Dance with the One that Brought You

One of my favorite authors, activist and change-maker Glennon Doyle, was being interviewed on the podcast, Good Life Project.  Glennon writes from her personal experiences but as an introvert finds it difficult to do book tours.  During the interview, Glennon quipped that she became a writer so she could stay in her pajamas and said that she was asking her father advice on how to make the book tour mean something more than just calling attention to herself.  Glennon’s father advised her with the words “when you get to the party you gotta dance with the one that brought you.”  This made Glennon reflect on what brought her to do what she does (basically her “why”) and led her to focus the book tour’s attention on those who live out the purpose in their lives.

After reading Jon Gordon’s The Power of Positive Leadership, our Garrard County leadership team was inspired to periodically remind ourselves  to focus on the “why we do what we do.” It’s a common motto or theme in schools to say we are “all about kids” or we are “student-centered” or that all our decisions are made in the best interest of children, but we have taken it a step further in creating our own mission/vision statements.  We know that we want to have a positive impact on children, but this summer we started the process of thinking about what really brought us to the dance of education leadership.  We thought about how we could use the talents and gifts we were given to make a difference in the lives of children from our positions.

My personal vision is to use my enthusiasm and positivity to serve staff and students in providing a collaborative environment of continuous growth and improvement where students want to learn, and staff want to teach.  

It is my mission to encourage and motivate each and every member of our school staff so together students and staff can “risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight” as we learn and grow together.

These statements keep me going.  I truly believe I was given gifts to serve the staff, students, and families of Paint Lick.  They help me focus on meaningful work that I hope will make a difference.

Make a Mark

Dotday.jpgJust make a mark and see where it takes you.

This week we celebrated International Dot Day at Paint Lick Elementary.   Based on the book, The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds, this day celebrates the themes of creativity, courage, and collaboration.  Teachers had the students create dot-themed art, participate in dot-themed writing and math activities, wear dots, and think about what it means to make your mark and pass it on.

I listened to The Dot being read on Youtube Friday morning as I was getting ready for work and teared up as once again the books powerful messages hit me in new ways. In the past I thought about the message from the perspective of the teacher.  I was inspired by the teacher’s impact on Vashti–how her encouragement and creativity moved Vashti to find the courage to create.  This year, however, I thought more about the collaboration theme and how Vashti made an impact on her peers.  I’ve been thinking about how after Vashti shared her gift she was able to get the little boy to start taking baby steps towards expressing himself as an artist.

What opportunities do we have as educators to share our struggles, journeys, and perspectives to the benefit of others?  When we share our art, others benefit from not just seeing the finished product, but also the many drafts and processes that we go through.  Perhaps this is one of the reasons I place such a high value on collaborative planning and teamwork.  True collaboration like we strive for in a professional learning community isn’t just each of us pulling our own weight or stepping up and dividing tasks.  It’s wresting with content learning targets, thinking of activities together that will help students master the content, and analyzing student work together.  It’s allowing others a peek in our minds to see how we attack learning and assessment and looking into others’ minds in much the same way math teachers encourage students to “show their work.”

If each of us on a team takes a subject, plans it on our own and then shares our plans with our teammates it’s like going to the art gallery instead of the design studio.  Yes, you can take that picture home and hang it on the wall (it certainly is a lot faster than creating your own) but what about getting the inspiration and courage to create?  When we have lessons handed to us we save time, but wouldn’t we be much more savvy with the delivery of the lessons, understanding the content much deeper, if we work together to create them?

The master artist also benefits personally by sharing his craft.  Artists who teach report that talking about their technique inspires creativity and helps them to focus on their own processes.   Everyone benefits and gets better in team planning–even the person who serves as the lead for a particular subject.  The leader will improve instruction in his or her classroom, the teammate’s and the school.  If we have that practice school-wide, students will come to you better prepared.  It’s a way we can guarantee a viable curriculum for all students no matter who the teacher is.

There are few that could argue with the benefits of collaboration.  The major barrier seems to be time.  I would argue that if we put in the time on the front end to collaborate when we plan, then we would save time in the long run.  If we collaborate we will have lessons that reach students better, requiring less time on the back end through reteaching and intervention.  It’s not just about having the courage to make a mark, it’s about being willing to share that mark with others. After you make a mark, see where it takes you.  Then sign it.



The Fulcrum

The quest for balance is never far from my mind.  Like many educators I’m constantly struggling to balance my work demands, home life, and healthy routines.  I am keenly aware of when I am out of balance.  It usually shows up physically as fatigue or weight gain, or emotionally as dissatisfaction, guilt, or frustration.  When I wrote the post, “The Run/Walk Interval,” I appreciated the struggle I was having and recognized that that weekend I was taking a “walk break” so that I could “run” with the demands of the work.  Throughout these first days as a new principal I recognized and appreciated that my work would need the most weight initially, but I missed a key part of my balance: the fulcrum.  There is attention that needs to be paid to my center or fulcrum so that I am better able to discern when to stop and start the running and walking parts of the interval.

For me, my spiritual life is at my center.  It’s the fulcrum upon which all the demands of my life balance.  When I am not giving the proper attention to that which grounds me, I don’t have the proper perspective needed to make wise decisions, nor do I have the stamina to do what is needed to run effectively.  I realized this week that I have seen the routines related to my spiritual life as just another set of obligations that demand my attention.  When, at different times of my life these routines are put first, the other demands or weights tend to balance themselves much more easily.  I also find that I am better able to manage the work itself.  On the other hand, when I don’t ground myself in my spiritual practices, then I spend way too much time working and am not as effective in that time.

I knew as a principal that there would be days when I would need to give more time to management responsibilities than instructional leadership.  What I did not fully realize or appreciate was the impact these days would have on my stress level.  I am beginning to realize that when I have a week when I give a lot of time to work, but feel like I have made positive impact on learning, I don’t feel negative consequences of stress.  I feel a sense of satisfaction.  Weeks when I don’t feel like I have moved the ball much instructionally because I have had to focus mainly on management issues, I don’t come away with a sense of satisfaction.  Instead, I feel drained and can feel defeated. This past week I was there.  I didn’t have any resources to draw from.  I probably got more sleep this week than I have any week this month, yet I felt exhausted everyday.  My stress was managed unsuccessfully and I left feeling ineffective.

Fortunately, I have a new week–a chance to start over with a fresh focus and plan for implementing new routines.  These routines will be aimed at my fulcrum. I will wake up 15 minutes earlier to read a daily devotional and end each day with reflection, meditation and prayer.  It will be interesting to see the impact of these routines no matter what kind of week I have.  It will be interesting to see what happens when I focus on the fulcrum.



My mother told me a long time ago, “Do not compare your insides to someone else’s outside.”  The meaning behind this advice can commonly be seen through the way many of us experience social media. We look at the images that others put out there of a seemingly “perfect life” and compare our reality to that. Some will capture this sentiment by saying, “Never compare someone else’s highlight reel with your behind the scenes footage.”  For that reason, I rarely aimlessly scroll through Facebook. If I am not careful I find that after scrolling through everyone’s beautiful Easter pictures or family hiking outings, I come to the conclusion that everyone has it all together and I am a complete failure as a mother. Obviously, my perspective is flawed, but sometimes it is difficult to tell yourself that in the moment.

I think professionally, I have the tendency to compare myself with my own expectations of what I should accomplish in a day compared to what really happens.  At the end of the day, instead of focusing on the positives of what I did get done, I compare my reality to the Twitter or Facebook image I have crafted of myself in my mind of how I want to be. I think it’s great to have a vision of where I want to be, but not when it causes me to reject the learning and progress I am making each day.

This week was a tough one for me.  It seemed like I couldn’t gain any traction with anything I was trying to get accomplished. I would try to solve a problem and think it was settled and something else would be presented that made it persist. I couldn’t get resolution.  I REALLY wanted to cross some things off my list and they would NOT go away! I wanted to get some of these issues that weren’t related to my mission and vision taken care of, so that I could focus on what was “really important.”

I think I am in need of change in perspective on several levels. First, my language as I write this is in need of an adjustment.  Lots of “I,” and “my.”  It’s not all about me! In my quest for what “I” want to accomplish I am missing out on what “we” have done.  I need to remind myself that I am here to serve and support my colleagues as we work to support “our” mission. THAT is the work—not my to-do list.  Second, I need to focus on our accomplishments for the week instead of comparing myself to some warped view I have of the way I should be.   This week we had our first PLC meetings, we had a “flipped” staff meeting, I had the opportunity to speak to some state legislators, I got to see some great instruction through walkthroughs, and I went on a school visit with a team of teachers.  That’s all good stuff and a pretty amazing week!

One of the neatest things that happened this week was the way several staff members rallied around one of our own, first to help a struggling student, and then again when a staff member’s room needed a lot of help.  People forgot their own agendas and did what was needed when it was needed.  That was a beautiful expression of love, teamwork, and compassion.  That’s what we are about at our school and team.  I can learn a valuable lesson from them.