Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Hardest Thing ≠ Last Thing

At Last ... Finalement ...

There are so many situations that are difficult. Moments throughout of day that challenge us, pieces of our lives that become complex, sad situations that arise, an unexpected tragedy. Even when we think we are prepared for the hard moments, they are usually much different than we ever expected. So often we battle these moments with no body memory or knowledge on how to sort through the confusing pieces of life.

But the hardest thing doesn't have to be the last thing.

Keep moving forward. 
Keep evolving. 
Keep hoping. 
The light could be just around the bend, 
just waiting on you to change its color.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Lost and Found

Sometimes we lose things. Upon realization, panic usually sets in. We search, we try to retrace our steps and figure out where that thing could be. The more perplexing the loss, the higher the anxiety that it will never be recovered. The higher the anxiety, the more frantic we can become.

Eventually, we usually find that lost item. Sometimes there is a feeling of relief. Often we feel triumphant in our fate. Sometimes, though, stuff is meant to be lost. Sometimes, it is meant to stay lost.

In the cyclical process that is life, nothing can be important forever. Similarly, you won't miss that lost item with the same intensity the longer it remains hidden. You might be excited when it is found, but I am willing to bet you forget it was even important in the moments leading up to that reveal.

What is lost? What have you found? And what is not worth looking for anymore?

Monday, March 23, 2015

Learning From the Full Space

Discovery Green: Houston, TX

The last three days at the ASCD Annual Conference involved some of the best learning moments I have experienced all school year. In many ways, I was so excited about this conference. I presented with a colleague that I highly respect both personally and professionally. I knew I would see some friends. I was excited about visiting Houston for the first time. The conference Keynote, Sarah Lewis, is a woman I desperately wanted to hear and be inspired by. There was so much I was looking forward to as I boarded the plane on a snowy Friday night in Baltimore to travel to Houston.

Now that the conference is over, what I am starting to process is a little bigger than the learning that took place in a chair or through the words of some very brilliant and talented educators. I made a decision to learn differently during this trip. I made a decision to learn from full space in which I found myself. 

I learned how the sun changes as you fly above the clouds during sunset. I learned that striking up a conversation with a stranger could be the best sharing of ideas I have all week. I learned that Houston is beautiful in the afternoon sun. I learned that this city has a stunning vision for green space which many urban areas could learn from. I learned that in every space there is art - art that moves me. I watched a community come together to celebrate the power of dance. With sun shinning down, the crowd cheered as they watch kids of all ages in one of the bravest displays of talent - performing. I learned how deeply my heart needs creative spaces surrounded by new ideas. I learned to notice in new ways.

I learned that I have been doing this all wrong. In new spaces, with new people, with a new sunrises and different sculptures, learning is about seeking inspiration, seeing beauty, and recognizing how my heart feels to be full of connections and conversations.

So as I wrap up the last day of ASCD and I reflect on my learning, I realize that what was disrupted within me was very different than what I expected from this experience.

Let's learn. Fully.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015


Hug a Mom Today

What happens when you are truly honest? Vulnerable in the face of fear? What happens when you let others see inside?

You allow others to find a thousand new reasons to love and support you. Sometimes, in magical ways you never imagined possible.

Be open, people.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Sustainability Paradox

Sustainability image light bulb at sunset

How often do we hear people question our practices or lifestyles in terms of sustainability? I feel like this topic is often paired with questions of what is scalable.

Can you sustain this? How does this scale?

These are important questions. The answers often feel staged but can equally hold a lot of weight for the decisions we make in moving towards a larger vision. These are bigger thinking questions. They take visionary leadership and processes that move beyond tomorrow and into forever. It isn't work that just anyone can do, and often the percentage of people that can do this work successful are even fewer.

Today I had the pleasure of thinking with someone new. A person I barely know on a personal level but whose work with which I am very familiar. A new friendship and partnership potentially. This is something I love to do. Reach out, make a connection, ask someone to take a risk with me. Whether that means just an hour meeting, a phone conversation, or joining a group of friends for an informal dinner. These spaces, causal and easy, are where my thinking is pushed the most. In a world that is fast at best, and heartbreaking at worst, new friendships are risky. These can blossom into our most meaningful connections, though, and that is always a risk worth taking.

Never believe you have too many thought partners. But never believe you don't need to dive deeper with each partner you develop.

In this discussion, my thoughts about sustainability were challenged. What if sustainability is more about the present than the future? This seems like a paradox, and maybe it is in a lot of ways. What if sustainability is knowing about what you can maintain and grow for the foreseeable future? What if we were all self-aware enough to know that what is sustainability today might change next year? What if sustainability is more about adaptability rather than a long flat-line? It seems that maybe we should be asking how long can we sustain this until we have to readjust.

We need to be constantly evolving. The pats on the back are great and we want the great movements to last forever, but that allows the greatness to dull. The pats on the back are only good for today, they grow stale tomorrow and they die if we aren't constantly getting better. And the failures, those don't determine our future either. What we do in the moments of failure are a better indicator of success than our most praised moments.

So let's adapt. Let's partner. Let's grow. Let's fail. And then let's evolve and be better tomorrow.

Maybe sustainability is overrated in the end.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

New View

New York City study #2 

In a life full of routines and schedules, it can be easy to let the common and expected scenes around us start to blur together. Most days we see and experience the same things. Our commute, our walk to and from our classrooms or offices, our routine when we arrive home each evening. This predictability is good for us; it breathes stability and safety into our lives.

But how often are we really forced to change our views, to move our eyes to refocus on something different? What happens when different stands in front of us and demands to become our new normal? Are we scared? Do we fight it? Do we turn our backs and refuse to accept what is in front of us?

Or do we take a step forward and let our soul adjust to a new view? There is a lot of new out there. Lots we haven't experienced yet. A ton of stuff we have no idea how we will react to.

The thing about new is that we can take in a stunning new scene or sink into a new place easier when we know it isn't permanent. Knowing the newness in front of us is temporary allows us to be completely immersed because we know it will all slip away soon. It is harder to allow that kind of deep immersion when the new that is presented in front of us is rooted in a sustained reality. When we know we can't escape, then it can be much more difficult to accept the unexpected that travels alongside the new and unknown.

As spring rolls in, take a moment to adjust to the new views in your life. Look around. Notice the world in new ways. Even if the view is temporary, be bold enough to step forward, not bow away, from what is unfolding before your eyes. Let the beauty and excitement of that which is unknown and new in front of you give you core energy and courage to walk forward.

If you close your eyes and turn your back, you might miss something spectacular.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Too Great to Stand Still

"What will you do next?" He asked.
"I will chase the sun," she said. "There is no other option."


It isn't that difficult to pick out someone's strengths. Whether in professional work, personal life, or passions, the things we are really good at are usually obvious. This is what makes it easy for us to enjoy the activities in which we are successful. These are our assets. This is what we bring to the table in collaborative efforts. This is how we contribute to our teams and tribes.

Our assets are obvious, and it is easy to get comfortable in that space. Sometimes, we even fight to stay rooted in the places where we know it will be safe and easy to push out success.

What happens when you pull out further, though? When you expand the picture beyond the frame? Or, even better, when we extrapolate ourselves?

This is where potential lives.

In the inertia of our lives, it is easy to fight for sameness. To stay in that job or relationship that allows us to have known success. Even with all the unknowns in life, this is the safest space to be. It is easy to think I will stay here, nurture my assets and strengths, and remain comfortably and predictably successful.

So what happens when we decide to move outside that? To tap into our potential? To see the potential in others and offer them a chance to expand?

This is where growth lives.

The trouble is that potential isn't as obvious as our current strengths. It takes vision, strength, and faith to make decisions that push us to take risks and develop our true selves outside the boundaries of what we currently know. Growth takes searching and it takes depth. Often, it feels uncomfortable and even painful. 

Many times, others don't see potential. We aren't offered the opportunities or support we need to chase the better versions of ourselves. We get tricked into thinking that comfort or longevity should be valued over the pain to transform our potential into reality. The fear of change can be paralyzing. So sometimes, we stand still.

This life is long. We need to make choices that are hard, choices that are bigger than our current selves. If you can see the potential in yourself, you need to chase it. If you see potential in others, you need to push them to see it too. When this happens, we realize we are too great to stand still.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Why I'm Not Scared of PARCC Testing

I am convinced I teach the hardest working kids. I am confident they are stronger, braver, and have way more heart than I have ever exhibited. Their lives, their struggles, and their ache reaches limits I could never imagine experiencing. They are kind and beautiful in so many ways. They are funny. They are creative. They are fighters.

And today we started what will be a month of on-and-off PARCC testing.

This begins the start of hours I will have to watch my kids. Not teaching. Not helping. Just observing. In all honesty, I love watching these kids. It helps me learn about who they are, how they learn, when they struggle, and their tiniest idiocynsytocies. So without much resistance, I settled in to observe them testing.

I did not learn about their writing skills today. I didn't read their writing or answer their amazingly honest questions today. I surely didn't ask any questions (that is strictly prohibited during testing- like all other good teaching practices). 

Today, I saw the most incredible display of character within my students. Today I saw:

  • determination
  • pride
  • perseverance
  • drive
  • positivity
  • focus
  • care
  • concern
  • anxiety
  • confidence

On this rainy, gray Baltimore day, we sat down and I watched these kids plow through a test they have no experience taking. Truthfully, I have no idea what they demonstrated as it relates to content or standards, and while that data is important, the character that rose up today was more telling of these students' future successes than whatever this data might reveal.

In this group, students that have historically struggled to read and write on grade-level, none of that mattered because they achieved character traits that allow them to tackle even the most difficult, confusing, or unclear tasks. Above even these traits, I watched students enter this stressful test with more grace than most adults are capable of in any given situation. As the morning jitters subsided, these kids dove in with a focus that took me off guard. Not that I would have expected them to be defeatist, but this level of dedication was astounding. 

Why were they so dedicated? Why do they even care about this? We didn't hype this test up, though we did encourage and support them leading up to today. As I watched, I thought about all the people that have such strong options around testing, myself included. But as I continued to watch, trying to pick out the moments I would offer soft words of support or a gentle pat on the back, I realized this is all our kids know. This system of testing is their educational experience. We can rant and rave all we want about what is nurturing vs. damaging for students, but as I watched my kids, I wondered if they will leave our system knowing that success isn't a score.

In general, public education has an unsustainable vision on how we ask students and teachers to showcase success. PARCC is just one example where teachers, schools, and students are asked to gauge their success on a metric that is unclear and, at best, still in its infancy. That is not to say there aren't points of achievement and growth that can't be gained from PARCC, but the true growth measurement and data use of this test has yet to be clearly communicated in a way that the general public can understand in a meaningful way.

To take this test, which is in its first year of implementation, and not without major flaws, and allow that to determine the success of students and teachers, we will probably be deeply disappointed. Additionally, Maryland will be using these results as a driving piece of teacher evaluations. Without any experience or knowledge of the test, this seems deeply unfair for teachers. Allowing time for growing pains and nurturing an environment of growth and reflection are stifled by the resentment and stress that could be the ultimate outcome of aligning these scores to teacher effectiveness. As an educational system, we must decide if success on this test is a true measure of what teachers and students are capable of achieving. 

Hold this test against some of the magnificent instruction and genuine achievement and I believe we will start to see the true disconnect between our system of standardized testing and authentic, creative, and important work that our people are showcasing everyday in their classrooms.

After the test, we celebrated. We celebrated the amazing effort and beautiful display of care my students showed. And we celebrated one another. We laughed. We talked-- loudly! We moved around. We drew pictures and made a mess. We did all the things I love to watch my kids do everyday. The things they love to do but we so rarely give them space to do inside our schools.

And today I deeply admired my students. I did not imagine on the first morning of PARCC I would feel so proud or determined, but I did. It was a feeling, in my heart, that my kids are resilient and can conquer anything we put in front of them. So really, we have nothing to worry about. These kids, they have nothing to be scared of. What they need- they already have it.