Sunday, March 8, 2015

This one time, at band camp...

In many ways, I am a risk taker. I like trying new things, new strategies and exploring new methods. I am not afraid to try something new, even if it might not work out. I figure, what's the worst that can happen? It might not work out, but then again, it might. Or, if it doesn't work, this attempt might lead to the one that will work. This is especially true when it comes to solving problems... because it isn't enough to just point out the problems, we have to be solution focused and work on identifying how we might solve the problem that has us all scrambling. I think that it also has something to do with the reason why I am trying something new. If it is to fix a problem, then I can easily fall back on that as the reason behind my attempt and justify my failure as a "at least I tried, instead of just complaining about it." It helps me feel more comfortable with failure. And honestly, I don't mind learning from a failure, especially if I am doing it to help someone else I am quite willing to embarrass or humiliate myself for the benefit of others.
However, when it comes to taking a risk where I might be a more visible failure, say, on a stage or in front of a crowd or to learn something that pushes me outside of my comfort zone or something that I am not especially interested in or motivated to do, well, that can be a different story. I worry that others will laugh at me, or mock me, or say horrible things about me. I don't like to be put out on display for other's amusement. In fact, I sometimes shut down. I'm done- nothing to see here, folks, cause I'm not going to give you any more ammunition to use against me.

Can any of you can identify with my feelings or fears? How many of our students feel the same way? And yet, every single day, we ask kids to do things that are new for them, or difficult, or that are so far out of their comfort zone that they simply freeze. And we ask them to take those risks publicly, in front of their peers. When some balk or resist, or shut down completely, we may see it as being disrespectful or non-compliant, when in reality, they may be using the only coping mechanism they have. I'm not suggesting that we just move on and not address the issue. Instead, what if we made it a point to help that student find a different way to cope with their fears? What if we used his/her strengths to attack this new skill or concept? We don't all learn the same way- do our students have to show us the results of their learning in exactly the same way?

On Tuesday, I will be attending the middle school/high school band and choir concert. One of the recent assignments given to the middle school band students was to give one of their parents four lessons on how to play their instrument. Let me first clarify that I actually love the assignment. I love the creativity behind it, the authenticity of having band students teach someone else, the whole process of their reflecting about the experience in a journal, the "let's try this a different way" method that Mrs. Miller is using. That's the educator in me speaking. The parent in me will tell you a different story. My son plays the saxophone, my daughter, the clarinet. During the week, I am the sole parent in our home, so I have had 8 lessons- four on the sax and four on clarinet.... in case you are not familiar with those instruments, they are not particularly alike. What I have been taught to do with one instrument, I have been told not to do on the other. I was not in band when I was in school, for good reason, I have discovered. When I say that this assignment has caused me great anxiety, it is not an exaggeration. My heart accelerates, my hands get sweaty, I get snippy in my responses to those around me, my stomach churns. Literally. The lessons are just a part of this ordeal- er, I mean, experience.  The other part is that the parents are "invited" to be a part of a special band performance at the spring music performance. On Tuesday. In two days. Did I mention that it has me totally freaked out? I think I may be sick on Tuesday. Or have a late meeting. Or run out of gas on my way to the concert.

But in reality, I won't do any of those things. I know that there were many wonderful reasons behind this assignment: To help the band students understand how challenging it can be to teach someone else, to help them see just how far they have come as musicians, to acknowledge the fact that we cannot teach what we do not know, to give parents insight into just how hard it can be for our children to learn this new skill, to give us a taste of the risks that our children are being asked to take when they perform for an auditorium full of people... As a person who believes wholeheartedly in having a growth mindset, whose own children are willing to take those risks and put themselves out there, how can I do anything other than take my seat up on that stage on Tuesday evening?

 Just know that for those of you attending Tuesday's concert, you won't be amazed by anything other than the patience and fortitude that Abby and Jack have shown by completing this assignment with their non-musical, but very dedicated mom.  Well, that and maybe the fact that I actually had four lessons and I am still that bad.  Growth mindset or not, reality is still reality. 

Monday, September 1, 2014

#ArrowPride is Here!

#ArrowPride is Here!

I am a part of something incredible.  

      I've waited to write about what is happening in our school and our district, not because I haven't noticed, or because I'm not excited, but because I don't know that I have the ability to fully communicate just how much I have noticed or how excited I am. 
      I'm afraid that I don't have the eleoquence to share just how magical this first week of the 2014-15 school has been.  How do I put into words the choking feeling I get in my chest when I see the way that our teachers and staff and joking and laughing in ways that they weren't doing last year?  How do I write about the tears that I shed as I listened to others share their challenges during our staff luncheon on Wednesday? Or the giggles we all shared as others shared the stories of how they met their spouses? 
       How do I tell about the goosebumps I get when a staff member of 27 years comes in and thanks me for what she says has been the best start of the school year she has ever had- that she feels so hopeful and excited for this school year in a way that she has not felt before? 

       How do I express how inspirational it is when staff member after staff member launches their first blog post, baring their hearts to the world?  When they jump into Twitter, holding each other's hands?  When a first year teacher designs a logo for us and then another one for a potential bumper sticker? When a business owner tells me that she has been hearing really great things about our school and what is happening there?  When someone like Missy Emler, newly a member of the CESA 3 team, writes a blog post highlighting what is taking place here? (You can check out her blogpost here:

      Something magical is happening and I don't know if words can ever truly capture magic.

      But, as so many have said, if I don't tell the story, who will?  And who has the unique perspective that I am priveleged to have?  So please know , whatever enthusiam and excitement I am able to convey in this post, should be multiplied by 100 to equal what I am really feeling inside.

      You see, I am JACKED UP!  Fully, 110%, no holding back...JACKED UP.  For those of you who know Jimmy Casas (@casas_jimmy), you will recognize that as one of his signature phrases.  We were so fortunate to have Jimmy join us for our district-wide Back to School session on Tuesday.  And in typical Jimmy fashion, he brought it.  BROUGHT IT! He had us laughing, reflecting, talking to one another, feeling encouraged and motivated...all in an hour and half session.  The speed dating activity he led following his session allowed staff to meet face to face with others that they might never have met.  I connected with middle school and high school staff and was finally able to put names with faces.  Afterwards, as a district, we traveled to a nearby park to enjoy a picnic and continue the conversations that had begun earlier.  It was magical to see the way that everyone was connecting- and by everyone, I mean EVERYONE.  Secretaries, bus drivers,paraprofessionals,  teachers, kitchen staff, custodians, administration- we were all there, celebrating and honoring the important roles that we each play within our district.  The talking and laughing just didn't stop.  One note that Jimmy made to me was that he couldn't tell who was who- teachers, administrators, custodians, assistants, food service, bus drivers:  all were interacting and mingling without any distinction.  He noted that this is not the case everywhere and that we should be proud of this interaction.  We truly are a team- a team working together to create the very best experience for the students of our district. 

     I won't lie- seeing Jimmy Casas in action was incredible.  He had staff talking and laughing, high fiving each other, and reflecting on their own actions and beliefs. I appreciated so many things about his visit: the "pump you up" messages (and there were plenty of those)  but also the way he made us think: he asked "Why are we doing what we do?  Why aren't we celebrating everything that we already doing?  Are we showing each other just how much we believe and trust in one another?  Do we show our students that we believe in them?  Do we consider where they are coming from?  Are we doing everything that we can to instill pride in ourselves, to celebrate our achievements?  Are we remembering to have fun?"  I saw many heads shaking as he spoke.  
      But maybe the most important thing he did was to give us all permission to believe in what we are doing.  "If you want to achieve greatness, stop asking permission."   I am passionate about what I do, and I wholeheartedly believe that I have the best job in the world.  Not everyone is as fortunate as I am to feel this way about what they do for a living.  I get that- but sometimes I have felt that I need to hide just how deeply I feel about my role in education. I am done with hiding how I feel.  This is what I was put here to do- make a difference in the lives of children and their families, in whatever way that I can.
      Jimmy left us last Tuesday with a challenge:  each staff member was to choose one Take Away- one thing he/she was committing to work on this school year- and email that committment to the two bulding principals.  I sat in my office on Tuesday night at midnight, crying as I read what people had written.  Written with their hearts, being completely transparent and open on where they want to go this year.  How do I put into words just what a privilege that was for me to witness?
       Every single day, even in the difficult moments- especially in the difficult moments- it is a privilege to be a member of the Lancaster school district.  We are seeing #ArrowPride take off in ways that we never expected.  Staff across the district are connecting and working together, highfiving one another, complimenting and supporting one another.  

      A few weeks, ago, I was seeing Possibilities.  Today, as we prepare for tomorrow's opening day, I am seeing so much more. Those possibilities are coming to fruition and I am blessed to be here to witness that.  

       Look out, world, we are just getting started- and there's no limit to what we can do- TOGETHER.

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Monday, August 11, 2014

See the Possibilites

We have a sign in our house that says simply,  "See the possibilities".  It's something that I have always tried to do:  tor example, being able to see the potential left in an old piece of furniture.  Or what could happen if we just tried doing something a little differently.  The potential of a child...  See the possibilities.

Today, I had that reaffirmed in a multitude of ways.  Our PBIS team met this afternoon to work on our rollout and fine tune all of the different pieces that go into such an endeavor.  I tell you, that team of educators was on fire!  The laughter, camaraderie,  ideas.... it was just happening in that room.  Some tasks we did as a group, others we broke down into smaller tasks that could be handled by two team members.  We were able to cross off so many items that were on that To Do list- in part because of their enthusiaam, but mostly because of the trust that they have built among themselves during this last year of learning and planning together.  That is huge.  And it was an honor to be a part of that experience today.  They are seeing the possibilities in teamwork and collaboration.

Tomorrow and Wednesday are our district's student registration days.  It's a lot of work for the district's secretaries and I appreciate all that they do to assist our families with this.  But tonight, I am feeling even more grateful, because this year, they are trying something new, something different.  Rather than hold registration in each of the buildings, as it has been done in the past, they are all coming together in one location. One stop registration, so to speak.  It would have been easier for them to stick with the old way, the safe and comfortable way- but because doing it in this one location could be more convenient for our famiiles, they are willing to try it.  They've been meeting and planning, getting everything in place to make the entire process better for everyone.  They are seeing the possibilites in a new approach.

Grade level teams have been having  Back to School shopping outings- taking their new team members off to go shopping, helping them determi ne exactly what they need to buy and avoid what might seem like a "Must Have" but will prove to have been a waste of precious funds.  In the process, I have heard of lunches out, lots of laughter, and new staff expressing how glad they are that they are joining the Winskill Team.  They are seeing the possibilities in one another.

I have been honored to listen as staff members have stopped in to share the learning that they have been involved with this summer and upcoming months.  Classes on English Language Learners, the Daily 5, Educator Effectiveness, math instruction, technology, autism,  Donalyn Miller's October workshop...  our staff seeing the possibilites in themselves.

We have more staff than ever before blogging. Thanks to the encouragement and modeling of one of our new staff members, Margaret Bussan,  two new blogs have been created and I have no doubt that more are to follow.  I would share that Margaret commented at her interview, "I checked out your blog, and you need to write more."  (very respectful tone, I might add)  And so here I am- writing again.  Youcan check out her blog, Running Through 4th Grade at   Jim Addison's new blog, Black and Green and Everything In Between can be found at  and finally, second grade teacher, Missy Sperle is jumping into blogging with Sights and Sounds from Second Grade at .  We are all seeing the possibilities in the power of the written word and what we have to share with the world.

Change is inevitable, it is true, but the educators that I am honored to work with see those changes as possibilities.

There is an excitement and energy in our school right now. You cannot fake it, nor force it.  As the lead learnier, I can only support and and model and sometimes, just get out of their way!  Because I see the possibilities....

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Principals Are People Too

I was recently challenged to participate in this Principals Are People Too blog topic- and I am thankful for that challenge.

I must have been a very frustrating child for my parents to raise.  (Thank goodness they never gave up on me!)  I have a tendency to be a bit contrary at times.  For example, growing up in Indiana, I was well aware of John Mellencamp (garage back days) earlier than many of my raised out-of-state college, naturally, when the whole John "Cougar" Mellencamp craze came about, I was done.  Everyone else loves a book- please don't tell  me that I have to read makes me put it on hold.  And yes, I do realize how ridiculous this all is- I missed out on The Fault in Our Stars for six months because of this.  So, you can imagine my reaction when everyone in my PLN kept telling me that I need to blog.  Ummmm, "No thanks."  "I'm good." " I'm too busy." "No one wants to hear/read what I have to say."    Fear? Shyness?  Probably. But a large part of my resistance was me just being contrary.  Or maybe there are so many Must Do items in life that when there comes a time that I actually have a choice, I choose "No."  I wonder how many of our students do the same?  They feel a loss of control in other areas, so they seize the little they can control.

But here's the thing- once I try one of the things that I have been so resistent to, I tend to LOVE it!  Twitter, Voxer, EdCamps.... all examples of new things that came my way and that I have become a strong advocate of.  What I have learned (hey, I'm a slow learner) is that people are not encouraging me to try these new things because they want me to fail. Indeed, it is the exact opposite.  I am important enough that they want me to succeed!  This is certainly the case for my Voxer Family.   I cannot imagine life without their daily dose of humor, reality, advice, honesty...  So when the challenge was extended to write a blog post on the topic of Principals Are People Too, I just couldn't allow that contrary, Just Say No side of me come out to play.

Principals are people too.  Indeed we are. As much as I try to present the image of Calm and Collected, sometimes I lose that cool.  While I don't have a problem seeking help in learning new things, I sometimes struggle to share the load.  I need to be better at saying "Yes, thank you!" when someone offers a helping hand.  I need to do a better job of allowing myself to focus on things beyond my job.  When you are married to another educator, it is very easy to talk shop ALL the time.  I need to learn to shut that down.  I need to find more balance in my life.  This is a message that I have shared with staff, encouraging them to take the entire weekend and focus solely on themselves and family.  Yet I don't follow my own advice nearly as often as I should.   My Voxer Family has helped me with this realization.  They remind me that it will all be there tomorrow- but my children, my family, my friends may not be.

So, I am going to say good-bye for now.  I will be back- and it won't take 10 months for my post to appear.  But in the meantime, I have an evening planned with some very special people.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Why I Lead #SAVMP

As a participant in the School Admin Virtual Mentor Program, one of the challgenges given to me is to reflect on my practices as an adminstrator through my blog.  And as I notice that my first (and only) post was dated on July 6, it seems that it is a good challenge for me to have.

Why do I lead?  I have been pondering this question quite a bit this summer.  I have to admit- it was a rough first year as an administrator.  Lots of challenges, lots of situations that I could have never imagined having to face.  Yet, face them I did.  Some I met more effectively than others. Still, through the toughest times, I never considered NOT meeting the challenges head on.  Does that quality make me  a leader?  I would like to think that it does.  Does my willingness to look at a situation and reflect on what I could have done better make me a leader?  I hope so. I am a leader because someone else led me.  They believed in me, in the qualities that I showed in the classroom, in staff meetings, in the community- and then they gave me opportunities to further develop those qualities in a larger arena.  Colleen Pacatte was my key mentor during this process, though she certainly wasn't the only one who encouraged me to stretch my wings.  Colleen encouraged me to join a group of highly motivated, invested members of the school community to design and bring to life a very special school.  If you have ever been a part of building something from the ground up, you understand just how rare an opportunity this was.  Every single piece of how that school would run, from classroom design, to having a dining room versus a lunch room, the unique 8th grade Spotlight banquet we created to honor our graduating 8th graders, the monthly recognition ceremonies, held long before PBIS came to be...came from US- the staff members, parents and community members who invested countless hours to make sure everything was in place, who believed that we were creating something incredible.  I had ownership in that school, stock that paid in dividends that cannot be counted in terms of a bank account.  It was a heady experience- one that was almost impossible to walk away from.  And yet, when the time came, I was able to walk away, taking with me the knowledge and confidence I had gained from the experiences I had as a part of the staff at Gurnee Grade School.  I lead because I know how incredible it feels when someone believes in you, believes that you can make a difference.  I lead because, deep down, I believe that we all are capable of being leaders- in different ways, in different situations.  It is our responsibility to share that leadership with those around us, to foster the talents of our staff, to share the awesome feeling that comes from building something special.  This  is why I lead. 

Saturday, July 6, 2013

First we get started...

This post has been a long time in coming to fruition- written in response to a friend who has been very patient in waiting for me to fulfill a promise that I made to him months ago.  Way back in March, I was fortunate to have met George Couros while at ASCD 2013, along with a plethora of educational leaders whose work I greatly admire.  To be honest, I was rather star struck.  As a first year administrator, it was rather surreal to find myself in the midst of such greats as George, Dave and Shelley Burgess, Jimmy Casas, Dr. Joe Clark, Tom Whitby, Joe Mazza and Eric Shenniger, just to name a few.  Because of Twitter, I was warmly welcomed into their conversations.  It didn't hurt that I was with Tom Whitford  (aka @twhitford)  who had been chatting with so many of these people much longer than I had.  I did what I usually do in a new situation- stand back and observe, just soaking it all in.  But George quickly put an end to that, pulling me into the center of things.  He encouraged me to share what I know, what I am thinking, and what I have been learning this year.  Over lunch, George, Tom and I chatted about ways to support staff in response to all of the new initiatives that are coming our way, as well as the goals that we each have set for ourselves.  George answered many questions, but asked just as many of us. If you have met him, you will understand what I am talking about.  George pushes your thinking, challenges your responses, makes you really consider what you believe.  I appreciate that about him, even as I occasionally shook my mental fist at him.

Still, having made a promise to him that I would start blogging that very weekend, I found myself stalled.  I blamed it on needing to reconnect with my children, with the intense workload waiting for me back in my office, on just about anything that let me off the hook for not following through.  But when I am being truly honest with myself, it was procrastination out of fear.  Fear that I would not be successful at this new skill, fear that I might be mocked, or challenged in my thinking, or that I might even misspeak and say something that I shouldn't.  I recently read Ben Gilpin's blog post  on The Fear of Sharing  (if you haven't read his work at  , you should definitely do so)  I admire Ben's work a great deal and the idea that he has had the same fears that I have been facing is reassuring.  It was also motivating.

This is just the beginning- but it is a beginning.  Someone I greatly admire has often told me, "First you get started, then you get better."  I am finding that this philosophy helps me continue on when I stall, looking for the perfect moment, or the perfect decision.  There is no such perfection, but as Maya Angelou said, "When you know better, you do better."  What inspires you when you stall?  How do you battle self-doubt?  What are you beginning?

And, George, thanks for the push!