Sunday, December 1, 2013

Nerdlution! COMMITTMENT - ACCOUNTABILITY - ACCOMPLISHMENT


My Lost Writing Life

I have fallen away from writing.  That's very sad to me, because it used to be such a huge part of my life.  There were days when I wrote in a journal for pleasure ... recording memories, creating poetry and saving thoughtful meanderings.  Something shifted in my life, and I began to write on demand rather than for myself.  It was just life - my job as an elementary principal, coauthoring three books with Franki Sibberson, articles for Choice Literacy.  I loved the professional writing that I was doing, but I neglected my writing roots.  It is something I regret and hope to change.

While I still enjoy writing for a purpose, I find that it requires a more focused approach to writing.  Who is my audience?  What am I trying to say?  Will readers understand what I am thinking?  Is my writing worth reading?  Is my writing as crafted as it could be?  There is a sort of tension in the act of this kind of writing.  I will continue to write professionally, but I need to reach back into my writing life.

I miss the days when I captured thoughts in my journal - just because I loved doing it.  No one was going to read my writing unless I decided to share it.  The focus was on discovering my thoughts and letting them spill out on the page.  Sometimes, I crafted a memory I didn't want to lose.  Sometimes, I didn't discover my topic until I started scribing the words on the page - a journey of discovery.  Sometimes, I would play with words or write down a quote that captured my thinking.  Sometimes, I pasted items into my journal - a fortune from a fortune cookie, an article from the newspaper, a snapshot, or a sketch.  And there was something about writing with a pencil in my notebook rather than word processing on the computer.  It's difficult to explain but my pencil scratching the page cannot be replaced by a keyboard. Thinking about the beginnings of my writing journey brings me comfort.  I need that sense of writing back in my life.

So when I heard about #nerdlution and the public commitments folks were making on Twitter, I decided that writing in my notebook each day might be a great goal to bring me back to the joy of writing. (See the post from Franki Sibberson on Year of Reading to find out more about #nerdlution.)

Getting Healthy

I recently retired from my dream job as an elementary principal.  I used to say that I never had time to eat right and exercise.  Well, now I have no excuse.  Enough said.  

My Nerdlutions

So here are my goals for the 50-day Nerdlution:

Goal #1 - write in my notebook for pleasure each day
Goal #2 - eat right and exercise each day 

I will join others posting on Twitter (#nerdlution) to keep myself accountable.  Wish me luck.
 

 

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Slice of Life - Kitting to Learn, Reflect and Celebrate


I have recently retired from being an elementary school principal, so I fill my days with others things besides being at school.  I miss the teachers and the kids but am continuing to learn, reflect and celebrate.  This is my first Slice of Life post.  It's part of my motto:  Never Stop Learning.

I have always been a knitter.  I use to knit much more when I was younger.  Of course, the crazy life of being a mother, wife, teacher, and principal often got in the way of settling down with the knitting in my hands.  But now I have time - precious time - to choose the things I want to do.

I usually knit some everyday.  I also try to read and write everyday.  My most reflective time is when I sit down to knit.  Somehow, life slows down while I am knitting.  My hands take on the routine of the knitting while my brain has time to wander. 

Yesterday, I went to the store to purchase yarn for a blanket for my grandson.  I was looking forward to working in shades of blue and grey.  It seemed to be a calming notion.  However, my grandson had a different idea in mind.  Even though he is only five, his favorite color is red and he wants Ohio State colors (grey, white and scarlet) in his blanket.  So I learned to be flexible

In conversation with my daughter, I discovered that JoAnn Fabrics accepts coupons from Michaels Craft Store and Hobby Lobby.  So I scoured the latest newspaper ads and got on line to gather my coupons.  I ended up with seven 40% off coupons and headed to the store.  So I learned to be frugal.

When I sat down last evening to begin knitting, I was tackling an unfamiliar pattern for the blanket.  I worked on a sample swatch, planned my color combinations and began.  But after a bit of knitting nearly a dozen rows, I discovered that I miscounted and made a mistake a few rows back.  New patterns can be tricky.  I had to learn two new stitches and had to keep careful count as I went along.  I had to take out several rows before I could continue.  So I learned, once again, that mistakes are all part of learning.

I will keep at it.  The blanket is a big project and will take me weeks, maybe months, to complete.  Being a knitter teaches you patience as your project unveils slowly over time.  So I learned that knitting takes patience and persistence.

While I knit, I have time to think.  As I work on this project, I will have many hours to reflect on life and its ups and downs.  I will have time to celebrate as the blanket grows in size.  I will have time to think about my precious grandson and the person he is growing up to be.  The life of a knitter is one that is filled with learning, reflection and celebration.  I am glad I am a knitter. 

Friday, August 30, 2013

A Vision for Learning, Teaching and Leading

A school community is not about one leader but many leaders including students, parents, and teachers.  I have strong beliefs about learning, teaching and leading.  Leading in a learning community is about standing up for what we believe in. Leading is helping others find their passions and reach their potential.  What brings everyone together with a common wisdom is VISION.

When we opened our school, it was important that we established a vision statement that represented our shared beliefs and guided us toward becoming the school we wanted to be.  We were filled with hope and passion about our new school.  We wanted to establish a vision that would bring us together and represent our commitment to the journey ahead.

Why should we establish a vision?


A vision gives us direction.  It points us toward our goal.  It's our true north.  It captures what we will stand for and reminds us of where we are going.  Everything we do aligns with our vision.  A vision is a lense we can use to make sure we are holding strong to what our beliefs.  A vision builds a common language, a common wisdom and a shared dedication to our school. 

Visions are crafted with serious thought and carefully chosen words.  To others our vision can simply be a collection of words.  But for those who created the vision and live by it each day, it is strong and full of passion and commitment.  The words have depth and the message is clear.  

Just as the picture of a beautiful lake brings us back to a favorite vacation spot, a vision can be our cue for thoughtful learning, teaching and leading.  It is an affirmation for the hallmarks of our life at school. 

In my next post, I will share how we built the vision that would guide all of us toward the school of our dreams.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Three Days of Inspiration - Life and School

This post is a continuation of a series of three days of reflection on Life and School. 

 

Day 2 was spent at home.  My daughter was having a yard sale the upcoming weekend.  I would be there to help with the kids during the yard sale hours.  So on this day, I decided to gather some things to put in the garage sale. I didn't intend to take much but I figured the opportunity was there for me to pass a few things onto new owners.

I started with books.  I recently brought home all the books I had at school because I retired from 37 years of teaching and leading as a principal.  Those of you who are teachers can imagine what one can collect in 37 years.   I had shelves of picture books that will be given book by book and visit by visit to my grandchildren.  I had shelves and shelves of professional books on learning and teaching.  I passed some of them onto other teachers and brought some home because they were hallmark books that I couldn't do without. I had shelves of professional books on leadership and education.  Some of those I left for the new principal and the rest I brought home.  Needless to say I needed some bookshelf space.  I purchased a new bookcase but that wouldn't be enough.  So I started to sort.

I have a hard time parting with books.  I am a book junkie.  After I read a book, it sits on my shelf and reminds me of characters I loved.  However, I rarely reread them.  So on this day, I asked myself if I could part with a few of my fiction titles to create some shelf space.  I spent hours sorting and stacking.  I realized that some of the books I had read 15 years ago.  Why shouldn't I share these with others?

As I looked over each book and contemplated if I could part with it, I began to remember.  Why did I read this one?  Was it recommended by a friend?  Was it a book club selection?  I recalled the stories, the places, and the characters.  Who did I talk to about the book?  Why had I kept it for so long?

I finally had the books sorted into two stacks.  The first stack included the collection of books I was just not ready to part with  (Love in the Time of Cholera, Crossing to Safety and so many more).  In the other stack, I had those books that were difficult to part with but hoped someone else would enjoy a new reading adventure.  I packed those in a box ready to join the yard sale treasures.

Throughout the day, I walked about my home noticing other things -  not just books - that I could add to the yard sale.  As I considered each item I asked myself, "Could I part with it?  Did it still have a purpose?  Was it time to let it go?

These thoughts brought me back to school life.  Every school year, I would enter school in August to re-imagine my classroom, redesign the space, and reconsider routines.  The hardest part was letting go of some things to make way for the new.  It's good to let go of things.  It opens doors for new possibilities, new ways of thinking, and new adventures in learning, teaching and leading. 

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Why I Lead - A Life of Mentorship (#savmp)

I think leadership has always been a part of me.  It's difficult to explain.  My leadership came in the form of helping others.  My style is a quiet form of leadership backed by a strong sense of what I believe in.  It's not difficult for others to recognize what is important to me.  From there, I can lead by supporting others on their journeys of learning, teaching and leadership.

 

An Opportunuity for Mentorship

Now that I am retired, I want to focus on two things: staying involved in education and giving back to the profession.  When George Couros from Canada posed the idea of a principal mentorship, I jumped at the opportunity.  I saw it as a chance to give back and continue learning.  George had this great idea of pairing mentor principals with mentees to support them along on their leadership journey.  When he put the idea out there, he received an overwhelming response of 350 folks who showed an interest in the collaboration.  What a great opportunity to learn together.  Each mentor has been assigned three mentees.  I will be mentoring a high school vice-principal from Kenya, an assistant elementary principal from Texas, and a vice-principal from a secondary community school in British Columbia.

 

Why I Lead

George suggested we write about why we lead.  There was a time when leadership seemed a scary venture.  I was always interested in helping others recognize their potential.  Maybe that's what led me to leadership.  I strongly believe that leadership is not synonymous with position.  Long before I was a principal, I felt I was searching for ways to lead others - not to places I thought they should be but to where they wanted to go.  Part of being a leader was developing a strong sense of empathy in order to recognize what others wanted and finding ways to support them.  I watched for people who had a quest and asked:  How can I help you?  What do you need to be successful?

Early on in my career, leadership was mostly my work with children.  It came from the depths of caring, nurturing and helping them discover who they could be.  Gradually, it spread to my work with other teachers. I recognized the value of collaborating and learning from others.  I looked for ways to get conversations started and sustain the good work they were doing in classrooms.  It seems that in every position I held there were doors open for leadership experiences.  I had my own ideas to share but more so wanted to help others discover theirs.  I wanted to make an impact on the lives of others.  Maybe it is my own desire to leave a legacy - a legacy that doesn't showcase my accomplishments but the success of others.

 

Developing a Leadership Style 

For me, leadership is not taking a loud stance and demanding that people follow me.  It's about serving others and leading quietly from behind.  I have always loved this quote:

     A leader is best when people barely know he exists, not so good 
     when people obey and acclaim him, worse when they despise
     him ... But of a good leader who talks little when his work is 
     done, his aim fulfilled, they will say, "We did it ourselves."  
     ~  Lao Tzu

For some, this might be considered a weak form of leadership.  But I think I lead from example and from a strong belief system that is embedded in everything I do.  People know what I will stand up for.  They know what is important to me.  They recognize my non-negotiables.  Once I have established who I am and what I stand for, I can lead quietly and by example.  So I lead with words and actions.

I want others to believe in their own potential.  I want them to know that they choose their own paths.  They make their own choices.  They take their own risks and reap the rewards.  For me, leading means unlocking potential, connecting people, and promoting their independence - working myself into the background so they can lead themselves and begin to lead others. 

Leading is about building a community in which others can succeed.  At school, that means creating a network of collaborations that support learning and leading.  It's important to me that students as well as teachers have a strong voice in what happens at school. 

At this point in my life, I am searching for new ways to lead.  I am looking forward to participating in the principal mentorship opportunity and I continue to grow and learn.  That's the best part!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Three Days of Inspiration - Life and School


The last three days have been both exhausting and inspirational.  I will be reflecting on my three days in the next few blog posts.  Here are my thoughts on life and school.

 

On Day 1, I went to Apple Tree Auction Center with my husband.  It was just a day meant for fun - a way to celebrate my new-found freedom after retiring from the principalship. This day was my birthday, and I decided that I wanted to go to the local Apple Tree Auction Center  for the day.  I love the feeling of finding little treasures and the thrill of bidding against others to get them.  My husband and I furnished our first apartment by going to auctions, and so we both have enjoyed it over the years.




Apple Tree Auction Center

On this day, we intended to stay at the auction for just a few hours and ended up staying the whole day. We bought some large furniture items for my son, who is always filling his apartment with an interesting and eclectic collection of treasures.

I bought a wicker basket for my yarn and knitting projects and a little tapestry stool for a foot rest at my writing desk.  

We even purchased two cardboard boxes of  rocks (yes, rocks!) for my grandchildren.  At ages 5 and 3, they are so curious and love collecting rocks around the town and on vacation.  The rocks we purchased are fascinating.  Whole and partial quarts are embedded in the large stones.  We know the kids will spend hours as apprentice geologists deep in curious exploration.

I even fancied purchasing an odd but interesting piece of furniture that would inspire my writing but I feared that the item was so "unique" (and I say that kindly) that I would not have a place for it in my home.  It would have been a great place to think, imagine and write - a cue for my writing mind to get to work.

When the auction was finished, we set out to find a U-Haul truck so we could remove our purchased items before the auction house closed for the day.  We picked up the truck, and 100 miles later the furniture was delivered to my son's apartment and the rental truck returned.  Another 40 miles later, we were home and exhausted.  I love the way I was able to choose what I did that day and the small treasures that I added to my home.  It was also a great day to spend with my husband pursuing one of our shared interests.

Since retiring, I have discovered a new flexibility in my life that I  really enjoy.  I can get up and do whatever I want whenever I want.  If I feel like working hard to accomplish something, I do it.  If I want to rest and relax, I can do that, too. It's a nice feeling.  My life is filled with less "have-to" tasks and more time for "want-to" choices.  I am very fortunate.

But what about school?


I am wondering about the parallels between this day and a child's (and teacher's) day at school.  How can we make school and life like this for our children and teachers?  Does is require stepping away from rigid schedules and prescribed curriculum?  Would more choice and a student-centered environment encourage exploration, choice, curiosity and new learning?

I was so excited about the sense of adventure the auction offered me.  I had no plans accept to be there and soak in the experience.  I spent the day examining the items in the auction like an explorer anxious for new discoveries.  I used my phone to search online for the price of a beautiful wooden clock I found.  I determined what I was willing to pay for each item, and I anticipated what others would be willing to invest.  I mentally kept track of how much I was spending for the day.  I was disappointed when I missed a bid for a box of beautiful glass paperweights (and came home to do some research on them so I would be equipped to bid if I came across them again).  I conquered my fears of bidding wrongly based on the fast and furious words of the auctioneer.  I quietly celebrated when I won the bid for the items I really wanted.

So how can we help make school life more like real life? (No, it doesn't require a field trip to the auction center.)  Can we be the designers of a new life at school where children are curious and invested in learning?  Can students and teachers be makers of school adventures that inspire us to explore, research and learn?  Can we help students understand that math has a place in the world?  Can we encourage our students to navigate to knew learning as I did with the glass paperweights?  Can we help children conquer the fear of making mistakes and help them realize that mistakes are all part of learning?

I think we can.  What are your thoughts?




Saturday, July 27, 2013

Today is one of those quiet, contemplative days with a steady sprinkle of rain and grey skies. As a person in my late teens and early twenties, I used to love to sit in a chair by the window in my parent's home. On rainy days, I would always find myself reading or writing in that chair. The chair was a cue for slowing down, reflecting and thinking about my place in the world.


I recently came home from a two-day writing retreat with Choice Literacy friends and writers at the Inn at Cedar Falls in Ohio. We had two days of wonderful weather - mild temperatures and sunny days. It was a wonderful time to begin to reinvent my life as a writer and find my new place in the world. I have recently retired from public education. I have had 37 wonderful years connected to teachers and children. I taught for 24 years and have been a principal for the last 13 years. I wouldn't change my life in education. It has been many years of sharing, growing, learning. However, it's time to think about the coming years and the opportunities I have for new adventures. I can't abandon my connection with children, teachers and other colleagues. I won't abandon my reading and writing. They will bring me new journeys and new discoveries.


The last few days at the writing retreat have helped me to begin reprogramming my brain. Instead of juggling the tasks of opening a new school year, I have the gift of time and choice. What a treasure!