Sunday, August 30, 2015

Why I'm Still Just A Poor Kid From the Projects

In a recent conversation with a friend, I was attempting to explain how being poor is something that you always think about once you've experienced poverty. It's different than forgetting about how awful Grandma's pound cake was, and you ate it anyway or how you once wanted to be a transformer  (I've always wanted to be Optimus Prime-don't laugh! ). Once you experience poverty, it sticks with you--even when you aren't poor anymore.

I still get excited about Papermate lead pencils and Mead trapper keepers. I coveted those two things as a kid growing up in South Carolina. Now I buy myself a pack of Paper Mate lead pencils before school begins each year. I had to do some serious perusing to find them in Staples this year--but I found them and they are in my backpack. Back to school time was a highly stressful time in our family. Each year my mother worked hard to provide us with five pairs of pants and five shirts, a pair of sneakers and a pair of Sunday shoes that could be worn to school and church--often they were charged on her JCPenney's credit card or placed on lay-a-way and retrieved after Labor Day.

I am so grateful for all that my sisters and I have accomplished in our lives. We all have successful careers in Business, Engineering, and Education. However, I am still extremely sensitive to how hard back to school can be on kids and their families. There's nothing worse than pulling out your paper and pencil and folder while watching beautiful, big packs of Crayola crayons and name brand glue sticks, along with big three ring binders with dividers and pencil pouches sitting on the desk next to yours. When the teacher collects them and asks you when you'll be bringing in the rest of your supplies, you lie, "Friday", knowing full well this is it.

I am not in that situation anymore. However my experiences have shaped the way I learn, lead, think, and feel about school. Often friends will tell me, "but you don't have to worry about those things anymore", and I want to say but I do worry. I worry that the kid who doesn't have their school stuff will be perceived as not smart, unprepared, irresponsible, unwilling to try. I wonder if they are as ashamed as I was to not have everything on the list. I wonder if some even know how hard it is/was to obtain what little some have on the first day of school.

I am still a child of poverty. I always will be. My heart will always have a special place for this. I value education so much. It literally changed my life and the lives of my sisters. We broke the cycle. And that is why I feel so indebted to give back as an educator. I look at things still through the lense of needs vs wants. I have a clarity regarding needs versus wants that I believe few others have and that was established out of necessity.

So as the year begins, I request of you your patience with students who may not have a pencil box, the right kind of folder, a glue stick, or a beautiful 24 pack of crayons. Most of all, I hope you'll be a hope builder!

Until next time-be you, be true, be a hope builder!

Monday, August 24, 2015

The Power of a Made Up Mind

When I was a little kid, I used to listen to the old folks say "ain't nothing like a made up mind". I used to wonder exactly what that meant. As of now, I am sure of its meaning. Sometime this summer, I made a decision to start running. In July, I ran here or there, but not as consistently as I wanted to run. When August came, I made up my mind. I started setting fitness goals, a goal for how many miles I wanted to run each week. If there's one thing I know about myself, it's that when my mind is made up and I'm focused, there is no stopping me. Needless to say, I've ran 34 miles since August 1. Now some might say, I'm over doing it. Others might say you should start slow. They could be right, but unfortunately that's not how I live my life.

For most of my life, I've had to make up my mind to get things accomplished. I think back to the many obstacles my sisters and I faced growing up in Boyd Hill Projects. There I learned the power of a made of mind. I made up my mind to get out, get an education, and make my way. I learned that if you really really want something-in a way that you can feel it on the inside-and you are relentless in your focus and pursuit of your goal, you can accomplish anything.

So I became addicted to having a focus and a work ethic so sturdy and strong that it could not be shaken. I always told myself I may not be the smartest or the fastest, but I know how to work hard. I pride myself on working so hard that there's nothing left to give and I've left it all on the table. I learned to not give up easily no matter what I faced or how challenging something may have seemed.
I believe in mind over matter. This is the lesson I hope to give my students. I want to let them know that there is power in a made up mind. I want to help them learn that everything they need to succeed they already have inside them.

My grandmother used to say if your mind is not made up, you're in trouble. So wherever you stand, stand firm, stay steady, and keep your mind made up to have a fantastic year. Decide what it is you want for your students. Commit to making it happen by doing whatever it takes. Remove the word but from the equation. Stay away from excuses. As my mother would say-"An excuse is whatever you want it to be!" If you're on the fence, you're in trouble. Remember there is power in a mind that's made up!
Until next time-be you, be true, be a hope builder!

Sunday, August 9, 2015

To Take Care of Others, You Must Take Care of You! #fitnessedu

Something totally awesome happened today.
I woke up and had a cup of coffee. Then, I went to the gym and ran three miles. After it was all over, I tweeted this:
Three mile run this morning! Hope I can keep this going when school starts back!
I took a shower shortly there after and got a notification on Twitter that my tweets this weekend regarding my running had inspired someone else. Someone in my PLN had been inspired and tweeted this:
Just ran 3 miles in spite of it all! Inspired to do it by Thanks ladies
It was only a few seconds and someone else tweeted this:
we should start a Twitter edu fitness motivation chat! Lol
And tonight, the #fitnessedu chat was born. A quick voxer chat started by @loriannegreen and our chat was set. Two questions, thirty minutes. Share goals and encourage each other.
maintaining balance in our lives starts with taking care of ourselves!

Just that quickly, four educators had connected their desire to be fit and share their goals and successes. This is why I love twitter. What a great opportunity for all of us to encourage and motivate each other to be fit. We all know that we must take care of ourselves to take care of others. As we get ready to start the school year, and for those who have already started, on behalf of all of us-@MrsVanderborne, @1AVA3, and @loriannegreen and myself (@latoyadixon5), we invite you to join us in working to take care of yourself this school year. If you missed it, you can catch it here:

Whether novice or experienced, fitness is for everyone....and it feels good too!

Until next time-be you, be true, be a hope builder.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Get Out of the Way! (Of Great Teachers)

One of the biggest errors I see new principals make is that they get in the middle of everything! In their newness, full of energy, excitement, and ideas, they want to be smack dab in the middle of everything! Instead of building a strong, solid, and simple framework for teachers to operate within and focusing on the goals and results, they begin to dabble in the action items and steps to reach those goals. I believe whole heartedly that teachers can usually find their own way with the right support and guidance, but muddying up the details isn't support and isn't guidance. It's micromanagement.

As a leader, I view my role in this way:

1. Clarify the vision. Make it as clear as possible. Focus the expectations. Keep it simple.

2. Repeat the vision often. Keep it simple. If you can't say it in one sentence it's probably too much. Support teachers as they work to make the vision a reality. Give them the tools and support needed to meet collective goals. (Don't tell them what to do. This is where many get it wrong. Ask them what they need from you to meet the goals you've collectively set. Focus on their development as people not on monitoring whether or not they've done tasks x, y and , z! )

3. Celebrate their accomplishments. Create a sense of urgency for goals not yet met. Repeat steps 1 and 2.

I believe Fullan is one of the greatest writers on the tight-loose-tight leadership model. The focus is on the development of a strong system, not on a plethora of micro details. When the leader develops an effective system (think picture frame) the details take care of themselves. We can move from putting out fire after fire to refining the system-designing an effective mechanism for teaching and learning as our teachers do hard and challenging work.

When we focus our efforts as leaders on the development of a great system, the details take care of themselves. This is why I believe whole heartedly in the Professional Learning Communities model. The premises are incredibly clear and simple although implementation of it as a system of teaching and learning is incredibly hard. It emphasizes the tight loose tight model. Tight-a strong focus on what kids should know and be able to do. Loose- utilize collective inquiry to develop and refine common formative assessments and analyze the data to inform our teaching. Tight- focus on the learning not teaching. Take a close look at the results to determine who learned what we wanted them to learn. Refine.

Great leaders are skilled at clarifying the vision. They make it so clear that teachers feel confident and purposeful in their work as well as empowered. When teachers reach goals they feel the sense of mastery and professional autonomy that human behavior requires to continually grow and learn. Great leaders celebrate the efforts of teachers.

So my challenge to all principals is simply this: Ask yourself, How clear is your vision? How focused are you in your communication to teachers? Are you sending one clear message? Are you working on the frame, the system, or standing smack dab in the middle of the picture?

If you hear crickets when you ask yourself those questions, get out of the way of... great teachers!

Until next time-be you, be true, be a hope builder.