About Me

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I've been an educator since 1995 where I've served as both a teacher and administrator. I believe that serving others is the key to success and make it my goal to be a servant leader for students, teachers, parents, and the community. 

Friday, December 11, 2015

On being the only man on campus

This year, I took a position at a Primary campus where I am the only man on the staff.  I'm also the first male administrator the campus has had since the 1990's.  It has been a wonderful as well as eye-opening experience.  Being the only man means that I get called on to take care of situations that the female staff are uncomfortable with.  This means everything from teaching boys how to lift a toilet seat to chasing away stray dogs and talking down angry parents.

For many of the children on our campus, there is no positive male influence in their lives.  They are raised by mothers or grandmothers and a father or father-figure is simply not in the picture.  While I can never replace those men, I hope that my presence and influence will make a difference in their lives.  This was brought to my attention this week while talking with a single mother about some personal issues I was helping her son with.  Her words hit me like a hammer.  "Mr. Quarles, his dad died two years ago and he doesn't have anyone to help him learn how to act like a man." "I try," she said, "but it's not the same. Thank you."  It was after this conversation that I realized this is a calling and I am on this campus for a reason.

Knowing I was to be the only man on campus, I knew I needed some help.  So, my first request was to start WatchD.O.G.S.   At our kickoff, we had over 100 men show up and so far we've had 27 serve at least one day on campus.  Most have been here multiple days.  Their presence makes my job so much easier and it greatly impacts both the teachers and the students.  Children who say they don't like to read will gladly volunteer to read to a WatchDOGS 'dad.' Teachers say their presence and involvement helps kids stay on task. When they are on campus, the number of discipline problems drops.  It just amazes me what the presence of a positive male role model can do for kids.

Throughout this year, I have been thoroughly blessed to work with teachers who are caring, nurturing, and knowledgeable about teaching primary school students.  I am also learning from a principal who has forgotten more about running a primary school than I'll ever know.  Still, at least once a week, someone comes up to me to say how thankful they are to have a man on campus.  It could have been any man.  I am so blessed it is me!

Saturday, October 31, 2015

People are watching!!!

This is a message to all educators out there:  People are watching!!!!  They see the things you do when you think no one is looking.  The things you would never talk about are being voiced.  The things you would like to stay secret are being shared.

People are watching and they see what you are doing.  They are watching when you take your personal time to attend a child's sporting event.  They notice when you spend those extra hours to tutor that struggling child when you could be home instead.  People see that you keep food in that little drawer in your room so that no child ever has to feel hungry.  They are looking when you spend your own money to buy a child a pair of shoes because theirs are falling apart.  

People are watching.  They know when you quietly take up a collection and then bring children clothes shopping at a "real" store for the first time in their lives.  They quietly applaud when you take a Saturday to chaperone a field trip.  They are looking when you show up at the school dance and make a fool of yourself on the dance floor.  

People are watching and they notice.  They know the times that you spend over an hour listening to a parent who just needs to talk.  People see when you wink and wave at that child in the grocery store (and make their day).  People notice when you point out the good in a child when you could have focused on the negatives.  

Educators, people are watching you.  They see what you do every day to positively impact the lives of children and they notice.  Most will never say a word about it to you, but they will talk to others.  They do notice and so many quietly applaud what you do every day.  You should too. 

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Insights from Texas Teacher of the Year Banquet

Tonight, I was blessed to sit in the room with 42 exceptional teachers, each sharing a bit about their journey to being named a Texas Region Teacher of the Year.  For almost an hour and a half, these men and women shared from their hearts what it meant to be a teacher.  Here are some of their insights:

* Teachers are the only people in the world who get excited about laminating something. 
* Being teacher of the year is not about me.  It is a reflection on my team.  So many deserve the same thing.
* My husband was in corporate America.  Every day he saw me coming home with stories and excitement about my day. He always said, "I want what you've got." So, finally, he quit his job, went back to school, and became a teacher, too. 
* Teachers don't know the effect they have on kids. Every day, teachers have the chance to touch and change lives in so many ways. 
* My kids come to me hating math.  I love math.  This balances the equation. 
* Treating students with equity doesn't mean treating them all the same.  It means giving them what they need at that moment.  
* I couldn't have done this without the amazing team of people I work with every day.
* Teachers are the same everywhere in the world.  They care about kids and do whatever it takes to help them succeed. 
* What is the difference between teachers and students in the Philippines and those in the United States?  Here, they speak English. 
* Don't tell my principal, but I'd come to work every day even if they didn't pay me.
* Teachers are hard on themselves.  Even when they do great, there is still that nagging feeling that I could have done better. 
* Be your own cheerleader.  
* You are better than you think. 
* Kids rarely know that you flubbed a lesson.  They do know, however, when you really love and care about them. 

I wish I had been able to record every single word from these amazing teachers.  These were the lessons from several hundred years of experience in one room.  But, in a nutshell, teachers are some of the hardest working people in the world and they affect millions of lives every day.  I am blessed to be in such an amazing profession.  (By the way, my lovely wife Sheryl was one of those recognized tonight and I am so proud of her accomplishments.)

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The connecting power of Twitter

Twitter is a powerful tool. This was brought back to me recently during a call from a colleague in South Carolina.  When I first met this Indian educator three months ago, he was living and teaching in South Africa.  Twitter connected us and gave me the opportunity to be a part of his journey to the United States.  Here is a synopsis:

In mid-June, I received a direct message from this educator that simply said, "Can you do me a favor?"  The red flags went flying.  Still, I looked up his profile and, seeing that he was a teacher, asked what he needed.  His response: "I am applying for a job in South Carolina and need help with interview questions." Whew!!! That sounded simple enough. After e-mailing me the questions, I decided that it would be best to talk about them face to face.  He was going to have his interview via Skype, so we found a time to connect using that service and had a practice interview.  I asked the questions and then we discussed his responses. Afterwards, we talked about what he might find different in the States and I even had my wife get on and talk with him about STEM.  It was an interesting session and I probably learned as much about the South African education system as he did about ours.  

He had his interview the next day and tweeted that it went well.  I asked him to keep me informed about the results.  A week later, he wrote that he got the job and we exchanged phone numbers so we could keep in touch when he arrived.  In the meantime, we continued to talk via Twitter and phone,  Last Sunday, he called to let me know that he had been on the job teaching 7th grade math for three weeks.  It was different from South Africa in a number of ways, many of which we had already discussed.  He was also impressed with his administration, as they were in the building improving instruction daily.  He was also excited about the collaboration that took place among teachers. Neither of these, he said, was common in his previous school.  Overall, he said he was enjoying the position and looking forward to his family arriving at Christmas.  We will continue to talk as the year progresses.  I look forward to encouraging and learning from him at the same time.

If it were not for Twitter, we never would have connected. I would not have had the opportunity to make a new friend. I also would have been denied a great learning opportunity.  Was it my help that got him the position? Probably not, as he showed he was a strong teacher during our practice interview.  Still, I am thankful that I have the chance to be a part of the journey.  Thanks, Twitter.  

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Hidden Talents

One of my favorite Christmas films is Miracle on 34th Street. (In fact, it is one of my favorite films, period). In the movie, there is a scene where a mother brings her recently adopted daughter to see Kris Kringle, who is working as a department store Santa. She tells Kris that the girl speaks only Dutch and that she insists that he is the real Santa.  Then she tells him she has tried to explain to the girl that he is just a man in a Santa suit.  While the new mother is still speaking, Kris takes the little girl in his lap and begins to talk with her in perfect Dutch. They share laughs and a song as the mother stands there amazed.

This scene always brings a tear to my eyes.  In fact, I get emotional just thinking about it.  At the same time, it illustrates a truth that educators need to firmly grasp.  Namely, we don't always know the hidden strengths and talents of those around us.  They may only come out when the right opportunity presents itself.  With school just beginning, we have the chance to help kids (and adults) reveal those hidden talents.  We need to give people a chance to show us what they can do.  So, this year, when a student or teacher says "I can do that," let them try.  See what they are capable of. You might be both amazed and moved by what you learn.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Lessons from Year 2

I was inspired to write this post after reading Traci Logue's (@fearless_teach) blog about lessons from her first year as an Assistant Principal (5 Important Things From My First Year as an AP).  I have just completed my second year as an AP.  It was a great year of growth and not quite the vertical learning curve of Year One.  Below are several of the lessons I've learned in these two years.  Hopefully, these will be helpful to readers, especially those starting the journey known as school leadership.

1.  Listen

I cannot stress enough the importance of listening.   Not just listening so that you can respond, but listening for understanding.  Listening to hear what the other person is saying and empathizing with them, even if you don't agree.  This includes all stakeholders.  Parents, teachers, other administrators, students, paras, community members.  When people know that you are willing to listen, they become open to talking about what is truly important to them. To listen effectively, you may have to tell people that you can't listen at that moment.  Instead, set up a time when you can be totally free to hear what they have to say.  If they really need to be heard, the person will not only honor that request, but be thankful that you were willing to give them the time to speak.

2. Ask questions.

If you don't know something, ask.  If something doesn't make sense, ask.  If you are unclear, ask. Questions help us understand and clarify.  They ensure that everyone is on the same page.  They also keep us out of trouble.  When you have a question about anything, ask it.  It is better to ask early and often than to finish a task only to hear "That's not what I meant."

3. Know your people. Know your people. Know your people.

Every person on your staff is important. They each contribute to the effectiveness of the school.  If they don't, they shouldn't be there.  Get to know each and every person.  Know what their job is, what they are passionate about, what they do well (and what they don't.)  Find out about their families.  Know their interests.  Get to know them as individuals.  This takes time and effort, but the relationships that develop are worth the work.  Remember the saying, "People don't care what you know until they know that you care."  Show you care by developing relationships as you get to know your staff.

4.  Get into the building.

While this may seem like a no-brainer, it is often hard to achieve.  Meetings,  directives from Central Office, parent calls, student issues, and more can all stand in the way of getting into classrooms.  At the end of the day, it is easy to look up and realize that you haven't stepped out of your office all day.  I have found that scheduling time every day for visiting classrooms helps ensure that this occurs.  Then, stick to that schedule. For those interruptions that will occur, leave a script with the office staff that reads something like this: Mr. Quarles is in the building working with students.  Can I take a message and have him call you back when he returns?

5. Love your kids and let them know it.

Kids need to know that someone loves them and cares about them without condition.  Be that person. Greet them at the door every day.  Learn their names and use them.  Find out what they are interested in. Engage them in conversation.  Eat with them (and not just on special occasions). Smile.  When they are in trouble, let them know that, despite their mistake, they will have another chance.  Forget past transgressions.  When appropriate, hug them.  Talk to them outside of school.  In every way possible, let them know that you love them and will not give up on them.  Ever.

 6. Be open to suggestions.

I don't know about you, but I know I don't know it all.  There are many areas I am lacking in.  I need the input of others to be effective.  Early this year, I had a teacher approach me and, with some trepidation, suggest that I change something I was doing.  I thanked her and promptly made the adjustment.  It was then that I realized that it is sometimes difficult for people to make suggestions, especially to those in leadership positions.  For that reason, I need to be especially open to both soliciting ideas and listening to the input of others.  This doesn't mean that I have to follow every proposal, just that I need to be open to listening.  Which leads to the next lesson.....

7.   Never stop learning.

To be a leader, it is imperative that you be a learner.  The two go hand in hand.  Each day, be prepared to learn something new, whether from other people, from reading, from social media, from mistakes, or from a multitude of other sources.  And, be prepared to share that learning. When we regularly share our learning, it will keep the knowledge alive and may inspire others to grow as learners as well.

8.  Confront problems quickly 

If there is one lesson I've had to learn the hard way, it is that problems don't go away by themselves.   Instead, they grow and form a life of their own.  The only way to get rid of a problem is to confront it, bring it to light, and then deal with it.  The longer we wait to do this, the larger the problem tends to become.  While this is rarely easy, it is imperative for the health of the school and the relationships that exist there.

9. Identify your struggling students (and build positive relationships with them).

One of my roles this year was student management.  In a nutshell, I was the disciplinarian.  When a student made a poor choice that could not be dealt with effectively in the classroom, they were sent to me.  It didn't take long to identify the students who I would be seeing quite often.  Following the advice of another leader, I decided to stop waiting for these students to come to me and instead, go to them.  I started meeting with them on a regular basis.  This might mean a short walk every few days, talking with them before school, joining their class for recess, playing a game with them in P.E., or whatever else it took to build a relationship. Many of these kids just needed someone to show that they cared and to help them learn what acceptable behavior looked like.

10.  Ride a bus. In fact, ride many buses.

One afternoon, after dealing with multiple referrals from a particular bus, I called transportation to find out what was going on.  They told me this bus had a sub driver that week and he was having trouble with the kids.  I blurted out in frustration, "Why don't I just ride it home?"  Thus, a trend was born.  For the rest of the year, I made it a habit to ride different buses, especially those that were sending me multiple referrals.  When I told my principal my plans, she said, "You sure are dedicated."  But, I don't think this should be about dedication.  It should, instead, be a part of the administrator's role.  What I learned on those bus rides opened my eyes to much of what I saw occurring at school. For example, many of the kids who were struggling with behavior at school were also riding the same buses together each day.  They were feeding off of each other and then bringing it into the school.  I also got to see the neighborhoods where my students lived.  I went to some areas of town that I didn't know existed.  It also allowed me to see to the amount of time some students were spending on school buses each day.  One 2nd grader got on the bus at 2:45 pm and didn't get dropped off at home until 4:15.  In the morning, this same child boarded the bus at 6:15 am. Could this be contributing to his behavior problems in class?  Riding buses also helped me build relationships with students who always seemed to be amazed that a principal would ride with them.  It also built better communication with the drivers who knew I was willing to take the time to help them do their jobs more effectively.  While riding buses was not in the official "job description," it turned out to be a very important part of the work.  

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Putting Down Roots

This past weekend, I had the privilege of driving a group of boys around town on a photo scavenger hunt.  The scavenger hunt was fun, but what really struck me was that at every location we stopped, I knew someone I had met in or through school.  This included a stop at a random house that just happened to be the home of two bus drivers.

As I reflected on the day, I realized that after ten years, I have put down roots in this community. This may not mean much to those who have always lived in one area, but for me, this is a first.  The first time I've lived in the same community as my students.  The first time I've been at one district more than four years.  The first time I've had younger brothers and sisters come through the school.  The first time I've known former students who have graduated and have kids of their own.  The first time I've been to former students college graduations.  So many firsts in the last eleven years.

Why is this important?  For me, there are several advantages to "putting down roots" as an educator.

1)  Relationships - Relationships are paramount.  They can make or break an educator.  But, strong relationships are not formed overnight. They take time and concerted effort to build.  By choosing to put down roots and invest in the community, I've been able to build stronger relationships both in and out of school.  As a teacher and now a principal, these relationships have been so important in allowing me to positively impact the lives of children.

2) Trust - Like relationships, building trust takes time.  It is neither an easy nor simple process and is  built on the foundation of relationships.  Yet, trust is imperative before success can occur. When I first moved here, I could sense that there was a lack of trust in me.  I was the new person in a community where many people had lived their entire lives.  It took time to break down walls of distrust and build trusting relationships.  Now, my job is to do everything I can to maintain that trust with students, parents, and the community.  Fortunately for me, with trust comes a more forgiving attitude as parents realize I do have their child's best interest at heart. I know I need that regularly.

3) Belonging - We all have a need to be a part of something bigger than we are.  We all need to belong.  By choosing to stay in one place, many more doors have opened through avenues such as church, community and civic organizations, as well as the educational community.  Through these connections, I can fulfill the need to serve others while being of part of the bigger picture.  

4) Friendships - As an educator, it is so necessary to have close, trusted friends that we can turn to and share with when we just need to talk.   As an introvert, building strong friendships has always been a struggle.  I have lots of acquaintances, but just a few really close friends.  By settling down, I've been able to nurture those friendships and make them even stronger.  

5)  Professional Relationships - Being in the same community and the same district for ten years has allowed me to build professional relationships that otherwise might not exist.  These relationships are not only with fellow building administrators and teachers, but also with central office staff.  It is so much easier to get your job done when you have strong working relationships with other professionals and support each other. 

For many years, I said I would never settle down in one place.  And, for many years, I didn't.  Now, after eleven years in the same community, I am so glad that I finally chose to ignore my own advice and "put down roots."  It has made a huge difference in my life as an educator.  

Saturday, February 7, 2015

A Listening Ear

"Nobody listens to me."  If I had a dollar for the number of times I've heard kids say that as they sat in my office for a discipline referral.  Kids need adults to talk with.  Adults who will listen to them without passing judgement.  Adults who show they care by just being there.  Parents, grandparents, older siblings, and extended family often fulfill that role in the lives of children.  But, for many kids today, there is no adult actively taking time to just listen and interact with them.  They are not given opportunity to tell their own stories.  In many cases, these children show this lack of positive attention by acting out in school.  Negative attention may appear better than no attention at all.

Earlier this year, I had a student who was coming to my office on a regular basis.  Three times a week was not uncommon. I decided to try an experiment. I started meeting with this child for a few minutes a day twice a week.  We just walk through the hall and talk.  There is no agenda outside of spending a few minutes in conversation. Since we started this routine, I have seen him in my office no more than twice and that was several months back.  Obviously, these meetings are not the only thing that has had an impact.  He has also developed some other positive relationships, but it is a piece in the puzzle of his behavior change.

So, now I am finding the need to expand this opportunity.  A number of other children, mainly boys, have started acting out and getting in trouble in class on a regular basis.  As I looked at their records, I see a trend.  Single parent family with Mom as the head.  Little supervision for several hours at home due to parent(s) working late.  Few significant adults, especially men, spending time with them.  In a recent post, I wrote about an encounter with a former student who challenged me to find a way to reach out to boys who were struggling. I've taken this to heart.

Already, I've identified three boys who I plan to start meeting with in a similar manner.  As with the student mentioned above, this will start with spending a few minutes each week just talking and listening.  No getting on to them about behavior..  No bringing up problems unless they start that conversation.  After that relationship is built, then we may get into deeper matters, but for now, the goal is to be a listening ear.

Will this work for each of these as it has with the first child?  Hard to say.  However, it is a start and if it helps them be successful, the effort and the time will have been well spent.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this and other ways that have worked to help struggling students be successful. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Resume: A tool for growth

Recently, I began a task I've been putting off for some time:  updating my resume.  No, I'm not looking for a new job.  I just want to see how far I've come since my last update.  Plus, you never know when it might come in handy, especially if a position opens up in my school district.  At this point, I am making lists of responsibilities, accomplishments, training, certifications, and so on that have changed since I put together my current resume.  Since that time, I've gained almost two years of administration experience, worked in two different schools, been responsible for several special projects, served as a district coordinator, attended multiple trainings, and, through social media (mainly Twitter) and blogging, become a more connected educator.  Now, the task is to put all of this on paper and LinkedIn, of course.

Fortunately, the most difficult part of the process so far has been determining what leave out.  If this were not a problem, I'd be concerned.  If I could dust off my resume and it was ready to go, it would be time to retire.  I would have stopped growing professionally.

For me, new challenges and learning opportunities are the life-blood of my career.  Without them, stagnation sets in.  Each day provides new opportunities to learn and grow.  It is up to me to take advantages of those opportunities.  

Through the process of updating my resume, I am tracking my professional development as well as determining the areas in which I need more experience.  Once I'm done, I will have a better picture of my current status and can make a game plan for growth.  

As a school leader, it is so important that I grow in my profession and model the growth process for others.  If I want the teachers in my building to be learners who are willing to take risks,  I must be the same.  Updating my resume, when approached with the right mindset, is a tool to facilitate this growth.  

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Don't ever let them down

It was raining and cold as I approached the store entrance.  "Excuse me, sir," said a voice from the shadows.  As I looked up, I saw a young man in his early 20's approaching.  He was tall with red hair and a scruffy red beard.  While his clothes were disheveled and hands soiled, he had a kind look in his eyes that was vaguely familiar.  "I need something to eat. Can you help me?"  I make it a habit to never give money, but I'll gladly buy food, gas, or other necessities if I'm able.  "What do you need?" I asked.  "Something I can eat that's hot and not in a can.  I'm really hungry," he replied.  I motioned for him to follow me and as we walked towards the deli area, he looked closely at me and said, "I know you, don't I?"  "What's your name?" I inquired.  "John."  My mind raced back several years as I remembered how I knew him.  "I was your teacher, John."  "Mr. Quarles!  7th Grade Science. I really enjoyed being in your class.  You made learning fun." He paused. "I always looked up to you."

As we stood at the deli, I told him to get what he needed and I'd pay for it. John looked over the various foods and began to tell me about his life since junior high.  "I was in trouble quite a bit in school, but things got really bad when my Mom died.  I just went crazy and got strung out.  I didn't want to live anymore.  I'm smart, but I didn't act that way.  I wasted a big part of my life so far." I agreed with him that he was intelligent.  I remembered that about him.  He was always ready to question and participate.  Not a model student, but fun to to have in class. 

Suddenly, he looked right at me and his words took my breath away.  "I wish someone like you would have been there for me.  I needed a man in my life to show me how to live. I wish you could have helped me."  I thought to myself, "John, I didn't know.  I was so busy trying to do my job that I didn't take the time to really get to know you.  I wish now I would have."  

We talked for a while longer about the struggles he had after his mother passed away, how he had battled mental illness, been in trouble with the law, couldn't find a steady job, and was sleeping on friend's couches.  He told me how he was trying hard to make it and that he wasn't going to give up.  

"What can I for you, John?"   His response nearly brought me to tears.  "Mr. Quarles, you can do one thing for me."  "What is that?"I asked.  "Be there for your students. They look up to you, so don't ever let them down.  I don't want anybody to end up the way I did."  "I'll take that to heart, John," I replied.  Shortly after, we went our separate ways. 

Was meeting up with John a divine appointment?  Probably so.  I only know that the encounter was not what I was expecting nor prepared for.  But, I must do what I said and take his words to heart.  As a teacher, I missed a lot of opportunities to positively impact the lives of students. I was so focused on teaching the curriculum that I failed to really get to know my students.  Thankfully, we get second chances.  As an administrator, I have opportunity every day to reach into the lives of struggling kids and help them as they navigate their way through life. We all need someone to guide us.  John reminded me tonight that I can be that person.  Now, I don't want to let him down again.  

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

You don't say: Non-verbal classroom management

Some of the most overlooked classroom management strategies are non-verbal actions and cues.  For some reason, many of us seem to believe that if we didn't say it then it wasn't communicated.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  As a teacher, it took me several years to understand the power of non-verbal communication strategies and their effect on student behavior.  As an administrator, I use these strategies daily, especially when working with large groups.  The reason I believe they work is that they are  non-threatening and allow the student to save face because others rarely even notice that a directive has been given.  This cuts down on the escalation that can occur when a student feels they are being verbally reprimanded. 

Some examples of non-verbal management strategies are:

1)  Proximity control - When the teacher moves close to a student who is off-task or acting out.  The close proximity of teacher to student is often all it takes for behavior to change.  In addition, the teacher might touch the desk or the paper to indicate the need to get back to work. Proximity control tends to work better when the teacher is regularly moving throughout the room.  If the students don't know where the teacher will be next, they are less likely to act out.  

2)  Visual cues - There are a number of cues that teachers can use to redirect student behavior.  Some are universal such as a finger over the lips for silence or nodding/shaking the head for yes and no.  Others are specific to the teacher or classroom.  For example, I point to my shirt and make a tucking motion when directing a student to put their shirt in or make a twirling motion with my finger to indicate the need to turn around.  These cues can also be used to reinforce positive behavior such as a thumbs up or a fist bump.  Students can also be taught to use visual cues.  For example, raising a pencil can indicate the need to go to the sharpener.  At lunch, my students have been trained to point to the restroom door or the water fountain to ask permission to go these locations.  

3)  The "Look"  - The "look" is a technique that I don't believe is used often enough.  Basically, the teacher looks directly at the acting out/off-task child with a silent stare that is neither happy not angry, but ambivalent.  Many mothers, especially those from the "old school," have this down pat. When a teacher has perfected the look, they can move a child to proper behavior from across the room.  However, for the look to work effectively, the student needs to understand that, if the behavior doesn't change, there will be a consequence coming shortly.  

Non-verbal classroom management techniques are simple to implement and can be extremely powerful when used effectively.  I would encourage all educators to add these and other non-verbal strategies to their classroom management tool bag.  

What are some non-verbal techniques that have been effective in your classroom?  Please share your ideas in the comments.  


Monday, January 19, 2015

Day 7-Now what?

Today is the last day of my personal challenge to blog once a day for seven days.  I did it!!! In the process, I've seen my idea bank begin to fill up again and have started looking at everyday situations as learning opportunities.  On day one, I shared that I felt I had nothing of importance to say.  That may still be true, but I do have plenty to write about, important or not.  

Now that I've finished this challenge, its time to move to the next step.  I'm juggling the ideas of continuing to write a post a day or writing one post a week.  Writing a post a day has helped me stay focused and started me on the road to a new habit, both of which are necessary for success.  However, the quality of daily posts may not be the best.  I find myself regularly updating and making minor changes throughout.  By writing a post a week, I would have time to delve deeper into a topic and make my writing more concise and relevant.  Unfortunately, I might also fall back into the habit of putting off writing.  Overcoming this habit is why I started this challenge in the first place.  

I think the best solution is a melding of these two.  I can still write a post a day even if I don't publish it immediately.  Instead, I can allow the post time to simmer as I work on other ideas.  By weeks end, I will have several to choose from and can pick the best to publish.  The others can be used at later dates and times.  By keeping this flow going,  I will always have some posts ready and others in the working stages.  Sounds like a plan to me.  

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Six days you shall work...

"Six days you shall work and the seventh shall be a Sabbath to the Lord your God.  On it, you shall do no work.." Exodus 20:8-9

It's Sunday night and I've done it again.  I've spent an entire day without doing any work.  That may be normal for some, but for me, it is an accomplishment.  For years, I worked seven days a week.  I would put in my regular schedule Monday through Friday, work around the house on Saturday, and spend at least two hours every Sunday preparing for the week ahead.  It was exhausting.  

Then, one day during a Sunday sermon, the pastor was talking about having a day set aside each week for no work.  It should be time to rest and focus on our relationship with God.  As a Christian, that made sense. In fact, the Bible says in several places that we should work for six days and have one day of rest or a Sabbath day.  The pastor used the illustration of a rancher he knew who did not do any work, including go out and feed his animals, on Sundays.  He told the pastor that although it didn't make him richer, it didn't hurt him either.  

So, about a year and half ago, I made the decision that I would take one day a week totally off from work and use it for worship, reflection, rest, and family time.  At first, it was difficult.  I was always worried that I would not be ready for the coming week.  At about six pm Sunday evening, I would start to get nervous and want to go do some prep work.  But, I made myself relax and stop worrying.  And, like the rancher, it never hurt me.  If I needed to finish something, I always seemed to get it done early Monday morning when I was well rested.  

My typical Sunday now involves worship until around 12:30 pm, followed by a nap, and family time.  I usually try to get out of the house in the afternoons and walk through the woods with my son. I'm in bed by ten and fully rested for the week ahead.  

For those who feel like they just have to work every day, here is my plan to make it easier to take that day fully off.  I just spend a little more time at work during the week, possibly go in for a few hours Saturday morning, and be sure my week is planned out before I go to bed Saturday night.  Doing this allows me to relax and know that I'm ready for the week ahead.   

Am I legalistic about this?  Of course not.  If I was, I wouldn't be writing this post on Sunday night.  But, I do know that in the Bible, God tells me to take a day off each week and I know that He wants the best for me.  Jesus says that the Sabbath, or day of rest, was made for man and not the other way around.  Plus, it just makes sense.  

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Happy socks (or Why so serious?)

This Christmas, my wife gave me three pairs of Happy Socks.  If you are not familiar with Happy Socks (I wasn't), they are dress socks with a unique and creative twist. Below are some examples.

At first, I was hesitant to wear them, but after a few days warmed to the idea.  I mean, who would see them anyway?  They're socks. 

The first day I wore them, I had on a neatly pressed pair of slacks, laundered shirt, tie, and newly shined shoes. Typical professional dress for a school administrator.  Then, as I sat in a meeting, I crossed my legs and saw my Happy Socks. As I thought about how silly they looked, it hit me.  

I tend to take myself way too seriously.  And, when I do that, it saps my joy. 

Please understand.  I take my position as a school administrator very seriously.  My decisions and actions affect students, teachers, staff, parents, and the community along with the overall school culture.   I don't take that lightly.  

But, I can take myself lightly.  I can laugh at myself and laugh with others.  I can make mistakes and not be so hard on myself when I do.  I can look foolish if it will help a child learn.  I can be positive and upbeat no matter what situation I face.  I can make others feel more important than myself.  I don't have to take myself so seriously.

Now, I try to wear my Happy Socks as often as I can.  They serve as a reminder that, although I need to take what I do very seriously, I don't always need to take myself that way.

Friday, January 16, 2015

My best thinking

Years ago, I had a principal whose favorite saying was, "Other people do my best thinking for me."  Today, I put that mantra to the test. When faced with some important decisions,  I spent time trying to come up with my own solutions. I quickly realized that others in the building had better insights than I did.  So, I asked for their help.  They were happy to assist and because they've worked there longer, their ideas were often practical and easy to implement.  While what I was considering would have done the job, these fresh ideas were right on target and caused things to go much smoother than they would have otherwise.  In some cases, it actually placed more work on the other person, but they were willing to accept that as it was part of their solution. 

As a leader,  I have to remember that I don't know it all.  I am surrounded by a team of people who see things in ways I don't.  We depend on each other for help and support.  What happens when their ideas work well?  I give them credit.  What if their idea flops?  I take full credit.  I wouldn't have it any other way.  

Ultimately, I am responsible for the final result of my decisions.  I accept that. But, I don't have to be responsible for coming up with all the solutions.  If I'm going to be effective, I have to be willing to seek out and listen to others and, in some cases, let them do my best thinking for me.  

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Blogging into 2015-Day 3: Meaningful and enjoyable

Today is an extension of yesterday's post about what a teacher can accomplish in 10 minutes or less.  I watched a classroom this morning and was amazed at the level of learning taking place.  This was a 2nd grade class and the topic was adding or subtracting by 100's.  The teacher had already taught the lesson and the students were divided into small groups to have a competition of sorts. A problem was written on the board and groups had a set amount of time to work together to solve it.  When the timer went off, the teacher called one group to the board to show how they solved the problem.  But, not only did they have to write it, they also had to explain to the class why their answer was correct and the process they used to get it.  While the group was working at the board writing their response, the teacher was working the room, questioning the other students.  When the group at the board was ready, they explained their response and the other groups were able to ask them questions.  Once it was determined that their answer and explanation were acceptable, they got a point.  Then the process repeated  During the eight minutes I was in the room, I did not see a single off-task student.  In fact, they were eager to demonstrate their understanding.  In addition, I watched these students rise to the challenge even when a difficult problem was presented. (They all groaned when they had to solve using a number line).  

Students will think at higher cognitive levels when the task is both meaningful and enjoyable .  Great teachers know this and develop lessons that create such an atmosphere.  The class described above was not quiet nor were they sitting still. They were moving and talking and thinking.  And, most importantly, they were learning.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Blogging into 2015-Day 2: In just ten minutes....

Over the past two years, I've had the privilege of observing numerous teachers and classrooms.  Many of these observations last no more than five to ten minutes.  Yet, for those few minutes, in effective teachers classrooms at least, there is more occurring than one can successfully document.  In just a few short minutes, teachers can make numerous instructional decisions, vary activities several times, and interact one-on-one with every student in the classroom.  In one ten minute span, I watched a colleague teach a mini-lesson, use quick formative assessment to gauge understanding, start a group activity to reinforce the lesson, and then visit each group asking probing, higher order questions. All the while, they were monitoring every other group from a distance and silently correcting behavior with just a glance.  This is not a one time event, but a daily occurrence.  

Effective teachers read their students needs and make adjustments as necessary.  They are attuned to what is happening in the class and fit the lesson to the students, not the other way around.  They are protective of instructional time and use it wisely.  A strong teacher can pack what feels like hours of learning into just one ten minute stretch.  I would challenge anyone in any other business to use ten minutes as effectively as a great teacher.  I bet you can't.  

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Blogging into 2015 - Day 1

One of my New Year's resolutions was to write a new blog post at least once a week.  It's three weeks into 2015 and I've written one so far.  Prior to that, my last post was November 2014.  One of the reasons for avoiding writing is the continual thought that I really don't have anything important to say.  That is definitely not true.   Each day brings so many life lessons that it would fill a hundred blog posts.  

Okay, now that I've psyched myself up, here is the plan to jump-start blogging again in 2015.  Each day for at least the next seven days, I will write one 150-250 word post.  The posts don't have to be related or even be about education.  The point is that I write and do it often.  The only way I'm going to get better at blogging is to blog.  The important things will come later.  

The end of the last sentence was 154 words.  Short and sweet.  Let's see what the next seven days hold in store.  

New Years Resolutions Revisited

2015 is in full swing. We're already three weeks in.  If you are like me, you made New Year's resolutions with grand plans for the upcoming twelve months.  And, if you are like me, you've haven't been as successful as you wanted in the last three weeks.  Now, it's time to revisit and review these resolutions and hopefully see ways to get back on track if necessary.  I made eight resolutions for 2015, some of which were carry-overs from the previous year.  Here's how I'm doing so far:

1)  Lose 15 pounds by June 30, 2015.  Accomplish this through eating smaller portions of healthier food and exercising at least 30 minutes a day, three times a week. - In truth, this resolution is less about weight and more about being healthy. While I will turn 50 this year and am tired of carrying around extra weight, my ultimate goal is to live a long, enjoyable life.  So far, I'm doing okay on the eating less part.  In fact, I've started cutting out one meal a day several days a week and really haven't missed it.  I still need to increase my exercise.  This will simply be a matter of discipline. 

2) Write (Journal/Reflect/Research) a minimum of 15 minutes a day including reflecting on my day and reading and reflecting on articles, blogs, etc.  - Not doing too well on this one.  My journal is not nearly as full as it should be. Needs Work.

3)  Write one blog post weekly- The reason I'm writing tonight is to start fulfilling this one.  This is my first blog post of 2015.  In order to get a jump start, I intend to write one 150-200 word post every day for at least the next seven days.  The problem I've run into is, in my own mind, I'm not sure I have anything of importance to say.  Hopefully, by simply writing each day, I'll dispel that negative thought.

4)  Deeply study three books of the Bible using the inductive study method.  - I went through the book of Proverbs and James last year and it was a life-changing experience.  James took about a month and Proverbs close to three months.  I barely skimmed the surface during that time. This year, I'm starting with Luke.  Not sure what the next book will be.

5)  Read at least one book every two weeks that will help me grow personally or professionally. - I've started this year reading Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek.  This should be finished within a week.  As I keep this up, I'll have read at least 26 positive books by the end of the year.  Good Start.  

6)  Find a mentor  - This has been on my list every year.  Still hasn't happened.  Needs Work.

7)  Family Prayer Time at least 3 times a week - I can make every excuse in the book for why this isn't happening regularly, but none of them are worth their salt.  If I'm going to be the spiritual leader of my family, this is a must.  Not There Yet.

8) Get out of debt. - This has been on my annual list for quite some time.  Fortunately, I've made substantial progress.  We live on a budget and are paying extra on the lowest debts we have.  Thankfully, I got rid of all credit card debt in 2014 which was a major win.  Now, to keep plugging away month by month until I'm done.   In Progress.

Now, it's back to work. I need to do something on each one of these every day and revisit them weekly to check my progress.  At the beginning of 2016, I want to say that 2015 was a year of tremendous growth (in everything but weight) and a life-changer for me.