You’ve Got This

To say the current situation is fluid would be more than an understatement.  For weeks now, the situation has changed almost hourly.  It is hard to make meaningful plans during times like this.  But plan we must.  Try we must.  Fail at times we will.  (Apparently I was channeling Yoda there.)

Last week I wrote about the need for us to give ourselves and others grace right now.  Well, tomorrow is go time.  Tomorrow we come back from spring break but to nothing any of us have ever experienced.  Tomorrow we connect, inspire and educate remotely.  

Our parents need our understanding.  They might be working from home while trying to support remote learning.  They might not know how to answer questions about physics or how to navigate Google Classroom.  Our youngest learners are not independent and may not be home with their parents during the day.  These are very real challenges for parents who will be doing the best they can in trying times.  They may have lost their job.  They may not be sure how to feed their children.  They may be scared.  If they reach out in anger, respond with kindness.  We may be the only lifeline they have right not.  Our counselors and social workers and psychologists are amazing, and they are ready and anxious to support those families.  There will be bumps in the coming weeks for our parents.  Let’s do our best to be flexible and supportive.  There will be no such thing as one size fits all in the coming weeks.

Our students need our understanding.  They need school.  We are the place they see their friends and connect with their teachers and have Morning Meetings and  Socratic Circles and breakfast and lunch and high fives and fist bumps and math and writing and social and emotional learning.  For some, we are their safe place.  For all, we are their cheerleaders and their teachers.  Our seniors are hurting.  I honestly cannot imagine senior year without spring sports and prom and yes, even AP exams.  Our job is to find new and creative ways to give our seniors those memories.  Students are resilient and inspiring.  Ask THEM how we should move forward.  Reach out to you Student Councils and your Student Leadership Teams.  Let them help re-design the senior spring.  They will be brilliant.  They always are.

Our building and district leadership need our understanding.  Everyone is working tirelessly to adapt to each change and to support those of you who are supporting our students and families.  We plan.  Things change.  We adapt.  Mostly we know that we have the greatest people with the best hearts for kids doing the best they can.  That is all anyone is asking right now.

Our colleagues need our understanding.  The most amazing piece of all of this has been the sharing and the collaboration that has been happening.  This is not a competition.  This is not about who does the coolest thing or who is the best at synchronous learning or Flipgrid.  Everyone is putting everything they have out into the world for anyone to use.  The doors of our classrooms have been opened and the walls have been taken down.  We can learn from each other.  And we should.

Most of all, YOU need understanding.  The airlines say it the best.  You have to put your own oxygen mask on before you can help others with theirs.  This is not the time to strive for perfection.  This is not the time to try many new apps.  Believe me, I know you are getting hundreds of offers for free trials of things.  The ed tech industry has been generous in their offers.  Take a few risks.  Give some new things a try.  But we will all likely be more comfortable with this experiment if we stick to things that we and our students already know as much as we can.  No one expects you to be perfect.  You will push yourself and be critical of yourself more than anyone else.  That’s how educators are.  We want to be great for our students.  But this is a time to just try.  You’ve got this.  We’ve all got this.

Luke Perry

Meryl Streep is in the new season of Big Little Lies. On the press tour the other actors in the series shared stories of meeting her for the first time. They were nervous, star-struck.

One of them told a story of their first encounter. When it was done, he just stood there. Another actor approached him and said, “It’s okay, I saw the whole thing. You did okay.”

The other actors in the show are Nicole Kidman, Reece Witherspoon, Laura Dern, and on and on. And they were nervous, star-struck.

Last weekend I saw the new Quentin Tarantino movie. It is full, beyond full, of big name cameos. Al Pacino, Bruce Dern, Dakota Fanning, Damian Lewis.

And Luke Perry.

Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio star in the movie. I can’t think of two bigger actors today than Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio. On the press tour for the film, they talked about seeing Luke Perry on set. They were star-struck, nervous. He was the cool kid from 90210 when they were growing up.

Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio.

Because we are all just people.

As we start a new school year, our classrooms will be filled with children, young and old, who are nervous and scared.

Will I fit in?

Will people like me?

Will anyone sit with me at lunch?

We are all asking those questions. Student athletes, crossing guards, scholars, freshman, third graders. Boys. Girls. Students. Teachers.

Everyone wants to belong. Everyone, even Reece Witherspoon and Brad Pitt, want to fit in with the people they admire. Our job as educators is to help our students feel safe, feel valued, feel like they belong.

Learn your students’ names as quickly as you can.

Learn what is important to them.

Look for the ones who might be sitting alone at recess or at lunch.

Reading, writing, and math are critical to student success. But so is well-being. As we kick off the year, remember “Maslow before Bloom.” The first days of school are all about building the culture that will allow for the learning.

#BeKind so you can #TeachUP

Be THAT Person


I’m old. I don’t say that to bemoan my 49 years or my aging joints or my grey hairs. I value all of those things. I truly believe that every day is a gift, and I am so grateful for the opportunity to get old.

I also don’t really think 49 is old. I am active and energetic and engaged in amazing work and play so are all of friends. I’m (mostly) joking when I say I’m old!

But I am experienced in my job and in my district. I’ve been around for awhile. I need to be intentional about reminding myself of that because I still feel like the brand new teacher in the oldest secondary school in our district. I still feel like the one who needs friends and mentors to help look out for her…because I do.

But I also want to be intentional about being that friend and that mentor for others. I’ve had so many myself.

Our new teachers reported to work this week. There are a lot of them. Some are brand new to teaching. Some have many years of experience. Some are excited. Some are nervous. Most are probably both. We all feel that way as we start a new adventure.

I want to encourage you to look around as we start the new year. The newest people in our schools are the future. What are we doing to help them get off to a great start?

Our kinders will someday be our 5th graders. How are we building in them the knowledge and the confidence to be our future leaders?

Our JV players will someday be our varsity teams. What relationships are we building with them now so we can have influence and impact as they progress?

Our new teachers will be our veteran teachers, and our new administrators will be our district leaders. How are we mentoring them?

This is an important week. We have the opportunity to welcome new staff and to reconnect with old friends.

Spend some time as we start the new year with those people who befriened you and who mentored you when you were new.  There is still so much to learn from them.

Seek out people who are new and befriend them and mentor them.  They are the future.  They need us, and we need them. Learn from them.  New eyes.  New ideas. New people make us better.

This work we do is hard, but it is made so much easier when someone takes us under their wings.  Appreciate those wings, and spread your own.

The Climb

There’s a reason I stop blogging for the summer. Our minds need time to rest and reflect in order to do their best thinking. Part of what I enjoy the most about working in education is the cycle of the school year. I love the excitement of a new year, and I love the renewal of the summer season.

It also helps that summer vacations are ripe with ideas for the blogging mind.

This summer I got to go back to Estes Park in Colorado. It’s one of my favorite places but getting there (especially when you are pulling a 5th wheel) is quite a climb.

You’ve no doubt heard the expression. You’ve seen it on motivational posters. You’ve probably even said it from time to time.

It’s not about the destination. It’s about the journey.

It’s not about reaching the mountain top. It’s about the climb.

Great thought. Learning, training, improving at anything is truly a journey worthy in its own right. The value lies in how we grow and change and get better as human beings, not in the kudos or in the win. (Although the win feels pretty good when you’ve worked hard for it.)

I do believe that life is about the journey.

But sometimes, it is also about the destination.

I don’t really like travel days. I like to travel; I just don’t like the drive or the flight. Not many do I suppose. It is the price we pay to explore new places, to re-visit old favorites, and to look at the world through new eyes.

And it is totally worth it.

Life is that way. Sometimes we have to do things that aren’t a lot of fun. At work, at home, we have to run errands and do paperwork and spend countless hours on seemingly endless tasks. It is not fun. But the job, the home, the life is worth every second of it.

Yes, many times it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.

But sometimes, it really is about the reward for the effort.

I know that the end of summer can be hard. Hopefully you have been relaxing and playing and spending time with the people you love. Rest is a gift.

I also know that work with purpose and meaning done with like-minded people who you truly enjoy is also a gift. At least it is for me.

Embrace the journey, and embrace the destination. Remember your why and the rest tends to take care of itself.

I Got to Work on Christmas Day

My husband and I spent a few days in Kansas City after Christmas. It was cold, but it was fun to get away for a bit. We stayed in a hotel where breakfast is provided, and each morning I grabbed some food to eat in the room. The same woman was working both days. She was warm and friendly and helped get the morning off to a great start.

On the second day a mother popped in and asked if there was any hot chocolate. The woman working showed her where it was and then suggested that she also use some of the whipped cream by the waffles to top it off. The mom thanked her and explained that her daughter was going to love that.

After the mom left, the woman and I were talking. I told her that was a clever idea. She shared that she had gotten to work on Christmas Day, and she made cups of hot chocolate with whipped cream and sprinkles for all of the kids on Christmas morning. She talked about what a fun morning it was and how each of the children lit up when she gave them the hot chocolate. You could tell from her voice and her face and her energy that she genuinely had a good time.

I do not know anything about this woman. I do not know if she has children of her own who were at home without her on Christmas morning. I do not know if she celebrates Christmas. But I do know that she is great at her job! And I am not sure that I would have had such joy in my voice if I had been talking about working on Christmas. She genuinely meant it when she said, “I got to work on Christmas morning.”

Attitude is everything.

Yesterday I texted a friend and said that I had to write a blog. I have taken a few weeks off over the holidays, but it’s time to get back at it. The response was, “Why do you have to write one?” It reminded me of the woman at the hotel. I do not have to write a blog. I get to write a blog.

Verbs matter.

Today marks the end of winter break. Vacation is good. It is important to rest and relax and recharge. But tomorrow we get to step back into our schools and do some of the most important work there is. We get to greet our students by name and welcome them back to a safe and friendly place. We get to celebrate with the ones who had a great time, and we get to provide relief for the ones who did not spend their break with an abundance of food or clothes or gifts. Do not take it for granted that everyone had a great holiday. I am genuinely happy to get back to work. I am genuinely happy to have even a small piece in making a child’s eyes light up.

Tomorrow we get to go back to work!

“It’s from my School!”

It’s back-to-school week, and we had an amazing motivational speaker during our fall workshop. He was funny; he was emotional; he was inspiring.  He challenged us to be innovative. He challenged us to see the joy in the eyes of every child when they come into school, and he challenged us to be sure that we do not squelch that joy. Children are, by nature, learners. It is our job to fuel that fire, not to put that fire out. It was a solid message. It struck a chord. It was good stuff.

But in the midst of his message, a family movie from Hunter’s childhood came to mind. We’ve watched it over and over and over again in our family. It’s a classic. We have always looked to it as evidence of her sass and her spunk. But suddenly, sitting in that auditorium, the video came to mind and everything about it changed. I saw a different lesson.

First, let me apologize for the quality of this video. Clearly I should not be the videographer in the family.  But I’m glad we have it.

Take a listen…

Now, like I said, we used to focus on that moment when she says, “I did not want this book.”  We used to laugh as I tried to convince her that she should say thank you to the person who had given her the gift. But here’s what I saw this week. My child who has been read to every day of her life is less than excited by the prospect of a book.  My child who has an English teacher for a mother “did not want that book.”  Until…she saw the connection to school.  There is a moment, it’s my favorite moment, when her face lights up.  “Mom, it’s, it’s from my school.”  And everything changes!

School has that power.  Teachers have that power.  You have that power.  Engaging lessons, exciting content, and powerful relationships matter.  We can light a fire!

My nephew starts kindergarten in our district tomorrow.  My wish for him is an experience that make his face light up when he realizes, “it’s from my school.”  I am grateful for all of the teachers and teacher leaders, the librarians, the administrators, and the many other school staff who lit that fire for my children.  Thank you!

Our challenge this week is to do it all over again.  Have an amazing first week of school!

Monday

Tomorrow is Monday.

Mondays bring to mind Facebook posts full of anxiety and worry and dread.  Mondays inspire angry cat posters and memes.  Do a Google search.  They’ll make you laugh, but I think they miss the mark.

Mondays are not fully appreciated, not fully embraced for the gift that they are.  Mondays are a fresh start.  Mondays are a new beginning.  And tomorrow is our ultimate Monday.  Tomorrow is the day all teachers report back to work in our district.  It is day one.  It is a fresh start, a new beginning.  It is one of the things I enjoy the most about my work.

Every year I have the same feeling as we start a new school year.  I think it is the same feeling I had as a child.  I love school.  I love the sharpened pencils and the college rule notebooks and the locker shelves.  I love Open House and Curriculum Night and the first football game of the year.  But most of all I love the opportunity.  I love the opportunity to meet new people and make new friends, the chance to learn and grow, and the challenge to do more and be more than we have been before.  We get a fresh start every year.  Every child, every adult, every one of us gets to start anew on Monday.  Every Monday.

Last year was amazing, but I did not handle every situation and every conversation as well as I would have liked.  Probably no one did.  I am grateful that I get to try again.  I am grateful that no matter what challenges or obstacles I have faced in the past, I get to learn from them and start again.  I am grateful that the people in my life are understanding and accepting.  They teach me; they show me grace; and they inspire me every day to be a better person.  And that is what I want for our staff and for our students.

I know that not every child loves school.  I know that for some of them the anxiety is real and the fear is not a joke.  It is our mission, our purpose, to do what we can for those who need us the most.  And I feel blessed to be surrounded by dedicated professionals who have made that their life’s work.

Now don’t get me wrong.  Summer was amazing.  Weekends are amazing.  Time to recharge and reconnect is vital.  But we work in the greatest profession in the world, and tomorrow is day one.  Monday.  And I for one am ready!

Friday Night Lights

image

I love football, especially high school football.  There is something so fun about standing on the sidelines on a 73 degree night watching our kids play their hearts out.  There are rivalries and comebacks.  There are trick plays and Hail Mary’s.  There is always excitement in the air.

But when I got home Friday and checked Facebook and Twitter, I was truly overwhelmed by post after post of pictures from the game (or one of the many games played across the city, state, and country on Friday night).  And while there were some fantastic pictures of football, most of the pictures had almost nothing to do the game.

There were little kids sitting in the grass playing with each other while the game was happening in the background.  There were cheerleaders and dance teams and band members.  There were middle schoolers and high schoolers.  There were veterans and a JROTC.  There were moms and dads and grandmas and grandpas wearing school colors and cheering.

Post after post talked about how much fun people had.  Post after post demonstrated what our superintendent and our district athletic director have both shared recently in interviews, that high school football games are about so much more than football.

In those hours, under the lights, we become a community.

Friendships are formed.  Talents are unveiled.  Students and parents and community members spend time together talking and building relationships.

“There is so much more than football going on here.”  (Jim Sutfin)

People get the opportunity to see our students shine.  We showcase the hard work of so many groups who perform on those nights.  And it goes well beyond those on the field.  Our students sell concessions to raise money for their activities.  They support their fellow classmates with cheers and applause and respect when they perform.  And they represent their schools and districts with pride.

imageTeachers and administrators who have retired come to the games.  Elementary and middle school students come with their families and imagine what it will be like when they are in high school.  Current families and staff members spend time together outside the school day.

We build a community on those nights and on countless other nights at orchestra concerts and cross-country meets, at volleyball games and plays and musicals.

There is magic in these football stadiums.  There is a small town feeling in even the largest of cities.  There is opportunity there to connect and to become stronger together than we will ever be alone.

imageOn a side note, in Nebraska (and probably in other places too I’d imagine), we do something similar on Saturday nights. I went to my first Husker football game Saturday.  I have no idea how someone who loves the Huskers as much as I do has gone 46 years without going to a game in person, but wow!  For a few hours we became a community there too.

I hope you will continue to post your pictures.  I am moved by all of them, and I am reminded in them that I am #Proud2bMPS.

First Days

image

This week as I made my way around the district on the first day of school, I was reminded that our experiences on first days are pretty similar.  Whether it was the first day of kindergarten, the first day of middle school, or the first day of high school, the pictures on Facebook looked the same….students smiling nervously, parents beaming with pride, and school staff excited for the beginning of another year.  The human experience is the human experience.  Starting an adventure in a new place is exciting. For our students, for our parents, and for our colleagues, finding a sense of belonging and establishing relationships in that new place is scary and hard and really important. Regardless of what’s new, we all tend to ask ourselves the same questions.

“What should I wear?”

This question feels oh so middle school, but it’s not.  I had tons of kindergarteners gushing as they showed me their new outfits on the first day.  And I know the high schoolers and their friends talked about what they were wearing for pictures at Orientation.  Will this help me fit in?  Will this help me stand-out?  Am I over-dressed?  Under-dressed?  Believe it or not, even as adults, we ask ourselves (and our friends) these same questions.  We all struggle with the simultaneous desire to fit in and to stand out.

“Will people like me?”image

It is easy to dismiss this as a superficial question, but we have all worried about this at some point in our lives.  Belonging is a powerful human need.  Friendship and relationships are cornerstones of our well-being.  This is true for five year olds,  eleven year olds, fourteen year olds, and adults.  People need a tribe, a community.

This is one of the most powerful ways we can work to make the world a better place.  There are tangible things each of us can do to help others feel accepted.  Children instinctively know this.  They are more likely to talk to someone they do not know, to invite others over to play with them on the playground, or to call someone a friend almost immediately.   We lose some of that as we age.  My hope for the first days of a new school year is that we all, students, staff, community, reach out to others and make people feel welcome.

And a beautiful side effect of focusing on helping others feel accepted is that it takes our minds off our own need to belong.

“Will I like them?”

I believe we are happier when we are surrounded by people we like, people who lift us up and make us better.  In school this can look like spending your time with others who share your academic, athletic, or extra-curricular interests.  We know that students who are involved in activities have higher GPAs and are more successful academically in school.  I don’t have to “like” you to learn from you and to get better because of you, but it’s sure more fun if I do.  Building a network of people you like is important.  At work this looks like finding colleagues who are also friends.

Our world gets better when we are accepting of each other.

This is my challenge to you for the new year.  Find ways to help others feel like they belong.  Focus on being inclusive.  Focus on reaching out to someone who is new at school or at work and asking them to join you.  Focus on the well-being of others.  You’ll be amazed at how much that helps your own well-being.

Awe

image

It’s almost here.  The first day of school.  In a few days our kindergarteners will step into the building for their very first day of school ever.  And our seniors will step into the building for their very last first day of school ever.  There is something truly magical about this time of year.  It is a gift!

In fact, everything about this profession is a gift.  I am in awe of it.

We kicked off the new year with a welcome back celebration last week.  Our superintendent (@jsutfin) and Eric Sheninger (@E_Sheninger) spent the day inspiring us to celebrate our successes and to be better than we are now.   We are entrusted with an awesome responsibility.  And we were encouraged to focus on the awe.

I had no trouble doing that last week.

Everywhere I look in our schools, I find reasons to be in awe.

I am in awe of the teachers who build knowledge, instill curiosity, and create thinkers.  They meet each student where they are, find ways to engage them, and motivate them to be better than they ever knew they could be.  They meet needs as simple as tying shoes and as complex as making a child feel accepted.  I am in awe of the teachers who spend their evenings at soccer games for students who invited them, their weekends at Dance Team car washes, and their early mornings on the field at Marching Band practice.  They make home visits, call moms and dads to share successes, and pick just the right moment to tell a child how proud they are.

I am in awe of the administrators who build relationships with students, even when it is not easy, advocate for the resources their teachers need, and manage to lead in the midst of extreme challenges.  They buy toasters and pop-tarts for students who are hungry, show up at graduation years after struggling with a child through middle school, and sit with families in the hospital during some of their darkest days.  I am in awe of their deep dedication and willingness to do whatever it takes.

I am in awe of the willingness of educators to put their hearts out there over and over, every time, for every child.  This is not always easy.  Our students sometimes make poor choices, in some cases ones that have devastating consequences.  But in every case there is someone, a teacher, a principal, who cares about them and supports them through all of it.

I have watched teachers unpack boxes, refill school supplies, hang bulletin boards, fire up iPads, and launch new apps. I have watched administrators greet families at Orientation and facilitate engaging and meaningful professional development. I have watched these staff members work and learn and grow in the last week.  And I was in awe of them.

And I am certain too that they heard the message to inspire awe in their students.

How do we create a sense of wonder in our students?

How do we expose our students to things that will amaze them?

How do we challenge our students to take risks, to step outside of their comfort zones, and to push themselves beyond their fears in order to become the best versions of themselves?

Awe is complex.  It is an abundance of amazement that can almost overwhelm you. Embrace every moment of the first days of school.  Be in awe!  It’s so worth it.

Our People are Our Everything

image

I’ve been in a job transition for the last 7 months. It’s been fun and challenging and rewarding and complicated.  I transitioned with someone who has a long history of excellence and who had a giving heart every step of the way. But I am ready to be through transition and into the work.

I’ve learned a bit about transition in the last six years.  I’ve learned how to identify the big rocks in a job and how to build comprehensive lists to stay on top of things.  I’ve learned how to network with the people who can help me grow and be successful.  And I’ve learned that reflecting on my vision is essential.

But the most important thing I’ve learned from transitions, from life really, is that your team is your everything.  It is the people in your life, and your relationships with those people, who make or break your success.  Relationships are everything.

I am blessed to work with a group of people who make me better, and I always have been.  In each of the schools I called home, I was surrounded by smart, caring, hard-working people who put students first and challenged each other to do our best work.  At the district level, I am surrounded by people who think at high levels, question the status quo, and keep kids first.  They have helped me and supported me in ways I cannot adequately define in words. I am lucky to have each of them in my life.

For the past few weeks, I have been able to connect with my new team.  We have talked about who we want to be and how we can support students, teachers, administrators, and each other.  It has been exciting.  We’ve gotten to know each other a little better, and we’ve had the chance to talk about how we are the same and how we are different.

Another thing I have learned about teams is that it is the differences, not the similarities, that often make the strongest teams.  I am not like some of the people I work with everyday.  And I am grateful for that.  Where I am weak, they are strong.  We balance each other.  A little rule-follower, a little rule-breaker.  A little systems thinker, a little constant dreamer.  A little big picture, a little in the weeds.  The strongest teams have a little of it all, and they are better for it.

Leadership is about sharing a vision that all of those people can rally around.  Leadership is about setting the path, equipping everyone with the needed resources and support to be successful, and allowing each person to use their strengths. How are you serving as a leader with your team?

People have asked me what my hopes are for this new year in this new role.  I hope to be competent.  I hope to maintain the structures and systems that have made our division strong and to challenge the status quo so we get even better.  I hope to work collaboratively to establish our vision for teaching and learning.  And most importantly, I hope to build a team.

Our people are our everything.  As we start a new year, surround yourself with people who challenge you, push you, support you, and make you happy.

A Letter to My Daughter

image

Educators often think of graduation as the measure of our success.  It’s the moment we’ve been working for since that first day our students arrived at Kindergarten Round-up.

But I think we are wrong.  I think this week is actually that moment.  My social media feeds are full of pictures of teary-eyed parents and nervous young adults unpacking cars, hauling mini-fridges, and sporting new college gear.

I think the measure of our success really starts this week.  As our children head off to college, we get to find out if they are, in fact, “college and career ready”.

When we watch the seniors cross the stage at graduation, we hope that we have prepared them to be successful in whatever their next steps may be.  This week, as we send them off to Basic Trainings and Freshman Orientations, to first days at new jobs or to dorm rooms and apartments, we get to find out if we succeeded.

For you, my daughter, I think we did.

There are so many things I want for my kids.  Sometimes when I say “my kids”, I really mean my students.  But this week, I am talking about you and your sister.

So what do I hope for you?

I hope you are creative and collaborative.

I hope you are willing to take risks.

I hope you persevere when things get hard because there will be times when things get hard.

Mostly though, I hope you enjoy your life.

I want you to celebrate who you are and not devote time to comparing yourself to others.  Comparison is so often a source of frustration and disappointment.  It’s what we do to ourselves that makes us feel like less.  There will always be someone smarter, someone cuter, someone wealthier.  But there will never be another you.  The only person you ever need to compare yourself to is the you from the day before.

Reflect.  Learn.  Grow.

I want you to avoid judging other people.  That’s what we do that makes others feel like less.  There are few things you can be that are more important than being kind.  “We are how we treat each other and nothing more.” (Alternate Routes)

Content matters.  It’s important that you can write well and that you can make meaning of what you read.  You have number sense, and you understand our history.  All of that matters.  But without the rest of it, without the life skills, you would not be able to become who I know you are destined to be.

I am so proud of who you are right now.  I always have been.  I always will be.  I have faith that you are college and career ready. I am grateful for all of the teachers and administrators and family members and friends who helped shape you.  But mostly this week I am just grateful for you.

This is a hard week for all of us who are sending our babies off to college…maybe harder than when we started you on this journey in kindergarten.  But it is also a celebration.  This week we measure our success!