From Dreams to Details: Invitation to Lead

It’s a wonderfully synergistic day. One where I attempted to escape finding the baby in the King Cake but found it anyway. I literally went out of my way to cut the slightest sliver of the treat to avoid the baby, but I got it anyway. Lesson duly noted, Universe. I am ready for some luck and celebration for this coming year!

This morning, I walked in hopeful yet unsure of what may unfold in my scheduled meeting with Heather Cato, Coppell ISD’s Director of Language and Literacy. We have been discussing using NWP’s CLMOOC as our district’s summer professional development. It was time to try out the idea on some of the district literacy coaches so we met to get an idea of what that may look like.

DreamBig!

Inevitably, we discussed this week’s Building New Pathways to Leadership retreat in Austin. We commiserated on how returning to the why is essential, how the questions aren’t only what learning is or why learning is happening but also where. We rallied behind how it’s important for people to feel safe to “fail miserably” and still be supported.

And the question, of course, reared its unavoidable head: How? How do we encourage other educators to take risks? How do we foster learning for learning’s sake? Learning that sprouts from their own interests? Learning that is collaborative in nature? Learning that extends beyond any four walls and across any time zone?

Yes, it was so NWP.

And rightfully so. Heather is also an NWP leader. She has been for some time, regardless of the many, many hats she has worn in her career as an educator.

And here’s the exciting part, the sweet spot every NWP advocate longs to hear. Heather pondered aloud, Heather, my boss, my leader, wondered, “How do we scale this? How do we make an entire district-wide site of NWP leaders?”

Oh, my goodness! Oh, my goodness, gracious! Beautiful cliched music to my ears! An incredible testament to putting it out there, connecting, collaborating, and receiving echoes of goodness and positivity and hopeful change in return.

We shared the common interest of finding new entry points for district teachers to do NWP work. We articulated being thought partners in this effort, and then, I was reminded of why I love this district so much. I was reminded of why I love NWP so much.

Right there, right in front of me, right there along side me in my own district, I had a leader who was in a position to make important decisions who spoke my language. She gets me. She gets us. She gets NWP. She is NWP. She and I are NWP, and we hope Coppell ISD can be NWP, too.

And when you hear things from your district leaders say, “I come to you because you dream big.” You feel really good.

I know. Later, I will feel the weight of her statement. I will surely feel the pressure and obligation and the overwhelming sense of accountability being a dreamer feels. Sometimes, the most tender of dreams become haunting nightmares… looming shadows of unfulfilled expectations. I know… but today, I’m going to enjoy it.

And when your leader has the capacity to make meaningful transformation happen and when she sets aside her own dreamer role to be the “details” person, you know something really great can happen. And yes, it will be loads of work, loads of incredibly important work. Just how I like it.

I’m going to take all the energy and passion from today’s soul-nurturing discussion, and I’m going to run with it because having a partner who is there not only in proximity but also in philosophy and pedagogy calls for celebration.

Maybe that King Cake baby had it right all along!

Happy National Day on Writing #WriteMyCommunity

I am an author.
So are you.
Or at the very least, you have it in you.
You have it in you to create, compose, craft.

Think about it.
You have power.
You have the power.

The power to generate a life you want with characters you choose.
Relationships and conflicts that culminate quickly or unfold at a snail’s pace.
Obstacles: some bigger than others,
But let us not forget some obstacles are smaller than others, too.
It is our choice.
Ours.

Me?
I have power?
No. No. No.
That must be a mistake.
Because I certainly do not feel strong.
At times, I feel the exact opposite:
Weak, timid, feeble-minded.
Ready to hide.
Ready to dismiss myself as a follower not a leader.
Ready to accept and resign.

My back to a wall of busy-ness…
Ultimately, senseless time vacuums.
I stay there asleep but not rested.
I stay there, eyes closed.
Truly blind.

What awesome responsibility!
And with that, it becomes heavy, this gift of making.
A weight pushing us down with thoughts of doubt.
With thoughts of uncertainty.
With thoughts of fear.
What a burden!

But you tell me “I have the power.”
So I must. I will believe you.
But still,
Forgive me if I tentatively, gingerly
Place that silver spoon to my lips
For it burns.
It burns, that power.
It stings and it hurts and it curdles my blood.
Because in the end, it means
Me taking responsibility for what happens in my life.
It means me owning up to my mistakes.
It means me allowing myself to feel triumph and joy.
It means giving myself consent
To celebrate and mourn and hurt and be hurt…
and love and be loved.

Sometimes, granting ourselves the space and time to truly feel is the most difficult.
But I also see the possibility as a true blessing.
I see the unwritten story of my life as opportunity.
A vast buffet of tastings and big plates and cocktails and desserts and desserts again.
At times, the menu may offer a hamburger.
Others, a proper soufflé.
Others, a glass of cool water after an especially hot day.

But do not be surprised that I doubt.
Do not be surprised if I question.
If I plan and think and brainstorm and organize.
If I draft again and again.
If I revise and revise and revise… and revise.

I will consciously defy
Linear plotlines
Formulaic hooks
Predictable endings
Two-dimensional personas.
I will avoid, challenge, and rewrite all of that
Because this is my life.

This is my page.
This is my pen I hold in my hand.
This is my story
That you just happen to cameo in
That you just happen to influence
And brandish and repurpose
But with my permission…
With my permission.

Because I am an author.

I am an author.

The First Day of School Reviews are in… #hope

The first day of school drop-off went smoothly. Seeing the principal outside to greet eager little minds with smiles and hugs certainly differed from our experience last year. I was giddy with excitement from all the care and nurturing that I sensed.

This is what young minds look like!

This is what young minds look like!

At the end of my school day, I asked learners who were previously in my class and children of other facilitators how their day was. I heard so many wonderful things: “So-and-so seems like he’s going to be cool…,” “I’m so excited to be in her class,” and my personal favorite: “I love my teachers. I love my teachers.”

Wow! Such incredible first impressions. I could only hope to have such positive remarks! It’s what we as educators long for: excited, eager minds ready to learn.

As a mother, I dream of a place that fosters Isaac’s intellect and growth as a learner and as a global citizen. 

Please, oh, please let Isaac have an incredible day!!

Anyone who has a school-aged child knows the nervous butterflies that consume the belly when pick-up time arrives. 

How did it go? Did he make friends? Did he love his teacher? Did he behave? Did he talk too much? Was he still excited?

I pulled up to the gym. I exited my Subaru as quickly as I could rushing to the gym to retrieve my little man from Y after school care. After  a staff member confirming I was authorized to fetch Isaac, I gave him a tight embrace, ravenously asking, “How was it? How was it?”

“It was great,” he replied calmly.

“Great?” I asked.

“It was awesome,” he reconsidered, “It was awesome!”

Yes!!!! He’s excited!!! YES!!!!! Success!!!!

It was AWESOME!!

It was AWESOME!!

A Gentle Reminder to Educators

As the beginning of a new school year approaches, I am compelled to gently remind fellow educators of the huge responsibility entrusted to us.

I know for most of you, this message is unnecessary. We, as teachers, chose this profession, or for many of us, it chose us. This means we painstakingly prepare our classrooms AND our hearts for the precious minds we are about to welcome into our lives.

Abraham Lincoln wrote the most inspiring letter to his son’s headmaster, and I do not pretend to possess his talent or eloquence. Still, mine is a story of truth, and I share it because even almost a year later, it weighs heavy on my heart.

1st day of Kindergarten 1

Ready to head to school!

My son, Isaac, had a rough beginning. He was born at 28 weeks. I had him later in life than many. He fought for his life in the NICU for months. He has proven to be a survivor. A fighter. And you can bet that with his unexpected early arrival and him being the first grandchild on both sides of the family, he is perceived as a special child.

I approach this story as both a mother and an educator. Building relationships of trust with learners is crucial to my practice. Having worked in both urban and suburban settings, I know one thing that can make or break a learner’s experience in education: his or her relationship with the adults at school.

Isaac and Mama---please excuse the gum.

Isaac and Mama—please excuse the gum.

I am proud to be an educator. For the most part, I have faith in other teachers, administrators, and other equally important adults in school. My husband and I chose to live in a suburb with a reputable school district.

Isaac’s experience at the Primrose School had been incredible. It was a balanced curriculum that recognized his intellect but still allowed him to be a kid. He consistently scored highest on tests. He was interested in reading and math and science. And playing. He’s still a kid for goodness sake.

When my Isaac went to kindergarten in the local public school, I had no reason to expect anything other than a continuation of excellent education. The kindergarten orientation left my husband wary. He felt the principal was heavy handed and felt she thought it was her job to parent. I walked away still feeling optimistic— resigned to the idea that my Isaac would thrive. I should have listened to my husband’s instinct.

When the momentous occasion arrived of Isaac’s first day at school, of course, we accompanied him to his classroom. We found his seat. He completed the directions at his table.

There was a very nervous little girl to his left. He stood up, put his hand on her shoulder, and consoled, “Don’t worry. We are going to be friends. We are going to have a great day.”

That is the type of child he is. Empathetic. Kind.

His teacher asked him what he would like for lunch. She quickly announced the options. Isaac had never had choices for lunch. He was a bit overwhelmed by the possibilities. He apologetically responded, “I am so sorry. I really can’t tell you what I want right now.” His teacher snapped, “Then, I will just write the chicken down for you.”

I wrote her behavior off as first day of school jitters. Too many kids at once. Too many parents asking questions. I still believed Isaac would have a great day… a great year.

I know Isaac isn’t perfect. He’s young for his grade. He’s the only child. He’s spoiled… not a brat… just spoiled. So when he wasn’t getting blue stars on his behavior folder, it came as no surprise. I don’t expect him to be the perfect child.

But on Friday morning of that same week… yes, the first week of school, when I received a telephone call from Isaac’s school counselor, I knew something was wrong. Apparently, the principal asked her to call.

What? The school counselor and now the principal is involved? My mind was racing.

“We are calling because this morning in line to go to his classroom, Isaac could not keep his hands to himself,” the counselor announced.

Oh my God! Did he hit someone? Bite someone?

Apparently before school when Isaac was in line behind a Primrose friend, Isaac was poking at his backpack. His friend was laughing. Isaac continued to poke it. The principal told him to stop. His friend was still laughing. Isaac continued to poke. His principal pulled him out of line and sent him to the counselor’s office.

Wait… you’re calling because Isaac was touching someone’s backpack that got him sent to the counselor’s office by the principal? Wait… Really?

“You know… kindergarten is very different from pre-K. They need routines. Many of our students know how to read by the end of kindergarten,“ the counselor proudly relayed.

My child, he has been reading for well over a year. If you would get to know him, you would know that already.

“Oh, his teacher also says he uses the word ‘butt’ too much,” the counselor added. She was not done, “And yesterday, he was trying to cut his shirt with scissors. The only reason he didn’t succeed was because they were safety scissors.”

Isaac was probably trying to figure out why in the world the scissors didn’t work. He has used regular scissors for over a year.

“Kindergarten is a tough transition for some kids, especially those who attend Montessori,” the counselor attempted to comfort me.

He did not attend Montessori school. You would know that if you checked his file, and even if he had, do you really think it’s a good thing to make such generalities?

“Please discuss this with your child when he gets home today,” she said judgingly.

No. Really?

“If his behavior continues, he will have to be sent to In School Suspension (ISS),” she warned.

What? He is in kindergarten! This is the first week of school. Why in the world would an elementary school have ISS?????

Shell shocked, I hung up the phone. I left my classroom, walked into the hallway, and cried. Who in their right mind thinks it is okay to be so stern with a kindergartner? On what planet is this exchange building trust between parents, students, admin, teacher, and counselor?????

In a couple of minutes, I also received a short email from the counselor, “By the way, I forgot to let you know that the principal says Isaac needs his haircut according to student code of conduct. His bangs should not be in his eyes.”

Really? Well, by the way, I find the list of nonsensical, overly harsh, judgmental, inconsequential “offenses” that my 5-year-old committed to be ridiculous! All of this on the first week of school!!!

I called my husband and asked him what he thought about putting Isaac back at Primrose for the year. He agreed to do whatever was best for Isaac. We had him reenrolled by the end of the day were set to complete the paperwork for his exit of the other so-called school on Monday morning.

When I picked up Isaac that afternoon, all I wanted to do was hold him. He rushed into my arms. I thought he would be sad because of his visits to the various offices and discussions with strange adults, but he was in surprisingly good spirits for someone who had been threatened with ISS and seen the principal and counselor.

He excitedly pulled out his daily folder and yelped, “Mama, look! Mama, look! I got a blue star today. Those are really difficult to get. My teacher said I got it for my good behavior?”

What in the world???!!! Now, that’s mixed messages.

This was not the place for my Isaac. That’s not the kind of start any parent wants his or her child to have.

Please. Please remember the privilege we have of spending a year with these children, of being trusted not only with their minds but also with their hearts.

1st Day of Kindergarten 3

Ready to learn!

It’s the beginning of a new school year. Let’s make it great. Let’s make our learners want to return everyday with a love to learn, an enthusiasm to take risks, and the passion to help their community.

And thank you. Thank you for everything you do… for everything you do makes a difference to your learners.