaller. I almost feel as if I have been waiting their whole lives for them to be this age. I love the snarky self-actualization, the tentative independence, the sometimes reluctant responsibility, and the magnitude of emotions that come with navigating this phase of life.

My students taught me new things about living every single year. My boys teach me every single day. And today, because it is his birthday, I will share a few things I am learning from Hunter “Bean” Helms.

Don’t apologize for who you are.

Hunter Helms is 100% his own person. He likes what he likes. He won’t be persuaded to be anything less than authentic. In a world where so much is fluid, he has an integrity of self that inspires me.

Show up.

Wherever Hunter is, he is all there, till the end. In his friendships. When he volunteers. In his schoolwork. When he plays video games. It is the kind of showing up that is rare and genuine and powerful. I hope everyone has a Hunter in their life that will show up for them, and I am committed to being more like him, for him, everyday.

Figure it out.

Curious doesn’t really cover it. He is always working to figure out the problem and find a solution. He wants to do it his own way, with his own work. He doesn’t cut corners, and he doesn’t do things half way. He couples independence with tenacity, and grit with a growth-mindset.

He also has some smooth dance moves, an extensive collection of tiny random things, is a thoughtful gift giver, always checks the mail, loves a good meme, and knows every word to every song on any radio station. He is seventeen, and he is one of the best teachers I have ever had…

Still learning…from my son,

-Ash

 

Let’s Wrestle: Thinking about Teams

It won’t surprise anyone that knows me well to learn that in high school I lettered in Academics. Yes, that is a thing, with the jacket and the patches and everything. I tried to play basketball my freshman year, but as it turns out, there are not many schools with a girls freshman “C Team” so there was more practicing than playing for a 5’2″ fifteen year old with a size 10 shoe. I hung up my athletic shorts and sneakers for show choir, band, and musical theatre.

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My extra-curricular activities definitely shaped the way I have always viewed the make-up and function of a successful team.

In band and choir, you belong to a section, you have a part to play or sing that makes up the whole. The music isn’t the same without each part, in harmony, on key, all together. There is choreography and coaching, direction and duty, but at the end of the day the success of the group depends on each individual person or section doing their individual job. You need to listen to each other, watch the director, and show up ready. The skill of each player is important, but the craft of the conductor can not be underestimated.

My first year or two of teaching felt like a well orchestrated chorale of English instructors. We had a phenomenal conductor (department head) who gave us our parts, taught us the fundamentals of our craft and directed the music of a successful school year. In a small school, I was usually the only teacher singing my part, although I occasionally had a duet with another content area or grade level. For the most part, I got to choose how I “sang my song” as long as I contributed to the beautiful music, stayed on key, and managed my volume.

Being part of a cast is a completely different kind of team experience. It requires collaboration, as your fellow actors help you develop your character, give you feedback on your delivery of the lines and execution of the scene. This shared ownership of the end product creates a deep bond in a short amount of time. There can be some odd dynamics with leads and understudies, principal actors and those in the company, and at times there is a definite hierarchy happening backstage. Together you have an end goal, a performance, and when the curtain falls, the success of the ensemble depends on the individual success of each actor on the stage.

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There have been many times in my career that I have been blessed to be cast in phenomenal roles. As part of the cast, I gave and received feedback, rehearsed with other members, knew when my scene was coming up, interpreted the lines I was assigned, and did my job. There were times I was the understudy, times I have been a part of the company, and times I was more of a stage manager than in the spotlight. What is always true is that I am more successful as an individual player because of the input of those around me.  However, the success I experienced still began and ended with me-what I brought to the work, how much time and effort I committed, how willing I am to incorporate feedback.

Recently my youngest son, the 5’11” giant who I refuse to EVER stop calling my baby, joined the wrestling team in November. (I am seriously proud of this kid!)

This is a team experience like I have never seen before (remember I am limited in personal athletic experiences, so be patient). There is no bench on a wrestling team. There is one guy in each weight class and they all wrestle at every match. When you are out there on your own, you are literally fighting your own fight, for everyone on your team.

Let’s pause here. When this piece of the wrestling rules was explained to me-I was floored. It is a similar construct to singing your part in the choir but with crazy intensity and pressure. There are no other sopranos to carry you, no second chances, no one to hide behind, and no director to signal volume changes. You may walk into the match by yourself, but not you are not alone. If this isn’t a parallel to teaching, I am not sure I have ever seen one!

It gets better. You may walk into your match on your own, but your team is in your corner. Literally. That is where this term comes from. Your coach and your team are seated around the mat giving you tips, yelling what they see, shouting out your blind spots. It is a little wild to watch them watch each other, equal parts cheerleader, fan, coach, and student.

And then there is this: Win or lose, every match, I watch my son walk to the edge of the mat, get eye to eye with his team-mates and debrief. “What can I do better? I haven’t seen that hold before. Can you show me how to counter that move? Did you see how I got that point in 2nd round?” They talk it through, celebrate the successes, make a plan, then  together they go to watch and learn from the next match. They regroup at practice. They challenge, they mentor, they push, they require so much from each other. Improvement only comes through a series of intentional supports and resistance.

Another key element of wrestling is the weigh in and the uniform, or singlet.  Can we talk about transparency? Vulnerability? Accountability?

I have decided that I want to be a wrestler.

I commit to walk into every day dedicated and determined because my outcome impacts everyone-and there is only one of me. I will show up for my team-mates in practice, but also be ready to be fully present in their corner. I want them to know that I am fiercely committed to them-as a cheerleader, a fan, a mentor, a coach and a student. I will be committed to open, honest debrief and the cognitive conflict, mental wrestling, push and pull that will make all of us better in the end-even if uncomfortable in the moment. I am going to weigh in on my weaknesses, putting it out there and staying accountable for my growth.

I have been blessed to wrestle with some amazing teams. To those that I am on now, to the ones that are in my future-I promise to show up and wrestle with everything I have…but I won’t wear a Singlet, because…#safeschools.

Shoutout to my favorite and forever teammate.

Still Learning

-Ash

Pop Culture PD: Anyone?

Have you ever watched a movie or TV show about a teacher or an administrator and thought, “where were they during inservice”?

Alright…I know everyone doesn’t have those thoughts, or a mental list of professional learning opportunities that would benefit many of our most famous teacher icons. Welcome to my brain! And welcome to the first (in what I feel like will be a) series of posts to help our friends in fake classrooms everywhere learn and grow!


Anyone? Anyone? How could I start anywhere else?

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Watch the Clip HERE!

Our poor, infamous, teacher friend has gotten his fair share of ridicule since the debut of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off in 1986. We have ALL had this teacher, know this teacher, or perhaps felt like this teacher at some point in our lives, which is why these scenes are so iconic. Today, we will focus on his actual lesson, and not just the painful way he takes attendance.

It is tempting to fast forward, get more popcorn, or check Facebook while he lectures his less-than-engaged fictional students. But as I take a second look, I  realize that my own teaching has often been characterized by one of the small missteps that could have made this lesson something worth Bueller’s attendance: WAIT TIME!

We all know that Wait/Think time is necessary for ALL students to formulate thoughts and process information. In fact, this strategy was first published by Mary Budd Rowe in 1972, meaning that Mr. Rooney (if he were paying more attention to instruction) could have offered a workshop for his teachers on the topic!

In an article published by the US Department of Education in 1984, Robert J. Stahl lists the following benefits for students of just THREE SECONDS of wait time added to instructional practice:

  • The length and correctness of their responses increase.
  • The number of their “I don’t know” and no answer responses decreases.
  • The number of volunteered, appropriate answers by larger numbers of students greatly increases.
  • The scores of students on academic achievement tests tend to increase.

Wait-time is one of those strategies that takes time and practice to master.Wait-time requires a dedication to letting students think for themselves and use their own brain to solve problems. It isn’t a magic bullet or strategy that you can do once a year and then move on, but it can seem magical when implemented consistently-as it shifts the responsibility from teacher to student.

Another benefit…wait-time is FREE! You don’t need approval and it doesn’t have be written into your lesson plan. All it takes is you, a few good questions, and an internal timer.

I have gathered up all my favorite wait-time resources and links, these are the ones that I would want to share with Ferris’ teacher, if he were real!

  • Teach Like a Champion Blog: This is a lot of greatness in one spot! Detailed Strategy, classroom video & a debrief in the blog!
  • Teaching Channel: Get Back to Me: This video and the resources that go with it feature a 1 minute video of a dialogue between a teacher and her students. Lots of greatness packed into a tiny amount of time!
  • Your Secret Weapon: Wait Time-This strategy  is shared by TeacherVision and offers several additional tips to get you thinking about how this might look in your classroom.

Thanks for taking this quick trip into the mind of PL Director…I would love to hear which teaching stars you would like to see show up in this series!!

Still Learning…

-Ash

#OneWord2017…and 2018

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My New Year’s post mentioned that in lieu of the traditional resolution I often select a word that provides focus or grounds me to the goals I have for the year. I have loved reading the blogs and tweets and posts tagged with #OneWord2018! The energy and excitement is contagious, and there is such power in sharing your word.

As I was searching for my 2018 word, I struggled to find a one. I was encouraged as I read Amber Teamann’s post that gave me “permission” to choose more than one word. That encouragement was reiterated as Matt Arend has a word to get his year started. But even after reading these and many other #OneWord2018 posts, I was floundering…till I realized, I am not done with my #OneWord2017.

 

My 2017 word was “unflappable”: marked by assurance and self-control.

Another definition reads, “having or showing calmness in a crisis.” It is a funny little word that had very serious implications for me.

When I first saw the word  (posted by a friend as her word) I didn’t know what it meant, but I knew it was the word for me.

For several years we have joked that when I get stressed…I get flappy. I am naturally animated when I talk, but there is no way to miss an anxious, stressed, frustrated flap. Sometimes the “flappiness” is a signal to myself that I need to take a deep breath, and other times it is a cue to those who know me well to tell me to take a deep breath.

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So, in 2017 I set off to be “marked by assurance and self-control”, and to “have or show calmness in a crisis”. I made a graphic and saved it to the home screen on my phone,  I looked up all the scriptures on peace, saved some really cool quotes about being calm,  and tried to use the Breath App on my Apple Watch.

After a year of focusing on this word I can better recognize stressful situations, in the midst and from a distance. I can take a deep breath, find my center, and keep going. Which is a really great first step! After a year of concentrated effort, I very rarely flap…externally.

As I reflected on my progress towards becoming “unflappable” I realized..I focused more on the “marked by” and “have or show” than the REAL deep work of cultivating assurance, self-control, and calmness. And as it turns out, it is easier to look calm, than to be calm.

2017 was a good start on this “unflappable” path, but I still have work to do if this calm and resolve, assurance and peace are going be more than just surface characteristics. It may be one of my words forever, or at least be in the rotation.

Still learning…

-Ash

 

Resolute over Resolutions

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I love New Year’s. I love fresh starts. I love new beginnings. This love of new beginnings is one of the reasons that I LOVE being an educator. The traditional New Year’s season is more of a bonus goal setting time for me, as I generally think about my year from first day of school to the last, rather than January to December. As I was thinking about this extra gift of goal setting and refocus, I began to tally up all of the different markers in my year that I intentionally take inventory and take action.

If I were to have a formal “goal-setting calendar”, it might look a little like this.

  • January: I like to focus on a word, or group of words to focus the year.
  • February: I take the opportunity to be reflective and set new goals on my birthday.
  • March: Budgets are generally due in March, so this is a great time to check in on progress and make plans for the future.
  • May: End of year assessment and regroup.
  • July: Personal professional goals for the next school year, and the gear up for teachers to return.
  • August: My husband and I always reevaluate and talk through our plans and goals and progress as a family at our anniversary. (August is also my 1/2 birthday, so it is a good time to check in on my birthday goals.)
  • November: Thanksgiving is a great opportunity to celebrate and acknowledge accomplishments, blessings and those that have helped you grow throughout the year.

When I was in the classroom I also used grading periods and unit start and stops to reevaluate and set goals for student support and growth. Now I throw in school board updates, and department meetings.

With all of this reflection and goal setting, you might think that I am a fan of resolutions. I am not. I don’t make them.

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Making a New Year’s Resolution seems a lot like the definition here: hard to get through, it means something different to everyone, and can make you want to give up before you start. (Did you even read all of the definition?)

Resolute. This is the one for me. I want to be bold and steady. Marked by firm determination? Yes, please!

Making resolutions is something you do.

Being resolute is something you are.

My “goal setting calendar” is really more about my commitment to the continuous cycle of improvement. For the last few years I have used the PDSA Cycle to think about initiatives, project planning, and change. It also works with party planning, knocking out your Christmas shopping, and reorganizing your closet.  This process originated in the healthcare field and has been applied beautifully to educational endeavors. Check out this resource!

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Being resolute is about the process.

When David and I were engaged, before we planned any of the wedding details, we went to set up premarital counseling with Brother Tom Hill, the campus pastor at SAGU. After congratulating us, he got out his calendar and was ready to schedule our TEN SESSIONS. After about session three David and I noticed how many times he used the word “process”. Marriage is a process. You will have to go through the process of getting to know each other. You will learn through the process. The next session we may have tick marked how many times he said process on the top of our notes…it was a lot.

It seems silly how clearly I remember this, but the truth is-19 years later, Brother Tom is still right. Marriage is a process. Teaching is a process. Parenting is a process. Change is a process. Learning is a process. Continuous improvement is continuous…it is cyclical…it is a process.

As we move through this segment of the cycle, this portion of the process, I want to be bold, steady, marked by determination, and as always…still learning.

Happy New Year, Friends!

-Ash

 

 

2017: A Year of Tulips

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Pink carnations have always been my favorite flowers. It was a predictable sweetness-a pink carnation, tied with a simple pink bow, in his hand as he waited for our family car to pull into his driveway. I am not sure how long my grandfather (a mortician turned florist) stood outside in anticipation on the days we made the 12 hour journey from Texas to Alabama. In the age before cell phones we would have called before we left, but he would have had no updates along the route, and yet was always there, carnation at the ready, waiting for me when we turned the corner and 2302 Taylor Avenue came into view. After every visit I waved goodbye from the back window of the car with another pink carnation, another pink bow, in my hand until he was completely out of sight.

Carnations will always be my favorite, but this year I have found a new appreciation and admiration for the tulip.

As the granddaughter of a florist, I made a decision once my workspace shifted from a classroom to an office that as much as possible, I would have fresh flowers on my desk. It a “choose happy” habit that brightens my day! I try to leave (extra) early on Mondays to pick up a bundle and arrange them before the workday starts. In 2017 I have found myself looking for, loving, and learning from tulips. A few of the reasons why…

1. Tulips grow from a bulb and MUST go through a dormant or “chilled” state in order to grow.

What I am learning is that “chill” is a prerequisite to growth, change and leadership. In this sense I think the chilling period can represent rest and recuperation, allowing yourself to take a deep breathe and be completely ready for the season ahead. But I also see another implication for leadership which is to take the time to let plans and ideas and change incubate. Listen and observe before “sprouting”.

I struggle with being chill. I am on the go all the time (I am writing this at 4am). I often say that I am a 100% kind of person, and it is true that I tend to come in a little “hot”. Tulips will not reach their full potential without this period of dormancy…I am beginning to understand that this is true for me as well.

2. Tulips are positively phototropic, bending towards the light.

Other flowers, once arranged in a vase or bouquet, stay the same.  Tulips are always moving, seeking out what they need to fully bloom. YES! I want to be POSITIVELY phototropic, willing to adjust, bend, and move into a position to grow. Tulips do this naturally, I think we have to be more intentional- positioning ourselves under the mentorship of great people, seeking out new resources, trying new strategies…and identifying the light source. In order to reach reach our potential we must be intentionally flexible, turning ourselves towards the things that will help us grow.

 

3. Tulips continue to grow after they have been cut.

Depending on the variation, tulips will grow anywhere from 1-6 inches after they are cut. This phenomenon adds to the illusion that they are dancing as they move towards the sun and spill over the side of their vases. Most flowers bloom once they have been cut, but their growth stops.  But for tulips the stem continues to grow, not just the flower.   The morning I figured this out I cried. I wish that I could say it was a “cute” cry…but I am trying to keep this blog honest.

This year has been an incredible year of learning and growth for me. In the midst of the reflections, the celebrations, the “aha” moments, the stretching and the changing there were times that it “cut” a little, and sometimes I felt “cut to the core”.  I will let you play with the symbolism…as this metaphor extends beautifully in so many meaningful ways. What I will say is that it fills my heart to know that when I am cut, that growth is not over, potential doesn’t disappear, there is more in store for me than what I could have imagined when I was comfortably planted.


I love carnations because I want to be like the man who gave them to me: compassionate, consistent, and kind. I love tulips because I want to be like the flower itself: prepared and slow when necessary, intentionally positioning myself in places to grow, and understanding that sometimes the most significant growth is preceded by pain.

This was a really great year in so many ways, I mean…I even learned a few things from flowers. Looking forward to 2018 because as always, I am still learning…

-Ash

From the other side of the wall…

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A few weeks ago while away at a conference I found myself completely awake in my hotel room listening to the sounds of a very upset little one refusing to be comforted by a very distressed mama. It was such a heart wrenching moment for me, reliving those anxious days when the boys couldn’t tell me how to help them. Her anxiety was palpable as I recalled my own.

As it is frowned upon to knock on the hotel door of a complete stranger at 1am and ask if they need an extra set of hands with their infant…I said a few prayers and posted to Facebook.

Not long after I put my phone away, the crying stopped and the quiet in the room returned…but my brain had just started up, my mind and heart rushing with the impact of the anonymous exchange that had just taken place.


Some of my thoughts from that night, and a few reflections since then…

1. I am so blessed to have awesome colleagues, family members and friends step up and into my corner.

Where would I be without those people in my life that are on the “other side of the wall” cheering me on, hoping for my success, encouraging me to keep going. The power of having positive people around you can not be measured. I believe that having a good mentor can truly impact your life. Someone who has walked where you are walking and without judgement or condescension but with empathy speak hope to your heart-these people are gold! Find them, keep them, be them.

2. Wherever I am, and whatever the situation, I am grateful for the gift of perspective.

This too shall pass. Nothing lasts forever. Sometimes in the middle of night it feels like the proverbial baby will never stop crying. But I have two almost 6ft babies that no longer wake up screaming and demanding a bottle. There are new worries, that is true, but this phase won’t last either. I am going to try to remember to enjoy the process and learn in the moment, knowing that this season will give way to another, and before I know it-I will be on the other side of the wall.

3. Sometimes support is active, and sometimes it require more distant cheering and good vibes.

I need to continue to think through support roles. (Hang with me on this one.) Obviously, I wouldn’t barge into a stranger’s room and offer to soothe a child I haven’t met…but I wanted to help. I really did. There are situations in my role as an educator, as a parent, as a friend where offers of support are needed and welcomed and even asked for. But I think that there are sometimes when I swoop in to help, genuinely wanting to be supportive, and the effort falls flat, isn’t well received, or doesn’t truly meet the need.

In learning and in life, there are some things that we have to do alone. I know that is true for myself-I have to remember that is true for others. I want to support (my boys, my husband, my friends, my team, my colleagues. and those around me) in a way that is wise and meaningful to the other person.

4. Prioritize progress and process over perfection…learn in the moment, commit to growth, always, always breathe.

I need to take my own advice, “be easy on yourself, take a deep breath.” I laid there that night thinking and rethinking (common practice for a recovering perfectionist) while telling the stranger to relax and give herself some space for growth. It is easier said than done, and I am working on it. “Choosing kindness” extends to others AND applies to the words I use to speak to myself.

5. We are all in this together. Learn from and lean on the people around you.

The number of likes and loves and comments on this middle of the night Facebook post reaffirmed to me that we are all on this journey together. We have all been on both sides of the wall, and we are here for each other. It makes my heart happy to know that we don’t face this lesson or this life alone.

In the middle of the night, from a crying baby, through a Facebook post, with and from all of you…I am still learning.

-Ash

 

The Reason Why

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I wrote this post last week on the plane heading home from learning with and from the network of kindred spirits that make up Learning Forward, the national organization for professional learning. These are literally my peeps. My head and my heart are full…and so is my blog queue.

I wrote this post, but didn’t post it. I wanted to keep it for myself and test it out. I hope when you try it on, you will want to keep it for yourself too.


I can not begin to tell you how many times I am asked why I do the work that I do.

  • Do you miss the campus?
  • Do you hate being removed from kids?
  • Don’t you wish you had students of your own?

In the very last keynote by Hanrie Han, the final learning event for me, I was presented with the most poignant and accurate explanation I have ever heard of why I do the work that I do. I listened. I cried big crocodile tears. I felt like the only one in the room her message speaking directly to my heart.

As she wrapped up her speech, she shared with us the very personal story of her son. She began by telling about his name, its significance and history, the hopes she had for him, and how the anticipation of his arrival had impacted her small family. I was immediately  and completely drawn into the story as my own redheads have meaningful name stories and I was enjoying our shared experience until she revealed that her little one had died. No explanation. Just hours after he was born.

While Hanrie spoke music began to play in the background that I could have completely ignored, until she drew our attention to the rhythm, the unmistakeable rhythm of a tiny heartbeat. The song, playing as the soundtrack to her talk, was composed by her cousin, around the music of her son’s in-utero heartbeat. As a mother, my heart broke with hers as she so vulnerably shared her experience. And then, as she was talking about hearing her son’s heartbeat she let a sentence hang in the air:

“That is when I learned that I could love someone that I have never met.”

She ended her speech by connecting her story to the remainder of her keynote, to the heartbeat of our work that sings, and to those we serve that we will never have the chance to know.


  • Do you miss the campus?
  • Do you hate being removed from kids?
  • Don’t you wish you had students of your own?

The truthful answer to all of those questions is “yes”! I do miss it, but I know I am in the right spot.  I have never had a way to fully explain this answer in a way that completely revealed my heart until I heard her speak.

I love each and every one of the students that I serve…I LOVE them (all 55,000 of them). “All of our kids are all of our kids”, is not just a saying. I don’t have to know their names or see their faces to know that I love them. They make me want to get up in the morning, their success wakes me up in the middle of the night, what they need keeps me going.

I always knew that this was true when I was in the classroom and on a campus. I couldn’t wait to see my class list to find out all the kids that would become my own the minute they walked through the door. I loved them before I knew them…and for now, I will love my students even though I may never know them.

And because I love our kids, I love the adults who serve them (all 7,000 of them). They challenge me to learn.  They motivate me to work harder and do more. Their growth and success gets me out the door in the morning.

So for those who I love, but I do not know…I am still learning…

-Ash