A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of going to National CUE in Palm Springs. I wasn't supposed to be there, I hadn't registered nor had a place to stay. But the Friday before the event, a wonderful person handed me a free registration! *These things don't usually happen to me, so doubt set in... Could I possibly make this work? I called the CUE offices and low and behold, they granted me registration (even though I missed the due date on the certificate). All I had to do was go to the "Special Circumstances" booth. PERFECT! I just had to chuckle, because I feel that describes me, to a T...special circumstance. Let me give you some background of two other instances that come to mind...
In high school, I unwillingly tried out for the cheer-leading squad. I only did it because that was what my friends were doing-you know how that goes. Well...they all made the team...but me. Disappointing, but not devastating. Two nights after I received the "rejection" call, I received an unexpected call from the coach. Turned out that one of the other girls was moving and I was "runner up". So I happily joined the team that year. But in the back of my mind, I always had this idea that I was never really supposed to be there. I quieted that voice and just enjoyed the experience. It helped shape who I am today.
Fast forward some years and it is time to apply for college. There was only one school I applied to, one school I had always wanted to go to: UCLA. That one school, sent me my one "rejection" letter. Extremely disappointing AND devastating. I didn't fit in the mold that they were looking for...on paper. BUT...I didn't let that deter me. I learned about a "repeal" process. It was a long shot, but this was my dream, right? It was a very involved process...but in the end...they "let" me in. I was a BRUIN! But in the back of my mind, I always felt like I wasn't really supposed to be there. I quieted that voice and enjoyed the experience. It helped shape who I am today.
There are a few more similar "special circumstances", but when I reflect on these I think about-what if I hadn't been given those "special" chances? Who would I be, today? What if I hadn't persisted? What if I would've listened to that voice? What if I had just let those doors close? Where would I be today?
Why am I sharing this with you? Because I believe our stories have power. I look back at those things and can now take the learning and hopefully share it forward.
1) Know your goal. Know your purpose. Keep your eye on that prize. There may be road blocks, falls, blips and bumps along the way. But keep moving towards that goal. Persist, persevere. Look for those "special circumstances" where you can show what you are made of, what you can bring to the table. Believe in your value and show it to others.
2) Don't close the door on others. Just because someone doesn't "fit the mold" of what you are looking for, don't miss an opportunity. Do we just want someone who meets criteria on a check off list? I hope not. We are not made out of paper, so paper shouldn't guide who we are. Let's look at others through an open lens. Be open to their potential, their passion, their adaptability and willingness to grow and learn. We don't want a missed opportunity because we weren't willing to open up our minds.
3) Find that "special" in everyone. Whether is is your students, your colleagues, your staff, your friends, your family or a stranger. Everyone has something special and amazing within them. Sometimes it shines, but often times it is buried deep. We need to find that "spark", show others their "spark" and fan it to help it grow. I have been lucky to have a few people that have done that for me. It helped shape who I am today.
4) Don't listen to that "critic" voice in your head that "I don't belong here" or "I'm not good enough". YOU DO and YOU ARE! It takes incredible strength to tune those out, but it is worth it. Surround yourself with others that see that "special" and can help lift you up. That voice can hold us and others back from a lot of great. You will be surprised at how strong you are and how much stronger you will become-just tune that out.
I know it is cliche' and "Barney-esk" and very "Pollyanna" of me to say- "YOU ARE SPECIAL", but it is true. You are uniquely you and you need to share that with others. Once you can do that, you need to be that "lighthouse" person for others...pay it forward. Look for those "special circumstances" around and within others.
*This is a "buddy blog" written with my friend Tara Martin for #IMMOOC week 4. Check out her blog: R.E.A.L*
What determines an organization's success? As Todd Whitaker once said, “It’s people, not programs. Programs are never the problem and are never the solution.” It is the people; it has always been the people. Sometimes we choose the people; sometimes they are chosen for us. Regardless, we are tasked with creating a collaborative team and culture to promote forward movement of the organization. Therefore, we must take stock in OUR people. Get to know them...really know them. What are their passions, what are their strengths? This is important. George Couros writes: “...everything you need may already exist within your organization. Your job is to unleash talents of your staff members.” I (Cori) liken this to the quote from Wizard of Oz. “Everything you were looking for was right there with you all along.” We shouldn’t be looking outside for the answer, but within our team. Everyone has their own strengths; we need to harness and grow that. How can we play off of each other’s strengths and support each other’s weaknesses? A great place to start is the Gallup Strengthsfinder. Both Tara and I have gone through the survey and will be discussing our results and how we implement them in our daily practice as educational leaders.
George Couros says, “We cannot forgo a focus on our strengths for the sake of only emphasizing the areas where we struggle.” I (Tara) couldn’t agree more. When “educators overcompensate in the areas that need to be fixed, the “great things that were already happening are quickly forgotten.” A few years ago, in grad school, I read Now Discover Your Strengths by Marcus Buckingham and Donald Clifton. Within the book is a secret code to take the StrengthsFinder and determine the top five strengths. After receiving my results, of learner, focus, strategic, restorative, and achiever, I began to study what each of these natural-born talents implies and how I might use them to become a stronger educator.
Side note: The StrengthsFinder is based on a general model of positive psychology. It captures personal motivation, interpersonal skills, self-presentation and learning styles. The idea behind the test is to determine your strongest synapse connections in your brain--also known as your talents.
Tara’s Puzzle Piece
What’s my piece of the puzzle? For the sake of this buddy blog, I would like to highlight two of my strengths and how I use them as an educational leader. The first one might as well be next to my name on my birth certificate--learner. Honestly, I’m thankful for this “carefully forged synaptic connection” within my brain! Learner is to educator as peanut butter is to jelly. Bad analogy, but you get the point. The Innovator’s Mindset has taught me that being a learner is great, but it’s what you do with that knowledge that’s empowering. While I’m always learning and growing, I strive to practice what I preach. Before asking an educator to try something new, I make certain to dive in head first. For example, a few “new to me” learning outcomes are my website, #BookSnaps, speaking in front of a large crowd, blogging, keynoting, and vlogging. Even when suggesting a new teaching strategy, I’ll ask the classroom teacher, “Do you mind if I come out and try this with your students? I want to know what it feels like in real-time--with REAL kids.” Being a learner is more than retaining new knowledge, it’s doing, sharing, innovating and knowing you will NEVER reach a plateau--all while stretching others to step out of their comfort zone and try something new, too.
When restorative showed up as one of my top five “talents” or strengths, I couldn’t help but wonder, “Really? In what ways do I restore?” However, the more I studied it, the more I found it intriguing. As explained by Marcus Buckingham, “You enjoy bringing things back to life.” You “identify the undermining factor(s), eradicate them and restore something to its true glory.” That certainly describes how my mind works. In fact, in the education world, I enjoy searching for the hidden talents of students and educators. I love learning about their passions while collaborating with them and helping them take what seems to be broken and turn it into something full of purpose. Maybe this strength comes from growing up in a less than stellar home life and learning to see a tiny light of positive in a very dark place? However, many times it’s merely shifting the focus off their weaknesses and playing to their strengths. My role is to empower others to stop “living a second rate version of someone else’s life” and begin living “a world class version of their own.” (Buckingham and Clifton) In the Innovator’s Mindset, George Couros says, “By focusing on strengths first and building from there, as opposed to working from a deficit model that focuses only on where we need improvements, we create an environment where people feel they have a purpose…” I’m thankful for my strong synaptic connections--my talents. Once I learned them, I use them to my advantage in my everyday life. However, it’s not all about me--it’s all about finding others’ strengths and creating ways for them to feel this same excitement--doing what they love.
Cori’s Piece of the Puzzle
I took the Gallup Strengths find a few years ago, and was not surprised with the results. My strengths are (in order): Empathy, Achiever, Ideation, Relator, Connectedness. Like Tara, I was not surprised by my top “strength”-Empathy. Anyone that knows me or has read anything I have written, knows that Empathy is kinda my “thang .”The Gallup Strengthsfinder states: “ People with strong Empathy talents can sense the emotions of those around them .They can feel what others are feeling as though the emotions were their own. They intuitively see the world through others’ eyes and share their perspectives.” That pretty much sums me up. I like to call this “reading the room.” How does this play out in an educational leadership role? I believe, to create change, to move people and an organization forward, we need to KNOW our people. We need to understand their point of view AND take it into consideration. It is important to look at things from a circle of viewpoints to make the best decision for all. This is the piece that I feel I can bring to the table. I try to use this “power” for good and help others to view things from multiple perspectives. I am often called a “Pollyanna” because of this, but I will take it, as long as it is helping others to grow in their journey.
I also believe that my empathy has helped me to create authentic relationships and build trust with the people I work with and support. These relationships are the foundation that is needed to help others to collaborate and grow. People will not let their guard down, open up to share or receive help without this important piece. I truly care about all the people I work with, and I hope that comes across in my interactions. This idea of relationship building leads right into my next “strength”...
For this post, I have decided to also discuss the last strength on my list, because it is one that I feel incredibly passionate about- Connectedness. According to Gallup: “People strong in the Connectedness theme build bridges between people and groups, showing them how to relate to and rely on each other. They help others find meaning in the unpredictability of the world around them, providing a sense of comfort and stability in the face of uncertainty.” This just so happens to be one of my professional goals, connecting people. I believe that we NEED others; we really do. I work hard to create time, space and opportunities to bring good people together (in person and/or virtually). I know so many talented, passionate, amazing people; each with their own unique strengths. I love when I can bring some of them together wrapped around common ideas/interests. I just smile when I can say- “Oh, you should talk to___ they are also doing ____.” I try really hard to connect people across sites, grade levels, subject areas, districts, cities and even states. This cross-collaboration is so important, and I have witnessed amazing things stem from it.
The second half of the “connectedness” definition talks about helping others find the meaning in unpredictability. Well, I am always trying to connect the dots for myself, and freely share my stories in the hopes to help others. When someone comes to me, struggling; I try to comfort them, assure them that they are not alone, help them remember their purpose, unstick the stuck and keep moving them forward. My hope is that people do feel a sense of comfort when we connect. It is always nice to have someone to listen, hear and understand. My hope is that I can be that for others.
“Build Each Other Up To Build Something Better”-George Couros
"I'm not doing anything special": YES YOU ARE!!! This quote from the video "Obvious to You. Amazing to Others" sums it up: "Everybody's ideas seem obvious to them." You don't know how many educators have responded to me with "Everyone is doing what I'm doing.": NO THEY AREN'T. Even if someone is doing something similar, you bring YOU into it...and no one is doing - YOU. I have luckily been able to convince a few others to share their ideas, their learning, their teaching, their growing...and it has been amazing to watch the transformation not only within them, but within others that they have connected to.
I have said before, we need to be the mirrors for others, they often can not see themselves the way we see them. They often need an outsider to reflect back to them- so they can see their amazingness. I love this quote from the song "Scars to Beautiful"- "...let me be your mirror, help you see a little bit clearer, the light that shines within."
When we create an "open culture", one where we feel comfortable, feel valued-we can open up that world for others. Once others begin to see that they DO shine, that THEY have that spark...they begin to reflect for others, show the shine within THEM. It is contagious...it is the kind of positive contagious that we need. But it can only happen if we are open and embrace IT.
This past year, I have been incredibly fortunate to make many amazing connections with educators from all over, whom I would have never even known, had it not been through Twitter, conferences, EdCamps, blogging. But what I feel blessed about is the fact that many of these "connections" have actually turned into relationships, friendships.
I often talk about the magic, of Twitter, in particular- it's what happens beyond the 140 characters. It's what is taken "off line" and fostered. Many in my corner, some would say ,are pretty incredible "edu superstars" (and I agree), or some have some fancy titles. But I have had this discussion with each and everyone of them. To me, it doesn't matter in the context of our relationship. This goes for anyone that I have built a relationship with. Titles DO NOT MATTER. They are not what makes a person. What makes a person is their heart, their integrity, their actions. I treat everyone the same...with a kind heart. I respect and celebrate my friends' amazing accomplishments, but that does not play into our relationship. I connect first with my heart and then with my mind. I get to actually know the person and build an authentic relationship. My relationships are built for no other reason, than a mutual respect and understanding. I AM NEVER connecting with someone because of what they can do for me, where they can take me...EVER. Sorry...not how I roll.
I am not one to "name drop" or even really discuss whom I talk with to anyone else (unless that person also has a relationship with us both). These are relationships between us and it works. I don't use these connections to my advantage, unless you call asking for advice or having intellectual discourse, my advantage.
I DO believe it is important to be "connected"- but let's not confuse the two. Both have their place. But I believe we are all better together and I know for a fact that I am better today than I was a year ago because I moved beyond being "connected" to actually "connecting". It's the hard work that helps us grow. We can do hard things when we have good people behind us.
I just hope that I will be able to make some connections with others that will impact them, as much as those that have impacted and changed me.
Are we promoting “risk taking”... why not?:
What we need to teach our students, in the absence of a crystal ball, is how to adapt. We can’t predict the future, so we need to teach them to be agile and course correct. They need to learn that things will never go perfectly, hardly go as planned...so “now what?”. We can only teach this by encouraging, modeling, celebrating and giving space for risk taking. Not only for our students but for our lead learners (the adults). We all need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Life is messy, but I argue that there is magic in that mess. It’s where we learn, develop and grow. It's that productive struggle that comes with just jumping. We owe it to ourselves and our students to make risk taking a priority.
Are we ALL learners...why not?:
The amount of change that is happening is impossible to keep up with. How can we, as educators, not be continuous learners? How can we provide our students with what THEY need to survive and grow, if we are not willing to grow ourselves? I always paraphrase Albert Einstein: “If we aren’t growing, we are dying" but add "and I’m too young to die”. We also need to be very comfortable with the fact that we don’t know it all. No one does. What we
We need to continually be questioning ourselves, our ideas, our actions and our purpose...WHY NOT?
I remember a time, when my daughter spent days on end creating a "carnival" out of cardboard boxes. She must have been about 8 years old. She knew nothing of Caine's Arcade, yet created this whole room full of cause and effect games. This was amazing to watch, as she had an idea in her mind, used what she had (boxes) and created something amazing! Would she do this now, at 13? Unfortunately, no. What happens?
Daniel Pink, in Drive, talks about the three things that motivate people: Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose. Why do young children thrive in autonomy...live with reckless abandon? Yet that changes with age. For this reason, I want to focus on that first one. In education, I have noticed something interesting that is wrapped around "autonomy"
I have the pleasure, in my role, to talk and work with a large sampling of educators, and I have noticed an interesting, polarizing phenomena. It seems that there are two camps:
"Please Give Me The Box..."
I have heard this line, way too many times: "Just tell me what to do!". I have found that there are educators out there who WANT to be in the box. They want everything predictable, the same...the word they use "standardized".
I try to be empathetic and figure out where they are coming from. It is not that they don't want to do right by their students, in fact...it's the opposite. When I dig deeper with them, it is fear. Fear that they will not be meeting the needs of their students, if they are not following some prescribed formula. They are worried that their students will have an unfair disadvantage if they are not lock step with their peers.
Their heart is in the right place, I am not faulting them by any means. But when I come across this, I try to reframe the idea.
How can anyone else: state, district, administrators, publishers...me, know what is best for YOUR students? It's not possible. They come to you as unique individuals, you need to meet them where they are. That can only be done by connecting to your students. Knowing who they are and how they work. Kids don't come in a box and neither can their education. We need to be able to adapt to them. Please read this blog for more of my ideas: Children Don't Come In A Box. We are all professionals that care about kids. We have the academic freedom to be autonomous, within the box, to teach...reach...build up our students. We owe it to them to innovate inside the box.
"A Box...Now What..."
This group of educators looks at the constraints placed on them by the state, the district, society, the school site and ask "How can I be autonomous within this box?" How can I use what I have been given, to best meet the needs of my students?
There is a caveat here, there is a "box"...rules, for a reason. We cannot go completely rouge and abandon the standards or the rules. We need to respect them and be innovative on how to work within them.
By law, we have to use our Board adopted curriculum for 51% of the time. What the law or the standards doesn't state is HOW we use it. I think this is where people get tripped up. Some want to go rouge and completely abandon the curriculum. We have to be careful. We need to use this curriculum as a resource...a tool; and be innovative in how it is being used. We should not turn page by page, follow a script, use the provided worksheets. Thank goodness, for our students, those days are long gone. The exciting part is, not only do we get to decide HOW to use the curriculum 51% of the time, but what shall we do with the other 49%?
We must know our students first, standards second, curriculum third. Once YOU know YOUR students, YOU decide how best to teach them the standards by using the curriculum and other supplements. It will look different for each class and possibly each student. To me, this is the beauty of education!!
When you find success...share forward. When you find failure...share forward. We should help each other be innovative for the greater good!
We, as educators, should be doing the same. Where/what do we want our students to learn, understand. Now let's look at the walls: each student is different, we have board adopted curriculum, we have standards...now let's make the magic, let's be autonomous. let's create an amazing experience for our learners. This is what we want to instill in our students...we want them to find a problem, assess the situation and create...innovate. Let's use that box to our advantage.
Check out the video below for a little inspiration:
There are still educators out there that believe that one way of teaching, one way of learning; works for all. I struggle with this fact, but I hear about it. I heard about it this week. Some teachers are still lecturing, kids taking notes, DOK 1 tests-memorizing and regurgitating. "Why didn't they get it, I taught it?" "It's the students' fault, I covered that."
Teaching this way, like the wrong Pointe shoes, can cause irreversible damage. There are so many things to look at when choosing a pointe shoe: length, width, arch, box, stretch, comfort, strength & lines of the dancer...and so many more. And two shoes, even from the same company, same size, different style: fit completely different. We can't just order them online, they need to be fitted. This holds true for our students. We can't just order up one curriculum, one entry point, one output...it doesn't work for all. There are many factors that need to be considered...many that we will never even understand. Who ARE the learners in our classes? They are children. They are children that are different in so many ways. We can't just throw a "shoe" at them and say "Go...dance."
Our students' parents, like me with the pointe shoes, are putting complete trust in us, to do what is best for their child. So, we owe it to them to do so. For them and our students, WE need to be "En Pointe" (On point) in our classrooms. It is a pricey investment! We need to look at the whole child. How do they learn? How do they think? What are their strengths? Where do they need support to grow? What triggers them? What causes them excitement? What causes them to shut down? What is going on emotionally...physically? How can I reach this kid?- Does this sound like a lot of work? A lot of effort? ABSOLUTELY! But think about what we are tasked to do as educators. Our number one priority is to serve our students. SERVE them. Not throw facts at them and hope they stick, but actually serve them in moving them forward. That is going to look different, with different students, at different times. I've said before, we can no longer shoot for the middle, because there is no middle...we must shoot for the edges.This is when empathy comes into play. When we are planning activities and lessons, we need to be cognizant of who our audience is, who are our learners and how can we help them move forward. It takes time, we want to get it right, get the right shoe...for each kid.
I am not suggesting that we create IEPs for each of our students, that is impossible. I am asking that we offer differentiation. That we become student centered. Give students options and multiple ways to receive information, synthesize and interpret, and show their thinking. We need to involve our students in their own learning, listen AND hear their voice. The fitter talked to Leslie through the entire process, she based her decisions on Leslie's feedback. We should be doing the same with our students.
Needless to say, Leslie left the shop with a new pair of pointe shoes...a new brand and said "I'm glad I tried them all and I think I may like these better." Goes to show us, one size (nor shoe) does not fit all!
For many people, this word causes discomfort. For me...excitement. It is going to happen, with or without us, so rather than fight it...let's look at it as an opportunity. I have been extremely excited and proud of the educators that I have seen take risks and fail forward. They seem to have a new zeal for their profession and have really enjoyed the process. I celebrate them. As with anything, we are not all lined up at the same starting line, so I celebrate each person's progress from their own point A to their own point B. *Pretty sure I got that from Innovators' Mindset. But there are some that are still frozen at that starting line. What is holding people back from accepting change? From embracing the new? Through many conversations and observations, these are my findings:
1) "Yeah, but...why?": For some people, they don't see a need for change. This is how things are done, it's worked in the past, this is how I learned. Example: Two students go to the same school, five years apart. Two different teachers, one is brand new to the school. This is their science project...
2) "Yeah, but...there isn't time.": A few months back, I was sitting in a teacher's classroom, as she was venting about all of the stacks of papers she needed to grade. My friend and I started offering some ideas on how to decrease that work load to help decrease her stress. Her response : "Yeah, but...I don't have time to change.". We had no words.
3) "Yeah, but...I'm afraid...": It seems like fear comes up a lot. Fear of the unknown, fear of failing, fear of messiness...the list goes on and on. These fears can hold back a lot of good...a lot of great. We need to be ok with being uncomfortable, because we need to model that for our students. Life is messy, we need to help students learn to navigate through change. We need to be agile and adaptive, so that our students can be the same. I write about this in "Time For A Breakthrough..."
4) "Yeah, but...I don't know how..." Everybody was at the "I don't know how" stage at some point, so let's learn from each other. When I don't know something (which is often), my answer is "I don't know that, but I can find someone who does." We are so fortunate in this time, to have a plethora of resources, literally at our fingertips. Twitter, Voxer, Facebook...we have ways of connecting to others that were not available before. Let's work together to create a better future for our students. Education should be about sharing...if we all have the same goal, doing what's best for kids, then we should not hold on to our amazing ideas, we should make them available to all. These ideas can be used as is, tweeked to meet our students' needs or spur new ideas to be shared forward. We can't be afraid to ask others "How". We should be continuous learners along with our students.
5) "Yeah, but...I have to teach the curriculum...": Do we? Do we need to teach the curriculum or do we need to teach students...standards? Covering curriculum is very different then the other two. I go into more detail in this blog post: "Children Don't Come in a Box..." Let's embrace the diversity of our students and change our teaching to meet them.
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