Growing your PLN

Teaching our students to have a growth mindset is an integral part of what we do as educators; however, we assert that educators must also have a growth mindset in order to foster this in our students.. How is a growth mindset nurtured?  After reflecting on this question, we have found that three main things help us to keep growing as educators and leaders: professional reading, Twitter, and professional organizations.

First of all, we both are avid readers.  We read everything we can get our hands on, both old and new, from books and journal articles to blogs and manuals. No, seriously, we read manuals and happily highlight them.  TEA’s 2017 Accountability Manual is always within reach as it is necessary for us to know in detail how our schools will be measured and rated.  For more inspirational reading, TASA’s publication, Creating a New Vision for Public Education serves as our guidebook for shaping our schools to be a place where 21st century learning is cultivated as it was written by 35 Texas superintendents about 10 years ago to inspire educators to make public schools better for all Texas school children.  The superintendents were frustrated with the present direction of Texas public education and set out to describe with clarity and specificity how a preferred future for our Texas public schools should look.  While our list of books is extensive, we reference some of our favorites in our blog posts from time to time. We also plan to do more posts sharing books that have had an impact on us. Periodicals and newsletters published by the organizations of which we are members are also some of our favorite reading material.  TEPSA’s Instructional Leader and TEPSA News are some of our staples.

        Another major way we stay connected to other educational leaders is through Twitter.  The use of Twitter for professional learning has allowed us to grow our professional learning network (PLN) extensively.  We get ideas for our campuses, learn about innovative programs and have our thinking and beliefs challenged in ways that inspire us to learn more and grow.  Participating in Twitter chats locally, statewide, nationwide, and even internationally are one of the ways we make connections.  For example, our district hosts a weekly Twitter chat, #RISDchat on Tuesday evenings at 8:00 pm.  You are welcome to join us anytime.  Some of our other favorites include #leadupchat on Saturday mornings at 8:00 am and #LearnLAP on Monday evenings at 7:00 pm. In fact, a group of us from our district are hosting the #LearnLAP chat on Monday, January 8th. Please mark your calendars and join us!  
        Actively participating in professional organizations is another opportunity to collaborate with other educators. Social media makes it so easy to stay connected to members of professional organizations.  Since we are elementary educators, we are both actively involved in TEPSA, Texas Elementary Principals and Supervisors Association.  We love their motto, “We support your work so you can focus on students.” Consider becoming a member, and definitely follow them on Twitter @TEPSAtalk.  Some of the member benefits include legal  benefits when you need help, providing the latest news and information on Texas education, professional learning opportunities, career connections, opportunities to make your voice heard, and a multitude of other support including the publications we mentioned previously.  We are each involved in other organizations too such as ASCD, Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development,  and TASA, Texas Association of School Administrators, each of which have member benefits of their own.  We encourage you to get connected with at least one professional organization that is a good fit for you and your role.
        Collaboration is an important part of establishing and nurturing a growth mindset.  We are thankful for the resources at our fingertips to become better educators today than we were yesterday. Our students deserve our very best, so we must equip ourselves to give our best each and every day.


My Hope For You...

When you think of your students...what is your hope for them?

One of the back to school activities we had at Shannon this year was to have our team members (staff and families) write their hope for our students on a card to be displayed in the hall. I was blown away by reading the cards because I think our team captured it all perfectly. It all boiled down to reaching every child not only academically but emotionally.

I think we can all agree that we want students to be academically successful and have high expectations set before them. We want them to rise to challenges and be resilient.

Yet, when we look at the child as a whole...our hopes for them involve more than that.  As educators, we work with students that have all types of backgrounds, differences, and challenges. Our job is to teach them even more than they "need" to know, make them feel safe, and help bring out the best in them (their talents, strengths, & abilities).

So, as our year gets settled, I challenge you to reflect on your hope for your students. What do you want for them? What do you need to do to bring that out in them? I feel that when we understand what our hopes for our kids are, it helps us focus on our why.

At the beginning of the school year, Dr. Anderson (our Secondary Chief Academic Officer) shared a video (below) by Michael Jr, a comedian, that talked about knowing your why. In the video, he said something that was so profound to me. He said, "When you know your why, your what becomes more impactful because you're walking towards or in your purpose."

This made me reflect on my why which brought me to what I hope for the students that I work with. So, as the busyness of the year consumes your mind, I hope that you will have the opportunity to reflect on your hopes for your students in your class, your school, and your district....and what your part will be in making that a reality.


I See You

One of my dreams will come true on Monday morning. I get to be a part of opening a brand new campus for its very first day of school EVER, Linda Lyon Elementary School in Rockwall Independent School District. It has been quite the journey, and I can feel, even now, that this experience has impacted me in ways I will continue to reflect upon many years from now. The staff is incredible. Every single one of them. They care deeply about the work we are doing and each little Lyon Cub that will enter our doors on Monday morning. This letter I sent to them this weekend is just a glimpse into my heart and theirs. It is my hope that our students find joy in their learning, that our parents are proud to send their children to our school, and that our staff is empowered to make a positive impact on every student every day, to empower greatness in themselves, their students, and their colleagues. All of these people have made an impact on me, and I am forever grateful.

Lyon Pride,

I see you.  I see you working in the early mornings, late into the evenings, and on the weekends.  I see you pouring over every detail of your classroom to make sure you create an inspiring and welcoming learning space for our students.  I see you collaborating as teams to design aligned, high quality lessons that will engage students and give them an opportunity to learn, contribute, and grow. I see you taking time away from your own family to spend time investing in our Lyon Cubs. I see that you care. I see your pride in all you do.  I see your positive attitudes. I see the joy with which you approach your work and the compassion with which you approach our students.
I see you, and my heart is bursting with pride.  You are my dream team.  You are here for a purpose.  You are not just here to do a job.  You are here to empower greatness.  You are not just here to make a difference; you are here to make an impact.  
We are a team, and these are OUR kids.  We take ownership of each other, our students, our learning, and our school.  We provide opportunities that nurture collaboration, innovation and creativity.  We embrace mistakes with resilience and grace.  We build relationships in a safe, joyful environment where all learners are excited to be a part of our school. We honor the individual growth and voice of all learners.  We value the strength of our partnerships with our families and our community.  What starts here empowers greatness.
I see you.  I see you doing this in the way you respect one another.  I see this in the way you go above and beyond to communicate and partner with our families.  I see you.  It is no accident that you are here.  We have been called to be here at this time in our lives for a purpose.  Every day is important, every hour and every minute.  Every child matters.  We embrace each one for who they are and meet them right where they are.
What a privilege it is to make history with you as we open our doors on Monday morning for the very first day of school in the history of Linda Lyon Elementary School.  This is no ordinary first day of school.  This is a day 430 students will remember for the rest of their lives. This is a day that we will reflect upon fondly in the later stages of our lives.  This is our time and our opportunity to make this not just the best first day of school in the history of Linda Lyon, but the best second day, third day, 100th day and last day of school.  This is no ordinary day, no ordinary year, and no ordinary team.  We are ready; I see you.

With Joy,

What Starts Here Empowers Greatness!

          It is back to school time once again!  The energy in the air among teachers is magnetic.  Each year it inspires me more and more as I see teachers go up to their schools weeks before school starts to begin working in their classrooms, paying attention to every minute detail to ensure that they create the perfect learning space for their students.  They do this because they care, because they are passionate about their work, and because they want to make this the best year ever for their students. This compels them to invest enormous amounts of their own time and their own personal resources.
        This is also the time of year when administrators are busily working behind the scenes to prepare for the year ahead. Fine tuning every detail from the master schedule to establishing the instructional framework are important tasks to create a safe and collaborative learning environment.  However, how do you ensure that the work the administrators are doing and the work the teachers are doing are in sync?  How can all of you be working on different tasks yet feel united and cohesive in your work? It all starts with working as a team to establish a set of beliefs upon which you will work as well as a purpose statement that will serve as your compass, pointing you to true north in times of uncertainty, crisis, and victory.  As I have had the incredible opportunity of opening a brand new PreK-6th grade campus this year, Linda Lyon Elementary School, I thought I would share a little bit about how we went about doing this. I would love for you to add your ideas as well in the comments below.
        As we built our staff for this campus, we had teachers coming from several campuses across the district as well as teachers coming to us from other districts.  It was very important to us that, as we began our work as a staff, that we were all on the same page, working towards a common goal with a common set of beliefs.  It was also important to us that every staff member had a voice in contributing to this work.  In addition, as I worked with parents and students throughout the previous spring semester, I kept a running list of words, phrases, and ideas that they shared when they described their hopes and vision for our new school.  
        Early in the summer, I sent out an invitation for all staff to join me for a Linda Lyon Design Day.  Our goal was to establish our beliefs and our statement of purpose as well as create some action teams. Because it was summer, the meeting was optional.  While many more wanted to come than were able due to vacations and other commitments, we still ended up having two thirds of our staff present.  We also invited those who were unable to attend to contribute their ideas via email, text, or sharing their ideas with a colleague who would be present. 
        We started our work that summer day by talking about how we want to be known in our community, our school district, and throughout the world.  What will Linda Lyon Elementary School be about? We talked about how the work that we began that day will shape who we are, why we are here, and how we are known.  We talked about what skills we want our students to have when we send them off to middle school.  Next we worked in groups to generate words that came to mind when we think of the culture we want to create, the students we want to produce, and our purpose for being here.  After each group posted their words on large chart paper for the whole room to see, they also shared their words and phrases out with the whole group.  
        A time of quiet reflection and writing followed in which each staff member wrote a draft of a purpose statement for our school. They were able to use the words and discussion we engaged in prior to this to help shape their statement of purpose.  Each person then shared their statement draft with their table group.  Next, each table group was challenged to write a purpose statement that evolved from the individual statements.  Each table shared out their purpose statement, and then we worked toward developing a campus statement of purpose from the table group statements. 
        This is where the work gets hard, and I would advise proceeding cautiously.  It is important that the facilitator creates a safe environment for all to feel comfortable contributing and being honest. Invest the time to do this, and it will make the entire process flow much more smoothly.  Each table group wrote their purpose statement on large white boards that we placed around the room.  Each participant was then given a marker and did a gallery walk. They were responsible for circling and underlining key words that they felt very strongly about including in our purpose statement.  
        We knew we wanted our statement to be powerful, to be memorable, to be something that we could call up to our memory in times of success, frustration, and failure.  We wanted to be united in our encouragement of one another as we work together to live out our purpose as a team.  Going through this process allowed us to really key in on the words we felt passionately about as a staff.  While it is a messy process, we knew when we nailed our purpose statement.  The whole team broke out in spontaneous applause.  We knew that the statement "What starts here empowers greatness," described our work and would continue to compel us to give our best each and every day.

        Our next step was to draft our belief statements.  We really worked through a very similar process as we did when we designed our purpose statement.  We asked ourselves, now that we knew our purpose, why we are here, what beliefs must our work be founded upon in order to empower greatness in our students?  We started by having each person write 3-5 belief statements individually.  From there, they shared their statements with their group, and each group wrote three statements.  The groups each wrote their statements on the white boards, and then we again did a gallery walk in which each staff member had an opportunity to put a check mark by those beliefs which they felt strongly about, circle words that they felt passionately about, and underline key phrases.  It was absolutely incredible how quickly this process went and how united the team was on the words, phrases and statements that they wanted to include.  I really think this process went so well, because we knew our why.  We were completely united on that, so we had a focus, a goal.  The following belief statements are our final product of what compels us to empower greatness in our students, one another, and our community:
  •  We provide opportunities that nurture collaboration, innovation and creativity.
  •  We take ownership of our learning and our school.
  •  We embrace mistakes with resilience and grace.
  •  We build relationships in a safe, joyful environment where all learners are excited to be a part 
      of our school.
  •  We honor the individual growth and voice of all learners.
  •  We value the strength of our partnerships with our families and our community. 
        The work that emerged that day has driven all of the work we have done as a team throughout this summer as we prepare to open our doors for the very first time.  If you were to walk into Linda Lyon Elementary School tomorrow and ask any staff member why they are here or what is so exciting about being a part of the team, they will tell you "what starts here empowers greatness."  We are all united in our belief that whether we are putting up a bulletin board, making class lists, designing learning experiences for students or meeting with a parent, we are empowering greatness in others. Our actions, the words we speak, and the way we approach our work should all point to our purpose, "what starts here empowers greatness." We are energized, excited, and ready to open our doors to our very first Linda Lyon Cubs on August 28, 2017!


Educator Spotlight: Reflection from a First Year Principal (Steven Pesek)

This past year, I had the wonderful opportunity to move to the elementary level from middle school as an assistant principal. It was a privilege to work with an administrator I previously worked with and it was his first year as a a principal. I hope to one day have the experience of being a first year principal and I was curious to know what his big takeaways were from the year. Thankfully, Steven Pesek was happy to sit down and share a little about himself and his reflections from the past year.

  • Tell us a little about yourself.

I was born in Shiner, Texas in 1980 to Lawrence and Beverly Pesek.  My father was 1 of 11 children and grew up farming and picking cotton.  My grandparents worked to make sure that all of their kids had a good education and instilled an attitude of service and dedication.  From the eleven kids three went to college one of those being my father.  My father and mother both went into education.  This attitude from my grandparents trickled down to the grandkids as well.  Out of my 46 cousins 36 went to college.  Some of this could be due to the fact that in the summers my brothers and I worked for roofing companies, construction sites, and farming.  We loved the work but also enjoy air conditioning.  

  • Share with us some of your professional experiences that you have found the most useful in your first year as a principal?

I was able to move within the district to several schools when I was an assistant principal.  This put me at three different buildings in four years.  With this movement I was able to work for three strong administrators with different leadership styles which helped me define what my style was.  The hardest part of this was that I felt like I was unable to build any sustainable programs due to moving.   

  • What has been the greatest lesson you have learned over the past year?
Surround yourself with amazing people.  This job is much too big to take on by yourself if you want to keep your sanity.  I have an amazing team of people that can say no to ideas, change plans for the better, and that take on responsibilities without hesitation.  

  • What would be one word to describe your leadership style?
Collaboration- We have worked to make sure that teachers and students have a voice on campus.  This is a culture that we would like to instill in everyone on the campus.  I would tell you that I have been told in the past not to ask for feedback because you can’t make everyone happy.  While it is true that we are not going to make everyone happy,  we can be open and honest about what we are working on and why.  

  • What advice would you share with a new administrator (assistant principal or principal)?

Schedule your time to be an instructional leader in your calendar and be diligent about keeping those times.  You will lose your day if you allow other things to take priority.  This is by far the hardest thing for my first year.  We even put it on our schedule, but we still let other issues take priority.  So this is something I will continue to work on for year 2.  

  • As you reflect on this past year, what is the one thing you hope your students and staff have gained this past year under your leadership?

Trust.  I hope that the teachers, parents and students feel that they can work with me on an issue.  I want them to know that we are going to listen and that we are going to make decisions in the best interest of the kids.  I want them to be able to tell me when something is not working and be open and honest about problems and solutions.  

Thank you so much, Steven, for sharing your reflections from this past year. It sounds like having a collaborative approach, a growth mindset, and the desire to include teacher and student voice are all vital aspects for success.

We hope you are all having a wonderful summer and have some time to unwind and relax before the most exciting time of year! Don't forget you can follow us on Twitter @meganandmel and  @megangist and @melroseacker


Writing it down...

The other day I was on Twitter and came along a blog post by Kara Welty (an educator I follow). She had shared a blog post about her hopes as an assistant principal, you can see it HERE.

After I read it, I was inspired. Basically, she wrote down reflective questions that will help keep her focused on her role as an administrator. I thought this was a brilliant idea! There have been so many moments that I have ran these thoughts or questions through my mind but I have never really put them down on paper. Another idea she had was to post it on her door for parents, students, and staff to see. These were questions she would ask herself and/or others. We often talk about our beliefs and philosophies but how often do we share them with our co workers and students? How often do we refer to them in our day to day?

As I reflected on my beliefs and what guiding questions I feel will keep me centered on the main thing, I came up with these.

S-Is this putting STUDENTS first?

P-Are we PROMOTING leadership (in students, staff, myself)?

A-Will this help our campus ACHIEVE?

R-Are we encouraging RISK TAKING?

K-Are we building relationships? Do we KNOW our students?

It worked out perfect because I believe our purpose as educators is to help create that spark for our students and staff we work with. We want to motivate, encourage, and inspire. We want to promote curiosity, risk taking, and innovation.

We always talk about the importance of reflection and writing with our students. Sometimes, I think we forget how powerful it can be for us as educators.

What would be your guiding questions? What would be the words or questions you would jot down to help center your focus as an administrator, teacher, or counselor?


Remembering Your Why

Sometimes educators get to a point in their career when they have to remember their "why." Why are you doing what you're doing? Why are you in your exact job at your campus? Why did you choose to be in the profession you are?
I like to think back to my why often and reflect on my purpose. I remember back to college when I had my heart set on being a doctor and even graduated high school a year early. I can recall working at a daycare and realizing I wanted to be a part of kids' educational, emotional, and social development. I fell in love with education working at an after school program in Wichita Falls and from that point my heart was instantly attached to education.Being in a school literally feels like home, it's my happy place.

Being in education takes a lot of work and a lot of love. That's why it's always important to remember why we do what we do so we don't get lost in our frustrations and growing to do lists.

Often, when we question why we are doing what we are doing, it's during those trying moments. When you feel you didn't do your best, you're facing tough issues, or you don't feel the "magic" you used to.

This may sound silly but something I started doing my first year teaching was keeping a "happy box." I still have one to this day. I have stored past boxes in our attic but try to go through them every once in awhile. Every time I received a kind note, card, drawing, or letter from a student I would add it to my box. On rough days or in moments I questioned if this was where I am meant to be, I would read through my "happy box" and quickly remember why I do what I do.

This may not mean creating a box for you, it may look different. But I think in education, it's important to be reminded why we do what we do. We all have rough days and moments in our lives where we have to stop and reflect on our why.

Education is ever changing and so are the issues we face but one thing is always constant and that is we have a big job to do. Our purpose is to motivate, inspire, and open a world of thinking to students. There are sometimes obstacles in our way but when we have the passion and drive to create the best schools and classrooms for our kids, we are unstoppable.

So, whatever it may look like for you (a happy box, a mentor, a special letter from a student), remember your why. You were created for a great purpose!