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Sunday, August 28, 2016

YOU Are More Than Enough

Am I enough?

Do I possess enough information? Have I learned enough? Will my team see through my insecurities? Will my students? Will my principal support me when I fall? Am I enough….

It’s amazing the thoughts that ran through my head as a teacher, and if I am honest, even today. I would bet any educator reading this could at the very least empathize with those questions...especially this one: Am I enough?

The weight that comes with being in education is heavy. It doesn’t matter the role you play either...administrator, counselor, teacher, assistant, district leader or support makes no difference, the weight is there. Why? Simply put, we are in the business of teaching children. The business of saving lives, providing hope, building a future, and instilling the foundation needed for a lifetime of success.

Unlike many professions, educators go to work each day with an understanding that lives are in the balance. For a moment, start thinking about the abilities a classroom teacher must posses in order to be successful… Here are just a few: Ability to build relationships, understand and transfer knowledge, teach a child how to read, write, add, subtract, think, empathize, line up, tie their shoes, follow directions, take turns, communicate, learn from mistakes, find meaning, and process new information, and by the way...there is so much more!

Before the year started I was having coffee with a friend of mine and he said the comment that I have heard countless times, “Must be so great being a teacher, I mean think about barely work half the year, and the kids leave before three, could there be an easier job?”

I responded the way I always do, I smiled and said something like this, “Imagine yourself in a room with 22 children. Two of those children didn’t get to eat this morning, and their stomachs are churning like crazy, they hurt, and that is all they can think about. One student struggles to focus on anything for longer than ten seconds, and prefers to move around whether you are comfortable with that or not. One student didn’t sleep well last night because she was up listening to her parents fighting in the other room and now her eyelids won’t stay open and her mind won’t stop worrying. Five of your students already know what you are required to teach today, and once you start they will find something to keep themselves entertained, but it will be disruptive for the others. One student is going to get pulled for special education support, but don’t forget because you will need to make sure he hears and understands the lesson. Two of your students got into an argument before the day started, they sit next to each other, and neither are ready to stop arguing. Four of your students are not able to read, but today’s lesson is built around a third grade reading passage. One of your students was in same grade last year, and already received this lesson and struggled. Two of your students won’t stop asking to go to the bathroom, one because he wants to get away from the challenge, and the other because he just can’t help it. The other three students are sitting quietly ready to learn, but all three are going to ask countless questions throughout the lesson...Now imagine your learning objective from the state says: Students analyze, make inferences and draw conclusions about expository text, and provide evidence from text to support their understanding...what would you do to make sure every single child is successful? Oh, and that is one of eight lessons for the day.”

My friend, who is a brilliant engineer, smiled and said, “Alright, I get it, it’s not easy.”

It’s not easy, far from it. Every day educators return to work, ready to give everything they have to the children they love dearly, but the question that often forms in the minds of many I enough?

The answer: Absolutely. To all educators, regardless of the title you hold or school you work in, understand this: YOU are more than enough.

When doubt begins to creep in, or the weight begins to press down on your shoulders. When more challenges than solutions start to appear, or the wisdom you need hasn’t been gained yet...remember these three things:

1. You are only human... Give yourself permission to fail, to not be perfect, and to be scared or confused. Give yourself permission to not have all the answers and remember that in time you will. While accepting that mistakes may happen is often difficult, it is also necessary. I will be the first person to admit this is hard for me, when I fail, I fail hard. When I struggle, I feel it deeply. Yet I am not alone in this, many of us want to be everything for everyone, to make all the right choices, and truly hurt when we fail to do so. Yet in the end we are only human, and if we fail to understand this... burning out can find its way on the table as a solution.

2. Keep your heart in the right place... In education your heart needs to be centered around the idea of hope and success for students. That, in itself, is more than enough. When challenges come, when things get difficult, you need to remember to keep your heart aligned with the calling you serve, and when the choices you make are made with that in mind, great things can happen.

3. You are not alone… In education, regardless of the title you hold, you are not alone. There are many paths to take with a statement like that...Whether it be faith, family, friends, or colleagues, hold on to the fact that you will never struggle on an island. I know for me there were many times when I felt this way...Yet when I opened my eyes and accepted grace and love, I found the support I needed.. The challenge in education is not a unique one, and it is felt among educators all over the world. So look to those who can support you, can empathize with you, and can provide a lifeline to safely. While you may not have all the answers, someone will, and all you need to do is ask. It is funny how difficult asking for help can be sometimes, but I promise there is someone ready to help without a single judgmental thought in place.

Am I enough? Am I enough to make a difference in the lives of my students? Am I enough to ensure my students have a foundation for a successful tomorrow? The answer is this: YOU are more than enough. So embrace the challenge, accept the impact you can have, and get back out there and make a difference each and every day...together.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

The Power of a Team

Human connection.




We need these things. We need to feel valued, protected and loved. We need to be given grace and support even when we don’t deserve it.

Yet where do we find this? For many people that answer is at home, with a significant other. Maybe with family, friends, church or social groups.

But what about at work? Especially for teachers…

Most of us spend the majority of our waking hours away from home, away from the people who are supposed to give us the connections and support we need. For educators, work not only takes most of their waking hours away from home, but many more hours even after they leave their school. It’s hard to turn of your brain in our profession, and on top of all can be a very lonely place.

While that might sound odd considering teachers are surrounded by students all day, there is something extremely isolating about being the only adult in the room. The single person making countless decisions for the betterment of the students. As a teacher, your job is to create a safe and engaging classroom culture built to support the students...not the other way around.

So where can you find support? Where can you find safety? Where can you find a shoulder in hard times and partners to celebrate with in good ones? Where can you find someone who understands the feeling of being heartbroken over a student’s homelife? Where can you find someone that can empathise with the challenges of grading papers, planning for weeks in advance, and being asked to do one...more...thing...from your principal? Someone who will listen for the sake of offering an understanding ear, and not to give you fifteen pointless solutions you have already tried? Someone who just gets it...

The answer: Your team.

Most educators work within a team...grade level, department, office, administration, counseling, specials, instructional support, special education, english as a second language, and many others...yet how often does that team become one of connection, relationships, support and understanding?

Whether you are starting a new year tomorrow, or are six months in, I want to encourage and challenge you to embrace the idea of focusing on the amazing power of a team.

The power of a teammate working side by side with you as you struggle to find the best path for your student’s success. The power of a teammate making sure you know she is there, right next door, if you ever need anything. The power of someone who can sit down and fully comprehend what you are feeling, both good and bad, and can offer encouragement that strikes the heart of the problem without judgment or persecution. The power of shared vision, a shared purpose, and a shared love of learning. The power of hope and grace when mistakes are made. The power of laughter and joy, a helping hand when you are sick, and someone to jump up and down with you when that student finally wrote his name correctly. The power of someone to accept you as you are, mistakes and all, because you are both on the same journey.

While the power of a team can be unbelievably empowering, getting there is often challenging. After all, educators are only human. Drama, rumors, negativity, frustration, and life in general can often create barriers and hurdles within a team. Often things that would seem to be little concerns on the outside can quickly become like ankle weights holding you down: How many times can she forget to make copies for everyone? Why does he always wait for the last minute to get his kids ready for the end of the day? Why does she always change the team’s plans at the last minute? She won’t share her ideas. He won’t join us for lunch. She comes in at the first bell and leaves at the last, never even trying to work with us. If he says these kids can’t one more time I am going to scream.

Whatever the hurdle might be, whatever the challenge is, a powerful team will conquer it. For teams with a teammate that seems to be more of an ankle weight than a support system remember these two things:

1. Silence is often seen as agreement. In other words, when a teammate is complaining about something or someone, and you silently listen afraid to confront the issue yet disagreeing on the inside, remember that often your silence will come across as agreement to the negative teammate. This often creates a sense of empowerment for this person, and he or she will often use your name as an agreeing partner when confronted. If fact, it often sounds like this: “Jessica and I were talking and we both agree that our team leader is under qualified and horrible at her job.” While the reality is that Jessica was merely listening, and could not disagree more with that statement.

2. Negativity without encouragement cannot survive. It may not go away immediately, but when negativity is met with a positive counter, grace, and a willingness to confront the problem, it lacks the capacity to grow. This often leads to either a change of heart, a change of profession, or a change of schools...but either way, it can’t survive.

In the end, creating a powerful team takes a unified understanding that we are in this together. Once a team embraces the belief that we are stronger together, and we will overcome any challenge together, anything is possible.

Human connection.




We need these things. We need to feel valued, protected and loved. We need to be given grace and support even when we don’t deserve it, and it is a team that can provide this for you. Your team can protect you and comfort you, it can build you up and give you strength.

In education, the power of a team can be the difference between a successful teacher, and one that leaves the profession after a few years. The power of a team can ensure the success of our students, and can help build a school culture of love and support. So once again, I want to encourage and challenge you to embrace the idea of focusing on the amazing power of a team. If you do, I can promise both you and your students will be glad you did.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Before the Year Begins - To Teachers, Parents and Students


Before this year begins I want to share something with you…

You are about to start a new year, see new faces, welcome new challenges, and start once again on a one-year journey of student success. You are about to meet a child who will challenge you, push you, and may even go against the grain. You are about to meet a child who needs you more than you will ever know. You are about to meet a child who has failed more times than succeeded. You are about to meet a child who doesn’t get breakfast at home, and dinner is often a hit or miss experience. You are about to meet a child who already knows over half of what you are supposed to teach, but desperately needs you to push him forward. You are about to meet a child who doesn't understand how to make friends, communicate effectively, or work within a group...but is so amazingly smart. You are about to meet a parent who is sure her child can do no wrong, a parent who doesn’t want to hear from you at all, and a parent who will do anything for you.

Every child you meet in a few weeks will be different. Every child will have different needs, different goals, and different past experiences both good and bad. But here is the thing I need you to remember...every child you meet needs you, whether they realize it or not. Teaching is such a challenging's not a job, it’s a calling, and one that is not answered easily.

Before this year begins I want to share something with you…

You matter, you make a difference, you have a purpose, and you can change the course of a child’s life. Think about many professions afford the opportunity to change a life? But remember can be for good or bad.

One year makes a difference...A child who fails over and over again is likely to stop trying. A child who fails to move forward for one year is likely never to fully catch up. A child who feels unloved, unwanted, or unnoticed for one year is likely going to struggle finding self-worth in the future. Understand the power you’s not just about teaching the's about making a difference in a child’s life.

One year makes a difference...A child who feels loved every day for one year can build a sense of self-worth that will last a lifetime. A child who feels successful each day for one year can find self-efficacy that can sustain the trials ahead. A child who learns the value of working hard, persevering, and understands learning is about the process - not just the product, will build a foundation for a lifetime of success.

Before this year begins I want to share something with you…

I love and appreciate you. Teachers in all areas, paraprofessionals, custodians, food and nutrition services, coaches, and parent volunteers. I love that you chose to come to school and change lives, make a difference, and give children the chance to feel successful. I love that you work hard, tackle challenges, and refuse to give up when it would be easy to do so. I have no doubt this will be an amazing year, and I am already so very proud of you.



Before this year begins I want to share something with you…

You are about to start a new year, see new faces, welcome new challenges, and start once again on a one-year journey of success for your child. You are about to meet a teacher who is excited to make a difference in your child’s life. A teacher willing to do everything she can to create a safe, challenging, and collaborative environment filled with learning experiences designed to meet your child where he is. You are about to walk into a classroom that will very much be like a second home to your son, a classroom filled with love and appreciation, respect and community, and a culture of acceptance and rigor. You are about to meet a teacher who already loves your child for who he is, the lessons he will learn, the mistakes he will make, and the growth he will show as the year moves on.

You have an opportunity to be a partner in your child’s education. An opportunity to work collaboratively with your school, your teacher, and your community. Make no mistake, we are stronger together. I can promise you there will be struggles at times, your daughter will make mistakes, yet we will learn from them together. While she may be one of twenty or more, your daughter’s teacher will always strive to give her a learning experience customized to her, with the goal of challenging her every step of the way. Remember to offer grace when possible, understanding as the journey of learning grows, and a desire to work hand in hand with us, as we humbly serve you and your family.



Before this year begins I want to share something with you…

You are about to start a new year, see new faces, welcome new challenges, and start once again on a one-year journey of success. You are about to meet a teacher who is so excited to get to know you, what you love to learn about, and who is going to push you to be the best you can be each and every day. You are about to make friends, and meet classmates who will soon become your partners as you all learn together. We want you to know that we are excited to watch you learn, make mistakes, and discover how to take ownership of your learning.

It's not always going to be easy. There will be challenges ahead, obstacles you have to conquer, and opportunities to show integrity and grace instead of frustration and anger. Yet, no matter the challenges ahead, know this...we will always be here for you. We will be here to pick you up, push you forward, and cheer you on as you reach your highest highs. We will partner with your family, promise to love and protect you, and always expect your matter what.

Before this year begins I want to share something with you…

It is your job to come ready to learn, ready to trust, and ready to make mistakes along the way. Your education is a gift for you to own, although you may not realize that just yet. Remember to listen to your teachers, because I promise, not only do they they know more than you might think, but the decisions they make for you...they make out of love, with a far better understanding of how to ensure your success. Above all else, be young men and women of integrity. Treat others with the respect they deserve, and start each day knowing that you matter, that you make a difference, and that if you truly put your mind to it - you can reach your highest dreams. I am so proud of you, and I look forward to all the adventures that await us this year!