In Praise of Mondays

In a few short hours, Monday morning will come after a week of Thanksgiving break.  Most of you are probably dreading it. Dreading hearing the alarm go off. Dreading getting out of the warmth of your bed.  Dreading the commute to work.  Dreading yard duty in the cold–maybe even in the rain or the snow.  Dreading the long list of emails that need sorting through.  Dreading that parent that you know will be at your door with their latest concern.  Dreading the re-training of your kiddos that you know you will need to do after a week off.  Dreading not being able to use the restroom whenever you like.  Dread, dread, dread.

It’s not too late though.  It’s not to late to turn that dread into something powerful.  Into something transformational.  Into something bigger than yourself.  Into praise for Mondays….

Praise for Mondays because……

For many of our kiddos, Mondays mean a warm meal.  They mean a welcoming smile.  They mean heated rooms.  They mean safety and security.

For many of our kiddos, Mondays mean friends. They mean family.  They mean a place where someone, anyone, believes in them.  They mean a place where dreams come true.

For many of our kiddos, Mondays mean acceptance.  They mean a hug. They mean a place of belonging.  They mean gentle eyes.  They mean kind words.

For many of our kiddos, Mondays mean laughter.  They mean joy.  They mean a place where kiddos can be doctors, lawyers, astronauts, MLB players.  They mean a gentle touch on the shoulder.

For many of our kiddos, Mondays mean happiness.  They mean being a child.  They mean time to play.  They mean an escape from their reality. They mean learning new things.  They mean comfort.

In short, we should praise Mondays because for many of our kiddos Mondays mean everything.

 

 

 

 

At Your Service….

@jcorippo–this one is for you……

When was the last time someone asked how they could help you.  If you are like most teachers or administrators, you probably can’t remember. And that may very well be the problem in education today.

You see, for far too long we have been told what we need. Not asked, but told.  Told we need to do a better job reaching all kids.  Told we need to engage with parents and the community. Told we need to have higher test scores.  Told we need professional development.  Told we need to implement PBL, PLNs, and RTI.  Told we need to serve more students through SSTs, 504s, and IEPs.

And it may very well be true that we need all those things (well, maybe not the higher test scores).  But we don’t need to be told those things.  What we need are people on our team we can go to to ask for help.  People on our team who can provide helpful resources at the drop of a hat.  People who see their responsibility as serving us; as striving to make our lives easier.

What we need are concierges. Think about it.  When you are visiting a new city and want to know “what to do” you go to the conceirge.  With a smile, she asks what kinds of foods you like. What activities attract your interest.  What kind of ambiance you want.  How far you are willing to travel.  In short, she asks you what experience you want her to custom-create just for you.  A custom-created experience just for you!

Now imagine that happening in classrooms across the country.  Teachers having at their disposal a person (a concierge of sorts) -a team of concierges ideally-who they could easily access.  A team of concierges who would listen to what the teacher was interested in learning, interested in doing, interested in exploring, and then created a custom experience for that teacher (and his students).

Custom-created experiences based on teacher interest created by a team of concierges at your school or within your district.  Imagine the possibilities…..

(This post was inspired by the phenomenal @jcorippo who presented the idea of concierges versus coaches as part of his presentation for SLO ACSA.  Thanks to @pgilders and @bresciajames for their work putting the evening together)

What’s Your Work?

Well, Dove has done it again.  If you haven’t seen their latest ad, check it out here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7DdM-4siaQw.  It’s worth the watch.  In short, women in four cities across the world face two doors.  One says “average”; the other says “beautiful”.  I would love to say that we live in an era where women from across the globe routinely choose the latter, but as evidenced by this video, we have a long way to go.

Let me be clear……the irony is not lost on me. The fact that Dove, owned by the billion dollar company Unilever (who also owns such well known products as Axe, Ponds, Suave, Tresemme, and Vaseline just to name a few) has created a campaign that has lasted longer than a decade aimed at “starting a global conversation on the need for a wider definition of beauty” is quite perplexing for me.  On the one hand, the organization flashes images of “flawless beauty” in attempts to solicit my business.  Yet, on the other hand they create moving “commercials” which force me to evaluate my image of beauty and the image of beauty I help to perpetuate on a daily basis.

Indeed, my friends, that is where the real work is. In between teaching youngsters the three Rs (am I showing my age?), professionally developing teachers in hopes of staying current on a range of topics, and developing both short and long term school plans and budgets…we are responsible for creating the next generation of beautiful.

And what is it that I want the next generation of beautiful to be? Adventurous and affectionate. Compassionate and courageous.  Confident and captivating.  Fun and fearless. Grateful and giving. Intelligent and imaginative. Passionate and philanthropic. Strong and sassy. Radiant and resourceful.  Talented and thoughtful. Unashamed and unwavering.

Creating the beauty of tomorrow….that’s my work.  What’s yours?

When It Rains, It Pours

We have all heard the adage “When it rains, it pours”.  Last week, it was one of those weeks for me. Maybe you are already envisioning all the pressure-filled moments that consume my week as a principal.  The angry parent, the screaming child, the frustrated teacher because the copy machine still isn’t working.  Maybe you are envisioning a week of IEPs that went too long, district meetings that consumed your time, or hours spent organizing state mandated tests. Or maybe you are shaking your head in agreement because your week was filled with comforting the child taken away by child protective services, consoling the new student who desperately misses her old school, and in the middle of all you found yourself completing that required teacher evaluation and scheduling your next School Site Council meeting.

But last week, when it rained….the rain was refreshing.  It hit me at every turn.  And at every turn I was inspired, energized, and beyond grateful.  Let me explain.

After arriving at work at 6:30, working on a variety of emails, flyers, and reports, I lead an hour of professional development for my amazing team.  Next, I greeted 350 enthusiastic little ones at the front of the school.  And that was only the first three hours of my day.  Yet, that’s when the rain began.  I stepped into my office and felt the beginning of the rainstorm of my week…….One of my teachers had left a small bouquet of jasmine in my office.

As if the rain on Monday wasn’t enough, it continued into Tuesday morning.  Finishing my daily office routine, I turned the corner from my office and found a hand-crafted, Pinterest-inspired thank you poster from one of my staff members posted on our office bulletin board.  Simple, yet thoughtful. Unexpected, yet warmly welcomed. At that moment, I stopped and appreciated the rain rather than quickly ducking for cover.  I stood there, in my office, in the rain….and I loved it!

After two days of rain, I was ready to put away my umbrella.  I mean, c’mon, how many days can it possibly rain?  Yet Wednesday, the rainstorm picked up momentum.  How is that even possible you ask? Let me tell you.  We often see the world as this vast expanse.  Far-reaching and remote.  Something that goes on and on and on.  But we are wrong. You see, the world is not a vast expanse, far-reaching and remote.  Rather, it is composed of small-often-miniscule-connections. Connections that may, at first, seem meaningless. But over time, these connections influence you, strengthen you, inspire you.  At the end of the day, I found a package on my desk.  I didn’t recognize the handwriting.  Intrigued, I opened it.  Inside the package was a hand-written note from motivational speaker Phil Boyte (@philboyte) and a copy of Seth Godin’s book What To Do When It’s Your Turn (And It’s Always Your Turn). Phil Boyte, a motivational speaker I heard at a conference and a fellow Twitterer took time out of his day to think of me. Me…of the thousands he connects with…he thought of me.  As I held his note and the book in my hands, I reveled in the raindrops. I allowed myself to feel each and every one. And each and every raindrop empowered me to continue my efforts to change the world.

Four days of rain is unheard of, at least in California.  But last week, the rain continued into Thursday.  Another simple gesture literally nourished me throughout the day.  After coming into my office from greeting my students and families at the front of the school, I found a piece of banana-macadamia nut bread adorned with a Plumeria sitting atop my computer.  No card, no note, nothing for anyone to stake their claim to the kind gesture…nothing. I’m not sure which of those things-the bread itself or the selfless giving of it-that created the next rainstorm, but once again in the middle of my office, it was raining.  And once again, I found myself soaking it all in….all the way into my heart and soul.

I’m not a meteorologist so I am not exactly sure what constitutes a torrential downpour.  But I think that four days of rain followed by another downpour, may in fact, qualify as one. Those of you who work in an elementary school can attest to the number of bumps and bruises, scrapes and scratches we see on a daily basis.  So many so that our response to them becomes automatic: we tend to their cries, wipe away their tears, and bandage them up.  Second nature to all of us.  On Friday last week, one of my most quiet and reserved first graders-Michelle-stopped me in the office to give me an envelope.  Opening it, I found a beautifully drawn picture of the ocean complete with sun, sand, dolphins, and a surfer. Even more beautiful? Her handwritten note: Thanx fer tayking kare of me yistidae (Thanks for taking care of me yesterday).  And again, the rain began to fall.

We have all heard the adage, “When it rains, it pours.” But when was the last time you stopped to enjoy the rain and allowed your soul to be consumed by the pour?

60 Seconds To Change The World

It was the end of a long day…..A three-hour Spelling Bee followed by lunch time on the yard with my kiddos.  Next came a three-hour district level meeting.  Home to tend to the dogs then out for a run.  Took of my running shoes, put on my flip-flops and headed out to knock a couple personal errands off my list.

It was only then that I was on to my last “task” as principal….pick up last-minute items for our annual Dr. Seuss guest read-in event.  I stood in line with my basket full of plates, napkins, donut holes, and coffee cups.  Somewhere in the madness that is the end of my day, I actually noticed the lady in front of me at the register.

Really noticed her. Silver-blonde hair recently tended to at a hair salon. Wrinkles at the corner of her eyes and lips. Hands that looked bone thin.  Her coat was a little too big; her pants a little too short.  She asked for bags because she left hers at home.  To hear the cashier, she had to lean in closer.  She paid for her groceries with a gift card. When the cashier handed her card back to her, she was genuinely surprised at the remaining balance.  Slowly and methodically, she placed the gift card back in her well-worn purse.  She was offered help out by the courtesy clerk.  She looked around at the long lines and in the hustle and bustle of the busy grocery store, she said no.  She thanked both the cashier and the courtesy clerk.  Slowly she placed her purse in the cart and began to push the cart towards the exit.

I’m not sure what about her caught my eye.  Maybe she reminded me of my grandma.  Maybe I saw stories in the wrinkles of her eyes.  Maybe the way her coat hung on her frail body made me think about the fragility of life.  Maybe it was the intentionality of every move she made. I can’t say exactly what it was.

I was already through the exit door before the elderly lady had opened the trunk of her car.  I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to stop and offer help.  She paused as if surprised by my offer.  Slowly, gratitude spread through the wrinkles on her face.  A smile hid the wrinkles along her mouth. Her hands reached for the lightest items in her cart. She thanked me profusely and all I could muster was  “It’s my pleasure.”  Sixty seconds later, I was pushing my cart towards my car.

Sixty seconds at the end of a long, hectic day. Sixty seconds to make someone smile.  Sixty seconds to make a small impact in someone’s day. Sixty seconds spent making the world a world I want to live in.  Sixty seconds….

There are eighty-six thousand, four hundred seconds in a day.  86,400 seconds.  What are you willing to do with 60 seconds of them to change the world?

If It Worked For Disney…..

Along with two colleagues, I recently had the opportunity to attend the CISC Conference in Anaheim (https://twitter.com/hashtag/cisc2015) .  This year’s theme was “What If..Leading With Imagination”.  Keynote speakers, workshop session, and quick talks challenged us to think differently about our work. To think outside the box. To imagine the possibilities. To ask ourselves, “What if…..?”

After listening to the inspiring keynote speaker Grant Lichtman (@GrantLichtman) , I decided to take his workshop.  The theme of “What If” continued.  We started by talking and recording our peak learning experiences.  We also discussed our wants/needs and aligned school resources accordingly.  We created idea maps of our purpose.  We participated in a gallery work of participants’ responses.  Finally, he asked us to imagine “What if you could create any school you wanted? What would it be?”

And this is where I became disheartened.  Educator after educator focused on the “things” and the “structures” they wanted.  Fluid movement between classes, more student voice, service learning projects, more teacher collaboration time, on and on and on.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  All of those are great ideas.  Really, there is merit in each of them.  But are those really are “What ifs”? That’s as good as we get?

My “What if” was markedly different.  Mine was, “What if we created a place no one ever wanted to leave?” I second-guessed myself in a world full off a hundred or so educators who all thought so differently from me.  I stayed quiet because I thought maybe I was the crazy one or the one who really didn’t understand the question.

The conference was held in Anaheim, only a short few miles from the Happiest Place on Earth.  Even from miles away you could still feel the draw of the mouse.  Disney magic is powerful, powerful stuff.  It transcends time and space.  It transcends gender and age. It transcends race and culture.  It transcends….everything. Powerful, powerful stuff indeed.  Maybe it was a little fairy dust, maybe it was the challenge to imagine “What if…”, maybe it was engaging conversation with some of the most thought-provoking educators I know @MarkALuque@DavidCulberhouse, @GrantLichtman or maybe it was the little voice inside my head, but I have since decided that I am on to something.

You see, I am convinced that if we start with the culture we want, the other things will follow.  If we are intentional in what our purpose is and how we go about our work, those “things” and “structures” will take care of themselves.  If we focus on what we want to create, the specifics of how will come.  If we focus on the heart of our work, the procedures will follow.

I mean did Disney ever merely say to himself, “I want a land to build roller coasters.”  No.  He started with the purpose of his work, how he would go about his work, the what of his work, and the heart of his work.  In short, he focused on the culture he wanted, not the structures.  According to Disney himself, “To all that come to this happy place: welcome. Disneyland is your land.  Disneyland is dedicated to the ideals, the dreams, and the hard facts that have created America… with hope that it will be a source of joy and inspiration to all the world.” 

No mention of the “things”, “structures”, “policies”, or “procedures” that would be used. Rather, a sole focus on the culture he wanted to evoke was evident. He provided a promise, not a product. He knew the other things would follow.

If it worked for Disney, why can’t it work for us as well?

Our Kids Have It Right

As a middle school vice principal, I thought scheduling was a nightmare.  I was misguided. The real nightmare is trying to create a schedule at an elementary school.  Working in advanced math, art, computer lab, drama, ELD, intervention sections, library, music, and physical education around recesses and lunch while still protecting instructional time for core content areas literally drives me crazy.  Truthfully, I think it drives my entire team crazy.

In order to support all this, I have the opportunity to work with a small group of students one day a week.  After my first  50 minutes with today, I am convinced that our world is in good hands; our kids have it right.

In our small group, we are reading Pam Munoz Ryan’s Becoming Naomi Leon ( for a summary check out http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/lesson-plan/becoming-naomi-leon-storia-teaching-guide .  My kiddos ate up the anticipatory set (pictures from the internet that they used to make predictions).  They were thrilled that they could write in the book (I know, I know I am setting up a bad, bad habit). I read aloud to get them into the story, they read aloud to practice oral fluency, and they read silently to build their reading endurance. All great stuff. But it was their thought process that has me convinced that our kids have it right.

I asked them to select one sentence from the story that resonated with them and explain why.  They could then create a graphic representation of their selection.  Yes, for those of you familiar with AVID-I had them do a very simple “one-pager”.  Here’s how I know our kids have it right:

1.) “It was their claim to fame.”

Eve explained she chose this quote because even though the family is poor, they can still reach for their dreams. Even at her age, she realizes that the world is at her fingertips.  That regardless of background, people can dream and dream big. Our kids are dreaming and their dreaming big.  They are dreaming of things we can’t even imagine.  And it is these dreams that will change the world as we know it. Our kids have it right.

2.) “So far, Gram and Fabiola had watched 743 during-the-week episodes without missing once.”

Barbara said she chose this sentence because they had watch 743 episodes without missing one.  See, our kiddos appreciate stability in their lives even if it is as simple as watching episodes of Wheel of Fortune. They seek a sense of normalcy in our frantic paced world. And it is because they seek this normalcy, that they will strive to create it for themselves and those around them.  Our fear of the world spinning out of control is unwarranted; our kids have it right. 

3.) “Before I could write down Gram’s suggestion, Owen sneezed, and it was a big one, the kind that sprinkled spittle and left his eyes all teary.”

Sofia shared this quote because she said it reminded her of her little brother who often messes up her homework yet they always laugh about it later.  Time as a family spent together doing homework. An older sister laughing with her kid brother. Sounds like Norman Rockwell times, right? Yet, it is still happening in households today.  It might look a little different. There might not be a table, siblings may have different parents, a parent might not be there overseeing things, but family bonding remains solid.  Our kids appreciate family, whatever it looks like; our kids have it right.

4.)”Contrary to people’s first opinion, he got the best grades in his class.”

Barbara’s quote was, for the me, the most profound.  She said she selected this quote because people are sometimes judged by the way the look and that it’s not ok.  She said nobody should judge anybody. Our kids understand the value of acceptance not simply tolerance.  They are willing to look past appearance to see what a person is really about; our kids have it right.

As leaders, we must continually ask ourselves if we are pursuing our dreams and helping other to pursue theirs. We need to seek a sense of normalcy in our fast-paced world and help provide it for others.  We must look beyond stereotypical forms of family and embrace family as any group that lifts our students up.  We must recognize that for some students-and colleagues-we are their families.  AND we must question our ability to truly be accepting of everyone we serve.

You see, our kids already have it right. The question is, when will we?

When Coaching Isn’t About “The Sport”

I am not an athlete.  Never have been, never will be.  Memories of always being last picked during PE still haunt me.  Well, not really but you get the picture. You see, I always thought being an athlete, being on a team was about athleticism itself. I never developed the coordination that seemingly came to my classmates with ease.  My ability to pay attention to the rules of the game and simultaneously focus on kicking, hitting, or throwing a ball escaped me (and still does if I’m being truthful).  Muscle memory? Wait, I am supposed to have muscles? Get my head in the game? I’m too worried about getting hit in the head. So imagine my surprise when all these years later, I learn that sometimes-maybe even most times-effective coaching isn’t about “the sport”. I have had the privilege of collaborating with Cal Poly San Luis Obispo’s Men’s Basketball Coach Joe Callero.  On a monthly basis he comes to talk to my students, staff, and parents not about basketball but about character.  Yes, he brings his players and basketballs.  Yes, he talks about their latest victories. Yes, he talks about their travel schedule. But more importantly, he talks about character. Compliment circles, kindness stickers, and leadership quadrants….not exactly the type of thing that comes to mind when one thinks of a college basketball team.  Yet, it is exactly those things that has allowed him to create the program he currently runs.  He isn’t in the business of creating athletes of tomorrow.  Rather, he is in the business of creating leaders of tomorrow…men of character who happen to be skilled athletes as well. As leaders, the focus of our work tends to be on building skills–students’ skills, teachers’ skills, parents’ skills, our skills.  Imagine what could happen if we focused our work on building character and not on building skills.

Leadership Lessons From The Gym

For our anniversary this year, my husband bought me…wait for it…. a gym membership.  I know, I know how cliche is that? Perhaps an even better question is how his he still alive?  All kidding aside, we both knew it was time for me to get in shape.  See, I have a love/hate relationship with my weight.  It’s mostly hate as it never seems to be what I want it to be.  And as a recovering fat chick (a topic worthy of multiple posts), I struggle with my body image on a daily basis.  But, I’m really not writing about my weight.  What I’m really writing about is what I have learned about leadership while getting in shape.

1.) Know Those You Serve

My trainer and I have had our ups and downs. He thinks he’s encouraging; I just want him to shut-up. The days that I feel most successful with him are those days where he finds the right balance of kicking my ass and being my cheerleader. I’m thinking the same is true for those we serve.  As leaders, we need to figure out what makes those we serve tick.  And when we do, that’s when the real work can begin.

2.) Multiple Metrics For Success Are A Must

One of my first conversations with my trainer revolved around what I wanted to accomplish.  So like any other wife whose husband bought her a gym membership,I replied, “Lose weight.”  Six months later, if the scale was my only metric, my husband would be asking for a refund.  This too is true for education.  If we allow only one metric to measure our success, we are undoubtedly headed towards failure.    As leaders, it is up to us to help our team discover our successes across multiple metrics.  More importantly, we need to share these metrics and successes with others.

3.) Starting Small Leads To Big Gains

If you would have told me six months ago that I would be doing walking lunges with a 55 pound bar bell, I would have seriously laughed out loud.  Yet, after carefully crafted sessions over several months, they are an integral part of my “leg day” (and yes, I still die each time).  As leaders, we often want to see change right away.  We want to get to the end result as quickly as possible.  In our rush to wherever it is we want our team going, we sometimes forget all the small things that need to be tended to along the way.  It’s time to stop working like this and realize that starting small will lead to walking lunges with a 55 pound bar bell.

4.) It Doesn’t Get Easier, You Get Better

I expected to be sore after my first few workouts (and believe me I was).  What still boggles my mind is that I am still sore after workouts.  I mean, seriously-isn’t this supposed to be getting easier?  Apparently not.  See, the reality is that as you build muscle, you just start lifting more and as you start lifting more, you continue to get sore.  It’s a vicious cycle.  Yet, the same is true for leaders.  As you hone your set of leadership skills, you continue to take on more.  In taking on more, there may be opportunities where you are building your “muscles” and you may experience “soreness”.  It’s ok when that happens.  Really it is.  Because the next time it happens, the next time you take on more, the easier it will be.

5.) The Last Pound Is Always The Hardest

Okay, so I am a bit obsessed with the scale (even though I know I shouldn’t be and even though I have other metrics for my success).  I have hit a plateau at the number 19.  It’s incredibly frustrating that I am doing all the same things that I have been doing to get me to the 19, yet the magic number 20 is still just out of reach.  And there you have it. As leaders, we get our teams to a certain level of play and then it seems as if no more growth is happening.  Why? Probably because we are doing the same things.  What if, as leaders, we stopped doing the same things we have always done and tried something a little different?

Yes, for our anniversary, my husband bought me a gym membership.  After countless pull-ups, sit ups, push-ups, and kettle bell swings I am a stronger, more confident version of myself not only at the gym but in everything that I do.  What better gift could a husband give his wife?

What If Schools Were More Like The NFL?

I love sports. And by that I mean I love baseball and football.  Admittedly, and much to my husband’s dismay, I am not one who can quote stats on every player on every team. BUT I am a sucker for the players’ stories.  The more of an underdog a player/team seems, the more engrossed in the game I am. I mean, who doesn’t love a story filled with tragedy and triumph? One big play and the game changes in an instant.  It’s the romance of the game that gets me every time.  New kid on the block taking on undoubtedly one of the best in the game and WINNING? Seahawks fan or not, you gotta love that storyline.

Another thing that gets me every time I watch a game? The number of coaches on any given team.  In the NFL, the number of coaches range from 16 (Steelers) to 25  (Eagles, Ravens, and Seahawks,).  16-25 coaches providing support to 53 active players only 46 of which can dress out for the game. 16-25 coaches for 46 (or 53 if you are being generous) players? That’s a ratio of 1.84 to 2.875 coaches to every active player.  AND that doesn’t include the various coaches’ assistants (and their assistants for that matter).  NOR does it include the front office staff that ranges from a team of 4 (Bengals) to teams of 13 (Chargers, Dolphins).

Admittedly, this is where I turn into a hater.  The best of the best get the advantage of, at worst, 1 coach to 3 players.  Now, I realize the numbers don’t actually break down like that.  I mean, the quarterback has his own coach for goodness sakes. But the ratio for those providing specific, immediate feedback and coaching to the best of the best is astounding.  Further, the culture of coaching is ingrained in athletes.  They recognize and embrace the power coaching holds.

What if every student, or group of students, had a coach to help develop their academic skills? A coach to sit down after the teacher delivers instruction to support them in reaching their goals? A coach who checks in on their emotional and social well-being? A coach who helps them navigate the educational system?  What if every student saw coaching an integral part of growing?

What if every teacher, or group of teachers, had a coach to help hone their instructional skills?  A coach to help discover the best curriculum choices? A coach to encourage risk-taking and out-of-the-box thinking? A coach who moves them from good to great and from great to ROCKSTAR status? What if every teacher saw coaching as an opportunity to grow?

What if every family, or group of families, had a coach to provide support on parenting?  A coach to empower families to take a positive, proactive role in their children’s education? A coach to foster a home environment that promotes learning and values education? A coach who assists families in becoming their best selves?  What if every family embraced their coach as part of their family?

What if every leader, or group of leaders, had a coach to help develop their leadership skills? A coach providing feedback after those fierce conversations? A coach offering a set of eyes from the sidelines to help promote a healthy school culture? A coach reminding the leader that in order to take care of others, she must first take care of herself? What if every leader settled for nothing but the best coach?

Perhaps, just perhaps, if we had the same support, we could in fact change the world.