Being AWESOME is a Choice

This came across my Twitter feed this morning:

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It gave me pause to think about what it means to be “awesome.” Originally a word that appeared in the Oxford Dictionary in 1598 to mean awe-inspiring, awesome became an overused slang term when it was found in the Official Preppy Handbook in 1980. We now use the word awesome to describe just about anything.

So…what does it mean to be awesome – not just in slang, but to actually be awe-inspiring? And how do we reach that potential every day? Here are my daily goals in an effort to be AWESOME:

A – All

There are students and staff that we connect with better than others. But to be awe-inspiring, you have to find a way to to build relationships with all of them. It doesn’t take much to reach out and ask a question, give a compliment, tell a joke, share a laugh, or listen. We must do this even with the most challenging, because sometimes they are the ones who need us most. Each week I talk to students who look lonely, those who visit the office a lot, those who look like they are creating something unique, and even the ones that are laughing and having fun. And I pride myself in knowing something about each staff member as a way to connect and build a relationship. Every student and staff member deserves to feel like they belong and are loved within the school community.

 
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W – Wonder

There is wonder all around us. I try to look for it as much as possible. When you live looking at things differently, like everything is a miracle, the world looks different. I’m constantly in awe and wonder of people, events, and things around me. But beyond that, wonder is also a state of curiosity. It’s asking questions and looking for the answers. It’s looking at life as if it is a riddle to be solved. I live with an insatiable curiosity as to learn as much as possible to be better, do better, achieve, and make an impact. I know that the possibilities for me, and all of those around me, are endless.

 
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E – Empathy

I feel empathy is something we are severely lacking right now in this world. The ability to understand the feelings of someone else is not an innate skill. As humans, it’s easier to focus on how we are feeling than people around us. Empathy help us to make better decisions. It helps us support each other as members of society. Empathy helps us understand rather than judge. But just a word of caution with empathy: it shouldn’t cause more sadness and/or anger. In fact, empathy should have the complete opposite effect. It isn’t about retaliation, but about making time in your day and a place in your heart for someone else. I’ll be honest, while empathy is not the the thing that comes easiest for me, every day I consciously work on seeking first to understand.

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S – Speak up

The skill of speaking up and being honest has never alluded me. 🙂 When we stay silent, there is perceived approval of what is being said. It is important to make sure people know you, to share your unique perspective, to stand up for what you believe is right. Some are afraid to have their opinion be heard or speak against what is being said. That fear comes from believing that we are alone in how we feel, even though more often than not there are others who feel the exact same way. Although it is essential to listen, it is just as important to speak up and have your voice heard. And let it be heard not just on behalf of yourself, but on behalf of those that you serve and that serve alongside you.

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O – Opportunity

In everything that happens, looking for opportunity is the key. It’s easy to see opportunity when things are going well, but it’s more important to look for opportunity when we are in a difficult situation. Seeing the silver lining amongst the storm clouds. And expanding on this theme, seeing opportunities is only the first step. You also have to be able to decipher which opportunities are worth it, weighing risk vs. reward. I look for opportunities every day – for it affects my creativity, innovation, and impact.

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M – Mirror

It’s hard to look in the mirror. Yet, in order to grow, we must reflect. We must look at ourselves first. What can we do to change, to improve, to be our best? Instead of pointing my finger at someone else, I first point it at myself. I hold myself accountable to my own high expectations, leading the way for others to pursue excellence as well.Even with all of the efforts I have listed above, in the end, I really only have control over myself and my actions. I choose to put all of my energy there instead of worrying and talking about others.

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E – Encourage

Finally, I believe strongly in encouragement, praise, and appreciation. We all need a little help to get by in this thing called life. You never know what people are going through. Giving the gift of hope, support, or even confidence, could mean all the difference to someone, for both child and adult alike. Often as life gets busy, we forget to encourage those around us, and this may be the time they need it the most. Kindness goes a long way. Challenge yourself to give it more than you receive it.

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Although some days are more difficult than others, these are the things I strive to do each day, and I hope that other people in my life see how I choose to use my talents to be AWESOME. The world, our communities, our families, our districts and schools, our colleagues, and our students deserve our best. Each of us have that ability – to use our talents and strengths – to achieve greatness. So…what does being AWESOME mean to you?

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Teachable Moments

As teachers, we often talk about teachable moments – those unplanned opportunities in the classroom to share our thoughts, insights, or wisdom with our students. Teachable moments can be fleeting. If you don’t take advantage of the opportunity, it’s gone in seconds. It takes great skill to hear and take a child’s lead in their learning. Sometimes, these moments are the most memorable for the student, and for the teacher.

But I wonder what would happen if we looked at teachable moments from a different perspective. Instead of only thinking of it as a one way street to transfer our knowledge to another, could we also look at them as opportunities that reveal themselves as a way for us to learn and grow? Do we ever open our minds to our own teachable moments?

Yesterday, I saw this tweet from a great thinker and leader in my PLN, Dr. Justin Tarte:

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Justin is challenging us to have our own teachable moments! How many times do we browse Twitter, have a conversation with a colleague, read an educational article, or attend PD? When we leave those moments, do we leave changed? Do we leave having engaged in a deeper level of thinking? Or do we only allow those things to scratch the surface, blaming time, resources, and our bosses?

Today’s educational system, in fact the very same educational system that we have had in this country for quite some time, is being called into question. It’s being challenged. Change for change sake because it MAY be better is not what we need. Many have ideas, but to be our best, what we need is dialogue. What we need is deeper thinking. What we need is lots and lots of voices involved in this conversation. What we need is educators open to having their own teachable moments.

Because the only way we are going to get to the right answer of what is ailing our system, is to be learners ourselves, be willing to challenge both the status quo and change, and be open to teachable moments. It’s going to take all of us and our collective energy and focus.

Here are a few of my own attempts at doing just as Justin said, getting you “to reflect, ponder, agree, or disagree; any level of thinking beyond the actual tweet.” #teachablemoment

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Asking Why: The Power of Questions

Have you ever noticed how many questions young children ask? Raising my own two children, I was amazed at their persistence in finding answers to their questions. ‘Why’ seemed to be the most popular question. Children ask questions to understand the world: its rules, its procedures, its functions, its quirks. Although parents, and teachers, can be exhausted by young little minds and their constant questions, questioning is the way we learn.

But have you also noticed that as children get older, questioning takes on a new meaning? Older children are thought of as pests when they ask a lot of questions. Often, adults shut them down and stop answering. And as we graduate into adulthood, many times questioning is viewed as disagreement, causing trouble, and challenging authority. We eventually learn to stop…stop questioning, stop wondering, stop learning.

The invention and popularity of the Internet has been a catalyst for humans to be able to question. If I want an answer to something, often Google can find it for me. Just today I wanted to find out how to get to someone’s house. Google showed me how long it would take, if there was any construction going on, multiple routes, and even what it looked like if I was standing in front of the house. We have more information at our fingertips than we ever have before, and Google doesn’t make me feel dumb for asking a question.

But even though Google can quench our thirst for knowledge and satiate our curiosity, what about those things that Google can’t answer? Humans are built for interaction and a search engine just won’t cut it. Technology definitely has it’s place in our lives, but most often, we see great strides in innovation, transformation, and change when we can interact with each other face to face.

That’s where we should take advantage of the power of questions. I always find it odd that there are people who view questions as a form of disrespect, an annoyance, or someone just being nosy. Maybe a question is interest. Maybe a question is to understand better. Maybe a question is a springboard. Maybe a question is a chance to learn.

But the funny thing about questions is that chance to learn isn’t one sided. You see, the questioner may be attempting to learn through the question, but we as the receiver have the chance to learn as well. We gain insight into someone else’s mind and thoughts. We gain a new perspective. That may spark something in us, change our minds, inspire new ideas, or even make us rethink everything.

Sometimes as leaders, we view questions as a threat. When we have made a decision, and sometimes spent a great deal of time thinking about all of our options, we don’t like someone coming in a questioning that decision. Honestly, it’s downright scary. I am lucky to work closely with two people who encourage just that. And even though it’s still really challenging, they have taught me to not be afraid, not to be self centered, not to be embarrassed, and most importantly, to trust.

If we can disconnect ourselves from the fear of questions, we will find what makes us great. The interaction we receive will be worth the risk. No amount of Googling will give us the power of the questions of the human beings around us. Learn from that power. Capitalize on it. For every great idea started with a small thought that was built on by many, asking questions all along the way.

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The Impact of your Words

“If you think you’re too small to have an impact, try going to bed with a mosquito in the room.” – Anita Roddick

Your words are powerful. As a teacher or administrator, you use them to impact students, parents, and others in your building and district every day. Sometimes our voice is something we take for granted. We don’t realize how much of an impact our words can make in the lives of others. Your local impact is after all why you probably got into education, but have you ever thought of sharing your words beyond your daily work?

I work at an amazing middle school, one where innovative things are going on every class period. Our 1:1 digital transformation initiative that started two years ago has made a huge impact on the teaching and learning in our classrooms. But often as a classroom teacher, you get stuck in your room with little ability to share with others who are even next door to you.

To try to remedy this, we recently held a professional development during our staff meeting this past week called Edu Fest – Innovation Showcase where 35 of our teachers and administrators took 10 minutes to share something innovative that they do in their classroom or in our school. The staff was able to choose, much like a conference, which sessions they wanted to attend. Furthermore, the staff voted on the sessions they want to make into 30 minute in depth share shops to be held in a couple of weeks.

Edu Fest, something we have done for the last three years, was again a hit with our teachers. It was engaging, collaborative, active, meaningful, and most importantly, it gave our teachers the ability to have an impact on others. But what I found interesting as we put this PD together was teachers would tell me they didn’t do anything in their classroom worth sharing. My jaw dropped. Every teacher has something to share! Educators really are among the most humble professionals, but I think there is another factor that is holding them back.

Fear.

I have teachers in my building, much like each of you reading this blog, that should be blogging, creating podcasts, and presenting at conferences. Yet they are afraid to take 10 minutes to share a creative and innovative practice from their classroom. And believe me, I get it; I’ve been there. Standing in front of your colleagues is much more intimidating than standing in front of your students. Even worse yet, writing for or presenting in front of a group of educators you have never met is even scarier.

Prior to my first blog and presentation (which were actually one week apart), I had a multitude of fears. My thought process went a little something like this: I don’t have anything interesting or ‘new’ to share. And even if I do, no one will want to read or hear what I have to say. Or worse yet, they will but won’t like it. And I’m not a good writer/speaker anyway. And so on…

But after reading the book Linchpin: Are you Indispensable by Seth Godin last fall, I used one of his quotes to propel me into the public forum of presenting and blogging:

“Fear for a linchpin is a clue that you’re getting close to doing something important.” -Seth Godin

The topic I chose to share was how our school flips staff meetings, patterned off of the flipped classroom that Jon Bergmann and Aaron Samms have made popular. Our flipped staff meetings have enabled us to capture a much needed additional 25 hour of professional learning for our staff, allowing us to do the conference-like PD I referenced above.

My first presentation on flipping staff meetings with Paul Hermes at the TIES conference in Minneapolis, MN was a whirlwind. After a lot of hard work, and facing the fears of presenting in front of a large group of professionals, we felt like we had made an impact. But that impact was limited to those in the room. So we decided to make a flipped video for anyone to be able to hear our presentation. 

Screen Shot 2015-08-08 at 7.42.15 AMAnd although we were able to reach more educators with our video, I wanted the impact to go further. So, this summer I contacted Te@chThought about writing a post on their national education blog. Te@chThought published my blog post, and as I watched it circle the globe being tweeted out by nationally recognized educators, the fears of rejection and ridicule remained. Yet, I was in awe of the impact technology had afforded me.

I didn’t quite grasp that impact until I received an email a month later from the Australian Council for Educational Leaders (ACEL), who had read my Te@chThought blog post, to write an article for their October e-leading magazine. And just as that article was being published, I was contacted by an ICT in Ireland who had read the blog post as well and wanted to design a course through the National Association for Principals and Deputy Principals (NAPD) for Irish principals and deputies on how to flip staff meetings. Just last week, Paul and I were interview as the international experts to kick off this course.

 Interview about flipping staff meetings with John Gavin for NAPD

If someone would have told me three years ago that my words and work would have a global impact, I would have said they were crazy! I was living through all the fears that hold people back. In fact, I still do. Every time a submit a piece of writing or present our ideas, those fears still plague me. But if you face those fears, if you put yourself and your ideas out there, maybe, just maybe, your words will have an impact…an impact beyond the four walls of your classroom and school. And isn’t that what we as educators really want: to have a lasting impact on students, teachers, education, and the world? We have technology now that can help you do just that.

And now it’s your turn to face your fears. Stop letting them get the best of you. Stop allowing them to hold you back. Your words can have an impact. How can you use them to influence the world?

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Champions of Change

Change…

For such a small word, change has a big impact on our lives. Some hear that word and cringe. Others hear that word and get inspired.

Change is something people have been chasing since the dawn of time. Never quite comfortable with what we have, the world has seen an immense amount of change in its existence. Most recently, in the last century, change has become so rapid we are having a hard time keeping up. Just read up on the Knowledge Doubling Curve by Buckminster Fuller. Human knowledge doubling every year? Holy cow!

For the many areas in our life where change has become a constant (technology, anyone?), there are an equal amount of areas where there hasn’t been much change. One of these areas is in education. There is often the question that if someone from 1915 were to time travel to a present day classroom, could they tell they had traveled 100 years into the future? I’m not sure that is a fair question, but it is worth thinking about. Have we changed our educational practices to meet the needs of our students today? Are we preparing them for the rapid change in our world?

If we want to prepare our students for a world that will soon double its knowledge every 12 hours, we need to be champions of change. We have to train our students how to deal with this…the influx of information, that things will come and go quickly, creating their own change. The best ideas are the ones that aren’t out there yet, so how to do we ready our students?


1) Weeding information

With the massive amount of information that is and will be coming in, we need to teach students how to decipher that information, collect what is useful and what isn’t, and then how to use it to their benefit. Students need to learn how to research, especially digitally, and find reliable sources.

Databases can be helpful for students, but we also need to model how to use the Internet. ‘Google it’ has become the primary way for all people, adults and children alike, to find information quickly. With the information highway getting more and more crowded, we need to model how to locate good information, change how we use our critical thinking skills, research, and interpret what we find.


2) Adaptability

As change comes even more rapidly, we need to show students that we too can be adaptable. We need to embrace the fact that our teaching practices have to change to be able to help students with rapid change. Using technology, giving students the ability direct their learning, and leading from the sidelines are all ways we can show students how to adapt and give them key skills to use our new and ever changing world.


3) Find your passion

We all have things that we are passionate about. We need to be able to share that with our students, but at the same time, we need to be able to give them the freedom to find their passion as well. Working on our passions inspires and engages us in what we love. From this comes the greatest of creations.


We have a choice. We can decide to become overwhelmed with change, let it bring us down, and cringe every time we hear it. Or we can become champions of change, working with our students to learn from it, move forward, and create a world that is ripe for it and its citizens.

Allow change to inspire you, your classrooms, and your students. Because it isn’t going away and be happy that it’s not. Change will be the only thing to help us to cure cancer, clean the environment, and bring peace. And your students are in possession of that change. Help them deliver it.

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Warning: Challenges Ahead

How many of you opened this blog post looking forward to a challenge? A challenge…who can resist? People like challenges. It gives us the ability to see if we can rise up and take on something that others may not be able to do. Just the words, “I challenge you,” make people sit up straighter and listen more intently.

Yet at the same time, the word challenge can be scary. Challenge has an air of difficulty. It may involve risk. It may even include…gasp…failure! But we challenge our students every day…to stretch their minds, work with others, share their thoughts, make good choices, and be better people. We need to be okay with the fact that challenge is difficult, it is risky, and it can lead to failure. But failure is never the end. We can pick ourselves up, learn from it, and try again.

School is a time for students to learn how to learn, but school is also a time for students to learn how important relationships are. How to build them. How to keep them. How to trust. How to collaborate. How to interact. We adults need to be the best models for that learning, and it is challenging…perhaps one of the most complex things in life.

One of the best ways we can show students we care is to teach them principles to build relationships. There are so many, some more difficult than others. But, since this blog post is about challenges, I figure I might as well pose four of the more challenging ones to think about and put into practice as we model the way for our students.


Challenge #1: Time

“Time is your most precious gift because you only have a set amount of it. You can make more money, but you can’t make more time. When you give someone your time, you are giving them a portion of your life that you’ll never get back. Your time if your life. That is why the greatest gift you can give someone is your time.” Rick Warren

People in this day and age come in and out of our life at the speed of light. Because of this, we tend to have more superficial connections with people. But in this age of connection, do we really know how long someone will be in our life? A person you meet in the grocery store could end up being your new best friend. An online Twitter acquaintance could end up being a future boss. What if we give everyone we meet the gift of our time? Would you look at people differently, act differently, invest more? Would our world be kinder, more empathetic, more understanding?

I challenge you to use your most precious gift, time, to teach students (even with the invention and importance of technology) how crucial true connections are in our world. Because now more than ever those connections are what make our world go round.


Challenge #2: Encouragement

“And I realized it wasn’t my turn. It was that girl’s turn to get that job. My turn will come. So I never got discouraged.” Carol Brunette

Disappointment can be crippling. One of the hardest lessons I believe we face as humans. It can lead us to question ourselves, our talents and abilities, and other people. I first heard the quote above by Carol Brunette when I was watching student documentaries for National History Day. Carol had it right. We will have disappointment, but on the other side of the coin is someone’s joy. We may not get the job, part, house, or even shoes we want (arg…Kohls and your lack of sizes!) but that doesn’t have to prevent us from being happy for others.

I challenge you to encourage others even through your disappointment to show students that sometimes it isn’t our turn. Sometimes it is their turn. And that’s ok, because our turn will come.


Challenge #3: Appreciation

“Sometimes the people we count on the most are the ones who hear thank you the least.” Unknown

For those who have read my prior blog posts, you know I am a fan of appreciation. And honestly appreciation is not hard. It’s easy to say thank you. What is hard is finding those who really deserve it. I find that often the same people receive appreciation around us over and over. For whatever the reason, through visibility, advertising, or another means, we have people that often come to mind when we give thanks.

I challenge you to find a way to appreciate those that are quiet, those that don’t sing their own praises, those who work just as hard, those we count on and don’t realize. Show your students that everyone matters in our life. In a way, each person in our life has contributed to our success, our joy, our happiness, even if it is in a small way. Appreciate them too.


Challenge #4: Meaning

“I don’t want to live in the kind of world where we don’t look out for each other. Not just the people that are close to us, but anybody who needs a helping hand. I cant change the way anybody else thinks, or what they choose to do, but I can do my bit.”– Charles de Lint

As we go through this thing called life, it’s easy to become complacent. But I truly believe that everyone that comes into our life is there for a reason. They may teach us something or they may make us better people. Shouldn’t we take the opportunity we have to be in other people’s lives and use it to add meaning?

I challenge you to optimize the time you have with the people who have entered your life and add meaning to theirs. Show your students how to be the reason that someone smiles, the helping hand, the reassuring voice, the comfort in sorrow. Because all we have in life are the relationships that we extend to one another, and those should be meaningful.


Did you notice that the four challenges spell out T-E-A-M? Pretty clever, I know. Together as a people we are all a team. We need each other. What’s better than modeling that for our students?

Will you accept the challenge?

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It’s that time of year…

Here in Wisconsin, we tend to hit this time of year where cabin fever sets in. The holidays are over, the cold and snow have lost their novelty, and the days are still short – it’s a rarity on a regular work day for me to be outside when the sun is still up (with the exception of bus duty weeks…). Students feel cooped up, unable to get outside without freezing to get fresh air and exercise. And it only gets worse. Third quarter is the most difficult for students and teachers, a quarter where there are no breaks, parent teacher conferences are held, and there is no let up in the temperatures.

This time of year is one of the most challenging, and you can see it on everyone’s faces. Stress sets in, people get overwhelmed, and a negative slump ensues. This tends to be a web that both students and teachers get caught in. We often see behaviors in students rise and grades drop. Negativity has a strong impact on everything in our lives, and a focus on this behavior can lead to a rut that is very hard to get out of.

So how can we pull ourselves and our students out of this slump? What positive things can we add to our lives or routine to help us deal with the doldrums that arrive this time every year? Here are a couple of activities I have found, and research proves, that can help with stress, negativity, and ‘this time of the year’:

1. Get moving –

Exercise is important for everyone. Besides the physical health benefits, exercise releases endorphins and gets blood flowing to the brain, improving memory, concentration, and performance. Something to remember about endorphins is that they wear off, so it is important for exercise to be a part of your routine to fully reap their benefit. 

2. Set goals –

Setting goals is essential for our every day lives. Humans need things to work toward; they give us purpose. Goals set a clear focus, force you optimize your time, and motivate you. Setting and reaching goals is one of the ways the dopamine chemical is released in the brain. It is important to have small reachable goals every day, but it is just as important to have long term goals. Easily attainable goals help give us dopamine, but long term goals give us purpose. The best way to have success with long term goals is to set small reachable goals to keep up your motivation. 

3. Appreciate someone –

Showing appreciation, especially in public, is highly important to our wellbeing. Often the work we do is done for others. When we do things for others, and then it is recognized, it not only reinforces the relationship with that person, it also makes us work harder to continue to make that person proud and raises our confidence. And even better yet, when you appreciate someone, it has benefits for you too, including changing your focus to the positive things in your life, creating an avenue to eliminate stress, frustration, resentment, and anger.

4. Be generous –

And money won’t work…You need to be generous with things that are invaluable, like your time and energy. Take the time to talk with others, not to be able to respond, but just to listen to them. Do something for someone that they cannot repay. The more that you give without expecting something in return the more you want to do. Even experiencing someone else’s act of generosity can positivity affect you. Think about the pay it forward movement. When someone does something for you or you see someone being generous, it makes you want to do the same.

5. Stop the negative comments –

What you say has an impact. Even for those who say words don’t bother them (think the sticks and stones saying), they do. Many of us can remember something negative someone said about us, but often have trouble remembering something positive that was said. By saying negative comments, you affect your mood. Continuing to participate in negative thoughts will increase the quantity of them. It also pulls others in, creating a cyclical pattern of negativity.

Bonus activity –

If all else fails, and you don’t want to or can’t do any of the above…SMILE! Find ways to have fun, and it will brighten everyone’s day. The act of smiling is contagious, causing other people to smile in return. And the contraction of your facial muscles when you smile is another way dopamine is released in the brain.

“Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.” Buddha

Be a candle for others. We need more light in this world.

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