Practicing Gratitude

Maybe I’ve had my head in the sand, or I’ve been living under a rock – or maybe it’s just that I’ve been “too busy” to notice, but I discovered recently that November is National Gratitude month (read more about it here: National Gratitude Month).

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In honor of National Gratitude Month, and due to the numerous and amazing benefits to having an attitude of gratitude, I am going to try something a bit different. I am going to (try) to use this blog as a gratitude journal for the remaining days of the month.

“Everything in our lives has the ability to improve when we are grateful. Research has shown that gratitude can enhance our moods, decrease stress and drastically improve our overall level of health and wellbeing.”

My hope is that it will help me to to really reflect upon the people, events, experiences, and things for which I feel gratitude daily – and I’m hopeful that it will help to serve as a source of accountability for me as well. I’m also hoping that this practice will allow me to see the many benefits that research has proven come from a daily focus on and practice of gratitude.

Today I am grateful:

  • That I am able to #CelebrateMonday each week with my awesome colleagues. It challenges me every week to start on a positive note – no matter how deeply I have to dig to do it.
  • That my children are all engaged in activities that bring out the best in them and allow them to form meaningful and lasting relationships, as well as expand their horizons.
  • For my incredible husband – because without him our marriage and family would not be able to successfully (and healthily) survive all of the comings and goings that we survive every single day of the week.

According to Amit Amin, author of the blog Happier Human – What about Happiness?, gratitude makes us happier:

A five-minute a day gratitude journal can increase your long-term well-being by more than 10 percent. That’s the same impact as doubling your income!

And I believe it! As I was typing my three items above (and sitting all alone) , I smiled. I felt happy and a sense of satisfaction and pride.

Amin’s blog post identified 31 ways that gratitude makes our lives better – take a moment to read through them!

Until tomorrow…. #NationalGratitudeMonth

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One Great Shot: Edcamp Leadership

It’s been a while, but I’m trying again. I’m thinking about today’s “one great shot” (see my previous blog post re: one great shot): 

Today, like many others, I attended Edcamp Leadership. This is absolutely just what I needed – to connect and collaborate with other thoughtful educational leaders! So much learning occurred today – both in person and through #edcampldr.

I had specific expectations for the day – that I would connect with old friends, make new friends, and leave feeling rejuvenated and (hopefully) inspired. What I did not expect was to leave feeling challenged to engage in important conversations about equity and diversity.

Stepping Outside of the Echo Chamber

It would have been very easy to walk away. There were plenty of other rooms and sessions with topics I felt far more comfortable with and talking about. But if that is the only kind of learning and collaborating in which I (or any of us) choose to engage, then we fail to truly grow as educators and as leaders. So, despite my longing to participate in the conversations about things that make me comfortable like relationships or Google classroom – where I’m sure I would have thoroughly enjoyed the conversation with very like-minded people, I chose to step outside of my echo chamber and into the room where I would surely be challenged and likely feel some discomfort. I decided to participate in the discussion about equity for students.

To be completely honest, I was definitely intimidated as I entered the room – not only by the topic that I feel so unqualified to discuss or contribute to, but also by the level of knowledge my colleagues (of various races) brought to the conversation. The collective knowledge and experiences gathered in that one room was inspiring!

Some Context 

I live and work in St. Charles County, MO – just across the Missouri River from Ferguson where Michael Brown was shot and killed prompting protests both close by and across the country.  The community in which I live and work was (seemingly) impacted very little by these events. They happened “across the bridge” and that made them feel like they were happening in a far away place.

As an educator, I did not have a good response to these events. I wanted my teachers and students to talk about them, but I was unsure of how that should happen, of who should say what, and of how it would be received. I was scared to engage – on a variety of levels. To be honest – I’m a little scared to engage through this blog post – but I am going to persevere!

Today’s One Great Shot: Honesty

Stepping into that conversation today was one of the most rewarding educational experiences I have had recently. One of my greatest fears about engaging in system-wide conversations about diversity and equity is how little I know and understand – and how that impacts my ability to know where and how to even begin.

My colleagues in the room completely understood my reservations and fears, and they advised that the best place to start is with honest conversations: “No shame. No blame. No guilt.” We have to be willing to move beyond fear and engage in real conversations. We need to arrive at a place of trust with our colleagues, so we are not fearful of saying the wrong thing. Rather, we should approach these conversations as learning conversations in which all of us are seeking to understand, to grow, and to make things better for ALL students.

Just the Beginning

Today is just the beginning for me. I have so much learning and talking and learning and talking to do! Before today, I didn’t know where to start – I felt like the topics of diversity and equity were so complex that they were beyond my reach. But after today’s “one great shot,” I feel empowered to take the first step AND I know people I can call if I need help and guidance along the way.

 

 

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One Great Shot

I recently finished reading The Energy Bus by Jon Gordon. There are many, many great lessons that I learned from my reading, and I have many ideas that I am beginning to (or have plans to) put into practice.

One idea in particular immediately struck me and it has stuck with me, and it is based upon a game that I have never played (and do not ever have plans to play)…Golf:

…after people play a round of golf they usually don’t think about all of the bad shots they made but rather always remember and focus on the one great shot they had that day. The thought and feeling they get when thinking about this shot makes them want to play again and again; this is why so many people get addicted to golf. (Gordon, 53).

This has excellent implications for real life outside of golf. Many of us, as we drift off to sleep at night, are reviewing our day in our heads. In those moments, we often replay in our minds the things that didn’t go well. In his book, Gordon suggests that we should apply the “one great shot theory” to our lives and think instead about the one thing that went really well in our day.

That one great call, meeting, or sale; the one great conversation or interaction; the one great success that will inspire them to look forward to more success tomorrow. This…will inspire people to get addicted to life (Gordon, 53-4).

After reading that section, I decided that I need to apply the “one great shot theory” to my own practice. So I set a reminder on my phone to go off each night at about the time I will be winding down and (hopefully!) heading to bed. It has been good, but not as intentional or productive as I would like. I feel like I can do better.

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Image Credit: Lotus Head; Johannesburg, Gauteng, South Africa – https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=96860

In addition, I have been thinking a lot about blogging. It’s something that I feel is valuable, yet I can’t quite seem to get myself to stick with it. I feel like it’s a fabulous tool for reflection, but I have just so struggled to figure out how to make this manageable and meaningful for me.

Tonight when my phone went off with my “One Great Shot” reminder, I had an idea. What if I blogged about about the one great shot of my day? Perhaps bringing the two together – reflecting on something good and blogging about it – will help make the reflection itself more intentional and productive.

My One Great Shot – 4.6.16

The backstory…

I oversee the ELL program for our school district (one of my many duties!). Over the past several years, this program has seen many changes – including several different coordinators (I’m the 4th in 9 years). In the two years that I have worked with the program, I have been (gently) pushing on my teachers to make changes. This has not been easy on them.

When I began working with the ELL program, one of my immediate goals was to begin adding staff in an effort to reduce the number of students on these teachers’ caseloads. In the almost 10 years I have been working in this department, our district has grown by thousands of students (LEP and non-LEP), but we had not increased the number of ELL staff.  The idea of adding staff didn’t go over as heroically as I would have hoped. In fact, one of the teachers was worried that I was trying to get rid of her or “encourage” her into retirement – neither of these could have been further from the truth.

We were able to add an additional staff member for this year, and the teacher who was most worried has been empowered to share her expertise and mentor the new teacher whenever and however she can. While their instructional models are different (the veteran has students bussed to her building from across the district for a half-day pull-out program and the newer teacher travels between two buildings to provide pull-out and push-in as appropriate), they have worked well together and we have been able to make even more improvements to our program for our students.

I’m fortunate that I’ll be able to add yet another teacher to my ELL program in an effort to continue to reduce the size of teacher caseloads. This time, the veteran knows that I have no ulterior, evil motive – and that my purpose is to help her do the best she can to help our students. That leads me to my “one great shot” for today.

Today’s “One Great Shot”

The elementary ELL teacher who struggled with the idea of hiring additional staff last year came to meet with me today. She asked if we could discuss next year – and I was worried that she would again feel like I am doing something that would be threatening to her or her position. My goodness was I pleasantly surprised!

Not only does this teacher now embrace the idea of hiring additional staff and fully understand that my purpose is to help her help students, but she is now thinking about how we can arrange the staff in the district to help the one secondary ELL teacher (who hasn’t yet had any additional staff hired to help her – we’re taking the biggest baby steps we can here!).

My plan for this elementary ELL teacher was to keep her in a building where she felt happy and safe and to limit her travel as much as possible. Instead, she presented an idea that has her traveling to a different school every day of the week. Doing this would open up the schedule for the new hire to travel to the secondary level and provide additional support there. I was shocked and moved by her proposal – and so proud of her and her willingness to help her colleague!

For the past several weeks as I have been working with teachers and other adults, I have found myself reminding all of us that we need to be focusing on the needs of the students and not the needs of adults. My lovely ELL teacher completely embodied that thought today! I’m so proud to work with her!

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The Amazing Potential of Play

The true object of all human life is play.  ~G.K. Chesterton

Early childhood and elementary educators know significance of the roll of play in learning. When we provide time for children to engage in play, especially and most importantly purposeful play, engagement skyrockets and amazing learning occurs! Educators of young children understand the value of this, and they make time for purposeful play in their classrooms.

As children grow older, this is something that fades out of their daily learning experiences.  A culture of accountability has created a movement away from playful, inquiry-based learning experiences in favor of content coverage and answer recall.

Yet, our need for play never really leaves us. Even adult learners gain so much by having the opportunity to engage in purposeful play.

My colleagues Greg Lawrence (@greglawrence) and Samantha Knoll (@samanthaknoll) and I tested this theory out with cabinet level and building administrators in our district. I’m not sure we could have predicted the outcome!

During a one-hour PD session within their monthly administrator meeting, we brought a Digital Playground to the administrators! Our learning outcomes for this PD were for administrators to understand that:

  • Playing/experimenting/exploring (with technology) are collaboration.
  • When planning, teachers identify the tools that best accelerate the learning -sometimes those are “tech” tools and other times they are not

We set up stations with eight different tech tools (or toys!) for them to play with and learn about – we had Sphero, Osmo, Do-Ink, Code.org, WeVideo, Google Cardboard, Makey-Makey, and Augmented Reality (Anatomy 4D and Elements 4D). In small groups, administrators made their way around the Digital Playground, trying out these tech tools (some tools they had seen or heard of – many they had not). They had 5 minutes at each station – just enough time to figure out and engage in some play with the tech tools.

We made this play very purposeful by asking the administrators to do this:

Think back to when you were in the classroom. Remember that lesson or unit that you just loved to teach? Recall that lesson or unit now, and keep it in mind as you make your way through the Digital Playground. Before you leave each station, consider how the technology at that station could be used to accelerate or amplify the learning in that lesson or unit that you used to love.

We wanted them to keep this idea from Michael Fullan in mind as they moved from station to station:

Learning Today...Admin Tech Playground

As administrators, including the superintendent, made their way from station to station, they had five minutes to investigate, get to know, and think about how to use each technology tool. But so very much more happened than that!

Administrators were using team-work to figure out the tools, they were problem-solving to make get the tools to work (to move, to play music), and they were engaging in collaborative conversations about the former as well as about how the tools could be used to accelerate learning in their buildings.

And just as important – they had fun! As they played with the technology toys at each station, they laughed and had fun together. You can take a glimpse into our Digital Playground and the fun we had here: Digital Playground

As we debriefed about our learning experiences, the administrators identified several benefits of the inquiry-based and playful learning in which they engaged. In addition to those already mentioned in this post, many noted the high level of engagement in the room. No one checked email, pulled out their phones, or felt the need to step out of the room. For that approximately 45 minutes of inquiry learning, the adults in the room were 100% engaged.

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Our intent with this playground was to help administrators learn about new technology tools and to understand that when teachers are learning together about or experimenting together with technology they are engaging in quality collaboration. To do this we could have simply presented each technology tool to the administrators, informing them of how each words and the instructional benefits of each.  But there is no way that a presentation would have provided the same high quality learning experiences  or the engagement that the Digital Playground provided. Through play, every adult in the room had the opportunity to get his or her hands on the tool and to consider how he or she could (have) use it with students.

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As someone responsible for both student and adult learning in my district, it is important for me to keep the outcomes of this Digital Playground learning experience in mind. I need to provide more opportunities for the adult learners in my world to engage in purposeful play!

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#CelebrateMonday 11.23.15

Joy is the simplest form of gratitude.

~Karl Barth

Happy Monday! What a beautiful opportunity we have this week to take time to feel and express gratitude, as Thanksgiving is just a few days away.

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Last Thursday the topic for #MOedchat was “Put some gratitude in your attitude!” Educators from around Missouri and across the country spent an hour that night sharing ideas for showing gratitude, as well as sharing what they are grateful for.

While many great thoughts and ideas were shared, one in particular really resonated with me: taking time to experience joy and gratitude every day.

Feeling Grateful – Every Single Day

A teacher shared this video with the #MOedchat community to help illustrate that point. This video is from Louie Schwartzberg, an award-winning cinematographer, director and producer who captures breathtaking images that celebrate life. In the video, he brings together images and words that provide an opportunity for reflecting on what we can be grateful for – every day.

I highly encourage you to take the less than 10 minutes required to not only watch this video, but to really listen to the words expressed by Benedictine monk Brother David Steindl-Ras: Louis Schwartzberg TEDx

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This #CelebrateMonday is an invitation. Over the Thanksgiving holiday break, I encourage you to find time for rest, reflection, and joy!

 

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Not-So-Great Days Sometimes Yield Great Insight

Yesterday wasn’t a great day.

It started out just fine – it was Monday and I was excited to begin the week. Since I’ve started #Celebrate(ing)Monday this year, I’ve actually been looking forward to that often lamented day of the week.

My entire day flipped shortly after arriving in my office. I received an unpleasant text message (I blogged about this yesterday), and I quickly found myself trying to work through my hurt feelings. Despite my best efforts to not allow someone else’s negative actions to impact me and my day, I was unable to completely overcome the hurt I felt.

As I reflected on that experience late last night and into this morning, I realized that my productivity yesterday, again despite my best efforts, was down. My hurt feelings, my struggle to understand the actions of others (and what I may have done to lead to those actions) filled my head and my heart as I moved throughout the day. I was still able to respond to emails and attend meetings, but overall my productivity was not what it typically is – or should have been.

Wow – isn’t it amazing how that one little thing had such an impact on me and what I was able to accomplish yesterday? This led me to thinking about our students. So many of them come to school each day dealing with hurt feelings, worries about family and friends, and a variety of other struggles. It occurred to me that if one little text message could hurt my feelings and spin my world out of whack for a day – the same or worse could be happening with students who are dealing with break-ups, bullying, broken friendships, gender identity issues, divorce, and so on.

Surely if the weight of the hurt caused by a text message can throw off my day, the issues that students are dealing with on a regular basis will impact their ability (and their desire) to be fully present and learn in the classroom.

So what do we do?

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I don’t think we have to be certified counselors or therapists to make a difference here. Our students are people – like we are. We need to realize that their days and their lives are impacted by outside influences and struggles – just like ours. When things aren’t going well outside of our classrooms/offices, we can feel that impacting what’s going on inside. We have to remember – and be sensitive to the fact – that the same is true for our students.

For me, I can simply consider what turns my day around when I’m feeling this way. A smile, a word of encouragement or friendship, being heard in a quick conversation all go a long way to changing my outlook on my day – even if it’s just for a short time (an hour of replying to emails/phone calls, a meeting, etc.). I know the same is true for students.

We just have to be intentional.

Yesterday wasn’t a great day – but it has yielded great insight. I guess we need those not-so-great days; as rough as they may be to get through, things are clearer and brighter on the other side.

 

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#CelebrateMonday 11.16.15

Welcome to Monday!

We’ve made it, we’re here today! It’s a privilege some weren’t afforded. So live today accordingly!

My Monday didn’t start off great this morning. First thing this morning I received an unpleasant text message. I made me feel really bad – and I began to analyze my own actions that led to this text and to carefully consider my response. When things like that happen, I can tend to over-analyze the situation which causes me to feel worse and worse – and keeps me from moving forward.

I received this text message about the time I began to consider my #CelebrateMonday message of gratitude (weekly emails I’ve been sending through November). Looking for inspiration (how was I ever going to compose this #CelebrateMonday message when I felt so down??), I hopped on Twitter, and I saw the above tweet from Gregg Masters (@GreggMasters).

I have a choice today – I can choose to allow the unpleasantness of others and their actions impact my entire day and week, or I can choose to celebrate the fact that I am here today, and that I have the opportunity to do something positive. I choose the latter.

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Sometimes things happen (like an unpleasant text message) that hurt us, and it becomes difficult see any reason for gratitude. But if we dig (sometimes really deep!), we can find reasons to be grateful. I #CelebrateMonday today by being grateful for that text message – for a few different reasons:

1).  I am grateful that, despite the fact that it really upset me, I can truly see that it will be best for me in the long run

2). I am grateful that the hurt I felt from the text message is a reminder that I am here (a privilege that others do not have today), and that I need to live accordingly!

3). I am grateful for my PLN of positive, encouraging thinkers, who without even knowing it, helped me move forward today!

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I hope that no matter what happens in your day and week ahead, you are able to lean on your PLN (personal/professional learning network) for encouragement and that you are able to find reasons to be grateful!

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