Lifeguard or a Swimmer?

As I continue to make my way through Teach Like a Pirate, I find myself reflecting on several aspects of the various chapters and connecting them to my life as an instructional leader. The chapter, “Immersion” especially resonated with me, as this is something I have recently been contemplating.

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As a Curriculum Coordinator who oversees 8 areas of curriculum (K-12) as well as several instructional programs, professional development, etc., time and balance are difficult to manage. I’ve recently been thinking a lot about how teachers feel when I am not fully with them.  So much in our lives as educators feels immediate – like we have to address it now – and it’s difficult to prioritize. But I was wondering what message that sends to those with whom I am supposed to be with in the moment.

In this chapter, Dave Burgess (@burgessdave) has challenged me to think this through even deeper by posing the question: Are you a lifeguard or a swimmer? He poses this question to teachers in terms of instruction – do you hand out content and then supervise from the lifeguard perch, or do you get into the pool with your students and swim around (modeling, demonstrating, helping to correct errors when you see them)?

As an administrator it seems as though the lifeguard approach is sometimes all that we can managAlicante_life_guard_towere. We have so many things vying for our attention and requiring action that we often have to sit atop that tall perch and watch all of the swimmers instead of actually diving in and engaging.

But I have to wonder: How effective is that, really?

“Divided attention is ineffective and creates a major loss of personal power.” Burgess, 17

If I attend an administrator meeting, and I’m checking email or working on discipline referrals – am I really engaging in the important conversations about students?

If I attend a PD session with my teachers, and I sit in the back or to the side working on email, or I come and go several times within the session – have I learned well enough what my teachers are learning so that I may support them when they go to implement new instructional practices?

Or if I am working on curriculum with teachers and I give them directions and send them off on their own to work while I try to accomplish the 100,000,000,000 (etc.) items on my list – can we all be confident that what we are producing meets the needs and expectations of all stakeholders?

As a human being, I do not appreciate interactions in which the other party is not fully present. I can be resentful when I am talking to someone and they are checking their phone or computer screen, etc.

A lack of immersion in the present sends a clear, although unspoken, message that this moment is somehow less important and not significant enough to be worth undivided attention. Burgess, 14

I do not ever want my teachers to feel that the moments I spend with them are not worth my time and attention.

So I need to be a swimmer. If what I am asking teachers to engage in (PD, curriculum development, meetings) is important for them – then it should be important for me as well.

Most importantly though – I want my teachers to ALL be swimmers.

swimming-15262_1280And if that is what I want happening in my classrooms throughout my district, then I better be willing and able to model that in all of my interactions with teachers.

It begins now. I’m letting go, and I’m diving in!

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(Re)Discovering My Pirate Passion(s) – Part I

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pas·sion: a strong feeling of enthusiasm or excitement for something or about doing something.

I am a few chapters into Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess (@burgessdave), and I have discovered something rather disturbing: I am not entirely sure what my passions are.

Right away the book challenges us to put them out there…to say them aloud. What are your passions? When confronted with this question, I couldn’t answer right away. I couldn’t answer after a few minutes. Yikes, that’s a problem.

I think I’ve been so busy doing the work of education, that I have neglected to take time to take stock of my own beliefs, my own passions – both professionally and personally. I know they are inside me somewhere, but I think they are buried down in there.

I decided this is something I need to explore, so I’m going to begin here.

Professional Passion

“What is it about being an educator that drives you? What ignites a fire inside you?” ~Dave Burgess, Teach Like a Pirate Fire_in_the_dark

It is a little intimidating to put this into writing – I mean, what if my passion doesn’t seem to really be all that passion-filled or fire-like?

My professional passion is learning – in all forms by all people. I am passionate about student learning, teacher learning, and my own learning!

Student Learning

I believe, passionately to my core, that all students can learn. This drives what I do every single day. No matter where they come from, no matter the color of their skin, no matter the brand of clothes they wear, all students can learn.

I also believe that all students have the right to vigorous (thanks, @MsBuell, for the new word choice!) learning experiences – the kind of experiences that require students to stretch themselves, the kind that cause them to immerse themselves and get lost in hard work – without even realizing it. At the end of it all, they can look back on those learning experiences, and like after a good workout can still feel the burn, feeling very satisfied with what they have accomplished.

Teacher Learning

As educators (as Pirates?) we are never done learning. There is always something new to try, to do, to think about and to explore with our students (and with each other)!

This is such an exciting time to be an educator. We live in an era of constant educational research – and that research is made available to educators routinely – making it easy for us to learn about new practices and how well they work in a plethora of situations.

These are also unprecedented times. Never before could educators across the state, across the country, or across the globe connect so quickly to share ideas and practices. Social media is connecting us and making it easier to learn from each other and to share our learning with colleagues. That is how I came to be involved in reading Teach Like a Pirate. Members of the #BFC530 crew asked us to board the #bfctlap ship to learn with and to inspire each other.

I love digging in to learn with other educators, whether they are the teachers in my own district as we stretch ourselves to learn more about instructional practices that are good for kids, or educators across the globe sharing our love for students and for education.

Personal Learning

I am a learner. My Strengthsfinder results say so. It’s in my top three strengths, which makes it a pretty strong strength.

This is also evidenced by the piles of books I have in my house and in my office – they are on my night stand, my dresser, my coffee table, my kitchen table….and more arrive at a rate that is likely somewhat alarming to my husband (I just love Amazon prime!).

I want to know more – all the time. I want to understand and to know how. I want to know what others know, and I want to learn it, too. My #MOedchat community has been an amazing resource for this! On a weekly basis they teach me about things I do not know, and they encourage me to try something new. Status quo? No thanks.

130344669_1f35dd3c52_zSo in reality, it didn’t take me all that long to figure out what my professional passions are (although it sure took me a long time to articulate them in this blog post!). These things drive me professionally – student learning, teacher learning, and my personal learning are what get me out of bed each morning and they are what carry me through each day.

It is in each one of my professional passions that I can truly see what Yeats meant when he said:

“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.”

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Here We Go!

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I am not one for New Year’s Resolutions. I’ve never really made them – which is good because then I never experience the guilt of not keeping them!

The end of 2014 allowed for some (very unusual and uncharacteristic!) quiet time for me. I took the opportunity to reflect back on 2014, and I realized that there are areas in both my personal and professional life that could use some improvement. So I didn’t exactly make resolutions, but I set some goals for myself. To identify and discuss all of them in one post would be crazy – so I’m going to focus on one now.

My One Word

Last year I saw this One Word movement on Twitter, and I was intrigued! I decided that I would jump on board. I will admit that it was hard for me to keep this going all year; however, that did not stop me from trying it again this year.

Throughout the last month or more, I have spent time (admittedly not enough) in prayer asking God for direction. “What do you want from me?” “What do you want for me?” “How do you want me to be living my life to serve you?” It took me a while to hear anything (and I know I better not be finished listening). But eventually I did. I heard WILLINGLY.  Jesus willingly became human. Jesus willingly left home to spread the news about His Father and the salvation of heaven. Jesus willingly died on the cross.

What do I do willingly? 2889870505_9aebec83bb_m

So that is my One Word this year: Willingly. How can I do more in a willingly way – not begrudgingly. This is so simple – willingly do the laundry for my family, willingly prepare a meal even though I’m tired from a long day, willingly communicate information again that I have communicated several times in several ways, willingly listen to a teacher, a principal or my daughter when they need to talk despite my need get things done.

So far, I’m not doing so great (yikes, and we’re only 10 days into the new year!). I have good days and bad days. I keep this word posted where I can see it (I need to tattoo it to the back of my eyelids!) to help remind me. I am confident, though, that this One Word will make a difference in my life. I believe that if I can do more – willingly – then it will make me happier, as well as those around me.

Here’s to a fabulous 2015!

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Why I Love Being an Educator

Full disclosure: The reason I love being an educator is 100% selfish.

I love to learn.

I have always loved to learn – it’s just part of my DNA. When I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do in life, I honestly did not see myself as a teacher. I just didn’t think that I had what it takes. It was my high school English teachers who gave me the nudge I needed to pursue that path in life. And now here I am.

I love being an educator because the learning never stops. As a teacher, I was learning every single day with my students (although I have to admit that it took me a little while to admit that to myself….I thought I had to know everything…I quickly learned otherwise!). I enjoyed pursuing questions of character motive or author’s purpose in texts with my students, and I loved that each class uncovered a perspective I had not yet considered. We learned together.

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Now that I am out of the classroom, my learning continues. I learn with and from the teachers in my district as we work together to develop curriculum that meets the diverse needs of students as well as prepares them for a future that is quite unknown. I learn by attending workshops and conferences (among my favorites is edcampstl) and by attending meetings with my @LARC_STL PLN. Twitter has transformed my personal and professional learning. On a daily basis I learn from my @MOedchat family as well as the many other education communities who have allowed me to enter conversations with them and have helped me to grow.

I love being an educator because I love learning. I love being part of a community of learners – children or adults. I love that Twitter has allowed me to connect with other educators who have the same passion for learning – and who will challenge me to keep learning and trying new things.

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Day 3 of 100: No excuses

This 100 words a day for 100 days challenge is really pushing me to write more than I have written in a long time! I honestly do not remember the last time I wrote three days in a row – unless it was for an assignment!

After participating in a Twitter chat tonight (and getting it archived, etc. etc.) I’m so tired and ready to sleep! But I still haven’t put in my 100 words for the day – so here I am writing. Thank you, Kelly and Penny and Meenoo for pushing me to be better in this way!

Tonight I’m just so grateful for my Twitter PLN. Every Thursday night I have the privilege of participating in the #moedchat. Educators from all over Missouri (and sometimes all over the world) gather to talk about things that matter in education. There is an AMAZING energy in this chat! Hanging out with these awesome educators rejuvenates me and helps remind me that there is so much more to us and our profession than the turmoil that so often surrounds us.  

This chat, and others like it (#engchat) not only help me expand my thinking and learning – but they help me grow both professionally and personally. Thank you, PLN, for all that give to me! 

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Day 2 of 100 – Rediscovering My Voice

Here is my attempt at Day 2 of this 100 words/100 days challenge.

Yesterday I participated in Day 1, but I ended up putting it in the trash after I published it.  I read and reread before publishing,  but it wasn’t until after a while that I realized I said things that I didn’t fully mean or believe.  The sentiment was there,  but it wasn’t really what I wanted to say. 

I’ve been trying this blogging thing, and it has been very challenging.  As I’ve reflected on my recent writing experiences, I have come to realize that I feel like I have sort of lost my writing voice.

I thought about this a lot today and I can’t even pinpoint when this loss may have occurred.  I do know that I can remember the last time I felt like I had that voice.  It was in 8th grade when I wrote a poem for English (which my teacher at the time accused me of plagarizing because it was “too good”). That was the last time I remember writing with freedom and voice. Since then my writing has been formal essays and papers (dissertations!) – not types of wiring in which I felt free to explore voice.

Now that I have the opportunity and freedom (and the challenge!), I struggle to find my voice… my real voice.  The one that expresses my thoughts and feelings just so.

So maybe that should be my first goal – to rediscover my voice – and to worry later about contributing pearls of wisdom to the education community to which I belong.

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Keeping the Faith

A few weeks ago, I decided to join the Get One Word movement. I was intrigued by the idea of choosing just one word to keep at the core of my focus for the year. For several reasons, both personal and professional, I decided that Faith would be my one word for this year. Professionally, I find it difficult to have or to keep faith – in the system, in my colleagues, in the effort that is required of me. Lately, I have found it difficult to remain positive. So, I committed to this word and to having faith – in the system, in my colleagues and in the effort that is required of me.

Right now I feel like so much of what surrounds education is negative, and that everyone else (meaning those who aren’t directly involved in public education) think they know that we aren’t doing our jobs effectively, that we don’t care, and that they know better. Some days it’s tough to keep the faith.

Today wasn’t one of those days. Today I was privileged to be present as third grade teachers came together to learn more about their craft. They allowed an outside coach into their conversations and into their classrooms to help them stretch and grow.  I was so impressed as I listened to them push each other’s thinking – questioning what they can do to make their instruction better – the very best that it can be for students. It was awesome.

It’s times like this, or like on S

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