The Power of Connection

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This quote applies to all stakeholders in the education system. Whether we are speaking about how students, parents, teachers, education assistants or administrators feel, there is little doubt regarding the power of connection. People want to feel that they are valued, that they have a voice and that they are members of a community.

I want to focus now on the feeling of connection amongst educators.

There has been much talk over the past few years about people in the field of education building their own  PLN (Personal Learning Network). The feeling of connection that comes from a PLN is powerful. I have spoken to many people about the role that Twitter can play in developing a PLN. Most of us already have some sort of electronic device, a cell phone, a tablet…that’s all you need. Reaching out to connect with others in the field of education and sharing expertise can be a valuable learning experience. After all, many of the challenges that you face as an educator are not unique to you, your school or community. There are hundreds, maybe even thousands  of people out there who have or are experiencing many of the same challenges that you are and can share their stories about what has worked and what hasn’t. Connect with some of them, have conversations, get feedback on your ideas, take charge of your professional development.

Sure, often when I mention Twitter and other forms of social media like Voxer, I have often been met with “eye rolling”, often followed by “I don’t understand Twitter”, or “I don’t believe in technology”. The fact is, that technology is a part of our lives and most definitely a part of the lives and future of our students. If you are unsure how to use it, then have someone teach you.

You can also build your PLN by attending conferences and workshops about topics that are of particular interest to you. It is easy to get caught up in daily routine with all of the things that seem to pile up on your desk. You can get so focussed on attacking the tasks, prepping, marking… that you don’t take the time to pause and search out experiences that can help you to grow, to connect with new people and have new conversations. Go to a conference and take advantage of the opportunity to share new ideas and opinions, you may even find that you gain a new energy that you otherwise may not gain while staying within the four walls of your classroom. If you do choose to attend a conference, try to sit with people you don’t know, dont just sit with people that you can talk with every day, you already know their opinions, their experiences. Branch out. This can be difficult for those of us who are more introverted but believe me, you will be glad you did. Connecting and collaborating are important skills that we want for our students, don’t you want the same for yourself?

 

 

 

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Learning Can Be Messy!

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First of all, an update on my #OneWord2017, “balance”. I’m working on it and have made some progress, I’m proud to say. I am making an effort to try new things. I decided to try out a paint night with friends. You know, the ones that you hear about on Facebook where a group of women get together to have a glass of wine, a few laughs and try their hand at painting. At times it was difficult to hear our instructor as people were laughing and having a great time. It was so much fun and the interesting thing is that while everyone is painting the same picture, the results are all unique. I was apprehensive at first, I’ll admit that, but once you get started and dab some paint here and dab some more paint there, before you know it you have a painting. As a matter of fact, I liked it so much I decided to sign up for another session.

This weekend I also spent some time at the curling rink watching my son skip in a bonspiel. I remember when he was 9 and he had just started to curl. He is 17 now and will be heading off to university in September. (Don’t know how that happened, where the time went?) During the bonspiel I watched as he skipped very good games and made some great shots under pressure. It was so enjoyable to watch him play. Curling has been such a wonderful learning experience and I am so proud of him.

As I reflect on these two things, my painting experience and my son’s growth as a curler, there are so many lessons here that can be applied to life in general and to education. First of all, take risks, you’ll be happy you tried something new. When I arrived at the paint night event I remember looking at the painting sample that was on display, the one we were all, supposedly, going to try and duplicate. I turned to my friend and said, “I’m not so sure about this, how am I supposed to do that?” But you know, once you get started you see that it is doable. Just relax, don’t stress, and remember to enjoy yourself. It can be messy…I had paint up to my elbows! Learning something new usually is, but when you start to see it all come together its pretty amazing and you most certainly feel a sense of accomplishment.

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With curling, I watched my kids when they were little (my daughter also started to curl when she was in Grade 4) go from barely being able to push a rock, to easily sliding off the hack while getting a rock to curl just the way they wanted. They went from developing the physical skills to developing the psychological skills. Strategically reading the game, deciding what calls to make and how to focus on a shot, take a deep breath and make it happen. Anytime we learn something new we first gain basic knowledge and skills, move forward into the understanding and application of that knowledge and then progress to critical thinking, often working with members of a team to be successful and collaborate on decisions.

You know, last year I didn’t watch my son play a full game of curling. I was always too busy with work. Here’s to continuing to make 2017 a year with more “balance”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Balance, my #OneWord for 2017

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Balance, my #OneWord for 2017

Funny, the last time I posted in my blog was January of 2016. I haven`t written since then because I was “too busy”. In 2016 I started a new position as a principal of a Middle/High school and, believe me, the learning curve was quite steep. I have enjoyed the learning and challenges along the way and am continuing to learn new things every day. While the year was also sprinkled with fun new travel experiences that I shared with family, upon reflection I realize that my day to day was often consumed with my work.

 

When the Christmas holidays rolled around this year I spent quite a bit of time thinking about how I wanted to approach 2017. I am not usually one for  resolutions but when I read in social media that a lot of people were going with the #oneword type of resolution I felt that this was something I could do. I have seen many great #oneword choices, words like believe, growth, pivot, grit, be, hope…the list goes on and on. So, after much thought, I decided to choose one word to be my focus and that one word is balance.

I know that I tend to be an “all in” type of person, I have to be busy all the time. So this concept of balance is not necessarily going to be very easy for me. I am very good at advising other people about the need for balance, the need for them to remember to take time for themselves and slow down. Now, the challenge is, to apply that same advice to my own life.

I, like most, want to do the best I can for the people in both my personal and professional life and in order to do that I plan to be mindful of balance. I started by reading four books over the break which were for pleasure. I love to read and read a lot but over the past year or so my reading list was dominated by books about education. I plan to keep working on balance in my life, whether it be balancing the good with bad, work with play, spending with saving, you get the idea. Wish me luck!

Getting Above the Clouds

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I have not been writing in my blog recently. Many times over the past couple of weeks I have found myself in front of a blank screen, fingers held over the keyboard and… nothing.

So here I sit today trying to hit the reset button on my blog.

2016 has begun and I am having a great time! I have embarked on a new challenge in my career and am enjoying the journey so far. I am busier than ever but I feel energized.

I just finished reading “The Energy Bus” by Jon Gordon. It is a book about a guy named George who gets up one day and discovers that he has a flat tire, just what he needs given that his home and work life are not going well. George asks his wife to give him a ride to work but she refuses so he has no choice but to take the bus.

The story continues as George meets the bus driver named Joy and a cast of characters who teach him 10 life lessons about positive energy, all while using a bus as a metaphor for life.

The underlying message is that you must think positive thoughts because thoughts are magnetic. “What we think about, we attract.” I have certainly found this to be so within my own life.

We all go through periods in our lives where things just seem to be going all wrong and we tend to look at only the negatives during these times. But, if we try to turn our thoughts in a positive direction, and believe me I know this can be quite difficult, we will find that the clouds will part. Positivity is like a muscle that you need to exercise in order for it to become stronger.  You have to develop a habit of positive thinking. And, as Gordon puts it, you must not allow any “energy vampires” on your bus.

There may be people in our lives that have a negative impact on our energy, the ones who act as energy vampires and seem to thrive on negativity. You have to be sure that your positive energy is enough to cancel their negative. You have to have those crucial conversations with these people to let them know that you will not allow them to impact your path or vision in a negative way. That if they are not willing to develop a more positive outlook then there is no room for them on your bus. You don’t waste your energy on the people who are not willing to ride along with you and be a member of your team.

It is also important to acknowledge that the positivity which you project is real. People know when you are being fake,  like when you constantly throw around “I love you” and “You’re the best” to everyone you meet.

When building relationships that are authentic, you have to be aware of your energy. People, especially kids, can tap into your energy and are sensitive to it, they can feel when you are excited, angry, nervous…you can’t fool them with a positive façade. You may wonder, as George does in the book, what to do with your negative energy. Well, you have to transform it, look for the good and hold onto it. Rise above the negative. Its like when you are flying in a plane and the sky is completely cloud covered, but when you get up above those clouds, the sun is shining brightly. You just have to get above the clouds.

When you are working on building a strong, productive team, you need to show that you care about people. Be willing to communicate, and don’t let how busy or stressed you may feel interfere with that. You need to give people a purpose. This is the intrinsic motivator, productive teams are not driven by money or perks,  they are driven by purpose. You have to be willing to act as a coach to help people tap into their strengths, build their skills, feel that what they do matters.

Take risks, encourage others to do so, spend time reflecting and finally… you have to enjoy the ride. Life is too short not to go for it!

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t Punish People for a Job Well Done

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Much of my life has been spent inside of a school and even when I am out of school I find myself drawn to learning as much as I can about education. I have had many roles in education, I’ve been a teacher, department head, vice principal and principal and all the while I have been, and continue to be, a student.

I do a lot of reading about education and many of my conversations with others lead back to education, I guess you could call me an “education junkie”.

In my new role as a principal, I have doing quite a bit of reading about leadership and how to support teachers and staff. I know what I had wanted from my many principals when I was a teacher.

In the school where I spent more than 20 years teaching, the administrators office was a revolving door of people who would be hired and shortly thereafter move on. I sat down one day and reflected on all of the administrators that had gone through our building and I had a difficult time keeping track. If I include the principals and vice principals, the number of people is 17. Over a 22 year span our school saw 17 different administrators! The changes in administration brought a continual change of focus, each new leader bringing with them a new outlook, a new initiative, a new “flavour of the month” while the common core of teachers and staff worked to meet the challenges.

In reading Shelly Rees’s blog post, “19 Things Teachers want their Principals to Know“, she cites many of the things that have come up over the years in conversations with my colleagues. Many of the things that teachers want are the same things that any worker in any field wants from their bosses, things like support, understanding and trust. But the one point that stands out the most to me as I reflect on my own experiences and those of several of my colleagues is fairness. Rees states:

Don’t punish me for a job well done. Just because I am hard-working and capable, don’t come to me to be on every committee and to help solve every problem. It is not fair to give me the difficult, heart-wrenching cases year after year because I do a good job. Spread the workload fairly. “

Oftentimes I have seen the same teachers step up to be the members of committees, the sponsors for school clubs, the teachers who deal with the “difficult” students because… well, “Mrs. X can’t have those students, she doesn’t get along with that type of student” or “We need you to do ____ because you can handle it, while Mr. Y cannot.” Should people who are able to handle difficult situations be the ones who are always assigned to deal with them? Wouldn’t it be better if those people who don’t have the skills required were placed in situations where they could learn these skills? I’ve had people say to me over the years, “Its almost better to do a bad job because then I would get the easier assignment.” This just does not seem fair.

What often happens is the people who are the busiest and the most passionate about their jobs are the people who get called upon to do more, because after all, they are the ones who will find the time. Everyone else is just too busy. This type of leadership can lead to crispiness, the stage just before burnout. When the energetic become tired and start to notice a lack of fairness, they will begin to shut their doors and close themselves off from the excitement they once felt about education. They will continue to do the great job they have always done within the four walls of their classroom but they will no longer step forward to be the risk takers they once were and that we need in our schools. Administrators need to take time to show appreciation, spread out the workload fairly and equitably, provide the supports to those who need to develop and learn new skills and in so doing build a strong team. Don’t punish people for a job well done. The people that you take for granted today may be the people that you need tomorrow.

The Importance of Soft Skills

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I have been doing quite a lot of reading, rereading, learning and relearning recently as I attempt to answer the question, “What skills do we as educators, leaders and parents want for our students and children when they leave school. What are the attributes of a successful graduate?

This would be a great activity to do with our school community. Pose the question to parents, teachers, administrators and students, “What are the attributes of a successful graduate?”

I recently reread an article from the New York Times by Thomas Friedman, “How to get a job at Google”. Empowering students and engaging them in a learning process which fosters success in school and life, ensuring that when they leave school they have the skills that the job market of today and tomorrow requires.

In the article, Friedman highlights five attributes that Google desires in its employees:

1.Cognitive Ability

Cognitive ability is not just how “smart” you are, it encompasses your ability to learn and process information. To be able to think creatively and critically, reflect on your work and pivot. To be able to accept feedback as you feed forward.
2.Leadership
Leadership is about your ability to step up, step in and more importantly, to step back when necessary.
3.Humility
Humility allows you to understand that we all have something to learn and something to teach each other. To understand that your way is not the only way.  Listening with an open mind fosters trust, sharing and promotes collaboration.
4.Ownership
To own your goals, learning and behaviour. To recognize your role and responsibility as you work with others to problem solve.
5.Expertise
Being an expert in your field is an obvious asset. If you are not an expert you can make up for that by being curious and willing to learn.
While, not all students are heading to Google when they graduate, these skills can prove quite valuable in an array of career paths.
Ask yourself, if you were asked to list five attributes of a successful graduate, what would you choose?
My personal list would be:
  • Perseverance
  • Resilience
  • Critical thinking
  • Social responsibility
  • Adaptability

 

 

 

 

For All the Heros and Sheroes

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Today is Remembrance Day here in Canada, “the true North strong and free.” A day when we pause to remember all of the people who have given so much for the freedom that we enjoy and often take for granted. I would like to dedicate this blog entry to all of the heroes and sheroes who have sacrificed so much for this great country and to their families who support them through it all.

Motherhood

When he was just a baby,

first learning how to walk,

she held his tiny hand tightly,

not wanting him to fall.

He gently pushed her hand away,

“Let me go Mama, I’ll be okay.”

She did… and he was.

When he was a young boy,

excited for the first day of school,

she held his little hand tightly,

not wanting him to go.

He gently pushed her hand away,

“Let me go Mommy, I’ll be okay.”

She did…and he was.

When he was a teenager,

eagerly going off to college,

She held his hand tightly,

Wishing he didn’t have to go.

He gently pushed her hand away.

“Let me go Mom, I’ll be okay.”

She did… and he was.

When he was a young man,,

proudly going off to war,

she held his hand tightly,

afraid to let him go.

He gently pushed her hand away.

“Let me go Mother, I’ll be okay.”

She did…

Geraldine Lawlor