Looking Back to Move Forward: 6 Pieces of Advice I Give Myself and Share with Others

This will be my 17th year in education. When I take a mental journey back in time from my first to most current years, I can vividly recall a collection of monumental moments that have paved the way to the various destinations I’d learn, live, and grow in. When I close my eyes, I can see the people who planted courageous seeds of hope on my path to self and professional discovery. These signposts guided me to serve in the roles of teaching assistant, classroom teacher, elementary and middle school reading specialist, instructional coach, assistant principal, and now, director of literacy K-12.

The Roles We Serve in Are More Than Stepping Stones

Some may perceive each role you serve in over the course of your career as a stepping stone to get to the next. I don’t. The roles we serve in are more than stepping stones; they are mirrors that reflect your evolution of the practitioner you have become and are continuously striving to be. The learning and development you have experienced over time has strengthened and sharpened your empathetic and instructional lenses, allowing you to better serve others. 

Looking Back to Move Forward

Recently, as I was packing up my personal items from my assistant principal office and preparing for my new role as the Director of Literacy, my mind was reliving the advice I’d give my first year teacher self. In the book, Because of a Teacher Volume II (BOAT), by George Couros, he shared that, “Looking back is the key to moving forward.” I agree, looking back is an opportunity to approach every endeavor with the strength and courage you will need to embrace a new journey. You can relive your collection of experiences and embrace them as more than stepping stones; they are bridges that have been built to lead you to the new beginnings awaiting on the horizon. 

As you prepare for a new school year, have you thought about the advice you would give yourself to continuously pave pathways of hope and promise to a long meaningful career?

I’d like to share some of the advice I’ve not only given myself and others, but was beautifully captured and memorialized in Because of A Teacher, Volume II by George Couros and a team of dedicated educators. This advice has helped me stay grounded, honor the past, and plan for the future:

1. Leverage Your Gifts

In BOAT II Couros adds, “The best way to help others find their gifts is by embracing your own.” 

From novice to veteran educator, we all have gifts to share with colleagues and students. As you continue to breathe and reflect on your well-served break, celebrate the gifts you have brought to your students and colleagues. Create some space to think about how your gifts have transformed practices and impacted learners as the educational landscape continues to change. Recognize where your colleagues and students are in their learning spaces and how the work you’ve accomplished over time has transformed and elevated their practices because of the gifts you’ve shared. There are times we don’t give ourselves enough credit for our own work when we are trying to elevate others. DO THAT! When you acknowledge the great work you have done, you will even be better at amplifying the talents of others!

2. Empower Colleagues and Kids

In BOAT 2 Couros adds  “Help kids to find their voices, not to replicate yours.”

When I look back in time, I recognize that there were times that I may have been encouraging colleagues and students to solely listen to MY voice and perspectives and expected them to emulate it. YES, empower yourself to share your perspectives, but also encourage and empower others to use their own voices and own their learning. Listening to those voices may confirm your own ideas and/or shift your thinking. You will not always agree. THAT’S OKAY! Overtime, I realized that I could create less work for myself by opening opportunities to actively listen and trust my colleagues and learners to use their voices to implement new ideas to strengthen the spaces they are in. By doing this, I took the pressure off myself and modeled the power of using the room to collectively plan, create, and innovate!

3. Everyone is a Leader

In BOAT II, Latonya Goffney shares, “Leadership matters at all levels. It takes all of us working together to deliver on our promise to students. You do not need to have the title of principal or superintendent to be a leader. Every teacher is a leader of students. When you see something that isn’t right, do something about it.”

This deeply resonates. I grew up with two parents who were educators. They worked tirelessly to model how we all have the ability to lead from any seat to do what’s best for people regardless of the role you serve in. I can still hear my Dad clearly say, “Lauren, we salute the person, not the title.” Our colleagues and kids are watching. Be the person who advocates for them and gives them what they need and deserve. Be the person that lets people lead at all levels to optimize student growth. Be the person who lets others stand in their element and lets them shine!

4. Embrace Humanness

In BOAT 2, Couros brilliantly states, “Students want to connect with people who are teachers, not teachers who happen to be people.”

The best teachers aren’t just teaching their content or pushing people to consume knowledge, they are teaching people how to learn and navigate life. Model the humanness you expect to see. Being human makes the world a better place. Being vulnerable, making mistakes and owning them can make a person more approachable and endearing. Being a human can empower learners to make mistakes, identify problems, and work collectively to seek out solutions. Goethe said, “Treat people as if they were what they ought to be, and you help them to become what they are capable of being.” YOU have the power to bring out the best in people. Let them see your core and embrace your humanness.

5. You Mirror the People You Surround Yourself With

In BOAT 2, Mike Kleba said, “Surround yourself with people who cheer you on and make you better. The people you surround yourself with, in and out of school, can either be a fountain or a drain, so consider which one you are to others.”

In the last several years, I have reflected on all of the people who have been a part of my journey. I have noticed that the people who remain a constant in my life are the ones who make me feel good about myself as a professional and human being. Why is that? They recognize my successes, my strengths, give me honest and genuine feedback, and cheer me on. They show gratitude for our relationship through different avenues of communication. They have stood by my side regardless of the role I have served in and are people who continuously push my thinking. Those are the people I want to be around. And when I need it most, I look in the mirror and feel a sense of calm when I can visualize them looking back at me. Surround yourself with people who make your light brighter and your smiles bigger!

6. You Add Value to Education: Build Your Network

In BOAT 2, Dr. Latonya Goffney shared, “Multiply your network because I believe strongly in networking and the power of individuals to sharpen one another- the way iron sharpens iron.” 

In the book, The Innovator’s Mindset, George Couros says, “Being in spaces where people actively share ideas makes us smarter.” Social media and networking beyond the walls of your organizations can provide a space to connect with other educators who can share our mindsets, but also push our thinking to create new and better ideas. It is in these spaces where we can get inspiration from other educators and organizations outside of education to try something we haven’t thought of before. Creating a culture of learning and innovation happens when meaningful connections are made beyond the walls of the organizations we live in. It is within these spaces that new possibilities are discovered to benefit learners who have the potential to make change today and in the future!

Moving Forward

Education is a journey. If you’re not reflecting on the past to shift your practices for the future, you may be limiting your impact. Whether you remain in your current role or you are serving in a new one, these core ideas can be a framework that guides and supports you to dig deeper and find the courage to embrace the journey ahead and enhance your outlook on education. When you look back to move forward you will see that all of your time in education has been more than a stepping stone, it was time well spent developing the educator you were, are, and continue to be.

4 Ways Leaders Can Create Cultures of Learning Ecosystems

I have always valued leaning into the people in our organizations for support as we continue to navigate an evolving educational landscape. However, as a new administrator, I have come to recognize more than ever that there is a tremendous positive impact on our system when we collectively build social capital and rely on each other’s strengths to personalize and meet the needs of our learners and colleagues. 

We live in learning ecosystems; infrastructures influenced by purpose, relationships, new understandings, collaboration, innovation, and response to the challenges we endure.

Our ecosystems are a collection of people, perspectives, knowledge, skills, hopes, and desires for the future; when we intentionally leverage the gifts of our teams, we have the ability to strengthen our circle of influence and the communities in which we serve. Creating a culture of interdependence and “we” can rest on the shoulders of the leadership within learning ecosystems. In Stephen R. Covey’s book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change, he defines interdependence, “Interdependence is the paradigm of wewe can do it; we can cooperate; we can combine our talents and abilities and create something greater together.”  

How can leaders create a culture that supports educators to live in learning ecosystems that grow through challenges and thrive in the face of change? 

Create the Right Conditions

Instructional leadership is about creating the conditions that motivate and encourage educators to improve, thrive, fail, and reflect. In the book Essential Truths for Principals by Danny Steele and Todd Whitaker, they say, “Instructional leadership is not about being an expert though; it is about cultivating the expertise in your building. It is about creating a culture of collaboration where teachers learn from one another and inspire one another.” Leaders will not have all of the answers, but they will ask some really good questions. They will empower teachers to take the lead on pursuing their interests, finding their passions, and develop solutions to instructional barriers. 

Ideas:

  • Create optional meeting times that provide a platform for sharing best practices; perhaps a book club or discussion of a brief article may spark some ideas 
  • 10 minute intervisitations with a targeted focus can help support and grow instructional practices  

Question for Reflection:

How can you create spaces for educators to share and leverage their strengths and struggles?

Embrace the Small Things

In my recent blog, It’s the Small Things, I share, “You see, it’s the small wins that add up to the big things. When you love what you do, you have the motivation to remain courageous in your convictions. Even the setbacks you experience have the potential to become aha moments that fuel new ideas and catapult your drive for the person you wish to become. It’s the small things that pave the way to the big things.” Leaders can recognize that every interaction big and small makes a difference in the work we do EVERY DAY. Take advantage of creating personal connections and finding JOY and PURPOSE in the present as Joe Sanfelippo advises in THIS inspiring brief video tweet. School culture is created in little moments of gratitude and appreciation.

Ideas:

  • Leave a handwritten note in someone’s mailbox or send them a voice note on Voxer with a compliment and/or noticing
  • Skip the email and have personal conversations: ex. visit classrooms and give “in the moment” feedback. Tell that person what it is that you saw and appreciated. “It is so awesome when you…tell me more about this!” 

Question for Reflection:

What small things can you do to contribute to building a strong school culture?

Lead with Heart

In the book The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros, he says “Empathetic teachers think about the classroom environment and learning opportunities from the point of view of the student, not teacher.” This notion made me think: Empathetic leaders think about the school environment and learning opportunities from the point of view of the teacher, not the leader. Couros goes on to say, “New ideas start with understanding the needs of those you serve.” Leaders who continue to recognize people are at the heart of the work and are each other’s greatest resources will see learning and innovation flourish. Include educators in the decision making and listen to their ideas because they are true professionals with vast experiences on the front lines. 

Ideas:

  • Ask teachers: What do you look for in a school leader? How can I support your learning and growth? What are you passionate about? How can we leverage your strengths to support our professional learning community?
  • Let Teachers Lead: Create opportunities for teachers to take risks trying new practices, share their learning within and beyond their school communities, and present their ideas in a variety of formats.

Question for Reflection:

Would you want to be a teacher in your own school?

Communicate by Coaching

One of the best experiences I have had on my educational journey was serving as an instructional coach. When educators embrace a coaching mindset, I have seen first-hand how coaching moves can positively impact an educator’s teaching and learning practices. Although part of an instructional leader’s role is to be evaluative, I personally have never grown from a conversation that was approached in that way.  As Jim Knight says, “Instructional coaches partner with teachers to analyze current reality, set goals, identify and explain teaching strategies to hit the goals, and provide support until the goals are met.” When educators are approached as thinking partners in the learning process, there is a more productive return on investment. Creating a coaching culture paves the way to a work atmosphere that is filled with possibilities, fosters collaboration, creativity, risk-taking, and a sense of empowerment. This approach unlocks the unlimited potential in both the administrator and teacher. 

Ideas:

  • Language to use in formal and informal conversations: “I am here to be a thinking partner and learn from and with you, When I enter your classroom, I can’t wait to learn from you and your students.”
  • When giving feedback: I am wondering if…I noticed that… What are your thoughts about…? As a result of our conversation, what instructional practices do you think you could implement moving forward?

Question for Reflection:

What communication moves can you employ that pave the way to learner-driven environments?

Click HERE to print cards for discussion

Choosing Your Ecosystem

When living in your school learning ecosystem, you have a choice; you can choose to lead others to be dependent, solely needing the help of others to grow; you can choose to lead others in being independent, getting what they need through their own efforts and/or you can choose to lead people to be interdependent, combining their own efforts with others to achieve collective success. How will you choose to live in your learning ecosystem?

The Power of a #Hashtag

Connections lead us to paths of growth and opportunity. When you least expect it, the invisible team members you were destined to know suddenly arrive. And in that space and time you know they were meant to be placed in your universe to elevate, transform, and partner in being a driving force towards your vision; the vision that tugs at your heart, keeps your spirit alive, and becomes so insistent that it keeps us reaching to those who can help us act on it.  -Lauren

Collaboration can generate a sense of belonging; physically, digitally, emotionally, mentally and so much more. Understanding our purpose and passion can be a lifelong mission that many strive for and finding others that speak our language can enhance that ever-changing journey. Connection to ourselves and those around us has been a central part of being human since the beginning of time and understanding this foundational pillar can help us foster authentic relationships on a local and global scale. – Naomi 

A connection is not something you try to find, true connection finds you. Connection builds bridges to hearts, minds, and stories. Connections are fueled by passions and our ability to think beyond ourselves. Connection creates circles of safety and trust. When we trust our instincts we are able to invite others to become more vulnerable in the spaces we create. It’s an opportunity to overcome our fears and embrace the moment. Trusting our instincts helps us gravitate towards connection and collaboration; it’s a feeling of wonder that sparks the curiosity that lives within. -Lauren

Curiosity, openness, and growth are all things that can help when creating foundations for known and unknown collaborations. For example, I was on a mission to connect with others who were sharing their learnings from George Couros’ book The #InnovatorsMindset. This is when I stumbled upon the fabulous co author of this post – Lauren Kaufman. This connection and the possibilities that have come about because of it really have taught me the power of a hashtag. – Naomi

When I opened the Twitter app on my iPhone in the early morning hours, I stumbled upon a message from an unfamiliar name in my inbox. Curiosity was the engine that awakened my tired eyes. As I read Naomi’s message, I could feel her positive spirit luring me into her world. My inner voice felt a sense of confusion. How could someone whom I’ve never met and lives across the world have the ability to stop my precious time, pause in the moment, and consider adding another commitment to my daily life plans? My intuition knows that surprise disruptors in our lives live as moments that lead us to paths of promise. Exploring new collaborations, partnerships, and friendships are gatekeepers to transformation. -Lauren

Sometimes walking up to a random stranger in the street can be very daunting or in some places a downright weird thing to do, which may result in more than just a dirty look. But online there is a different type of atmosphere where cold calling and sending a message to a stranger can be very much acceptable. This in itself can bring about positive and negative outcomes as we have seen across the world, keyboard warriors being created due to the disconnect and lack of empathy for the person on the other side of the screen. However, I have experienced the power of reaching out and speaking with someone I didn’t know and reaping the rewards of that leap of faith. Taking the risk and knowing that the power of many can be greater than the power of one. When I first entered into the Twitterverse, I didn’t know what to expect. I had only ever used social media for personal reasons and in my teacher training we were so aware of our ‘online presence’ that I didn’t know if it was even appropriate to be online. But the more I explored what Twitter and other platforms had to offer, the more I realised that there were an abundance of people and resources at my fingertips who I could learn and grow with. – Naomi 

“But Naomi, how did you find me in the midst of a crowded sea of strangers?” I asked. “Oh, it’s simple Lauren, I searched the hashtag #InnovatorsMindset and came across the work you had done with the book!” In that instant, my mental file cabinet traveled back in time to the moment I used the very same iPhone to retrieve Naomi’s message to search for a professional book I could utilize as a framework to guide conversations with the new teachers in the mentor program I was hired to facilitate. Before then, I had never heard of the book The #InnovatorsMindset and couldn’t have imagined the many powerful connections and opportunities I would cultivate because of the power of a hashtag! -Lauren

One of my passions is to connect with others and create spaces where people, from all different walks of life, can come together to feel safe and share their experiences. This is how #Empathetic_Educators was born. Since connecting, Lauren has been a guest and a cohost on the show alongside many others along the way. These connections have added value to the show beyond what I ever could have dreamed of. That leads me to one of my biggest lessons from the power of the hashtag. -Naomi

Life is not meant to be a solo sport. You’re playing on a team, but you may not necessarily know who all the players are yet. I think it is safe to say that there will be players on your timeline that you will start with, but not necessarily grow with. You will carry those connections with you because they have supported your personal and professional evolution; those connections have shaped your mission and have propelled you toward your ultimate purpose. Hold onto the faith that there are people who will become an important part of your life that you have not met yet. -Lauren

“We find that when we open up, people respond and accept us for what we are. Instead of feeling vulnerable we become free, alive, vibrant and awakened in ways we never experienced before.”

John Kehoe – Mind Power 

Just like the quote above implies, since joining the online community of educators inside and outside of schools I have been open to the endless possibilities that are available to us, if we just take the time to look. I am so grateful for the connections made in the ‘digital’ world but one of my other passions in life is travel and when the clouds start to lift and we can travel again I can not wait to continue allowing these relationships to flourish in ‘physical’ spaces too. I could not be more grateful for the support, guidance, laughter and connection that my online presence has gifted me. And now more than ever I feel like we should be helping our learners realise the positive potential the power of the hashtag can have. -Naomi

You cannot thrive in isolation. Collective thinking leads to innovation, creativity, and growth. I too am grateful for the invisible team members who were destined to place themselves in my path and join me on an infinite learning journey. Together, we are rowing towards a vision, exploring needed conversations, encountering new experiences, and provoking new thinking. In an ever changing global society, educators have a unique opportunity to model the power of connection, collaboration, and new possibilities they were destined to be a part of. They have the ability to show learners and educators alike how the power of a hashtag will connect you to the new teammates you were always meant to know! -Lauren

How have you felt the power of the hashtag? How can it be used positively to impact others? We would love to hear from you!

More about Naomi Toland:

Follow the hashtag #Empathetic_Educators

Follow Naomi on Twitter: @naomi_toland

Follow Naomi on Instagram: @naomi.m.t

Naomi’s website: www.naomitoland.com

Mentorship Matters: 8 Tips for Developing a Strong Mentor Program-Series 1

This blog series is being written from my perspective as I was a Mentor Coordinator K-12 in a school district in Long Island, N.Y. I will share my experiences as my mission and vision was 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.

Making the Commitment

Every year, school districts around the world entrust thousands of new educators to serve their communities as they hire and provide them with a special opportunity to begin long, meaningful educational careers. Most likely, these educators have endured rigorous processes that have determined that they are capable of making an unmistakable and everlasting impact on the lives of the world’s most precious gifts….children.  Make no mistake about it, when one makes a commitment to becoming an educator, they are assuming a tremendous responsibility to create pathways of promise that have the power to influence learners for the rest of their lives. 

A Calling
Teaching is not just something you do, it’s a calling; it’s a beautiful gift; it’s an opportunity to unleash the talents within every human being you encounter; it’s a time to cultivate powerful relationships that have the chance to stand the test of time; teaching creates a space to collaborate with colleagues and builds bridges to connect previous learning to new and innovative ideas. Educators are responsible for shaping significant moments in time that can leave profound imprints in the hearts and minds of every learner they touch. Teaching is also hard work. It can be extremely emotional. It can be draining. But, it’s so incredibly rewarding. That being said, how can school districts build on the strengths of new teachers while providing them with the appropriate support for continuous growth and development? There is one phrase that comes to mind: Mentorship Matters!

Why Mentorship Matters

Developing a strong mentor program has one of the highest returns on investment. Leveraging the creation of powerful professional learning communities will foster the next generation of teacher leaders and help educators see the value of being in a constant state of learning and transformation. According to the New York State Mentoring Standards, “Teacher induction is critical to the overall preparation and professional development of beginning teachers and builds on their continuum of experiences from pre-service programs to ongoing career development spanning time as described within the Teacher Career Development Continuum. Coupled with mentoring standards, induction accelerates the process of creating highly effective teachers whose goal is to enhance student learning and achievement.” Establishing and implementing a strong mentor program enables novice teachers to be guided by mentors to help learners reach their maximum social-emotional, cognitive, and academic growth throughout their school years and beyond. This distinguished responsibility empowers more experienced educators to take everything they have learned and “pay it forward,” to help new teachers acclimate to the culture and climate of an organization, shatter the walls of isolation during the inception of their careers, and shape the next generation of teacher leaders.

8 Tips for Developing a Strong Mentor Program

8 Tips for Developing a Strong Mentor Program

  1. Align with State Mentoring Standards– It is paramount to refer to the Mentoring Standards provided by the state/country you reside in. These standards offer a set of guidelines that are critical to teacher induction and to the design and implementation of relevant and meaningful learning experiences. This enables the Mentor Coordinator to establish systemic efforts that will shape and sustain the first experiences in the careers of new teachers. 
  1. Voice and Choice– It is vital to include educators in the decision making process to share what kinds of professional learning they want to experience. It is also critical to recognize that educators enter the teaching profession with many strengths and areas for growth. It is also the responsibility of the Mentor Coordinator to ensure that the professional learning choices are grounded in the vision and mission of your school district. As an example, providing educators with a Google Form with a list of choices as well as a space to add any additional thoughts/ideas for professional growth will empower them to take ownership over their learning.
  1. Professional Learning Communities- By establishing a learner-centered culture of trust, connection, communication, and collaboration, educators have an opportunity to see the value in intentionally creating spaces to collectively set reasonable, learner-driven, evidence informed goals and share ideas of instructional practice that will benefit ALL learners in their organizations they live in. Not only will this improve the skills, expertise, and knowledge through professional dialogue, it will foster a desire to improve educational aspirations, achievement, and cultivate the next generation of teacher leaders. These teacher leaders will become an integral part of a cycle that improves and encourages innovative teaching and learning practices.
  1. Select a Professional Book as a Framework- One of the most valuable components of a strong Mentor Program is to find timeless professional books by outstanding authors who can share their authentic experiences as educators at different levels of an organization. These are books that encompass innovative and relevant messages that will stand the test of time regardless of what transpires in education. These leaders in education bring a special and unique value to the learning experiences you commit to embark on. Take a deep dive into these books and be sure to connect the messages of the authors with your district’s mission and vision. These are the books that will serve as frameworks to drive the learning process. The books I intentionally chose are The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros and Personal and Authentic by Thomas C. Murray. Both of these authors have shared incredible resources and have been continuously accessible and supportive to the new teachers, their mentors, and me in our efforts to keep learners at the heart of decision-making and implement lifelong practices that will prepare learners for any path they choose to create.
  1. Invite Other Voices- It is crucial to highlight the educators within your organization to facilitate professional learning experiences. This provides new teachers with opportunities to connect with other educators across the school district, but also elevates the teacher leaders and administrators that can share their knowledge and best teaching and learning practices with your educational community. Additionally, you will want to invite educators/speakers outside of your school district who can offer a fresh perspective on various topics in education. Those voices are also valued as they have seen the work of other school districts around the world and can share a lens that can push your thinking outside of your comfort zones!
  1. Create a Digital Footprint: I have always stressed the importance of making your learning visible by sharing best teaching and learning practices with colleagues in your organization and beyond. By creating a Mentor Program hashtag and Twitter handle, this allows participants in the program to showcase the incredible work within their learning spaces to a larger community. This will in turn help other educators create and form ideas that will ultimately benefit all learners! Feel free to check out the #LBLeads and @LBMentorProgram hashtag I created for the Mentor Program I facilitate.
  1. Connected and Networked: In The Innovator’s Mindset, George Couros says, “Being in spaces where people actively share ideas makes us smarter.” Social media provides a space to connect with other educators who can share our mindsets, but also push our thinking to create new and better ideas. It is in these spaces where we can get inspiration from other educators and organizations outside of education to try something we haven’t thought of before. Creating a culture of learning and innovation happens when meaningful connections are made beyond the walls of the organizations we live in. It is within these spaces that new possibilities are discovered to benefit learners who have the potential to make change today and in the future!
  1. Give Recognition: Everyone within an educational organization works tirelessly to meet the needs of their learners. New teachers are acclimating to the culture and climate of a district, are learning to understand their community, are building new relationships, learning new standards, and a new curriculum, while meeting the needs of all families and students. They deserve all the recognition in the world! Celebrate your teacher leaders. It is human nature to want to feel valued and recognized. At Mentor Meetings, highlight the work they have been doing by looking through the hashtag you created and put those tweets on a few slides! Have them explain their “why” behind their practices. For the educators who are not on social media, have them send pictures of their work and get their permission to share! The return on this investment of time will be monumental! 
Chapter 1 Book Quote– Personal and Authentic by Thomas C. Murray

Diving into the Deep End

#OneWord2020

My #OneWord2020 was EMPOWER. Last year it came to me pretty easily. My “why” behind selecting this word was that I wanted to continue to create spaces and opportunities to empower others to share their passions, gifts, and voices with the world. The beautiful part about life is that everyone you will ever meet will share something that you didn’t know previously. If we open our minds to different perspectives and ideas, elevate others, and give recognition in the process, doors will open to paths of empowerment, innovation, creation, and exponential growth beyond our imaginations. 

Treading Water

The year 2020 invited a range of emotions into the hearts and headspaces of every human being I know. I’ll admit, every day felt like diving into the deep end of hope, faith, uncertainty, and fear. Every day I found myself submerged at the deep end; when I pushed off at the very bottom and propelled my way to the surface, I contemplated my next moves with as much conviction, persistence, and fortitude my whole being had to expend. When I finally arrived at the surface, I began treading water and tried to find ways to keep afloat. Can you relate to this experience? During this time, I revisited my #OneWord2020. My internal thinking was running wild and at times, I was struggling to live the word EMPOWER. How could I continue to elevate others and help people see their gifts if there were moments I was struggling to see my own?  

Not One Day is the Same

One of the many reasons I love being in the field of education is that not one day will ever be the same. NOT. ONE. DAY. Why? It is because we are putting the needs of our learners front and center. We are keeping them at the heart of decision making. We are committed and passionate about supporting and guiding them to reach their social, emotional, and academic potential. We know that their needs change day to day, minute to minute. As an educator, you can plan as much as you want, but most likely those plans can change in an instant. Great educators are not reactive, they are responsive. Great educators can dive into the deep end, come up for air, and be willing to dive in again knowing that they can empower themselves to rise above the challenge. 

Diving into the Deep End

I was inspired by Beth Houf’s latest blog titled All the Words.”  Her beautifully authentic words resonated, “The new year that has been anticipated for the majority of the previous year. Shiny and new and full of hopes and dreams and new beginnings. I’m an optimist enough to believe in positive change. I’m a realist enough to know that the challenges of 2020 haven’t been left behind. Realistically speaking, we are still in the middle of a global pandemic.” With this in mind, I found myself diving into the deep end to search and connect with my #OneWord2021. I explored my options knowing we are embarking on an extension of the preceding unique year. I patiently waited for the word to jump off a page, latch onto my heart, and cling like a magnetic force because it us a word I will live by for another year. Over the course of my life, there have been moments of impulse where I have let my emotions make choices that have not always been reasonable. Now I know better. My life experiences have led me to commit to choices that are more balanced and purposeful. George Couros shared an idea about purpose in his latest Saturday email. He eloquently expressed, “One of the words that I have been REALLY thinking about as of late is “purpose.”  There is so much in our world that we strive for (joy, happiness, success, etc.) that really could be connected to that single word. He continued to share this quote by Chadwick Boseman:

#OneWord2021

I try to live my life with purpose, self-efficacy, and true commitment to things I am passionate about. This rationale has inspired me to be more courageous in my convictions and make decisions that are more intentional. I have always found purpose in the words and values I choose to live by. I have always been reasonable with my choice so I can reconnect with my word when I am pushed to the deep end. It might have taken me a little while to push myself to the surface for air, but when I finally did, my #OneWord2021 was right there waiting for me.

My #oneword2021 is BELIEVE…

Merriam-Webster Definition of Believe: to consider to be true or honest; to have a firm conviction as to the goodness, efficacy, or ability of something

I chose the word BELIEVE as my theme this year because I want to have the belief in myself and others to overcome obstacles, accomplish anything we set our minds to, and take action on achieving hopes and dreams! I am going to live this word by believing in myself to accomplish new goals without overthinking  and without having hesitation. I want to believe that I can jump right in and use moments of wonder to create, inspire, innovate, and thrive!

Eternal Memories Manifest Hope for the Future

My Eternal Mental Movie

I’ll never forget my fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Roth. Although I was only 9 years old, I can still remember thinking that she was one of the most innovative and inspiring teachers I’ve ever had. She had this unbelievable ability to make you feel special and valued. She celebrated your strengths and would ask you to share them with peers, she made learning incredibly fun, and continuously tried to implement new and better teaching and learning practices every single day. The overhead projector (remember those?) was a staple in her practice when most other teachers had them pushed into a corner in the back of the room (perhaps because it was a new and unfamiliar technological tool). I didn’t realize it then, but she used it to model her own writing life, make her invisible thinking visible, and showed us “the learning process” across various content areas. I often recreate the mind movie of me lovingly staring at her with my elbows locked on my desk and the palms of my hands cupping my chin as she gracefully carried around a book that was practically stuck to her hands like glue. This book looked important because it had that “lived-in” look about it. It was worn out at the edges like it had been thumbed through frequently, had colored tabs strategically placed throughout, and was covered with intentional highlighting, underlined words, phrases, and sentences from top to bottom. It was a book that reminded me of my favorite “go-to”  80s movies; you know, the ones I watched over and over again because I connected with the plot lines and hidden gems of life-lessons, or the humorous parts that made me laugh or the serious parts that got me to reflect on my own life and all of the “what if this happened to me?” moments!

My Lucky Day

I contemplated asking Mrs. Roth what the name of the book was, but I was a painfully shy young girl; so shy that I only spoke in class when I was invited to do so. Also, I wasn’t sure if it was appropriate for an elementary student to be interested in a grown-up book for teachers! And then the moment arrived…it was my lucky day. I noticed that the mysterious, treasured book was left by itself on the kidney-shaped table Mrs. Roth used for small group instruction. I spontaneously grabbed my notebook and pencil, briskly walked up to the table, and furiously scribbled down the title and author of the book. This was all while Mrs. Roth wrote the schedule for the day on the chalkboard in different colored chalk (remember chalkboards?). I hurried back to my desk and immediately opened my notebook to read the title…In the Middle: A Lifetime of Learning About Writing, Reading, and Adolescents by Nancie Atwell. So, this was the book that Mrs. Roth kept close to her teaching heart. I had to have it. I had to because I felt compelled to emulate the qualities I saw in Mrs. Roth, someone who valued their students, someone who created exciting learning experiences, someone who made you feel like your contributions mattered and kept you running back to school every day. And, if I was going to be a teacher one day, I wanted to be the teacher that felt empowered to create innovative experiences for students and colleagues. I wanted to be the teacher who was collegial, but also not afraid of success or the idea of positively impacting others in dynamic, influential ways. I wanted to be that teacher who embraced every student and tapped into their passions and interests. I wanted to be the teacher who was aware of the learning goals, but did not necessarily get there by using the same pathways as everyone else. I wanted to value people, creativity, and motivate others to share their gifts. So, at the age of 9 years old, I asked my parents if they would purchase the book for me, and they did.

Moving Beyond the Status Quo

Do you ever find yourself continuously reflecting on the impact your mentors have had on your growth and development both personally and professionally? I believe it’s a wonderful way to reconnect with your “why”. Just imagine if every child had their very own Mrs. Roth from a young age to touch their hearts and minds? How would having these positive role models impact their personal journeys, encourage them to create their own opportunities, and then share those gifts with the world? Recently, I listened to a new #InnovatorsMindset podcast by George Couros titled “Hopes for School”. He asked the questions, “Who has empowered you to create and be a leader?” and “Are we empowering people to create their own opportunities?” Later, he went onto share that his best mentors have pushed and challenged him to grow. These are also the same people who have his back and truly value him as a person and an educator. These ideas resonated with me because the trusted people I would consider to be my mentors have pushed me to grow in ways I never could have expected; they never held me back from success and perpetually pushed me to move beyond the status quo. Perhaps these were the people who saw qualities in me that I wasn’t able to name or see in myself because I was so consumed with employing daily practices and routines naturally. Don’t we have the same hopes for our own children, and for that matter, every student who enters our classroom door? All learners deserve to meet trusted people who will be their champion. All learners deserve to be welcomed into an environment that values their stories. All learners deserve to have a voice and choice in how they learn. All learners could use an invitation to share their thinking in safe spaces. Throughout my educational journey, I have crossed paths with a multitude of people who have modeled practices that were destined to become a part of who I am as a person and educator. I consider myself a very observant person. Studying people, their actions, and reactions to various events are important when intentionally exploring the ins and outs of life. Why is that? Every time I get the opportunity to observe the habits of others…styles of communication, teaching and learning practices, approaches to management, and the types of leadership qualities they embody, I am more inclined to open doors to new experiences with an empathetic heart and open mind. It is difficult to navigate the world without having the ability to understand others. There are things I observe that I hold onto so tightly because I look at those ideas as vital to my present and future successes. 

George Couros Image

Image from the #InnovatorsMindset podcast by George Couros titled “Hopes for School”

When the Past Meets the Present

About 10 years ago, my supervisor had sent an email inviting a group of literacy teachers to attend a Nancie Atwell conference. I immediately jumped on the opportunity to meet the literacy guru who had a profound impact on my favorite teacher, and me. Before leaving for the early morning New York City conference, I tucked my “lived-in”, worn at the edges, highlighted, underlined, tab filled 21-year-old In the Middle: A Lifetime of Learning About Writing, Reading, and Adolescents book in my bag. As I listened to Atwell speak about her passion for literacy and what it means to her to empower learners to have meaningful literacy lives, I couldn’t help but think about what got me to that moment. If it wasn’t for Mrs. Roth, her love for learning, and empowering her learners to grow…would I be sitting at the table with other educators who traveled near and far for a Saturday morning of professional learning? During the lunch break, I patiently waited for my turn to speak with Nancie Atwell holding my adored book in hand. I got to share the story about why and how I have a 21-year-old copy of the book. She smiled, laughed and appeared to have connected with my experience. Then, she graciously and willingly signed my precious copy of the book, a cherished book that symbolized eternal memories of hope for the future.

nancie atwell