Not My Jam…

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I was reminded the other day by the amazing Mary Swinton that less than a year ago I was standing in the hallway of Sigler Elementary telling Matt Arend that twitter was “not my jam”. I was a Pinterest Girl.

I became a Pinterest Girl because it was a search filter vetted by educators-google became my secondary search engine for things that mattered. A curation of sites and resources and ideas put together by people I followed for easy access. So many THINGS. I have a carefully culled list of educators that I follow, an intentional move-that lets me use their boards and brains as a filter for mine. I have spent an innumerable amount of hours sifting through the THINGS that are collected there.  I use it to grab ideas for non-educational things too…it has truly been my go inspiration for present projects and dreams for the future. If Pinterest was a song, it was on full blast and my windows were down.

Fast forward. Twitter is my new favorite song, and it is on ALL of my playlists…BECAUSE twitter is the Pinterest of PEOPLE!

It wasn’t until a year ago that  I really met twitter, or rather was introduced to tweeters. For me, the power of twitter is not in the THINGS (resources strategies, ideas) you can find using a hashtag, it is in the PEOPLE using the hashtag. Twitter is all about connection. I still have lists of people to follow, but instead of only searching what they have pinned, and I can read what they have penned. I can ask questions. I can get answers. I can connect. Of all the THINGS I found of Pinterest, I never found a new colleague, a new thought-partner, a new friend.

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The truth is-when twitter wasn’t my jam-I hadn’t really given it a fair shake. I had app on my phone, true. I had tweeted at a few conferences. I had participated in one chat. There…now I can say that I tried it. Check.

It makes me wonder, what else would I love if I REALLY tried it. If I really gave it more than just a cursory download. Are there strategies that would be beneficial to my practice if I took the time to reflect on my implementation and refine my skill? What of these aren’t effective until they become habitual?  What do I need to rethink, strategically abandon, or revise my usage?

What I have learned from this year with twitter is that I will be more careful before dismissing anything on face value. I will commit to continued curiosity and intentional inquiry. If I have a choice to connect, I will choose connection. EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. People are worth knowing: they have stories to tell, perspective to give, value to add, lessons to teach…and I am still learning.

-Ash

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Get Proximate

Recently I had the privilege of hearing Bryan Stevenson speak about his experiences fighting for justice and equality. Something he said has stuck with me: Get proximate. We can not fix, or understand, or empathize, or show compassion from afar. Get proximate. I have found myself writing it over and over. I am still processing the impact of this call to closeness.

I have been thinking about the ways we use this word, all the forms it takes, the meaning it already has for me.

  • Approximately-close, almost, but not exact.
  • Proximate: something preceding or following, a close cause or effect.
  • Proximal: to get close to.
  • Proximity: closeness

This last one…proximity…I found that it has a lot more meaning for me than I expected.


Proximity Control is one of the first and most powerful strategies I learned as a new teacher. It is a classroom management staple: Student misbehaves-go stand in their general direction. Something looks fishy in the back corner-move to the back corner. Two of your precious people are giving each other the stink-eye…position yourself between them. Proximity control is pro-active and it works. It requires no planning. Just add awareness and a pedometer and you are on your way to a better managed class and your 10,000 steps.

After you have been teaching a minute, you see that this magical, no-fuss strategy also does wonders for assessment of student learning. Want to know if they understand…peek over their shoulder. Wonder if those shoulder partners are on track…listen in. Is what they are writing on target…go look. Thinking he looks confused…go ask. You know so much more about where your kids are, what they are thinking, and how you can support them by moving in, and getting in the “mix with them.

At some point you realize that the teacher desk is not for teaching-and you are wondering why there isn’t mandatory endurance training included in every teacher prep program.

I am not sure when it happened-but I became dependent on proximity-I got to know my students better, knew what they needed from me, and was able to be proactive, creating a positive classroom culture and climate.

When proximity becomes about relationships it stops needing to be about control.

I applied the proximity principle to other areas:

  • I settled myself in the middle of the bus, and my girls and I sang and laughed our way from game to game.
  • I checked in with my principals…every day. #sorrynotsorry
  • I got down on the floor with my boys.
  • I played cards at Burger King with my mother-in-law.
  • I make lots of phone calls, pop-in visits, and send cards.

Stay close. Be near. Share space. Proximity is how we make relationships, how we grow relationships, and how we mend relationships.

I have found that one of the hardest parts of my transition (from classroom to campus, from campus to district, and most recently from small to large district) is the lack of proximity. This is especially challenging in such a large place, as I have always been able to figure out how to get close and stay close to the people that I support and serve. With so many campuses and departments and teachers-how can I possibly get proximate-when there are many times I am not even in the same zip code? This new distance makes every interaction feel that much more important. The stakes are so high when I may not see you again for a month. It is daunting to think I can’t check in and see how you are feeling, hear about your successes, and think through supports with you face to face.
So what I lack in proximity, I am trying to make up for in availability and accessibility. I can’t be near to everyone, but I will come when you call. I will do my best to return email, answer the phone (call my cell), get to meetings early, stay late to answer questions, and find ways to connect. The third thing I am committed to is being authentic-I genuinely want to help and support and serve, my enthusiasm to that end is not an act: I am a speed talking, hugger, who loves people and wants to be a part of your team. My hope is that the distance won’t divide, and even when I can’t see your face, you will be able to hear my heart.

Get available.
Get accessible.
Get authentic.

It doesn’t have the same ring as “get proximate”, but I am still working on it, and I am still learning…

*Bryan Stevenson is the author of Just Mercy. You can check out his work, and his challenge for us to “Get Proximate” here: Equal Justice Initiative 

Reflection Isn’t For Wimps

Our job is not to deny the story, but to defy the ending -- to rise strong, recognize our story, and rumble with the truth until we get to a place where we think, Yes. This is what happe

Wouldn’t it be nice if being a reflective person were easy? A quick look in the mirror of your mind to reveal every thing in order, or easily covered or corrected. Can’t fix it on your own-no worries…we can always use a filter for the pictures! Unfortunately, when taking a really close look at anything in real life-there are no quick fixes or snapchat filters. The full picture isn’t always clear at first, and when it is I don’t always know what to do with what I see, but without fail, when the picture fully develops I always feel a sense of simultaneous relief and amazement that I didn’t or couldn’t see it clearly before.

There are times that I feel like reflection is following me. The kind of “following” that would entice a police report if it were human, or at least initiate the purchase of a new can of mace. It isn’t pleasant. It is nagging, and uncomfortable, and sometimes scary. This kind of thought stalking reflection borders on perseveration, and I have to be intentional to set aside time, investigate, arrest and interrogate the thoughts fully and then close the case. Reflection is powerful-but when it gives way to worry or anxiety, everyone loses. When I can pin down the thought stalker, these reflections are often game changers for me. They require me to re-evaluate, redefine, and revise my practice or my perspective.

Other times reflection is fast and fun: That worked, this didn’t, never again, do this better, don’t forget this activity. This kind of reflective practice is more like adjusting a recipe: needs more salt, maybe try a different kind of cheese, add this to the rotation, next time-less kale, let’s be honest-always less kale. These reflections are adjustments, tweaks & keeps-they don’t shift paradigm, but they are necessary for forward momentum and intentional growth.

But whether reflection approaches as a “thought stalker”, a “quick fix”, or a some kind of mutation of the two-there is always a catalyst. I was going to say that I don’t usually trip into reflection-but that is EXACTLY what happens.

So many times I stumble across an article, a quote, or a new idea in a resource. Often a colleague or friend will say something without realizing how brilliant they are, or how they have completely stopped me in my tracks. The other day I was sitting in a professional learning session and the facilitator lead a protocol in a way that made me totally rethink a grouping strategy.

I love it when reflections are more like skipping. Those times when the day is amazing. A day so good you have to say it slow. A-MAZ-ING. A lesson that you wish you could rewind and record for posterity. A high-five after the breakthrough you have been working on with the kid-that makes you know that more high fives are possible.

And sometimes, I actually trip. Something comes up that I don’t expect, or I didn’t see coming, or I can’t predict. There are times I react or respond in a way I hadn’t planned or doesn’t set well or could have gone better. Reflections that start here are hard. I hope you can hear me say that slowly as well. HAAARRRDDDD. I am not sure how you process set- backs, but I spent the first half of my life trying/failing/pretending to be perfect, so this gets messy for me at times.

However I get there, and however I do it-for me all reflective roads lead to one place: GROWTH.

  • Sometimes that starts by admitting I don’t know the answer and digging in to new learning.
  • A lot of times I have to try it again.
  • Revise, Revise, Revise-get the feedback from people you trust.
  • Sometimes I need to apologize.
  • Step back and look at it from someone else’s point of view.
  • Ask questions.
  • Often I need some coaching.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

What is true every time, is that it is different every time, and I have to be open to the reflective process.  I am committed to being reflective-in my practice, in my parenting, in my relationships, in my life. What I know…is that I don’t have all the answers and I am not going to get it all right-but I am still learning…

-Ash

Our job is not to deny the story, but to defy the ending -- to rise strong, recognize our story, and rumble with the truth until we get to a place where we think, Yes. This is what happened. This is my truth. And I w (2).png

 

 

 

 

I’ve Changed…My Mind

I can still remember the exact place I was standing as David drove out of the parking lot of my family’s coffee shop.

“That boy loves you.” My mom and dad were adamant on this point. Just as determined, I responded. “No, we are JUST friends.”

Wrong.

When deciding between college majors and what grade levels to teach, I weighed all the options and came to the conclusion to teach High School English. I based my decision on two assumptions: As a high school teacher I would never have to teach any one to read, and older students would come to me knowing how to respect personal space.

Nope.

My first year teaching I made my freshman students read every word on every page of The Call of the Wild, Romeo & Juliet, The Odyssey, Fahrenheit 451, Lord of the Flies, the majority of short stories in the text book and a slew of poems. Every word. I just knew that their sophomore teacher would want to build on all that background knowledge. I was sure that you couldn’t be a productive citizen without being able to have a meaningful discussion about the similarities of theme and characterization in dystopian literature.

Wow.

I spent countless hours pouring over essays, short answer questions, narratives and research papers. Literal years of my life that I will never get back. I corrected every grammar mistake. I commented and revised. I mended spliced up sentences. After all, when students see how much effort you have put into this masterpiece they will incorporate all of this feedback into their own writing practice.

What??

I went through a whole phase where I put together all of these crazy guided notes. You know, the ones where __________ only have to _______attention long enough to pick up ______ or two key ________. A sure fire strategy to encourage engagement as I talked for entire class periods.

Geez.

Y’all. I tried to write assessments in SPANISH. I don’t speak Spanish. But this would be a better option than inconveniencing others or asking for help.

No. Just NO.

Progress is impossible with out change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything. (1)

As I look back on my years in education and beyond the scope of my career, into my life, it is hard to deny the power of CHANGING YOUR MIND. Changing your mind involves CHANGE. As we learn and grow our relationships, ideas, strategies, and sometimes paradigms shift and stretch, are torn down and rebuilt.

Change is at the heart of innovation.

It is both the catalyst and the result.

Because of change we find ourselves in need of inventive thinking and new iterations of successful and failed efforts. And because of innovation, we are faced with the inevitability of change.

Change is the constant, always in the mix, with or without our permission, despite our best efforts, caused by our choices, influenced by our surroundings, as a function of time.

If change is the constant, then choice is the variable: How we respond to change, if we initiate change, do we run from change, will we fight the change, can we accept the change, how we can be the change.

When I think about the future of education, and the impact that innovation will have on my practice and our students, I feel confronted by the need to evaluate my relationship with change. I feel compelled to assess my own ability to live and work in a space where growth is honored and I give myself, and those around me, the permission to change our minds.  

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I have more than enough evidence of the positive impact a “change of mind” can have:

  • I have been married to the boy who (still) loves me for 18 years.
  • I learned how to teach a student how to read in my first year in education, and am so glad that I had this skill as so many secondary students have learned to fake it, but are not making it without a firm foundation in basic reading.
  • I coached cheerleading for 10 years, which eliminated all expectations I ever had of anyone recognizing or honoring my “bubble” of personal space, and my relationships with those space-invading girls are some of the most precious “things” in my life.
  • As it turned out, my first year freshman students looped with me and I became their Sophomore English teacher, and then their Junior English teacher. I didn’t really need them to have read every word on every page, I needed them to be able to think on their own.
  • After years of revising and editing practice, the grammar was impeccable. My grammar. I discovered ways to help my students own their writing and revision.
  • Guided notes are _______. This method did not empower or engage my students, but gave me license to remain the “sage on the stage”.  Now I know that we should facilitate learning and guide notetakers.
  • Assessments in Spanish. Just no. Who was I kidding, everyone wanted to help me. All of my colleagues were willing to collaborate and co-own these assessments and this learning for students and teachers. Asking for help is imperative, not optional.

So blessed that the first thought is not the final. So grateful that in every iteration, of myself and my practice, I have grown through the change not diminished because of it. So hopeful as I look ahead to discovering the next version, the 2.0, the change that is on the horizon.

Still learning:  to change my mind, to think, to grow, to move, to innovate…

-Ash

Lessons from the Fishbowl…

A knock on the door. An aide with a note from the office. Mrs. Lopez, my Spanish teacher, looks a little confused as she glances from the note to me, “Ashley, you need to go to the office and call your dad. It is something about a bus.”

I was sixteen, had been driving to school for a couple of weeks, so I was also confused about the bus reference as I walked to the front of the building, doing my best to not look visibly shaken for having to go to the office-for any reason…I wasn’t exactly a regular.

As it turns out, when the stop sign on a bus is visible-you have to stop. Who knew?

How did my dad know? My dad is a pastor. Someone who went to our church saw me in my 1987, 4-Door, Baby Blue, Chrysler Lebaron running a school-bus stop-sign, and called my dad. Everyone is watching.

I remember walking back from the office with a bundle of mixed emotions. At 16 year’s old, I was not new to the fishbowl or glass-house feeling of being a preacher’s kid-it is a familiar feeling…at church. But this was new-someone saw me and recognized me “in the wild”. It was a little unsettling.

But then…the lady who called, said she wanted to make sure I knew the rule (which I didn’t) so that I wouldn’t get a ticket or get hurt in the future. I knew her, and I genuinely felt like her call was motivated by sincere care for me. How thoughtful-she saw, she acted. How rare is it that people go out of their way to help someone else avoid pain in the future.

Why am I thinking about this today? This tweet…

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A little notification on my phone that resulted in the same gut check/puzzled feeling I had when I made the “long” walk to the office over 20 years ago. Did I stop everything and listen to the podcast? Yes. Yes, I did.

I knew, of course, that my reflections were public, that is part of it. I had hoped that people would read them. Just like I knew, of course, that the people in our church were always watching. And yet both times the reality took me by surprise.

It was surreal to hear someone else talk about my reflections as a “resource”.  It was awesome to hear these three awesome educators talk through my thinking-building upon it, making it better, connecting it to others in ways I hadn’t. (Check them out on twitter: 

I started writing this blog because Matthew Arend told me I had to, just kidding…kind of. It was more of a challenge-to write down what I am thinking about in a way that can be seen. I think the actual question was, “Where can I read what you are thinking about?” To which I replied with something snarky like, “In your email inbox.”  And yet, here I am-writing-sharing my thinking, telling my stories, publicly reflecting, and learning more with every post about the combined power of authenticity and vulnerability.

The car story for me connects in a couple of ways (here you get a peek into my brain).

Connection One: There are great people out there who are looking out for you. Ladies who will call your dad so you don’t get a ticket. Who want to share what they know. Who want to help you be the best you can be. Who take the time to put together a podcast of resources for you (Shout out to Digital Learning Radio). Whose motives are pure and who act out of deep care for you. Find those people. Get to know those people. Be those people.

Connection Two: There is always something to learn. That day, my sophomore year, it was about stop signs. Today it was about the power of connection. (I also learned how to use Boomerang as an email add-on, which is amazing.) Some things are big, some are small, no lesson is ever wasted here-learn from it or live by it.

No Lesson is wasted- Learn from it or Live by it.

 

Connection Three: Even before the blog-people were watching. Growing up as a PK (Preacher’s Kid) gave me an early perspective on this point, for which I am very grateful.  I have always been keenly aware of this lack of privacy that some are just now experiencing with social media. I used to think that the way to deal with living in the fishbowl was to never mess up, or never allow anyone to see when you, your life,  or your work needed “revising and editing”. Now I know there is a power in honest, vulnerable, reflection-being fully who you are, knowing where you want to go, working and reworking to get there. Real progress over the illusion of perfection-that is my goal.

Connection Four: I am always watching too. I always used to think that this fishbowl thing was a one-way street, I have come to realize quite the opposite.  I love that there are people in my life who live out the example for me of how to be brave, and innovative, and smart, and funny, and raw, and messy, and kind, and imperfect. I value most, the relationships that are real. The people who let me get close enough to see their journey. I learned a lot from the lady that called my dad that day, about driving and compassion. I think it is important to watch those around us, see how they are making things happen, learn from their mistakes, grow with them as they learn. We are better together. 

Still learning-with you, from you, for you, by you, because of you…

-Ash

 

 

 

 

 

Professional Learning Network: Get One, or Four.

 

PLN. Professional Learning Network. Super Friends. Group Therapy. Besties. Thought Partners. Critical Friends. Work Family, Lifeline… I don’t care what you call the group of peeps, who push you to be the best version of yourself, challenge you to think and rethink, encourage you to breathe, inspire you to dream, nurture you through growth, nurse you through tough times, force you to laugh, and help you become the educator you were born to be…I just hope you have a group of these people you can call yours.

I have been blessed over the course of my career to have found people along the way that have become so much more than a coworker and have moved into the sacred space of trusted colleague and true collaborator.

  • The teacher down the hall that taught me how to lead students into learning.
  • The mentor who showed me the definition of commitment to my craft.
  • The principals who took the time to ensure that I had the opportunities and support to grow.
  • The co-teacher who taught me that collaborating is truly about co-laboring, sharing the load, and living the work together.
  • The honor guard sponsor who didn’t let me get away with anything less than 100%, and still doesn’t.
  • The coordinator of another content area that taught me so much about my own.
  • The team of teachers who accepted my limited knowledge of elementary education and let me learn along side their students.
  • The leader who in one year taught me who I wanted to be as an educator and gave me the tools to get there.
  • The curriculum department who taught me the true meaning of being a team.
  • The facilitator turned director that has taught me more about courage and grit and flexibility than I ever thought possible.


This is just the beginning, and far from an exhaustive list of the incredible educators who have walked hand-in-hand with me, dedicated to student success, and willing to learn together along the way. (Some pictured, some explained, too many to list in one post in either format)

Beyond the individual relationships I have made within my team, campus or district-I have become unspeakably grateful for the wider reaching collaboration and extended Professional Learning Networks that are available in the North Texas area.

My first lifeline group was MetroCrest, the area supervisors for ELAR Curriculum. I showed up unannounced to one of their meetings within 3 weeks of starting in a Central Office Role over 4 years ago. I have seen or connected with THREE people from that group THIS WEEK!! I don’t work with ELAR curriculum any more, but the relationships I formed with this group and the trust that I have in the quality (and honesty) of their feedback keeps me connected to these colleagues.

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How I LITERALLY feel about every single MetroCrest member who mentored and invested in me. 

Now that I live in the Professional Learning world full time, my must-attend, can’t-miss, much-needed group therapy/critical friend group is Learning Forward North Texas. These PL rockstars fill my bucket! Friday was our first 2017-18 meeting-and we had such an unbelievable amount of brain power in that room. I truly believe with the collective knowledge, experience and passion for adult learning we could (and are) changing the world. And the coolest part-it is an open group-with only one expectation: that you come ready and willing to share and grow. (If you want to join the fun-check us out: www.lfntx.com)

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Amy Poehler should definitely hang out with #LFNTX, this group gets things done TOGETHER, supports EACH OTHER, and is made up of DREAMERS.

This year my PLN expanded in a way that I could not have predicted when I was accepted as a member of Learning Forward’s Academy Class of 2019. This two year learning journey launched in July, and I was introduced to a team of strangers who I was born to work with. Their thinking, experience, and feedback has already impacted my work in meaningful and measurable ways.

And to think…this just represents the people that I have MET and meet with FACE TO FACE! We will have to talk about Twitter another day!!

So how do you get a Professional Learning (Lifeline) Network of your very own? YOU SHOW UP. The group for you is out there, and they NEED YOU, just as much as you need them. They need you to share what you are learning. They need you to be honest about what is working and what needs revision. They need your feedback.

I understand the power of showing up, because so many have SHOWN UP for me. Thanks, Super Friends, I am who I am because of you.

Still Learning…with my peeps…

-Ash

 

 

Combatting the Back to School Blues

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First, let me start by saying (in all caps, because I am yelling it and want everyone to know)…

I LOVE MY JOB!!

I believe in the work that we are doing to create meaningful and empowering learning for teachers-because I know that purposeful, reflective learning for all the adults in system translates into exponential student growth. The team of principals, district leaders and teachers that I get to serve with is “awesmazing”, a combo of awesome and amazing that is rare and extremely special. I am totally pumped about the direction we are headed as a district and department, and looking forward to this year with my “expector” set to high!

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But…this last couple of weeks, I have had a terrible case of the Back to School Blues! I have come down with the same affliction every year since being out of the classroom. I think that the first week is going to be a week where I can catch my breath, take some time to reflect and pause while everyone else is gearing up. In many ways that is true-as the director of professional learning one of the  “busy seasons” is summer and back to school, but it never slows as much as I expect it to, or it slows too much to fast…

As I was preparing for New Teacher Orientation this year, I ran into a term that I had heard before, and I re-read the Love Teach Blog on DEVOLSON (Deep Evil Vortex of Late September, October & November) from 2012, and the follow-up post on We Are Teachers, from 2014. Both posts deal with that time of disillusionment so many teachers face as the new of the school year wears off. A similar sentiment is conveyed by this graphic  used to predict the emotional state of teachers in their first year in the classroom.

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The Phases of First Year Teaching graphic is a visual representation of an article written by Ellen Moir originally written for publication in the newsletter for the California New Teacher Project, published by the California Department of Education (CDE), 1990. 

My theory is that the graphic for a central office administrator looks a little different.

I think our “disillusionment” comes a little earlier.  With little (or no) summer break, a year round position in a system of definite beginnings and endings, all the prep of back to school without the payoff of meeting and knowing the students-back to school, though exciting-can feel like a let down. I miss decorating my classroom. I miss meet the teacher night, (and I taught High School, parents never even came to meet the teacher night). I miss painting signs with my girls. I miss planning instruction with my co-teacher after sorting through all of our kids data. I miss welcoming new staff. I miss master schedules. I miss it all…thus, the Back to School Blues.

So this year, I have put my theory into action, and decided to be proactive. Following a similar path to that outlined in the 5 Ways of Coping with DEVOLSON, I have worked to intentionally combat the Back to School Blues-here is what is working for me:

  • Morning Carpool Duty: I love it. Opening car doors and saying good morning to a few hundred little learners starts my day of RIGHT! They are sleepy, excited, tentative, and precious: “Have a Great Days” and “Good Mornings”-High Fives and Hugs-and that is just from the staff! If you are struggling, find a car door to open-I promise, you will leave with a happy heart.
  • Wander about the Building: Popping in and checking in with all my friends that I haven’t seen all summer! How is it that we have all been here working and managed not to run into each other? What have you been working on? How can I support you this fall? What is happening in your life?
  • Set Time Boundaries: With the craziness of back to school, my work hours didn’t always land in favor of family time. I am extra careful to protect my time right now, prioritize my boys, make dinner, swim on a weekday, walk the dogs, and watch TV.
  • Calendar Control: Reflection doesn’t happen accidentally-I am putting time on my calendar to think through the last few weeks, plan for the future, and set new goals.
  • Reading/Listening for FUN: The summer has been busy with all sorts of learning and reading for me to turn around and support the work that others are doing. On day one of 2017-I started listening to a new podcast FOR FUN, and picked up a couple of books for which I will not be writing a book study. I may not even tweet about them-they are for my brain and my sanity.
  • Send a few Sussies: According to Urban Dictionary: A sussie is  “A small, inexpensive gift, chosen specifically because it has relevance to the intended recipient. There is nothing that makes me happier than finding that perfect little something to say “thank you”, or “I am thinking about you”, or “hang in there”.

After the long weekend, I feel like I have reset my graph back to “anticipation”, and I am refreshed and ready to take on the next set of challenges with my team. I am positive that as I  intentionally and proactively choose joy, carve out time for reflection, get some face-time with actual students, and take care of myself and my people-we will continue to see the impact of the passion we have for learning impact the students in our community.  Here is to Week Three of 2017!

Still Learning,

-Ash

Listing…

Last week we welcomed our first year teachers for “day zero”. It felt like the first day of school in every sense as the room buzzed with authentic excitement.

First days are one of the best parts about teaching.

There is nothing like a first day…AND  we get two “New Year’s”. We get to start fresh in August, and then again with the rest of the world in January.

As we set up our NEW teachers to start their NEW career, we led them through an activity that was inspired by Daniel Pink’s “Pinkcast”.

 

We asked them to momentarily set aside their traditional to-do list and in exchange focus on these three lists instead:

1. Your To-Do List: What legacy do you want to leave as an educator?

Beginning with the end in mind, at the start of a new career, a new school year, or a new unit of study…it is important to think about results.

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  • What do you want to accomplish this year?
  • What are you working on in your own professional practice?
  • What outcomes do you want for your campus, your team, your classroom, your students?

2. Your To-Don’t List: What do you want to leave behind or do differently?

New Year’s resolutions often deal with habits we want to break in order to change the course of the year. With new teachers we prompted reflection about a time in their school career that wasn’t positive, or something they had seen but didn’t want to replicate in their practice, as they haven’t had the chance to make their own mistakes yet.

  • What do you commit to NOT doing?
  • What strategies, practices, or mindsets don’t have a place in your classroom or campus this year?
  • What mistakes have you seen others make, that you can avoid?

3. Your To-Done List: What have you accomplished that you need to CELEBRATE?!

It is easy to get so wrapped in reflection that focuses on change that we forget that many times the image you are seeing in the mirror is beautiful!! It is important that we don’t fall into a pattern of deficit thinking, about our students or ourselves!!

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  • What have you achieved in your career?
  • What relationships have been successful?
  • What lesson or unit did you knock out of the park?
  • What have your students accomplished as a result of your influence?

This last list is so important as we start the year and face the inevitable hard and long days of teaching ahead.

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It’s a bad day, not a bad job. They had a hard day, they are not a bad student. We had a rough meeting, but we have a great team…Celebrations help ground us to our calling, give us perspective, and help us focus on the good.

The regular to-do list will fill up page after page before we even walk in the building.

These “other” lists will take some time and intentional reflection. I hope you have a few minutes to explore these lists before our August New Year’s…and I hope your start to the school year was as amazing and energizing as our day with First Year Teachers! (check out our #dayzero on the news)

Still Learning…and thinking…and celebrating…

-ash

 

 

More Than A Stapler

Stay amazing!

I started teaching when I was nine months pregnant with Levi (my youngest). I taught for two weeks and checked into the hospital on the first day my “fancy” new health insurance could be verified. I also had the privilege of starting my career in a brand new building, which is exciting, but also comes with an unexpected lack of residual supplies.

As I think back to this time in my life and my career-a particular story of kindness stands out, as it has impacted my perspective and my practice.

I needed a stapler. One day during inservice, at lunch or in the workroom, I mentioned that I had been told that the supply order was ready to go but couldn’t be placed until September 1st (3 weeks later…my first glimpse of the school finance system). Coach Williams overheard my plight and offered to let me have one of his, as years of service had left him with an abundance (three). Coach Williams wasn’t in my department , so after I thanked him I had to ask for directions to his room. He said he would set it out on the table, in case I came by when he wasn’t “home”.

The next week I had my syllabus ready and was ready to staple! I waddled down to Coach’s room. I saw the stapler on the table, picked it up and talked with him for a minute, thanking him again for letting me borrow the stapler.

The supplies were delivered sometime while I was on maternity leave, and I didn’t think about it again till later the next semester when Coach Williams asked me if I had ever found a stapler to use at the beginning of the year. In that very puzzling conversation, I realized that I had borrowed (or rather stolen) a stapler from Coach Futch.

After school I made my way down to Coach Futch’s room, to set things right. I apologized for the confusion, and the theft. Before I left I sheepishly asked why he hadn’t said anything, why had he let me walk out of the room with the stapler!? He responded with a smile, “I had something that you needed, and I was happy to help!”

I have never forgotten these two men, and what they taught me that year about what it really means to be a teacher. For years, I have used this story as an example of a what a team is and can be. I have shared the story with students as we talked about kindness. I have tried to support my co-workers with this same generosity and willingness to serve.

However, the most important lesson in this story for me is the example of who I have always wanted to be for my students. There are times when, as teachers, we are prepared to meet the needs of our students-like Coach Williams who saw what I needed,  had the resources to meet the need, and prepared (set out the stapler). This is why we look at data, identify strategies and scaffolds that will meet our students where they are, and then we intentionally plan for their success.

There are also so many times where the need is a surprise, students “waddle” into our rooms with needs that we didn’t expect, couldn’t have planned for, and yet we still have exactly what they need. I am still not sure what Coach Futch did for a stapler in the interim-but I know that he didn’t hesitate to give me what I needed in that moment.

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As we start a new school year, it is my goal to do both for those around me:

  • I will do everything I can to prepare, get things ready, and have extra “staplers” for those who need them.
  • I also want to see the need and be willing to give, to learn, and to work in ways that I hadn’t planned-to see teachers and students succeed.

I gave Coach Futch the new stapler, and kept the one he had given me. I have had it in every classroom, cart, and office over the last 15 years. At some point, my students decorated it. At some point, it broke. Now it sits on my shelf as a reminder of the kindness that has helped shaped who I am and the potential each interaction has to impact the people around me. 

Still Learning…

-ash

Mustard, Tuna, Foil, and Best Practices

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My theory is that everyone has a few things that they ALWAYS buy at the grocery store…whether you need them or not. It isn’t on your list-you still buy it. You bought it last week-still feels like you might be out, so you buy more. For me, it is Mustard and Tuna. If I am not extremely careful, I will have 20 cans of tuna in my pantry, and several full bottles of mustard.

For my grandmother, it was foil-I am still using the rolls (and rolls) that she gave me over three years ago.

While I was making dinner the other night, I began to think about this phenomenon-and started to wonder if I hoard strategies like I hoard mustard.

I think I do. I am drawn to the same strategies over and over-in professional learning settings, when I work with students, when I work with teachers. I think we all have our “go-to’s”: the strategies that we know work, have practiced and perfected, used and abused.

As we grow our practice and improve our craft, it is necessary to keep our proverbial pantries stocked with staples-things we know our students will need, proven methods that build skills and help students succeed.

We also need to be careful, that we don’t only focus our own growth in areas that we are already “stocked up”, or with strategies that do not benefit our students.

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Our district goal-setting process pushes us to set stretch goals. Goals should make us better educators and move our practice in ways that will impact our students. It is easier to set our sights on a goal that is within reach, requires more action but little learning, or is already within scope of our current abilities.

To grow we have to get out of our comfort zone.

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We have to set goals that fill our pantries with the things we can use to feed our students,  meet the needs of our campus, and  support our teams. There is no need to stock up on tuna and mustard, especially if there is no one in your house that will eat it.

I’m still learning…new things…

-ash