Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Balcony People

Earlier this school year, all of the Fairfield Community School District employees were able to share a morning with Dr. Steven Layne from Judson University.  His message was entitled, "Balcony People: Teachers Make a Difference." Dr. Layne described "Balcony People" as those people that have made contributions to your life in which they have altered your direction, smoothed the path ahead, or guided you across treacherous ground.  Those people that have helped us become all that we are - our personal cheerleaders.  

My Take Aways:

Everyone Makes a Difference No Matter the Position 
Dr. Layne stressed that when he said the word "teacher", he meant all of us in that room.  He stressed that everyone inside a school district can make a difference in a student's or staff member's life if they make the choice to do so. The "teacher" can be a teacher, administrator, paraprofessional, cook, custodian, bus driver, central office member, secretary, maintenance worker, or school board member.  We are all "teachers".  The key is that it is our choice if we make a positive difference in the life of someone we come in contact with everyday.

Relationships, Relationships, Relationships
When Dr. Layne spoke of relationships, he gave the example of when students come back to see us they often look at you in a shy manner and say, "Do you remember me?"  He stated that what the former students really want to say to us is, "I remember you."  Why do they remember you?  Because you cared for them. You made them feel like they had a person that was in their corner looking out for their best interest.  You were someone that would support them along the way with praise but also someone that would be honest and give advice when the person was heading in the wrong direction. 

Power of Believing 
Dr. Layne shared with us that he had a teacher that encouraged him when he had to write a twelve page story to write in sophomore English.  He was discouraged and was stuck with what to write about for his story.  His teacher knelt next to his desk and encouraged him.  She told him that this was his chance to tell his story.  She believed he could do it.  After he completed the story and turned it in to his teacher, she thought so much of it that she entered it into a writing competition.  This action from his teacher gave him confidence to become a writer and stated that he owes his profession to his teacher believing in him.  He then stated something that struck me.  "What if I was in someone else's sophomore English class?"  This is similar to the educational lottery.  This is why we have to know and understand our students. We never know the day when our words and actions are going to impact someone's lives forever.  

Balcony People, Not a Basement Person

Basement people... 

  • ...constantly pull you down or discourage you.  
  • ...make everything about themselves and their feelings rather than serving others. 
  • ...make people's lives more difficult.  
  • ...make people feel like life is doom and gloom. 
  • ...ridicule those that have a great outlook on life.  
  • ...are jealous of other's success.
  • ...backstab those that have trusted them in the past.  
  • ...make people want to avoid being in their presence.  

Are you a Basement person?
Balcony people... 
  • ...shout down at us from their view with valuable and often life-changing advice.
  • ...see the best in others and want the best for them all of the time.  
  • ...lift people up to be a better person. 
  • ...help lead others in the right direction.
  • ...serve those in all times of need.
  • ...draw people to them because of their ability to positively impact lives.
Are you a Balcony person?

Reflective Questions:
Who has always been in your balcony?
Who have you allowed in your balcony?
Would you be the same person if you didn't have these balcony people?
Whose balcony are you in right now?
Whose balcony have you been in the past but are no longer?  Why?
Do you think others would identify you as a balcony person?

1.  Identify your balcony people.  Let them know they are in your balcony.  Share why they have been influential to you.  The time is now.  

I know I have two people, in particular, that have been in my balcony since I was in grade school and I still am in contact with them today.  They have helped shape who I am today.  When I talk to them on the phone or see them in person, the time flies by because I don't want the conversation to end.  The only thing I haven't done is to share with them what they have meant to me over the years.  I assume they know but it is time for me to step up and thank them for being in my balcony.  It's the right thing to do.

2.  Be intentional about being in a student or staff member's balcony.  Be there and cheer for them.  Be whatever they need, everyday.

This is an on-going, everyday action to hold ourselves accountable to be servant leaders and educators.  As educators, this will look different everyday.  This is what makes education awesome! 

3.  In your own life, allow someone new to be in your balcony.  Be open to those that have your best interests in mind.  As Dr. Layne stated, "Sometimes, we need to build more rows and additions to our balcony."

Dr. Layne left our staff with a lasting thought that I won't be forget.  He stated, "Educators reserve a tremendous number of balcony seats in the lives of their students.  It takes more than what is written in our job descriptions to be balcony people.  Never underestimate the power of a seat in the balcony in which someone is the only show in town."  This is a great reminder that we are all "teachers". 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Transferring the PLN to Our Schools

I can hardly contain myself! Why, you ask?  I will soon be embarking on fabulous journey of learning opportunities to build my professional capacity as a leader and learner.  I will be traveling to Philadelphia for #EdCampLdr on August 4th and will be at the annual School Administrators of Iowa (SAI) conference on August 5-7 in Des Moines.  I know I will be exposed to innovative ideas, strategies, big-picture thinking, and leadership models that I know I can bring back to my own work and implement them exactly how I received them or tweak in a way that suits my work the best.  I am passionate about sharpening my saw and continuing to reflect on ways that I can become a better person and educator for my staff and students.

During the time I am soon to be embarking on at #Edcampldr, I will be seeing members of my PLN like Jimmy CasasJeff ZoulTom WhitfordBen Gilpin, and Brad Currie in which I have met and enjoy learning from them because of their passion for education and I just simply enjoy them as people.  During this time, I am also going to get to finally meet Joe MazzaTom MurrayJoe Sanfelippo, and Tony Sinanis in person. I have learned from them and feel like I have known them for a couple of years through Twitter and recently though Voxer...and I can't wait.  I know that there will be other great educators and leaders at this conference that I will get the opportunity to learn from and get to know on a whole new level.  This same experience will happen when I am at the SAI conference.  I will be prepared to learn from great thought leaders like Ann Hoffman and Conn Thomas about "Leveraging the Administrator-Teacher Leader Relationship", Dan Heath about "Being Decisive", Kathleen Cushman about "The Motivation Equation", and many other great topics from other great people that are scheduled to speak with us.  I feel I have a growth mindset and am always looking to stretch my thinking.  I know I will learn a ton from these people and be able to bring things back to impact my own work.  To be honest though, besides the learning, the thing I am completely excited about though is the people I will have the opportunity to connect with in person that are a part of my PLN.  I can't wait to see the likes Iowa administrators that I have met and learned from in the past such as Nathan WearDeron DurflingerJoel PedersenMatt DegnerColin WikanDan ButlerAndy Crozier, and so, so many more that I could fill the page with here.  I am just as excited to finally meet many of our Iowa administrators for the first time face to face that I know are doing great things in their schools for kids.  It will be awesome to be able to pick their brains and get to know them better.

Why do I and many others get excited for opportunities like this?  I feel it is because we have made a human connection to these people and what they can bring to our professional work.  I know who they are and how passionate they are about the education of kids.  I have conversed with them in person many times or through social media.  They have become some of my main go-to people in education along with the rest of my PLN when I need something.  I know I can count on them to be an awesome resource of information at any time of the day.  This is a great feeling and the days can't get here soon enough to connect with them again over this upcoming week.

As the start of school is getting closer for many districts, I have been reflecting and thinking, "Do the feelings of excitement to learn and be with our PLN transfer over to learning and being with our fellow administrators and teachers in our own schools?"

Whether our answer is yes, no, or sometimes, I think there are a few things that we need to be mindful of and be intentional about when creating this same enthusiasm for professional learning in our own districts.

1. Build Relationships - My PLN and yours too, has been screaming this for a couple years now. I didn't always understand this. It shows up everywhere but they are usually talking about the students.  The saying, "They don't care how much you know until they know how much you care." I have grown quite close to many of my PLN and I know they care. In turn, that makes the learning from them even better. Well, this goes for the adults in our buildings too.  I know I am going to continue make a much better effort to keep this at the forefront of my mind this year and the years to come.  Take the time.  Make the connections.  Have serious and humorous conversations. Find something new about your teachers or fellow administrators.  Be in every moment. You and I will be better because of it.

2. Believe Everyone Can Learn - Just like we stress that we have to believe in our kid's ability to learn, we have to believe in our fellow staff members can be continuous learners.  If they are a new hire or a seasoned veteran, we have to believe and sometimes show them they have the capability to do new things to help them grow professionally and personally.  We can never assume someone is done learning or has everything all figured out.

3.  Believe We Can Learn From Everyone - In our buildings there are many intelligent adults with great ideas about education or about life in general.  Everyone has something to offer and we need to keep our minds open to various perspectives and backgrounds.  If we see something that we have learned in one of our classrooms, take a risk and try it out in your room or building.  Repeat this step over and over.

4.  Share the Passion - When we are in our schools, don't hold back on how emotionally and intellectually we have been touched by the learning that has taken place and connections that have been made.  Own your feelings and sing to the mountain tops about how cool it is to learn with others in the building. Share it out just like when our PLN begs, borrows, and steals resources when we favorite, retweet, or reply on Twitter about something that is awesome or just plain useful.  Your passion will only motivate and invigorate others to do the same.

5.  Empower Learning - Create opportunities for teachers and administrators to be leaders of their learning with others.  Create opportunities for those in your building to listen.  Empower people to be risk takers with their learning. Let them know that it is perfectly fine to fail when they have their own learning in mind. Model risk taking with your learning too.

6.  Clean the Slate - Just like Rita Pearson said in her TED Talk when she had a teacher colleague say, "They don't pay me to like the kids."  Rita's response was, "Kids don't learn from people they don't like." This same thing is true with adults.  Give yourself and others a chance to redeem themselves.  Most people within a PLN aren't in the same working environment everyday with one another.  In a building, things happen over time that impact collegiality and collaborative endeavors.  It's time to bury the negativity that is impacting learning with and from others.  Find the people and have the conversation with a solution.  Be the adults and move forward for the kids and your professional/personal well being.  As Todd Whitaker states, "Treat everyone as though they are good." Carry the positivity torch all year long.

Making the PLN transferrable to our own workplace is about building relationships and building a culture of shared learning where everyone wants to keep getting better.  The feelings that teachers and administrators feel from their PLN can't be isolated.  As the school year rapidly approaches, make sure we work hard and give every effort to feel energized and motivated to learn with all of the people we work with everyday.  The people in close proximity are valuable parts of our own PLN.

Let me say it again that I am pumped up for #Edcamldr and SAI that will cover a week's time of learning and connecting with my PLN.  I know these conversations will continue over time.  After reflecting personally and professionally, I feel I have continued to attempt to make made strides in many of the areas listed above. What is important for me/us to remember is that there is still tons of work to do in these areas to keep getting better and growing the excitement within amongst our colleagues. This is why I am more excited to learn from my staff and fellow administrators in my own district and share the passion over a year's worth of time. Have an awesome start to the school year and I wish you all the best.  Feel free to add to my list.  I would be glad to hear from you.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Were You Scared Today?

We have all been scared before. The adrenaline flowing is through our veins. The heart rat is skyrocketing. We can feel our pulse about pounding out of our skin. Our muscles tighten.  Our mind is paralyzed with decisions to made. What is going to happen next? Should I do it or not? Can I do it or not? Fear. You can see and hear it in people. People can see it and feel it when it hits you. We are scared and fear is staring us right in the face.

“Do one thing every day that scares you.”

― Eleanor Roosevelt

I came across the quote above a few weeks ago and it has made me think about what this means for me but also what it may mean for people across the world. All this quote asks for is for us to do one thing that scares us every day. It doesn't say two, five, or ten things that scare us, just one. Doing something that scares us often stops us in our tracks because we don't know how to do it or we don't know the end result before we do it.  This results in people often reverting back to where the so called waters were calm and knew what was going to happen next because it is comfortable.  On the other hand, others attack the fear head on with enthusiasm and a risk taking mentality.

Why do many avoid being scared?  Could it be because it sparks such an intense emotional feeling in our body that we don't want to feel it again?  Could it be that when we were last scared, things didn't go as we wanted them to?  Usually when we are scared, the survival mechanism of "fight or flight" kicks in to get us through this feeling.  We accept the challenge or we flee the threat.  Eleanor Roosevelt is asking us to accept the challenge of being scared one time each day so we experience this feeling.  One time a day of taking a risk.  One time stepping out of our comfort zone.  One time of pushing our emotions to the limit.  Letting our mind and body do something that holds us back.  Facing our fears show ourselves that we can do it.  Through this process, we learn more about ourselves and what we are really capable of doing everyday.  We all know what it feels like when we actually conquer one of our fears.  It is like we are on top of the world exploding with confidence.  

Fear isn't a one size fits all emotion.  What scares one person doesn't always scare another person.   Do any of these scare you?  Do they scare a colleague or student you know?

  • Failure
  • Horror/Thriller movies
  • Setting personal or professional goals
  • Skydiving
  • Not knowing all of the answers
  • Teaching students or fellow adults
  • Trying a new lesson
  • Applying for college
  • Taking tests
  • Getting out of bed
  • Going through the front door at school
  • Going home
  • Swimming in a pool or ocean
  • Flying on a plane
  • Leading others
  • Talking to parents
  • Trusting others
  • Speaking in front of group
  • Cooking for others
  • Pets or animals
  • Meeting someone for the first time
  • Financial health
  • Confrontation
  • Getting feedback from others
  • Using technology in the classroom
  • Creating relationships with colleagues
  • Starting a new job
  • Heights
  • Going to jail
  • Going to the dentist
  • Amusement rides (Tower of Terror for me)
  • Eating and exercise
I could keep going on and on. Fears surround us daily. This is where we have to know ourselves but also know others.  We have to seek to understand ourselves and others in times of uncertainty and fear.  How will people respond in times of stress?  Will it be panic?  Will it be withdrawal?  Will it be anger?  Are they nervous?  Are they intimidated?  Are they excited? Do they have confidence?  When we observe these actions from people, know that others are looking at you too to see how we respond to something that may scare us.  

I won't be addressing this one anytime soon.
Can we use fear or being scared as a benefit to make us better at what we do professionally or personally?  Can we use it as a way to learn and continue to push ourselves past our comfort zone as a teacher or administrator?  Can we address our fear and find out for ourselves that is acceptable to be scared or get to the point in which we can remove it as something that holds us back?  Some things are best to leave as fears and make sure we don't do, but others are out their lingering in front of us saying, "Come on, let's do this!" We just have to believe in ourselves.

How can we help people believe that being scared can be seen from a different positive perspective? How can we encourage others to do things that keep them from doing great things?  

We owe it to ourselves to be do one thing a day that scares us that has the potential to make us better than we were yesterday.  We need to be able to look in the mirror and say, "I am going to be scared today." At the end of that same day, we should be able to look in that same mirror and able to say, "yes' to the question, "Were you scared today?"

Friday, December 27, 2013

PLN Blog Challenge

PLN Blog Challenge

So, Daisy Dyer Duerr (@DaisyDyerDuerr) must have been reading my mind.  I have been meaning to get a blog post out for quite some time.  What a perfect way to get me back going again than with a good old fashion throw down challenge...a blog challenge! Thanks, Daisy.  Here goes nothing!

Here are the Rules:
1. Acknowledge the nomination blogger.
2. Share 11 random facts about yourself.
3. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
4.  List 11 bloggers.  They should be bloggers you believe deserve a little recognition.
5.  Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate and let all the bloggers know they been nominated. (You cannot nominate the blogger who nominated you.)

11 Random Facts about me:

1. I don't really like for snow and ice...but if I have to be around it...I prefer to hop on my tractor and snow blade to go around the neighborhood to clean their driveway and sidewalks.  A little service mixed in with riding my toy around like a little kid.

2. I was lucky enough to get to extend some of my passions growing up by being able to play basketball and soccer in college.

3.  I enjoy cooking and obviously, eating too.  I may watch "Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives", "Chopped", and "Restaurant: Impossible" as much as "SportsCenter".

4.  I coached an Iowa Senior Select basketball team on a trip to Australia.  We were there for 18 days and played many games in different cities. We stayed with host families and I still communicate with them from time to time.  I could live in Australia in a heartbeat.

5.  I often have to do the Mel Gibson, "Lethal Weapon" move with my shoulder when it dislocates and I need to get it back in place.  Need to have surgery sometime.  I am a sports injury waiting to happen.  This goes along with an ACL/MCL knee surgery and a screw in my wrist.

6.  I enjoy weed eating around our neighborhood ponds to clear my head and think of nothing but cutting those pieces of grass.  When done with this I often pull out the fishing pole to see what is biting.

7.  My wife owns a professional photography studio that does weddings, seniors, families, etc. Back in the day, I had to carry the equipment and be the sun reflector guy.  I have since retired from this duty.

8.  I am a converted coffee drinker.  Never liked it before.  One thing though...it can't taste like coffee.  It has to have a flavored creamer and sugar.  I am amazed that people can drink black coffee.

9.  One of the hardest jobs I had to do as a kid was bailing hay for a family friend. Loading and stacking up in the scorching hot barn by myself about did me in multiple times.

10.  I have never owned a pet as child or as an adult...and I believe I never will.  Friends and family are currently trying to change my mindset about this one.

11.  I have never been to the Iowa State Fair.  When I say this, people look at me like it is unAmerican or something.  I may need to put this on my to do list this summer.

My Responses to Daisy

1.Why Education as a career? I was going down the business field at the time.  It wasn't meeting my passions.  I changed to a field where I could be with kids and try to be an influential person like some of my teachers and coaches.

2.What is the best sporting event you have ever attended? Any time I have been to Jupiter, FL for Spring Training or Busch Stadium to watch the St. Louis Cardinals.  

3.What’s your favorite thing/things about the SOUTH? Warm weather and southern hospitality.  Retirement plans include moving to the South.  Doing research as we speak.

4.Who or what is the biggest influencer of what you are doing today in education? Seeing kids battle adversity and finding some kind of success for their future.  Letting them know we care is a major driving force.

5.Plane, Train, or Automobile?  Plane....more time to spend where you are going and not as many..."Are we there yet?" questions from the kids.

 6.What was your biggest fear as a child? Heights..fear of falling and having zero control of what happens next...I know...the planes thing doesn't make sense...I white knuckle it on the take off.

7.Favorite time of the school day….why? Welcoming kids to school.  I enjoy trying to start many kids day off with a smile and encourage them to have a great or awesome day.

8.How can we equalize the playing field for ALL children in America?  Eliminate the educational lottery for kids based on the school or community they live in and their resources.  Students need a fair chance to have quality education just like the students from another city or state.  

9.GO TO Stress Reliever? SportsCenter or my Twitter PLN.

10.Education Conference you just HAVE to attend -any ISTE conference in the near future.  I am seeing and hearing about way too much innovation and relationships being formed through Twitter from afar....need to make it an event to attend on a regular basis.

11.In 10 years as an educator I want to………….still be growing as a leader of a school or district and to be developing the "kids first" culture which develops relationships that impact everyone for the better.

Now I get to share 11 bloggers I’d like to recognize and keep this thing going.

1.  Matt Degner                                @mwdegner
2.  Robert Sigrist                             @DocSig                                 
3.  Nathan Wear                               @Nathan_Wear
4.  Laura Gilchrist                            @LauraGilchrist4           
5.  David Culberhouse                    @DavidCulberhouse
6.  Jennifer Hogan                          @Jennifer_Hogan
7.  Shaelynn Farnsworth                @shfarnsworth
8.  Todd Bloomer                            @yankee_todd
9.  Tom Whitford                             @twhitford
10.  John Wink                                @JohnWink90
11.  Joe Sanfelippo                        @Joesanfelippofc

11 Questions for my nominees

1.  What was your favorite book to read as kid?..as an adult? 
2.  Who are two of your favorite athletes?
3.  Your favorite teacher/coach in high school or college...why did they mean so much to you?
4.  If you were to host a Super Bowl Party, what foods are you having?
5.  Where is a vacation place you went to as a kid or adult that would you recommend to others?
6.  What are two things on your bucket list that you just have to do yet?
7.  What is a something you wished you had more training on in college prep for an education career?
8.  If you were to go back in time, who would you like to hang out with for a day?
9.  How do you like to spend your time when you aren't in school?
10.  What is one of your favorite leadership quotes?
11.  If you could change one thing in education, what would it be?

Thank you!

Saturday, November 9, 2013

His Legacy Meant So Much To Me

This post has been one that I have been waiting a long time to do.  It is about someone that had a larger impact on me than many, if any, even in my hometown, know about.  This post is about my former high school principal, Dan Kieler, that passed away a few months ago.  I have been carrying Mr. Kieler's funeral program in my school bag for a couple of months now, knowing that I wanted to share my story about him.  Most importantly, I didn't want to forget what he meant to me.

You see, he wasn't just my principal in junior high and high school.  He was also the dad of one of my best friends as I grew up.  Mr. Kieler lived just a few houses away from me in our little town of West Point, Iowa.  Over the years, I was able to have unique interactions with Mr. Kieler that many don't usually have with their principal.  I was able to see his personal side while also seeing how he worked with students, staff, and the community.  I was able to enjoy first hand his passion for fishing, the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame, the Green Bay Packers, and everything West Point Marquette Warriors.  He treated me like I was one of his own.  He had high expectations of me and I tried to do everything not to disappoint.

Mr. Kieler was someone that was down to earth and never took himself too seriously.  He loved to have a good time, crack a few jokes, and always made everyone around him feel special.  He was the same man at home as he was at school.  He was as solid a guy as you would ever want to know and be around.  I will be forever grateful to him and how he impacted our small town community.  He has impacted so many young men and women over the years to help them believe in themselves and become people they didn't know they could be.  He honestly cared for each and everyone of us.  He built and left a legacy that everyone that interacted with him will remember forever.  The best part of his legacy for our school and community is that he would just say he was doing what every person should be doing.  Care for kids, have high expectations, have a great attitude, and do things the right way.   He would say humbly that this was nothing special.  We would all say it was special.

Here are three examples that were left on Mr. Kieler's online obituary of what he meant to people of four different decades as a principal :

"Dan was my history teacher at Marquette when he was only in his mid-20s. He was one of the most personable individuals I had met. I wondered at the time how a city kid would get along in a small town. As it turns out, he got along just fine! Thanks, Dan, for your devotion to Marquette, Holy Trinity, West Point, and the surrounding community."

"When I learned of Mr. Kieler's passing, I thought to myself, he might have been the best teacher I have ever had in my life. Shortly after reflecting upon the positive influence Mr. Kieler had on my life, the phone rang, it was my sister Sylvia, and before I had a chance to say anything, she said "I think Dan (he was Dan to my sister, always Mr. Kieler to me) was the best teacher I ever had." He was truly one of the Best! Mr. Kieler would always address his students in his class by calling them Mr. XXXX or Ms. XXXX versus by their first name, and if you did something good, which in my case wasn't very often, he would say "you're a good man Mr. XXXX." Mr. Kieler had a lot of positive traits about him, which added up to make him the legend he is and will always be. I find myself addressing my kids' friends by Mr. or Ms., and often times will say "Mr. XXXX, you're a good man," which is Mr. Kieler's legacy being carried on in a small way. The last time I saw Mr. Kieler was about two years ago, and I remember him telling me, since I had reached the age of 50, I could start calling him Dan versus Mr. Kieler. I told him he would always be Mr. Kieler to me, and in his classic way, he said "OK Mr. XXXX." Mr.Kieler has touched a lot of lives and has made the world a better place."

"I remember seeing Dan in the halls with a smile on his face always asking how I was or checking in on the sports reports. He was great to have in class as a teacher and just an all-around great guy."

I felt many of these same things over the years.  He was the first teacher/principal that I specifically noticed that he was always about the KIDS FIRST.  He wanted to know me and he wanted to know every kid that walked the halls at our school.  In the mornings, we would hang out with our friends in the gym before class started.  He would make sure to come see how we were doing and shoot the breeze with us.  He would be seen in the halls talking to kids.  He was in classrooms enjoying students while they were learning as both a principal and a teacher.  He was about relationships with kids.  As much as he was about kids, he still obviously created great relationships with staff and community to be as successful as he was over many decades at Marquette.  It was just so clear though, that he was in this business for kids and most importantly he was never apologetic about his way of thinking.

Mr. Kieler impacted me in many ways while in high school.  He had high expectations of me as a student, athlete, and leader within the building.  He shared with me that he wanted to be able to count on me to do the right thing in the classroom, on the field/court, and in the way I influenced other students around me.  He would often pull me into his office before school (my locker was right outside his office door) or in between classes to have these kind of conversations.  Some of the conversations were quick check-ins and others we would be quick check-ins that would turn into sports conversations about the Packers, Fighting Irish, or any other thing that may be on his mind.  I loved these conversations and I am sure over decades, I wasn't the only one who was able to enjoy these "life" conversations with Mr. Kieler.

He also came up big for me as I entered my junior year of college.  I just had a major life changing experience when I was a sophomore in college.  I became a father at age 20 with many unknowns in my life.  I had a newborn and a new wife.  What did I know about succeeding in this new situation?  I stopped playing college basketball because I felt I needed to work every minute that I wasn't in class so that I could start providing for my new family.  This life changing experience definitely focused me and forced me to mature really fast.  I felt I still needed something in my life to give me greater direction for a career while my friends were having a great time living the so called college life.  I loved basketball and I wanted to coach in the worst way since I decided I wasn't going to play anymore.  Who do I call?  I called Mr. Kieler at my old high school and I told him of my situation.  I asked him if he had any basketball coaching positions available for the upcoming school year.  I told him I would do whatever I needed to do be back at my alma mater to coach basketball.  He surprisingly told me that he did have an opening.  The coaching position: JV girls basketball.  JV girls....wow.  I told him I was interested.  I ended up getting the position.  I coached like crazy.  I lived every play like I was playing on the court.   I was crazy at times.  Mr. Kieler was my rock.  I knew I could count on him for anything. I called him at work often.  I stopped in his office for his advice not just about x's and o's but how to understand and relate to kids and parents.  It was just like the days of our conversations when I was in high school.  I loved every minute of it.  I couldn't get enough of our conversations.  I often stayed longer than I should have because I know he had things to do.  Mr. Kieler though, made me feel like my conversation was the most important thing in the world to him at that given time.  This same thing happened daily or weekly for the following two years as he chose me to be the varsity boys basketball coach the next year.  His support gave me direction in time of great uncertainty.  My young family was able to see me play out another part of a passion of mine in coaching, but more importantly it gave us hope that we were going to make it through the early struggles of having a family so young.  I later got my first teaching job at Marquette too after I graduated from college.  This is a result of Mr. Kieler giving me a chance and believing that I was capable of doing a quality job and that I was going to be good for kids.

The awesome part about my story about Mr. Kieler is that I know that there many more stories in which he has touched lives in ways just like mine.  He left a legacy for students, teachers, and a community that will be able to be retold to their own kids for years to come.

Mr. Kieler has also influenced the way I would like to work within the educational field, and specifically as a principal.  I have tried to operate within my work that it is always about the kids and that it is our choice everyday to bring a positive attitude to our work.  If we do these things, positive results will follow.

The only regret I have, is that I didn't stay connected with Mr. Kieler as much as I should have after moving on from teaching and coaching at Marquette.  I also didn't get a chance to go have another conversation with him when he was in the hospital.  When I heard he was ill, I think I always thought he was going to make it through the battle with his health.  It reminds me to never think I am too busy for the people that have been important to us in our lives.  You never know when those people may not have the opportunity to impact you again or to finally thank them for what they have done for you in your life.  I wish he could know now how thankful I am for everything he has done for me ever since I was a very young boy in his neighborhood all the way to helping shape who I am as an adult today.

Mr. Kieler, your legacy will live on forever in my heart and the hearts of everyone who came in contact with you. You have meant so much to me and to others.  I hope to someday be half the man you were.  Thank you.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Finding a Purposeful PLN

I can’t get enough of my PLN....honestly! Everyday they inspire me with their passions, challenge me with their thinking, and move me to action with their beliefs in me and others from around the world.  I absolutely love it! My PLN has taken me out of my comfort zone so many times and I am sure that they will take me out of zones I didn’t even know I had in the near future.  I am proud of taking my blinders off little by little or just taking the plunge into the unknown. I am also thankful to the hundreds that have opened my mind by forcing me to listen, read, or have a conversation about students, relationships, leadership, curriculum, technology, change, learning, passion, pride, and any topic in between.

It may come to some people’s surprise, but maybe not to others that know me well but I was a person that didn’t actively seek out people for new friendships or conversations.  I think there was a sense of, why would someone want to know me or hear what I have to say? I always had a solid core group of friends in high school and college but thought that was good enough. Why would I need to branch out?  For me to build new friendships, it took me awhile of being around that person before really making the effort to get to know them deeper or opening up to them to get to know me. The strange thing was, I enjoyed being around people but just was comfortable with my inner circle of friends. I feel I have always been good to others, but actively putting myself into new social situations just hasn’t been my strength.  My PLN has challenged me, picked me up by my feet and shook me until those feelings came falling out and hitting the ground like coins clanking on the cement.  My PLN has encouraged me to put myself out there and get myself ready to say, “Put me in coach, I’m ready to play today” like John Fogerty’s “Centerfield”. I realized through the great people/great minds of my PLN that there’s no more excuse or time to sit back and stay in my comfort zone of knowing what I know and who I know any longer.  A few years ago, I finally put myself in charge of my own learning and engaging with others instead of depending on someone else to send me to a professional development class or convention.  As many of you are probably aware, this happened through Twitter and connecting to others online by lurking and/or participating in online chats, by reading various posts/blogs, and also meeting my PLN face to face.  This experience has greatly kicked me in the tail to get out of my “box” and try to understand someone else’s mindset, passions, and ways of doing what is best for me and most importantly for kids.  I know that by doing this, I am going to continue to learn and hopefully be better than I was the previous day.

My online PLN is one of my favorite “go to” places to feel good about the work and the relationships that are being built in education.  I can feel the passion that motivates and drives them to keep getting better and more importantly the desire to share that feeling and knowledge with others. They want to put in the extra time to get better. A valued member of my PLN, Eric Sheninger @NMHS_Principal, stated at a conference I attended, "I don't find the time to learn and get better. I make the time to learn and get better." This attitude is typical of the members of my PLN and it spreads like wildfire among us.  I want to be able to reciprocate that same feeling and desire to get better for others.  Hopefully, I can help play a small part of others taking charge of their learning too.

I have found that one of the coolest thing about creating my own PLN isn’t just about connecting with other principals either. Beside principals, I learn from classroom teachers, superintendents, innovation consultants, curriculum directors, technology directors, student voice ambassadors, leaders in business, coaches, and many others (may have to scroll through all of the people I follow) It is awesome that an Iowa boy born in a town of 1000 or less can learn from a teacher like Todd Nesloney @TechToddNinja about integrating technology in Texas, a passionate PIRATE teacher in Dave Burgess @burgessdave from California, and learn about developing and leading 1:1 programs from Shaelynn Farnsworth @Shfarnsworth in Iowa and Shawn McCusker @ShawnMcCusker in Illinois on #1to1techat.  I actually was able to meet the latter two face to face at #EdCampIowa last year, will get to meet Dave Burgess at my school later this year as a guest speaker, and hope to run into Todd in the near future at a conference of some kind. I have also connected with and followed educational leaders like Joe Mazza @Joe_Mazza from Pennsylvania when I wanted to know more about successful ways of breaking down barriers of the home to school relationship with parents through his #ptchat.  I have connected with and met Jared Wastler @jcwastler from Maryland. Our meeting was virtually through a Google Hangout to discuss a possible sharing of instruction program between our schools.  I have done the same thing with a principal in Iowa named Tim Felderman @tfelderman78.  These great opportunities would never have been a discussion if there wasn’t a way to be connected with my PLN outside of my district in Fairfield, Iowa.  

The best part has been meeting my PLN in person and creating brand new relationships.  As I have said before, this hasn’t been a strength of mine in years past.  I have been fortunate to connect, meet, and collaborate with Jimmy Casas @casas_jimmy and Matt Degner @mwdegner, which are both principals in Iowa, each Sunday night for #IAedchat with various educational topics.  They are phenomenal educators and even better people.  This relationship has been absolutely awesome and wouldn’t trade it for anything.  I also have had the pleasure of meeting more of my PLN in person at what we termed #edcampBBQ in Kansas City, MO. I joined Jimmy and I was able to meet for the first time Tom Whitford @twhitford from Wisconsin, along with these great guys and educators from Missouri -Bill Powers @MrPowersCMS, Bob Dillon @ideaguy42, Robert Sigrist @DocSig, Matt Wachel @Matt Wachel, Kyle Pace @kylepace, and Sean Nash @nashworld.  We had a great time and were able to share some of our professional stories, pick each other’s brain and catch quite a few laughs along the way while "sampling" great BBQ.

Another awesome PLN experience for me was that I was able to share another weekend with Jimmy to Chicago, Illinois, to a 1:1 conference hosted by another member of my PLN, Jason Markey @JasonMMarkey, principal of East Leyden High School. I was able to meet, create a relationship, and learn from Jason along with his staff and students.  He was genuine and wanted everyone to hear their school's story.  He and his staff were truly being servant leaders.  He didn’t have to welcome others into his school but he made the intentional choice to do the right thing to put in the hard work to make it happen and be a true servant leader.  When Jason spoke, you could hear the passion he had to make his school succeed but he also wanted others to be able to share in the same types of successes they have had. He and his staff also shared how to avoid mistakes they may have made over time. So many educators left with fresh ideas and the mindset that it’s not just about me or our own school. Jason made it clear that it’s about sharing with others and trying to help them get to their desired goal.  

At the same 1:1 conference in Chicago, I was able to meet up with a member of my PLN that I have followed for a long time on Twitter. His thinking through his tweets and blog posts have inspired me while challenging me to think differently and out of my box that I talked about earlier. I was fired up to hear and see George Couros @gcouros for the first time.  He was introduced as “one of Leyden’s favorite Canadians” for the Friday keynote. He took that like a champ and away he went with his presentation on leading innovative change.  He shared an awesome message about making meaningful change happen and not just talk about it. He made people laugh, think about moving people from point A to point B in the change process, and even made a few tear up. Jimmy V would have been proud. He impacted the audience so much that received a standing “O” when he was done.
 I was lucky enough to get know him even better that evening by going to a great dinner with him, Jeff Zoul @Jeff Zoul, Jason, Jimmy, and Jennie Magiera @MsMagiera. The next day, George, Jimmy, Jeff, and I took in a game at Wrigley Field together. Besides hanging at an MLB game, it was great to sit and talk with him about his school in Canada, his speaking experiences, hear some of his future goals as an educator, and get to know a little bit about him as a person. It was an awesome experience that I never would have guessed would happen if it wasn't for connecting through my PLN.

The PLN motivates me. It challenges my thinking. It also confirms my thinking. It encourages action. It encourages growth. It creates relationships. The challenge for me and us is to create this same type of environment in our own buildings and district.  We have to be willing to lead the charge by sharing the passion for learning, connecting to create relationships with those in we would otherwise never cross paths, and stepping out of our comfort zones. We have to model that the times of shutting our doors and working in isolation is over. My PLN has shown me the value of being fine with not knowing everything and even failing at times.  It has continued to push me professionally and personally.  My PLN has made me better today than I was yesterday and I hope to play a small part in helping someone be better someday too. PLN...I appreciate you!!

Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Empty Hallway

The final bell has rung.  The students left the building cheering and said their final goodbyes to many of their friends for the summer (remember how this was truly the case before technology).  The teachers packed up all of their belongings and locked their classroom door for the final time of the year.  The custodians have cleaned floors and painted walls to make the building shine like new.  Then, the building is quiet.  That moment we have been waiting for all year.  As I worked at my desk, something just wasn't right.  I got up and opened the office door, walked up to the top floor and saw nothing but an empty hallway.  The emptiness hits me smack in the face...I am missing the kids.  The hallway just doesn't seem the same.  A school hallway without students has little to no life, energy, or dreams walking through it. It quickly reminded me of why I am here along with many educators around the world.  It is for one reason....the students.

This empty hallway, just a few weeks ago, welcomed students of various ages, abilities, appearances, backgrounds, and future goals.  You could hear the lockers opening and banging shut.  The rubber of shoes squeaking and the clanking of heels. You could hear the sounds of book bag zippers opening and closing. You could hear the PA system asking for students to come to the office. You could hear the voices of students discussing what they just did in class last period with their friends.  You could hear and see them laughing and joking with one another in the short time they had until their next class. You could see students checking their phones to see who buzzed them in the previous class. You could see student faces that were worried about the test they had in their next class.  You could see students that were tired because they were doing homework until late due to a game the night before. You could see some students alone and looking at the floor as they go from one place to the next. You could see some students taking their sweet time to get where they needed to go next (I can remember this being me back in the day).  On the other hand you could also see students with smiles on their faces hurrying to their next class, ready to go and teachers at their door welcoming them in. Another major thing I notice in this empty hallway that was missing for me is the fact that I love interacting with as many students as I can in a brief amount of time between classes.  I enjoy saying, "Good morning, Sara.  Have a great day!"....or "Good afternoon, Sam.  Are you having an awesome day?"  Many of the students will smile, respond, and keep moving to their next class. A few though take this as an opportunity to share something with me about a class, last night's game, or ask a question they have been trying to track me down about.  I love the sights and the sounds of the hallway when students are around during the school year.  It's like the Turtle Man says, "Live Action!" This empty hallway reminds me of what truly makes a school what it is everyday...the students.

The empty hallway makes me think about how each of them are doing right now.  It was so easy to know this just a couple weeks ago.  Are they hanging with friends?  Are they meeting new friends? Does he/she have a job this summer? Are they alone now that they aren't in school? Do they need someone to talk to? Are they getting enough to eat?  How is their home life? Are they having a good time on vacation with their family? How is their off season workout going?  Did they go to any summer camps?  Are they making college plans? Are the new freshman excited to come to the high school? Are they taking time to just relax? How can I get to know this student better? There are many more things I am sure to think about but the echos in the hallways sure hit home with me today and made me think that I can't wait to know some of the things above.  Do you think they think about us?  If we have made any kind of impact on our students, you can bet on it.

I know the students deserve the time away from school, but I am already excited for the sights and the sounds of the students to come back so that they can fill this empty hallway with their personalities, hopes, and dreams that give it life once again.