Unleashing Greatness Within

Have you ever observed leaders who authentically appreciate, trust, and value the people they serve? Those leaders have an innate gift for developing and unleashing the greatness within every person they encounter. They inspire others to humbly give their hearts and minds to others and make contributions to something that matters. I often think about the leaders who breathed life into my ideas, who trusted me to bring those ideas to fruition, and unlocked the potential I didn’t know I had. For that, I’m eternally grateful.

Imparting Courage

When I was a new teacher, I worked for the New York City Department of Education as a classroom teacher. I adored my first principal, Beth Longo. She is the one who gave me my first foot in the door when I had little experience in education. She was a mentor who saw the leader in me. Beth had high expectations, pushed her teachers to try new practices, was honest in her feedback, and gave them the courage to reflect on the educators they were and wanted to be. She had the ability to be direct in her approach while remaining endearing all at once. One day, Beth pulled me into her office and said, “Lauren, our district superintendent is visiting our school tomorrow with her team and I am going to bring them into your classroom.” What happened next? I stared at her without answering. I could feel this confused look on my usually rosy turned pale face. She interrupted my silence by saying, “Lauren, I know you are thinking that since you are a new teacher, I shouldn’t be bringing these people into your classroom. Is that why you aren’t answering me? That’s what you are thinking isn’t it?” I finally blinked. “Well… ummm…hmmmm. Maybe?” There, I finally answered, not wanting to commit to a specific response. She interrupted me again. “Lauren, I’ll see you in your classroom tomorrow. Just do me a favor…be yourself.” In that moment, I could feel the rosiness restoring through my pale cheeks and my heart rate returning to a more normal beat.

Helping Others Succeed

In Brene Brown’s Dare to Lead Podcast, Adam Grant shared, “The most meaningful way to succeed is to help other people succeed.” Could shining the light on others, honoring who they really are, challenging them to do the hard things, and instilling a courageous spirit pave a path that shows others the leaders they are meant to be? There is a certain kind of excitement in inspiring others. When people feel that their work matters, they feel that they matter.

Learning About Yourself

The next day, my classroom instantly became a lab site, a revolving door. As I stood in the middle of my classroom, teaching and learning from my students, administrators who were also strangers took their place around the perimeter of my classroom. It felt like we were in the theater in the round. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw several guests approach my students. I can remember them asking, “What are you learning today?” To this very day, I don’t remember my guests’ faces or every interaction that happened in the room. What I do remember is what it felt like to be challenged and a good pressure to rise to the occasion by just being myself. I also vividly recall the conversation I had with Beth after the experience. She asked me this question, “Lauren, what did you learn about yourself as an educator today? I paused and the first thing I said was “I can do hard things while being myself.” She came back with another question. “Lauren, what did you learn from today that you can take with you for the rest of your career?” I replied, “I need time to think about that, Beth. Can I have some time to reflect?”

Learning From Yourself

It is 17 years later, and I am still thinking about Beth’s last question. If I were to answer what I learned from that experience today, I would respond with this: “Great leaders can help others find their inner drive and light sparks that ignite a sense of passion and purpose. They give you just the right amount of push, believe in you to grow into the leader you are destined to be, and encourage you to be the best version of yourself.” In the book Trust and Inspire, Stephen Covey shares the following sentiment and question: “Instead of asking why aren’t my people motivated? A better question to ask yourself is how can I better inspire those I lead?”As you proceed on your leadership journey, take a step into opportunities that can transform educators’ mindsets by letting them experience what it feels like to garner courage and step into hard things. There are future leaders waiting for you to recognize their innate gifts and unleash greatness within.

Mentorship Matters: The 6 Cs to Successful Mentor/Mentee Relationships-Series 2

This blog series is being written from my perspective as I am a Mentor Coordinator K-12 in a school district in Long Island, N.Y. I will share my experiences as my mission and vision are to continuously develop a Mentor Program that will build a strong foundation to support educators during their first years of teaching and for the rest of their educational journeys. Refer to the Mentor Program tabs,#LBLeads 2019-2020 and#LBLeads 2020-21 in my digital portfolio as a window into my experiences. My previous blog Mentorship Matters: 8 Tips for Developing a Strong Mentor Program-Series 1 will provide insight into how to develop a strong Mentor Program.

Limitless Possibilities

Educators have limitless possibilities for shaping and developing the mindsets, actions, and choices for many future generations over the course of their career timelines. They have unique opportunities to create experiences that empower learners to choose a lens that paves the way to purposeful pathways of happiness and success. Since education is in a constant state of transformation, it is critical that educators are provided with the essential tools and supports to navigate the changes, challenges, and systems they live in. These supports will help them develop agency, self-efficacy, instill the confidence to share their own strengths, and unleash the talents of every human being they will ever encounter on their journey. Educators also understand that  time is valuable and at times, difficult to balance. Every minute, every interaction, every moment in their days are precious. However, out of all the ways they can spend their time, mentoring has one of the highest returns on investment because they are shaping the next generation of leaders. 

Who is On the Bus

There is no magic wand for mentoring. The success of strong mentor/mentee relationships rests on the shoulders of WHO. WHO puts in the effort, WHO has sensibility, WHO has the dedication, WHO commits to the process. All of these things matter, but there is a little bit of strategy that goes along with this too. I mention strategy because it is vital to consider WHO will be the right people to guide and create strong foundations for new teachers that lead to long, meaningful, impactful careers. In Brené Brown’s Dare to Lead podcast, titled Brené with Jim Collins on Curiosity, Generosity, and the Hedgehog, Jim Collins discusses the importance of inviting people into your life who will open the doors to greatness. “Pick great people in your life. Those people are your mirror and will tell you if you’re doing ok.” The idea of viewing the people in your life as a mirror of yourself only magnifies the significance of WHO is selected to be placed in a position to mentor, inspire, and influence teachers during the induction process. In his book Good to Great, Collins reinforces this idea by discussing how getting people committed and aligned with a vision and direction will lead to avenues of great realizations, progress, and prosperity. Getting the “right people” on the bus because of “who” is on it rather than being concerned about “where” it is going, makes it easier to change your course. “For no matter what we achieve, if we don’t spend the vast majority of our time with people we love and respect, we cannot possibly have a great life. But if we spend the vast majority of our time with people we love and respect-people we really enjoy being on the bus with and who will never disappoint us-then we will almost certainly have a great life, no matter where the bus goes” (p. 62).

A Mentor/Mentee is Someone WHO:

What is a Mentor? According to the Miriam-Webster dictionary a Mentor is defined as “a trusted counselor or guide.”

What is a Mentee? According to the Miriam-Webster dictionary a Mentee is defined as “someone who is being mentored.”


HERE is the link to the infographic “A Mentor/Mentee is someone WHO”

The 6 Cs to Successful Mentor/Mentee Relationships

The mentor/mentee relationship is symbiotic in nature. The qualities and attributes in both mentees and mentors are synonymous. When mentorship is approached from a holistic lens, it has the power to build social capital and unlock human potential. Great educators have the ability to leave everlasting legacies in the hearts and minds of everyone they serve. This makes the induction years a critical component of the learning journey. That being said, I created a blueprint to sustaining successful mentor/mentee relationships by embracing the 6cs: Connect. Communicate. Collaborate. Circulate. Cultivate. Celebrate.

HERE is the link to the infographic “The 6 Cs to Successful Mentor/Mentee Relationships”

Connect: Get to know each other on a personal level. Share your stories. This will transform the path of a mentoring relationship because you are showing the other person that you truly care about them as humans first. This is a window into a person’s journey which enables you to make more intentional and targeted inquiries over the course of time. In the podcast mentioned above, Jim Collins says “Real conversations happen at the feeling level…The quality of the day is not what you think about it, it’s what you feel about it.”

Communicate: Although informal interactions will naturally be embedded into the mentoring experience, schedule protected time to communicate on personal and professional levels on a regular basis. This protected time values the process and provides a space to ask questions, share knowledge, and learn from various experiences. Come up with mutually agreeable ways to communicate as there are many avenues to reach out to one another. Talking through and reflecting on experiences are important parts of the growth process.

Collaborate: Work together to strengthen and share best teaching and learning practices, how to navigate relationships, and the day-to-day operations. Collaboration can transpire synchronously by interacting in real time with face-to-face, in online meetings, texting, and/or instant messaging through various learning management systems. It can also take place asynchronously by working independently and then uploading documents or annotations to shared workspaces (e.g. Google Docs). The benefits of Mentor/Mentee collaboration are exploring new and better ideas, teamwork, discovering new solutions, and embedding new perspectives into practices.

Circulate: Mentors can be well-connected as they have been in the education field for some time. They should invite their mentees into various professional learning communities (PLCs) and encourage them to think and look beyond their school organizations for ideas by expanding their professional learning network (PLN). As a mentor, you can also broaden your own network by connecting with other mentors and great educators, while also leveraging the opportunity to network with their mentee’s connections.

Cultivate: Mentees come with their own expertise and gifts to share. Help them unwrap those gifts, passions, and interests. Capitalize on, cultivate, and learn from their strengths. Ask questions and allow them to reflect on their areas for growth and development. Use this as an opportunity to let them come up with actionable steps for improvement while providing direction and insights. These interactions are cyclical in nature and should be continuously revisited.

Celebrate: Mentors serve as the greatest and most impactful support system. They should encourage and cheer on their mentee for taking risks and believing in themselves. Celebrate successes big and small and use failure and change as opportunities for growth. Human beings thrive on recognition. When they feel validated and valued, they continue to approach their work with passion and purpose!

Moments of Wonder

Roadways and Bridges to Learning

Have you ever experienced moments of wonder? To me, it’s a moment when the world stops around you and you are walking towards a path of discovery. It’s that moment when you see or hear something that pauses your heartbeat and stretches your mind. It’s that moment that clouds extraneous noise and magnifies the awe and curiosity within. It’s that moment that causes you to step back, observe, listen, and create roadways and bridges to new learning. Recently, I had been hoping for another moment of wonder. But, I know that life just doesn’t work like that. Through my experience, moments of wonder happen when we least expect them. They happen when we are living our lives with passion and purpose; if we are open, flexible, and willing, we can stumble upon those moments and appreciate their value.

Learning About Liveware
Recently, I experienced a moment of wonder when I decided to listen to Brené Brown’s podcast, Unlocking Us with special guest David Eagleman, a neuroscientist and New York Times best-selling author. From the moment he started talking, I was captivated by how relatable he is. I was enthralled by the way he eloquently and simply described the human brain and its functions. He has the natural ability to communicate in a way that resonates with people who are not living in his world. He paves a path to do the important work of studying the brain and then shares the information with people who are not in the medical field. He describes the brain as liveware; all of its experiences reshape the brain. “It’s a living, dynamic, electric fabric that is constantly changing.” Every time we take in new information and are evolving as people, our malleable brain is perpetually reconfiguring. While listening to this podcast, I immediately added Eagleman’s new book Livewired: The Inside Story of the Ever-Changing Brain to my Amazon cart. Another moment of wonder is when I began reading his book. One quote that struck me was, “As we grow, we constantly rewrite our brain’s circuitry to tackle challenges, leverage opportunities, and understand the social structures around us” (p.3).

A Connection to Education

After reading just a few paragraphs of this blog, your brain has already changed. At the end of chapter 1 in Livewired, Eagleman says, “Just a handful of pages into this book, your brain has already changed: these symbols on the page have orchestrated millions of tiny changes across the vast seas of your neural connections, crafting you into someone just slightly different than you were at the beginning of the chapter” (p.16). This moment of wonder catapulted me into a state of reflection about the current state of the educational landscape we are living in. Here is a moment of wonder: If our brains are changing by reading a few paragraphs of a blog, then how much have they metamorphosed since the beginning of a global pandemic? When people ask me if teaching in virtual and physical spaces simultaneously is hard, my answer remains constant: Yes it is hard, yes it is challenging, and yes, the educators who are living this, well their cognitive capacity is being stretched beyond what anyone could have ever imagined. Another moment of wonder … when I realized I have learned more about teaching and learning in the last 9 months than I have learned in my 15 years in education while putting the learner at the heart of decision making, responding to what they need to know, thinking about how they should get there, and figuring out ways to track their learning. And since technology is second to the learner, then I incorporate digital tools to support the process. I have tested my limits in multiple ways and have perseverated over what I can do better. These moments of wonder made me realize that you can learn and achieve anything you want to if you embrace flexible intelligence, the willingness to collect the important details and create experiences that make the learning process worthwhile. Have you ever experienced a moment of wonder? To me, it’s a vessel of curiosity and awe. It’s the way we perceive the world and take in information. It’s that moment when you realize that there is so much more to know and learn. Moments of wonder are spaces and time that question our beliefs, who we are, and push us to places that make us better versions of ourselves.

Leaning Into New and Hard Times

Feelings of New and Hard

Starting something new can be hard; so hard that thinking about the experience itself feels heavy, daunting, exhausting, complicated. I’m not just talking about the big things that life may bring your way, but it could be small things too. Sometimes, the feeling of “new” is so uncomfortable that before you even make the attempt to take action on an unfamiliar idea, it is difficult not to recognize the intense feelings that are pressing against your heart and mind.  And if you are a person who constantly seeks growth and is consistently ready for a challenge, that unsettling feeling never goes away; it endlessly lives within you. -Lauren

Living in the Unknown

Uncertain. Inspired. Scared. Supported. Pressure. Loved. Uncomfortable. Grateful. As we experience these new and hard events created by the COVID-19 pandemic, I have felt an array of emotions on a regular basis, all at the exact same time. These emotions have raised so many questions. Many of which are still unanswered. We are simply figuring out how to live in a state of so many unknowns.

Life experience has taught me that there is no way to avoid the discomfort that comes from change. We just have to push through! But….

How do we PUSH through this?

How do we SUPPORT our families through this?

How do we LEAD students/staff/community through this?

Personally, I feel better if I can identify an explanation, a reason, or better understand the difficult time I’m experiencing. When this happens, I immediately turn to learning. I will grab a book, listen to a podcast, find a YouTube video, a TED Talk, or just google it! As I tried to get to the bottom of what was happening and make sense of this new situation we find ourselves in, I discovered that Brené Brown started a podcast, Unlocking Us.  It was at that very moment that I put on my sneakers, started to run, and hit play. -Sari

A Push For Reinforcement

As the events of the COVID-19 pandemic started to unfold, the feeling of “new” and “hard” felt more different than ever before. That familiar unsettling feeling suddenly became more difficult to manage on my own. I asked myself, who could I turn to help me regulate the feelings that were whipping around within? Where could I reach for extra strength and reinforcement? These hard moments pushed me to seek out the people I can lean into for perspective, support, guidance, and hope. Just when I was deeply experiencing one of the “new” and “hard” moments I have never felt before, a text message from Sari magically appeared on my phone. Sari is someone I have known for less than a year, but our connection was magnetic. I quickly discovered that we had so much in common; she is insanely passionate about learning, personal and professional growth, believing in the power of a strong PLN, and being a connected educator. And even though our friendship was “new”, it has never been “hard”! It’s always been easy to share advice and have honest conversations together.  She gets it.  She gets me. When I picked up my phone, I saw this text and image: -Lauren

unlocking us 1 

text message 2

Catching My Breath

I was still trying to catch my breath when I took out my phone. I couldn’t wait to unpack all that I just heard with someone in my PLN (professional learning network), my confidant, my friend, Lauren. Not only do I need to find a way to make sense of something that does not make sense…I also need my people! Becoming a connected educator and joining a PLN has been one of the best parts of my journey. My PLN is a constant source of inspiration, support, and motivation. David Weinberger (and Ed Kemnitzer) said it best, “The smartest person in the room, is the room.” I am so lucky to stand in that room with Lauren. I can’t remember the exact day she and I met, but it feels like Lauren has always been there. Lauren leads by example and models what it truly means to actually be there for others through her supportive, empathetic ways. It is an honor to learn with and from Lauren. -Sari

Wait, There’s a Name for This?

The next morning, I immediately downloaded Brené Brown’s Unlocking Us podcast and listened to it during my morning workout. And, WOW. There it was. She actually had an AMAZING name for the experience I was living in (that we are all living in)! FFT!!! You must listen to the podcast for the meaning since this is a G-rated blog post! For now, we will use the kid-friendly version, TFT (Terrible First Time)!! I actually felt less insane than I had felt the moment before Brené Brown put a name to my awkward blend of new and hard feelings! At that moment, I actually felt like Brené was wrapping her arms around me and telling me that everything is going to be okay. Why? It’s because it’s a TERRIBLE FIRST TIME and it is expected that I struggle, feel a sense of pain, shock, and confusion. And, as Brené says, if we can’t take ownership of those feelings, they will just eat you alive! It was then that I realized that I didn’t have to cruise through COVID-19 relying on my own strength. This was certainly not an event where I could draw on history or experience to cope with something I have never lived through before. So, I made the decision not to give up on myself, especially because I had the support of people like Sari. It was the reliable, genuine relationships that were going to get me through the new and hard “Terrible First Times”. -Lauren

Put the TFT in Perspective

Oh wait….so this doesn’t mean I’m terrible at everything? NO! This is how a TFT is supposed to feel! In fact, during this time, we are living through so many new and hard experiences, simultaneously. Parenting TFT, work TFT, and a world pandemic TFT just to name a few. Sometimes I need to remind myself that it is ok if I don’t nail it. Really? How is that ok? People rely on me. This new and hard experience has been humbling. It has been a reminder of the learning process. You have to ‘Maslow’ before you can ‘Bloom.’ We have to meet our students where they are. We need to ensure that their basic needs are met before academic learning can be embraced. March is traditionally filled with the budget, staffing, New York State assessments, and much more, but as we began this TFT, everything became clear. March quickly became about maintaining and strengthening relationships. -Sari

Unpacking the TFT 

As I continued to listen to Brené Brown’s podcast, my thoughts traveled to a place where I was able to grasp the idea that life as we knew it, was changing; relationships were changing; the landscape of education was changing, my access to people was changing, communication was changing. And knowing that I had absolutely no control over the outcomes, I needed to normalize and embrace a new reality in order to understand where I fit into a new world. I needed to put all of the unknowns into perspective and reimagine how life is going to be. Suddenly, I was feeling determined to pour my energy into what I could control. What I could control was connecting with people who make me happy. What I could control was using this time to hone my own skills, and improve on myself so I can support others. What I could control was making sure that I stay connected to the people who elevate me, make me laugh, and check-in with me. What I could control was learning how to reality check my expectations as the new and hard things continuously soar into my soul. More than ever, I know now that starting something new will be hard in different ways than it felt before; but knowing that I have people in my life like Sari who ground me, offer an idea, a book, a podcast, words of advice, or a virtual hug to help me through it, makes the “terrible first times” worth it. -Lauren