Thursday, January 10, 2013

The power of you...

On any given day, educators experience the highest of highs and the lowest of lows.  How an educator reacts and responds to these highs and lows can often dictate the overall mood of the day.  In my short 8 years as an educator, I have learned several things as it pertains to remaining positive, as well as keeping things in perspective when it comes to my professional and personal life.  Educators have an extremely difficult and mentally draining job, but yet at the same time, educators also have one of the most rewarding jobs.  The most difficult and rewarding jobs require a certain kind of mental strength and stamina...the strength and stamina to look in the mirror, and take control of the power...

Something most educators fail to realize is that they have the power and the control to dictate how well, or not well a day goes.  Sure, of course, we all have days that are better than others, but we are ultimately in control of whether we have good or bad days.  We have all done it, and we are all guilty of letting somebody or something take control of our day.  When we allow others to control the outcome of our life, we are relinquishing control of our very existence.

I have made this mistake many times before.  It is my new goal to take the power back, and regain control of my life.  The best thing about taking control of one's life, is the fact that when you take control of your life, you give somebody else the opportunity to take control of their life.  Empower others by empowering yourself...perhaps the most underrated and underutilized method to professional and personal growth.

Reflect on your existence, and evaluate how you approach both your professional and personal life.  Do you believe in yourself?  Does your happiness and positivity rely on the actions of others?  Do you feel proud of your accomplishments and doings?  Can you walk with your head held high?  Do you feel in control of your life?

Take this opportunity to look in the mirror and realize the potential and power of you.  Do not fear the power you possess.  This power gives you the ability to control your life and the outcomes of your experiences.  Be positive and give yourself the benefit of the doubt.  Work hard, prepare, encourage, and motivate yourself to take responsibility of controlling your life.

Oh, and if you are looking for people with whom to surround out those who believe in themselves, and in due time you will see they not only believe in themselves, they believe in you too.  When one believer believes in another, the ripple effect is inevitable...Are you ready to make the first wave...?

What are "essential questions?"

Essential questions are not answerable with finality in a brief sentence. Their aim is to stimulate thought, to provoke inquiry, and to spark more questions - including thoughtful student questions. They are broad and full of cross-curricular transfer possibilities.

Essential questions enable students to uncover the real riches of a topic otherwise obscured in texts or routine teacher-talk.

Not only do essential questions stimulate thought and inquiry, they can be used to effectively frame our content goals. For example, if the standard is to learn about the three branches of the government, an essential question could be, "why do we need the three branches of the government?"

The best questions serve not only to promote understanding of the content of a unit on a particular topic; they also spark connections and promote transfer of ideas from one setting to others. We call these such questions "essential."

Tips for using essential questions:

Use a reasonable number of questions (two to five) per unit. Make less be more.

Frame the questions in "kid language" as needed to make them more accessible. Edit the questions to make them as engaging and provocative as possible for the age group.

Ensure that every child understands the questions and sees their value.

Design specific exploratory activities and inquiries for each question.

Sequence the questions so they naturally lead from one to another.

Post the essential questions in the classroom, and encourage students to organize their notes and work around those specific questions.

Good essential questions engender other good questions. It is therefore useful to think of a family of related questions as anchoring a course and a unit, and also to make clear to students that their questions that arise naturally are part of clarifying the essential questions.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

The way of the donkey...

I read this short fable recently and wanted to share...

One day a farmer's donkey fell down into a well. The animal cried piteously for hours as the farmer tried to figure out what to do. Finally, he decided the animal was old, and the well needed to be covered up anyway; it just wasn't worth it to retrieve the donkey.

He invited all his neighbors to come over and help him. They all grabbed a shovel and began to shovel dirt into the well. At first, the donkey realized what was happening and cried horribly. Then, to everyone's amazement he quieted down.

A few shovel loads later, the farmer finally looked down the well. He was astonished at what he saw. With each shovel of dirt that hit his back, the donkey was doing something amazing. He would shake it off and take a step up.

As the farmer's neighbors continued to shovel dirt on top of the animal, he would shake it off and take a step up. Pretty soon, everyone was amazed as the donkey stepped up over the edge of the well and happily trotted off!

Life is going to shovel dirt on you, all kinds of dirt. The trick to getting out of the well is to shake it off and take a step up. Each of our troubles is a steppingstone. We can get out of the deepest wells just by not stopping, never giving up! Shake it off and take a step up.

Remember the five simple rules to be happy:

1. Free your heart from hatred - Forgive.

2. Free your mind from worries - Most never happens.

3. Live simply and appreciate what you have.

4. Give more.

5. Expect less from people but more from yourself.

You have two choices... smile and close this page, or pass this along to someone else to share the lesson.

~ Author unknown

Friday, January 4, 2013

10 things I've learned about leadership...

I just recently finished my first semester as the Director of Curriculum and Personnel in the Union R-XI School District in St. Louis, Missouri. The transition from a building level administrator to a central office administrator has proven to be quite the learning experience. The last several years have been huge in terms of my professional growth. Throughout this journey I have continued the practice of self-reflection and I have attempted to learn from my mistakes. Here is a little bit of what I've learned:

~ Pride is extremely important and is something we all need, but if you are not careful, pride will work against you and ultimately blind you from seeing and doing what must be done. There are times to flex your pride, and there are times to swallow your pride... knowing when to do which is key.

~ There is an ugly side to leadership and very rarely will anything be just black and white. Leadership demands that we make decisions knowing full well that they won't be popular. The longer you are in a leadership position, the more likely you will be forced to make a decision that hurts someone innocent.

There is a healthy balance between being the center of the show & playing the support role; finding the correct balance that matches your personality and the personality of your leadership team is key.

The biggest hurdles you will face as a leader will almost always originate with your own real or perceived struggles. When working with others, you need to look in the mirror and judge yourself much more often than judging the actions of those with whom you work.

Your ability to be patient won't reap any immediate rewards... and that is exactly why being patient is so important. The ability and concerted effort to sit back and observe may seem like inaction, but sometimes inaction is just what the doctor ordered.

Part of leadership is recognizing & accepting that making everyone happy is near impossible. If your main goal is to please all of those around you, you are destined to fail. Don't make your leadership decisions on what you think will make everyone happy unless you want to feel disappointment. 

When you trust those with whom you work, you take the first step toward sustainable growth, trust is the essential foundation. Whatever you do, make sure that the team approach is the only approach. A weak team can't be fixed by a great leader, and a great team will be destroyed by a poor leader. 

There is difference between doing what is right, doing what you need to do, and ultimately what you end up doing...

Little fires are only able to become big fires because they are ignored & not addressed. Leadership is naturally about reacting and responding, but the more you are able to be proactive the better off you will be. 

Sometimes leadership is about jumping on the grenade that wasn't even thrown at you... sometimes leadership is about having broad enough shoulders to carry the weight of many... sometimes leadership is about getting kicked down and then being kicked while you are down. Real leadership is figuring out how to get back up and not getting kicked in the same place again...