Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Keeping It Real - Collaborative Post with Lisa Meade

A collaborative post written by Lisa Meade and Christina Luce

We’ve realized,  the longer we’ve been connected, there can appear to be a hierarchy of sorts online. We are quite clear where we rank in that hierarchy (near the bottom to middle) so recognize our perceptions may not match that vantage point of those near the top or wanting to be near the top.

We choose to be connected educators because we believe there is power in that connectedness. Twitter and other social media platforms offer many ideas, resources and inspiration for us to use in our practice and reflection. Many of these ideas are found in incredible blog posts written by our colleagues. And once in awhile, we write a post that we hope helps someone.

However, sometimes there are blog posts, comments and tweets that aren’t so incredible or inspiring. In fact, sometimes, they are downright condescending. Instead of encouraging, challenging or inspiring, these posts demean or ridicule the practices of others.

We acknowledge the desire to be innovative, to challenge the status quo, and to push the thinking of others. This is important to moving our profession forward. However, our work is too big for any edu-writer to spend time declaring a singular way to do something. School not ready for Google Apps? That’s ok. Your school’s not ready to abandon its math program? That doesn’t necessarily make you a bad leader or teacher. When you can admit that you aren’t there yet, It makes you honest. I know no one leader that has every initiative and effort fully implemented to the capacity he/she would like. We’re a work in progress. We are evolving.  We run human organizations with human needs. And, leading with heart and putting kids first doesn’t allow a prescriptive or standard approach.

Some of the best bloggers we know, including Peter DeWitt and the team behind Leadership 360, open the doors wide open and allow many guest posts on a variety of topics. We are grateful for that. The work of running schools and improving schools is a combined effort and one that requires all of us to be honest and upfront about what is really happening (and NOT happening yet) in our school.  There are enough sources outside twitter (and our respective PLNs) that work too hard to tear down the work of schools. We simply won’t feed it into that. Agree or not agree, if you write on a topic, remember your audience. People like us who turn to your blog post for ideas, reflection and inspiration.


Sunday, February 7, 2016

Playing IS Learning

Well, Global School Play Day (GSPD) 2016 has come and gone. Students and faculties participated in record numbers this year; okay it's only the second year of GSPD, but you get the idea. Word spread, and this grassroots movement that began as a conversation between Tim and Scott Bedley (@BedleyBros) seems to be really taking off.

Supporting this movement was really a no-brainer for me. Over the years, I have noticed both as a teacher and as a parent the critical role that play, well plays, in a child's overall development. Play helps us hone our gross and fine motor skills, cognitive, language and social/ emotional skills. Play allows us to test certain hypotheses, indulge our creativity side, explore natural curiosities and make discoveries about ourselves and our environment. In short, play develops the whole child. Which is why it is shocking to me that there are those who guffaw at the idea of dedicating an entire day to play.

Play should be integral to what we do as educators. The idea that we need to justify the use of play in our classrooms and schools boggles my mind.  In spite of the rise of the maker movement, challenge-based and project based learning, I know there are many teachers, schools and districts that struggle with this. At their very essence, the learning initiatives listed previously are rooted in play. It seems to me that play somewhere along the way got a bad rap and that somehow play, particularly in the school setting, in of itself was not seen as "rigorous" enough activity for students. This is unfortunate indeed.

The day after GSPD I asked my students what their takeaways from the day were, and I spoke with my own children (who did not participate this year) about why they feel that play is important to them. See their reactions below.

"It's okay to make mistakes when you play. We just try to do it again. 
We put our heads together and figure it out."

"We learn how to share. We learn how to take turns. We get to try something new."
"You can get more fit. You can learn different games, and how to do different things.
Most of all you can have fun!"

So I'm putting out a challenge. If you did not participate in GSPD this year, try it next year. Here's the link to the GSPD website where you can learn more and sign up:  http://www.globalschoolplayday.com/. If you did participate this year, I encourage to keep the conversation about the importance of play going and continue to find ways to incorporate more unstructured play into your school day.

Playing IS Learning!

Follow: @GSPlayDay

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Kids Say The Darndest Things

Kids say the darndest things sometimes. Especially when you give them the opportunity. When we take the time to get to know our students and take the time to listen, I mean really listen, it can be pretty amazing what they choose to share. When you take the time to build relationships with your students, they trust you with the most vulnerable parts of themselves. They give you a glimpse into who they really are, what the desires of their hearts are, what their fears are. 

As educators, we have been given an amazing opportunity. Sometimes it is overwhelming. Sometimes it seems a little too much. But I believe that we have been called, we have been called to love these children, and love these families in a special way. We show this love through our understanding and our empathy, we show this through the many ways that we make learning engaging and accessible to all, we show this through our enthusiasm and our determination, and we show this in the ways that we engage with one another.

To love in this way is not easy. There are times when you will be ridiculed, your motives and methods questioned, and there will be times when your love will be dismissed. But remember that the children, and the families that are the most difficult to love, the ones that try to push us away the most, the ones that are continually testing us, are in fact the ones that needest us the most. They need us to fight for them. They need us to repeatedly show them how much we care. They need to know that our love for them is unconditional. We must remember that they are our children, our family, our community.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Loving Our Students

I think one of my favorite conversations from today was with a student that I had to see for a discipline issue.

The student sat across from me, and sized me up. There isn't anything quite like being sized up by a skeptical fourth grader. As we talked he regarded me with much disdain, and through the initial discourse it was clear that he was sizing me up, and seeing if he could engage me in a power struggle. When it was clear that I would not go down that path, he tried a different tact. He launched into a decent monologue about how I must not like him. I was honest with the child, I told him I barely knew him given that I had only been an administrative intern in the building a few short weeks. But I also told him something else. I told him that while I certainly did not approve of the behavior that landed him in the office with me that afternoon, it did not impact my ability to love him.

At first he seemed skeptical. Then I shared with him a few things. First, that as a mom there are definitely times when I am frustrated by the choices that my own children make, but those choices do not cause me to love my children any less. He conceded that, that was possible, but that it was because they were my kids; so I continued. I showed him a picture that I had, of a former student and I together. I asked him what he saw in the picture. To which he replied, "You like that kid a lot; I can tell because of the way you both are smiling." I said, "You're right I do like that kid a lot! I love that student. But you might also be surprised to know that last year that student really struggled in school, he had a really hard time, and there were behaviors that I didn't approve of. Does it look like I love him any less?" He couldn't argue, and suddenly the sullen boy sitting across from me dropped his shoulders, and relaxed. Yes, it is possible to detest a particular behavior, to have to impart consequences, but it is also possible to continue to love the child.

I think one of the most important things that we can do for children is to have high expectations for learning and behavior. The other is to treat them with compassion, and to love them. Many are fighting a battle we know nothing about.

An Opportunity

I have been given a pretty amazing opportunity. This year I spend Monday thru Thursday morning, and all day Friday teaching in an Integrated Co-Taught classroom, and on Monday thru Thursday afternoons I am an administrative intern in another elementary building in my District. This came about through the tireless efforts of my Assistant Superintendent Dr. Maureen Patterson, and my amazingly supportive Superintendent, Dr. Mark Potter. Being split between buildings, and carrying out the roles and responsibilities that are required of each position is challenging, but it is also worth it. This unique opportunity is stretching me and growing me as an educator, and as a leader. I have the opportunity to see education through different lenses, and to gain a greater understanding of how our organization functions as a whole. I feel like this whole experience is Fullan's theory of action, The Six Secrets of Change, put into practice. In his book, Fullan talks about these Six Secrets:

  • Love Your Employees
  • Connect Peers With Purpose
  • Capacity Building Prevails
  • Learning is The Work
  • Transparency Rules
  • Systems Learn

I certainly feel that I have been given the opportunity to learn continuously, have purposeful peer interactions, develop new competencies and new motivation, and learn while doing the work. All of this is incredibly satisfying. Far more so than I would have anticipated, and I'm only a few short weeks in. I am grateful for this amazing opportunity, and am looking forward to the year ahead.


I would be remiss if I did not take the time to mention another individual that has made this amazing opportunity possible, and that is my teaching partner Jeannine Oliver.

Jeannine and I have worked together for a number of years, and over that time have really learned how to maximize our instruction and play off our strengths. We balance one another, and over the years have really found a rhythm that works for us and for our students. I owe my teaching partner, Jeannine Oliver, a great deal. I am certainly a better teacher for having had the opportunity to work with her so closely. You would be hard pressed to find a more dedicated, and tireless advocate for students than Jeannine. More than that, over the last three years she has been one of my strongest supporters. Thank you, Jeannine! I couldn't have done this without you!

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Grassroots Teacher Leaders

Nate Perry Elementary has always been like home to me. I began teaching there in 2003, and over the years my colleagues have become like family. They have been with me through everything, professionally and personally. They inspire me and challenge me, to be more, and to do more. In the last few years, many of the staff members that I began my career with have retired. I look around, and suddenly find myself one of the more veteran members of our staff. With that comes the realization that there are, or will soon be, people looking to me the way that I looked towards more seasoned members of our staff not so long ago. I looked up to these individuals not only because of their instructional expertise but also because of the way that they engaged the different members of the learning community. I looked to them to see how they interacted with colleagues and what norms had been established for our learning community. I looked to them for guidance and support, both formally and informally. All of this well before there was much mention of the role of teacher leaders. Teacher leadership seemed natural. It wasn't a specific job, title or role. It was something these individuals just assumed naturally. It grew out of the love they had for their profession, their students, and for one another. In our desire to promote teacher leadership, let's not forget the importance of this grassroots sort of leadership.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Planning, Organizing and Prioritizing.

Now is about the time that I typically begin to think about putting things together for the next school year. Planning, organizing and prioritizing have all become part of my August routine for close to the last 15 years. This year, however, is a little different. In the past, July has been a time for me to sit back, reflect and recharge. This July instead was filled with conference attendance, training, and workshops (attended and delivered), coursework, and other professional responsibilities. I'm not complaining. It was hectic to be sure, but I learned a great deal. It hasn't been until now though, the second week or so into August that I have been able to actually sit, collect my thoughts, and reflect on what has transpired over the year, and look forward to what is to come.

So as I reflect on the past school year, here are some of the things that I am taking away...
  • You are not alone. Reach out. Be vulnerable. Ask for help. 
  • Try something that scares you a little bit. Be brave.
  • Look for the positives in each day, and thank the Lord for those blessings.
  • When facing the trials that are sure to come, bring them to the foot of the Cross.
  • Love. Love one another. Be in relationship with others. Be present.
Some of you may be surprised by that list. It doesn't include new instructional strategies, the latest app, or the silver bullet for raising student achievement. What it does include, are ways that we can make a difference as a teacher, as a colleague, and as a friend, and yes I believe that all of those things can have a positive impact on the work that we do as educators each day. Here's how...
  1. You are not alone. Teach your students that we all need one another. We are a learning community, and that we are better together. We learn from one another and inspire one another. When we ask for help, when we reach out, we give others an opportunity to lead, and to share their gifts.
  2. Try something that scares you a little bit. Taking a risk and trying something new is essential to our growth as individuals and as a learning community. Foster an environment in which it is safe to take risks, and encourage your learners to try new things.
  3. Take the time to reflect on, and appreciate the positives of each day. Encourage a thankful heart. Have your learners spend part of each day calling to mind all of the good things that happened throughout the day, and how they have grown.
  4. There will be difficult days. How we choose to handle ourselves in these difficult moments speaks volumes. Our students learn just as much from how we conduct ourselves and handle these moments, as they do from our formal lessons. 
  5. Love. It isn't always easy, but it is necessary. We need to love one another. Take the time to build relationships with your students, families, and colleagues. Practice understanding and compassion. I love the quote, "how bold one gets when one is sure of being loved." When we are certain we are loved, we are a little more willing to put ourselves out there. We are more willing to take risks, and to face difficulty. Imagine a learning community rooted in love, and how powerful that could be.
So, as I head into this August, a time of planning and preparation, organizing and prioritizing, I'm thinking about how we can continue to inspire, challenge, encourage and empower one another.  I'm thinking about how I might be more intentional in weaving these elements into each day, and I am looking forward to another year of amazing learning opportunities.