Inspired by Elf Jr.

Watching our students perform Elf Jr. last week was exciting and inspirational.  Some of the students who were performing are outgoing and confident, it isn’t much of a surprise that they are excelling in the theatre.  However, seeing other students who are usually quiet, lacking self-confidence, or struggling academically get on stage and reveal a completely different side of themselves is a great reminder that there’s more to our students than what we see in the classroom!  

I often joke that I grew up in a gym.  If I wasn’t playing sports, I was watching, reffing, or coaching.  My life revolved around sports for many of my most formative years.  While I learned a lot of important life lessons from my experiences in sports and have no regrets about how I grew up, I would change one thing if I could go back in time.  I would get involved in the Arts, heavily involved. I think I would have a hard time convincing my young self to listen to that advice but knowing everything I know now, I’d work very hard to find a way to talk myself into it!

Providing our students with opportunities to think critically, solve problems creatively, and find success in areas beyond the classroom, are just some of the many benefits of Arts education, no matter where or when we provide it.  Unfortunately, Arts education is often infrequent or relegated to after school times due to the school-day focus on “core” academic classes. That’s not to say that the Arts and core classes are in competition with each other, in fact it should really be the opposite and they should be working together as much as possible.  In addition to the aforementioned benefits, there’s lots of research that shows that students involved in the Arts have more success in their core academic areas than students who aren’t. The importance of the Arts can’t be overlooked!

If you didn’t get a chance to see Elf Jr. this past weekend I think you’ll get a chance this week when our students see it.  While you’re watching, let yourself be inspired by our young thespians and keep in mind how important the Arts can be for our students.  Then, at your next collaborative time, take a few minutes to talk with your team about how you/we can incorporate more Arts into our programs – it will benefit our students in all areas.

Enjoy the show!!

Facing Change: What’s Your Approach

On Friday our 8th grade students took a big step in their journey toward high school.  They joined Lincoln Middle School 8th graders for presentations from the various Choice Schools they will have the option of applying to, for enrollment next school year.  This is usually the time in their journey when a number of students begin facing a certain amount of anxiety. It’s not high school that is necessarily the scary part (although I’m sure it is intimidating for many) but the inevitable change that is staring them in the face.  Change itself is hard and many of our students have been at KTEC for a long time, many of them their entire school career, this transition won’t be easy!

I can’t say I’ve ever met someone who finds change easy.  It rarely feels good leaving the known for the unknown. Change can be big or small, quick or slow, expected or out of the blue.  No matter how it happens, change is difficult. I was reminded of this recently when I read the book Who Moved My Cheese?: An amazing way to deal with change in your work and in your life.  This wonderfully simple book is full of great lessons on change that helped me clarify my thinking on change and how to approach it in a rational way.

This book takes a concept (change) that is a challenge for many people and, through a short story, offers a user-friendly guide to successfully navigating the maze of change.  Like any good book, this one was adapted into a movie (the book is better, as usual!) that can be seen here if you’ve got 11 minutes.  While the short movie gives you the general message of the story I think reading the book was a better experience because it gave me the time to pause and reflect as I went along.  The story includes seven important lessons. I’d like to share those lessons with you today but need to offer a little context first.

In the story, the main characters live in a maze.  They eat Cheese, which symbolizes anything we think we need in order to be happy.  For the mice in the story, Cheese was cheese. However, for us humans, Cheese could be anything from a rewarding job to a happy family or being a homeowner, anything that we think we might need to be happy.  As the story plays out and the characters learn important lessons, one character writes the lessons on the wall of the maze – the literal ‘handwriting on the wall’. Here are the seven big lessons from the story:

  1. Change happens (The Cheese will keep moving)
  2. Anticipate change (Get ready for the Cheese to move)
  3. Monitor change (Smell the Cheese often so you know when it is getting old)
  4. Adapt to change quickly (The quicker you let go of old Cheese, the sooner you can enjoy new Cheese)
  5. Change (Move with the Cheese)
  6. Enjoy change (Savor the adventure and enjoy the taste of new Cheese)
  7. Be ready to change quickly and enjoy it again and again (The Cheese will continue to move)

(Johnson, S., 2002, p. 74)

As our 8th graders begin to think about change in their life, it’s a great time for us to reflect on how we deal with change in our lives.  I’d like to encourage you to contemplate how you manage change in your life, both your personal life and your professional life. Feel free to start by watching the movie from above.  Better yet, if you’d like to borrow this book I have a copy in my office that I’d be more than happy to share (it’s super short, less than 100 pages and like size 18 font!)

Change is difficult for everyone.  Acknowledging that is the first step.  From there we must recognize how we currently face the challenges that change brings, then we are able to adapt and grow from there.  I talked last week about reflecting and thinking about growth, thinking about change is a great tool for doing just that!!  

Here’s the book if you’re interested:

Johnson, S. (2002). Who moved my cheese?: An amazing way to deal with change in your work and in your life. New York: Putnam.

 

Tis the Season…For Reflection

I’ve been at KTEC for one month now,  in some ways it feels like only yesterday when I started but in other ways it feels like I’ve been here for years!  The past four weeks have been a wonderful experience and I’ve learned a lot in a very short time, with much more to go.  I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting throughout this process and will continue to do so moving forward. I appreciate all of the feedback I’ve received from you as a staff, whether written or through conversations we’ve had in person.  Please keep the feedback coming, it helps me grow and I love it!

Usually I write about reflection in the beginning of January, after New Year’s, when everyone seems to be reflecting back on the past year and setting goals for the next 365 days (366 in 2020!)  However, I’ve realized that waiting until January is too late. If we are going to truly stop and reflect in an authentic way, it will take time. Reflection isn’t as easy as looking at yourself in the mirror one time and then walking away, reflection is a process.

I would like to challenge you to take the next few weeks to stop, multiple times, and reflect back on the beginning of this school year.  To really do this effectively I would recommend setting aside about 15 minutes, twice a week for the next three weeks. Use that time to make notes for yourself about the good and the bad, think about what could have led to those specific moments/days, and then plan for future successes.  Here is how I would recommend going through that process.

Session One:  Create a list of your biggest successes this school year.  Include notes about very positive school days, lessons, and student/parent/colleague interactions.

Session Two:  Create a list of moments that stick out to you as less than ideal. Consider risks that you took but didn’t turn out as you’d hoped, lessons that flopped, and student/parent/colleague interactions that could’ve gone better.

Session Three:  Focus on the “why” of list one.  Why did those positive moments happen?  Why was your role essential in creating that positive experience?  Why was this moment so positive?

Session Four:  Focus on the “why” of list two.  Why didn’t that moment/day go as you’d planned?  Why will it be different the next time? Why is it important to try this again?

Session Five:  Using list one and the associated “whys”, think about how you can create additional positive experiences like those you’ve listed.  Create a list of successes for the future, be specific and make notes about how and when you’ll ensure these occur.

Session Six:  Using list two and the associated “whys”, develop a plan to try these again and improve on them and/or develop a plan to avoid these pitfalls in the future.  Be specific, focus on what you can do to create success.

The process of reflection is essential in all that we do.  By taking 30 minutes over the course of each of the next three weeks to think back on the start of the school year and plan for success in the future, you will give yourself a road map for returning in January.  One of the biggest reasons that people regularly fail at meeting their New Year’s Resolutions is because they don’t properly reflect and give time to developing a plan for success. Give yourself that time, develop your goals through an honest reflective process, and make all 366 days of 2020 amazing!!

 

Power of Positivity

Last week Tuesday I offered our staff a challenge, to send students to me with positive office referrals, and I couldn’t have been more grateful for the way that they stepped up!!  I was swamped with positive office referrals all week. If anyone saw me at all it was probably when I was dropping a student off in their classroom after calling home with them, it was a busy week but it was awesome!!!  In just four days our staff wrote positive office referrals for more than 10% of the school! WOW!

Take a second and think about the impact that this had on our community over the last four days.  10% of our students had a positive call home, their families got to celebrate them, teachers got to celebrate them, and their classmates got to celebrate them.  The power of positivity is a real thing, you could feel the positive energy flowing through the hallways by the end of the week.

With just a day and a half left with students before a much needed break I know energy levels are low and patience is wearing thin.  However, I’m going to ask our staff to stay focused on the positive and keep those positive office referrals coming!  

Short week, short post, but if you’re interested in learning about the impact of thinking positively then give this TED Talk a try, great stuff!

 

You’re a Champion!

Yesterday we said goodbye to my wife’s parents after a wonderful weekend showing them around Milwaukee, eating great food, and catching up.  As soon as they were out the door my wife started digging through the two suitcases of memories that they brought her from storage. There were old dolls, her baby blanket, and lots of old notes, projects and assignments from her school years.  While watching and listening to her sort through all of those artifacts it struck me at how many memories she had of specific projects, teachers, and classes going all the way back to elementary school. She made positive comments about numerous teachers, laughed as she remembered the fun times with classmates, and continuously reflected on how much she enjoyed school.  It was a great reminder of the impact we are having on our students every single day!

In education we don’t always get to see the payoff.  Sometimes it takes years for the lessons to take hold and for students to really see their learning.  20 some years from now there will probably be a former student of yours laughing and smiling as they look back on their time in your class.  Not only is the work you do helping our students learn important skills and academic lessons for their future but you’re also creating a love of learning and fostering a sense of curiosity that will drive them for the rest of their life! 

Every day you are giving your students a gift that they may not be able to appreciate just yet, but you give it nonetheless.  You are all champions for your students, each and every day you work hard to ensure that your students have every opportunity to be successful.  You make a difference in your students’ lives. It is inspiring to see all that you do for them!!  

If you have just eight minutes to be inspired today please watch this Ted Talk by Rita Pierson.  You may have seen it, over 10 million people have, but it’s worth watching again (I think I’ve seen it at least 10 times myself).  She is inspirational beyond words and may just give you the boost you need on a Monday morning 🙂

Taking Care of Number One

With two weeks in the books at KTEC and as grateful and excited as I was after one week I think I’m probably 10 times more so after week two!  It is such an energizing experience to join a community that cares so deeply for their students as well as building a positive culture inside of the school.

All of that being said, I know that we are in the middle of the time of year when everything as an educator is harder.  You’ve been working tirelessly for two and a half months, the Halloween sugar high is wearing off, the holidays are fast approaching, the weather is getting colder, immune systems are being tested, and patience is in high demand…and what’s with all this snow?!?!

For many educators this is the most challenging part of the school year for all of the reasons above and many more.  It is the time of year that we let down our guard and our willpower flags.  This week I want to remind you that the best and most important way to get through this time of year is you – taking care of you!

Yesterday I was texting with a good friend and former colleague who is a principal in Paris and he was telling me how ready his staff is for the upcoming winter break. Remember, you are not alone, teachers around the world are hitting the proverbial wall right about now, it is completely normal!

We all take care of ourselves in different ways.  Personally, going to the gym and cooking are the two things that best help me relieve stress as well as help me stay physically healthy.  To unwind I like to read, spend time with family, and watch sports (Go Pack!).  I know many of you probably have different ways to relax, destress, and keep yourself healthy.  This week I’m hoping to remind you to focus on those things, they’re SO important at this time of year!

If you have 12 minutes  to invest in yourself today (or any day) I’d highly recommend watching this Ted talk and then taking the remaining two minutes to set a small goal for yourself related to the conversation…you’ll be thankful you did!

Embracing Summer

It seems like a long time ago that I started writing this blog, five years and 146 posts ago.  Thinking about that makes me start thinking back to all that has happened over those five years.  Two different schools, traveling to all sorts of countries, lots of professional and personal experiences that have changed me (mostly for the better), and throughout all of that a constant reflective process that I’ve learned and practiced through the writing of this blog.  I’ve written before about why this blog is important to me and why I think others should try, if I haven’t convinced you yet…maybe now is the time!  Perhaps over the summer you’ll sit down and give it a shot.

Hopefully everyone managed to stay alive (literally and figuratively) and we’re now about to embark on a wonderful summer!  For each of us that will look a little differently.  Normally my summers are a time for me to reflect, read, write, and attend a PD or two but this summer will be different.  For Amy and I it will be a short and busy time.  After leaving Ecuador we’ve got just three weeks until our wedding (YAY!) and then only four more days until we head off toward Indonesia!  There’ll be lots of planning, visiting with family, and racing around getting everything ready for a wedding and relocation.  Then it’ll be the new school year before we know it!  

Even though my summer will be crazy (and I’m sure many of yours will be too), I want to offer a few summer time options for those who haven’t already ironed out every single minute of their holiday.  I’m not advocating for any one idea over another but I think any successful summer will include at least one of these five things.

My recommendations for the summer:

1. Hit the beach, mountains, trails, parks, ocean, lake, or whatever you can find outdoors!

Get outside and enjoy the fresh air (I’m hoping you can get away from a polluted city for this one).  Spend a few days camping next to a river with no wifi or mobile phone access, unplug and enjoy Mother Nature at her finest.  Give yourself some time to just enjoy all that nature has to offer without the hustle and bustle of the ‘outside world’.  If camping isn’t your thing then take a walk, go for a bike ride, or just sit and enjoy a park…but do it often.  Take a road trip, see a new place, and get out of the city-life for a while.  All of these things will help rejuvenate your mind, body, and spirit!

2.  Establish a PLN: If you haven’t done this already, now is your time.  Don’t be afraid to start small.  Right around the same time I started this blog, about 5 years ago, I started on Twitter and slowly began to see the value of building an online/digital Professional Learning Network.  Some of you have experienced my PLN first hand, connecting across the globe to celebrate awesome activities, meet new colleagues, or even just find a new idea.  Start out by having a look at a past blog post I wrote about building a PLN (it’s short) and then create a Twitter account.  Once you have one (or if you already do) send me a tweet (@The1sWhoDo) and ask who you should follow…I’m happy to start recommending people immediately.  From there…follow along and get a feel for Twitter, summer is a perfect time to do so!  

3.  Take care of yourself.

Remember that New Year’s Resolution…yeah, I know the feeling…I was too stressed and too cold in the rainy season to really get anything productive going.  It’s too cold and wet to get out of the house and do anything!  I wanted a nice warm meal full of comfort food and some wine on the couch at the end of those days, not an exercise class and salad!!  However, now the sun is shining and we can sleep past 6AM!  So track down your trainers and get moving…10,000 steps (the standard FitBit goal) a day is a lot easier to manage in the summer when there are no papers to grade or meetings to attend.  Cook some homemade meals for your friends and family who still have to work through the summer, enjoy a nice dinner together and help them relieve some stress too.  The summer is your time to take care of yourself and feel great!

4. Read, read, read!

If you’re like me you might feel like summer is the perfect time to squeeze in some of that professional reading you’ve promised yourself you’d do.  That’s fine but don’t skip the reading for pleasure too!!  (I’ve got five books on my Kindle just waiting for me)  Whether you’ve got a book waiting or not, you might also consider reading some of the books that are hot with our kids right now.  This article is a great one and lists five young adult books that adults would also enjoy.  I’ve read a few on this list (Book Thief is awesome!) and agree that knowing what our kids are into is a great way to connect and relate to our school age kids.  If you’re thinking that professional reading might be in the works for the beach then have a look at this article, some great tips there too.  The old saying of “don’t mix work with pleasure” goes out the door here…when it comes to summer reading, mix away!

5. Reconnect at your own risk!

It goes without saying that living overseas requires a long time away from friends and family who are back ‘home’ or elsewhere.  However, if you’re like me it only takes a week or so at ‘home’ before you feel like it’s time for a break!  There are a lot of family and friends who want to spend as much time with you as possible and it’s easy to get overwhelmed with the attention.  In a sense it’s almost like teaching…there’s only one of you but there’s a seemingly endless number of people who want/need your time and energy.  Be sure to take some “Me Time” this summer and don’t let yourself get run down while trying to connect with everyone.  I often joke at the end of summer that “I need to get back to work so I can relax!”  It’s easy to feel that way, especially if you’re bouncing from couch to guest room all summer.  Enjoy the time with family and friends but be sure to enjoy some time alone as well.

 

Enjoy the last week with our kids, it’s going to be a wildly emotional ride for many of them (and us!!)  Hang in there and enjoy the laughs and memories and embrace the inevitable tears.  Everyone has made a lot of strong connections here in the AC community and it will be tough to part ways, no matter how long you’ve been here.  Say what you need to say to those you’ve grown close with, trade contact info, and be confident that you’ll connect again soon!