When Motivation and Skills Don’t Meet in the Middle

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I love to read anything and everything EXCEPT technical manuals. I want to WANT to read them, I consistently TRY to read them when I get a new gadget or tool. But, after a few minutes in, my brain is swimming in words, and I just close them. If there are pictures or diagrams, it helps but, in general, I just don’t read them. Ever.

Recently, I got what is easily one of the most amazing gadgets I’ve owned in quite some time, the Instant Pot. It is a new school twist on an old school pressure cooker, and everyone I know is raving about it on social media. In our life, anything that makes cooking easy, fast, delicious, and healthy is a winner in my book. So the short of it is, I REALLY wanted to use it. I got out the manual for my new instant pot, and I tried to read it. Within minutes, my brain was again swimming in words and on top of that, I had a growing fear that I was going to blow up my kitchen. This thing had so many warnings attached to it. But I was determined.

I went to another resource, on my Facebook page, and messaged friends who assured me that I would not blow up the kitchen and that it was very easy to use. I joined some Facebook groups but they kept mentioning this water test (although no one would say exact exactly how to do it) so I just ended up more worried and nervous that if I didn’t do the water test it would certainly result in my kitchen being demolished.

In the last two days we’ve had a little blessing called “snow days,” and my husband has been home with us. I shared my fear of blowing up the kitchen, my desire to use the Instant Pot, and my resistance to reading the manual. He took the manual, read it for me, and gave me a tutorial. How I love that man.

Today I made the most delicious spaghetti in one pot with no mess, no boiling over, no splatter, no strainer, and no stack of pots to clean! I literally threw the meat, onions, and garlic into the pot, cooked it for three minutes, then dumped uncooked pasta, a jar of spaghetti sauce, and a jar of water in the pot. I pushed the pressure cooker button and 15 minutes later we had hot, delicious spaghetti with pasta cooked perfectly al dente. I couldn’t even believe it.

Reflecting on this experience made me think about how sometimes motivation and a skillset do not come together. Although I am an educated woman who reads extensively, the particular genre of technical reading really gives me trouble. I think so many of our kids, especially bright students, experience this feeling as well. While they seem capable or skilled in many areas, we all have weaknesses. When they come up against challenges or tasks that they don’t have the skill set to complete, it’s easy to walk away. It’s certainly easier to look like you don’t care than to look like you’ve come up against something that you might not be able to traverse. I believe it is our job as educators to help them identify these gaps or weaknesses, mitigate the skills that we can, and give students resources or options so that their weaknesses do not define them. It’s also important to remember that they might really want to accomplish the task but feel inadequate or not have the skills. We cannot make assumptions that lack of ability or strength equals lack of motivation.

I believe it also to be our responsibility to show students that if a skill or task is not something that they can master right now, there are options other than walking away. Surrounding yourself with people who will help you or who have strengths where you have weaknesses is a worthy endeavor. This is a critical piece in building a great team. Every individual has strengths and weaknesses and we build great teams by expanding the skill set of the team through the diversity of the members.

Exploring other resources and options to find answers is critical. This is at the heart of innovation which is a critical skill set in the 21st-century workplace. Resourcefulness is a key trait in great leaders and competent problem-solvers. If we come up against a challenge and give up without accessing as many resources as possible, we often miss opportunities, experiences, and solutions.

So the question here is, how do we teach students how to think this way? How do we teach our children? How do we help our peers?

  1. Listen more than we talk and make no assumptions. Hearing the words people are saying and taking them in helps us not only identify where we can help but also allows us to hear the “why” behind the obstacle. Only the person heading into the challenge truly knows where there heart lies.
  2. Model the expectation. Be willing to admit weaknesses, and seek solutions to problems while accessing all resources available. Show students there is more than one way to accomplish a goal or solve a challenge. Ask questions to help them arrive at that conclusion on their own instead of telling.
  3. Surround ourselves not only with people we enjoy, but people who build us up, and people whose skills compliment our own. Talk with students about how they can do the same in their lives, in group work, or even on the playground. Our greatest allies might not always be our greatest friends. It is nice when those two things come together, but there is also value in teams whose skills simply work together for a greater good.
  4. Know our limitations. No one can be good at everything but we can all be good at something. I may continue to try to read technical manuals, but because it’s not a major skillset for me, I’m not going to spend a lot of time trying to build that one. I’d rather capitalize on my strengths. Help students identify strengths and use those to mitigate areas where they struggle. A great reader can become a great writer by exposing themselves to various types of writing through their reading.

I am, as always, thankful for the challenges that help me grow and the people who are there to make the learning easier; those who see my hesitation or even resistance as a place to support. I am ever thankful for the blessing of using my own challenges to make a difference in the lives of others.

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How do you fill the gap?

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How do you fill the gap?

Recently, our pastor shared a sermon with us which included Jesus’ great commandment from the book of Mark where he said “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Our pastor shared that in order to love your neighbor as yourself, you have to understand 2 Principles: the Principle of Separate Realities and the Principle of Trust.

The Principle of Separate Realities basically contends that everyone has a thought system made up of their own experiences and genetic makeup, and that there will always be gaps between what we expect and what actually happens. But he says, the key is what we choose to place in that gap.

This is where the second principle comes in, the Principle of Trust. This principle says that we should always look for the most generous explanation for someone else’s behavior. I would call this “assuming positive intention.” When someone makes a mistake or a bad decision, we assume that their intentions were good, that the decision or action was taken with the purpose of having a positive outcome therefore filling the gap between expectation and reality with trust. We assume that the intent was positive, that it might merely be a lack of knowledge or understanding that caused the problem or gap.

I have had the experience of working with both kinds of leaders in my lifetime, those who assume positive intention and fill the gap with trust, and those who do not. When the gap is filled with something other than trust, it erodes the entire system. People operate from a place of fear and worry and the lack of trust combined with these elements creates a place that cannot possibly thrive. The detriments of this type of leadership can be seen at all levels, among professionals and students, in test scores, and in innovation or lack thereof. No one feels safe to take risks, to innovate, or to even make basic decisions about mundane, daily things.

On the flipside, working with a leader who assumes positive intention and fills the gap with trust has deep, far-reaching, positive effects. It can be seen in the ways that teachers are willing to take risks to create innovative and quality experiences for students, and when teachers do that it translates to students who are also willing to do the same. It can be seen in the community and in the campus culture. It translates to the home lives of everyone in the system as well. Learning how to operate from a place of trust benefit all types of relationships. Working with a leader who assumes positive intention is a blessing for everyone who comes in contact with the system, directly and indirectly.

In the second part of the sermon, our pastor called upon us to make a commitment to the people in our lives to honor and live the Principle of Trust – that when there is a gap between what we expect and what we experience, that we should fill that gap with trust, and that when we observe others filling the gap with suspicion, that we should come to the defense of those we love. And finally, that when we experience things that erode our trust, that we should go directly to the person to discuss it. He asked us to make a commitment to be trustworthy: do what we say and when we don’t, admit it to those who are affected. Don’t overpromise and under deliver.

My husband and I both walked away from the sermon with some very similar reflections and some that were very different. While we both talked about how these two principles affect our marriage and our relationship with our children, I, of course, also reflected as an educator. When a teacher or parent or student makes a bad decision or does something that hurts feelings or is detrimental to others, what do I assume? Do I fill the gap between what I expect and what actually happened with trust? Or do I assume that the action or words were intended to hurt? Do I consider that they may not have known another way? Or that they thought it might turn out differently? Do I let a past negative experience with a parent or student or peer influence my perception of a similar current experience?

I would like to think that in my daily life at home or at school, that I operate from a place of assuming positive intention. I want to create a home and a school where people feel safe to try new things without fear of failure. I want to live and work in a home and school where it’s OK to make mistakes because that’s one excellent way we learn. I am, as always, thankful for all the people in my life who have modeled this way of thinking and for the experiences that have taught me that this is the better way. I commit to fill the gap with trust.

How do you fill the gap?

First Days

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Today, I had my first day with our 2017-2018 staff in my new role as Principal of Brenham Elementary. When I returned home this evening, I was looking at my Timehop and saw that on the same date four years ago, I was having my first day as Assistant Principal at Keith Elementary. As I reflected on the day and that coincidence, it made me think about all kinds of first days.

When I think back to my childhood, I remember the first day my mom ever dropped me off to Games People Play with some of my friends after a swim meet or the first day she dropped us to Astroworld for a concert in the Southern Star Amphitheater. The exhilaration and joy of being in such a fantastic and exhilarating  place with no parental supervision was juxtaposed with trepidation and nervousness for the same reason.

I remember the first day I drove a car without my parents and the freedom and excitement of making my own choices was not dampened, but deepened, by the responsibility that came with that freedom and choice.

I remember the first day I woke up as Mrs. Vest. Lying in our hotel room on our honeymoon, I remember being thrilled and excited that I got to spend my life with this amazing man, but also being a bit nervous and worried about what this new adventure held for me. My parents had always said that marriage was hard work but totally worth it. I knew I was up for the challenge, but I wondered if I would have what it takes. 

I remember the first day I brought my oldest home from the hospital. Longest. Car ride. Ever. The thrill and adoration of this new life we had hoped and prayed for and the joy of being in our home with her and sharing her with our family was heightened by the fear that every driver around us might barrel into us at any moment and the worry that we quite possibly had NO IDEA what to do with her or how to raise her. The excitement and worry were no different when the second one came home. After all, it was our first day with her.


As I reflect on all different kinds of first days, it makes me think about the first day of school which is quickly approaching for us and our students. As educators, we are filled with excitement and joy and passion and dreams for the little ones that come through our doors. But at the same time, we worry if we will be enough, if we will be able to reach everyone, if we will have enough resources and time and brainpower to do what needs to be done to ensure success for every student.

As our little ones approach the first day, they are excited about their new backpacks, new shoes, new school supplies, and big dreams about the fun they’re going to have. They anticipate meeting new friends and reuniting with old friends. They are both intrigued and frightened by the idea of being away from their parents. They also come with worries, fears, and concerns. They worry that their teacher won’t like them. They fear that they will struggle with reading again this year. They are concerned they won’t have any friends in their classes. Some of them don’t come with a new backpack or new shoes or even a full stomach, and they worry about that too.

As we approach this first day of school, I hope that we will each take the time to know that we are enough, and that our hearts and our minds are prepared to bring our students what they need, when they need it, and how they need it. We, alone, are responsible for what the first day looks like in our schools and our classrooms, and for what every day after holds. We have everything it takes to make it the best first day ever for our students, teams, schools, and communities. Our students and the future are counting on us. 

Happy First Day of School 2017! 

Make it a great one!

Jennifer

100 Things I Want to Do Before I Die 

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100 Things I Want to Do Before I Die 

As a classroom teacher, I was a big believer in learning something new on a regular basis. I believed that it helped me experience the joy and frustrations of learning that, as children, our students experience regularly because it is ALL NEW for them, but, as adults, we rarely experience because we know most things already (or at least we think we do!) 

In my time in the classroom, I created a “Bucket List” before Bucket Lists were cool. I called my list “100 Things I Want to Do Before I Die.” Catchy, right? Bucket List sounds a little less morbid. But, I digress. 

On this list I put things like learn to knit, grow a productive vegetable garden, learn how to quilt, learn how to make jelly, take photography lessons. The list also included places I wanted to visit or experiences I wanted to have. And then, I just started working my way through them. And adding to the list. And modifying the list when my goals changed. I have experienced, struggled through, and eventually learned a slew of different skills that helped me expand not only my knowledge, but my grit, and my ability to serve others. When someone says who can make jelly and knit, I’m your girl! But seriously, learning photography has helped me provide family pictures, maternity pictures, newborn pictures, staff pictures, and other special events for many family and friends. Quilting allowed me to make blankets for my own children and friends having babies (and, as a sidenote, taught me that there are some skills that you will learn that you never want to do again.) We now have a productive vegetable garden every year and it provides not only food but relaxation in the tending and photo opportunities and a beautiful aesthetic to our backyard space. 

Additionally, these experiences did not come easily. Learning these new things either alone or with a friend/group allowed feelings of frustration, inadequacy, comparison, and the desire to give up. And all of these feelings, while uncomfortable, made me a better teacher and, ultimately, a better leader, mother, wife, daughter, and friend.

As I complete my 2nd week in my new role as Principal, I have been reflecting on learning many new people, procedures, tasks, and programs. Some have many similarities or are small adjustments from what I know, and many make me feel like a stranger in a foreign land. But every one builds my capacity, stretches my thinking, and allows me to better serve our students and staff. They are not all easy, but they are all worth it. And they all leave me thinking…what could I add to my bucket list for the future?

Escaping the Land of Constant Activity 

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I keep hearing about this thing called “white space.” Most common definitions describe it as “negative space” or “space where nothing exists”. But if you Google it, depending on what words you add with it – education, business, personal – you might get a 100 different variations of what this concept means. The words keep popping up in my Twitter feed from some of my favorite Edu-Tweeters and if I understand their definition correctly, it’s that place where you are disconnected from devices, electronics, and just in the moment or in your own head. I’m not sure I really understood the necessity of this until the last week.

I have been on vacation this week with my family on the beautiful island of Sanibel, Florida. If you haven’t been here, you need to come. Like yesterday. And if you are a nature nut like my family and me, it is going to be one of your favorite places, ever. In our week here, we have swam alongside manatees, dolphins, and schools of stingrays IN THE WILD. We have gathered countless gorgeous shells which litter the beaches (in a good way!) We have driven through the J. N. “Ding” Darling Wildlife Refuge over and over and seen something different every time – billions of birds, alligators, giant fish…the list goes on. We have witnessed breathtaking sunsets. And we have disconnected for hours on end just laughing and exploring together. 


So back to white space….as someone whose brain is constantly thinking and who is pretty connected in terms of the Twitterverse, I felt like I did a pretty good job of reflecting and disconnecting. Until this week when, at the beginning of the week, I literally felt guilty for sleeping in. I worried when I just sat and watched the sunrise or wandered the beach looking for shells without a purpose, just because I love shells. Was I wasting time? Should I be doing something else? About halfway through the week is when a lightbulb came on, and I literally felt sick with the realization that I FELT GUILTY FOR ENJOYING MY LIFE. I worried that I was just “doing nothing” instead of creating or designing or brainstorming or planning. At what point did I cross that bridge into the land of constant activity? I fear it was quite some time ago. And as I contemplated this and began to just sit and relax and soak in the sun and fun, I realized that this disconnection from “tasks” or “learning” or, rather, reconnection with my family and nature and life is CRITICAL. IMPORTANT. NECESSARY. 

What good is being connected to others if I’m disconnected from my family? 

Can you really create if you never stop to enjoy the creation all around you?

 From where will you draw reserves of energy when the going gets tough if you have not taken the time to refill those reserves? 

So for the remainder of the week, I have really tried to slow down, drink coffee at sunrise, sleep in when I felt like it, reveled in the joys of my children, laughed with my husband, and drank in the white space. As I officially start my new role in a week, as Principal of Brenham Elementary, I am refreshed, recharged, and ready for the year ahead and look forward to finding the white space throughout the year to remain in a place of creation and innovation and to enjoy the ride. 

People, not Programs

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On June 1, 2017, I finished my 19-year career in Cypress-Fairbanks ISD and my fourth year as Assistant Principal at Keith Elementary. But the real and very intense goodbye happened on May 25 when I said goodbye to my students and May 26 when I said goodbye to my staff. 

I said goodbye to my students in my heart because notifying every child in the school that a staff member they love is leaving is never a good thing. And in our case, because of a new school opening and our Principal being selected to open that school, many staff members were leaving. Hopefully after a long summer, our students will walk into school with lots of new faces but also so much excitement for the new year that they don’t even miss us.

Saying goodbye to my staff was a completely different experience. I wanted to be in denial and pretend that I would just be bringing them along to my new campus, but they had something else in mind. The book, Because I Had a Teacher by Kobi Yamada, was dedicated to our library in my name and read aloud page by page by multiple staff members during our end of your staff meeting. Many kind words were said. They ended with a standing ovation, and I bawled like a baby through most of it. 

After spending time reflecting on the experience, I was struck by the saying you always hear, “It’s people, not programs.” This saying usually refers to the fact that teachers, not computer software or books or kits, make the real difference with students. Agreed. But in this instance, what I reflected on was that it is the connections that we make with people that truly make the difference in every aspect of our lives. I didn’t say goodbye to Read180, Touchphonics, LLI Kits, Fountas and Pinnell kits, or any other program. And it certainly wasn’t leaving any of those programs that pulled my heart strings or made my eyeballs sweat.  I said goodbye to people. People I love, people who love me, people I have laughed with, people I have cried with, people who have challenged me, and people who I have challenged.  It is certainly easy to get wrapped up in the minutia of life or teaching or really anything, but real connections with people are what life and education are all about. I am forever changed for having worked with these amazing people. #BeKeithForever 

The Power of Social Media

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Disclaimer: I love social media. I love it not only for the ability to be connected to a bigger world and family and friends who live very far away or who I might see only once or twice a year, but also the relationships, opportunities, knowledge and skills I have been able to gain access to through use of social media. It has been a major game changer for me professionally. I believe it has allowed me to build better relationships as a result of knowing what’s going on in people’s lives and being able to touch base or ask questions or offer support. I believe it has made me better professionally as I learn from others, access more ideas, and learn to be concise in my language. You have to be concise when you only have 144 characters! Social media has broadened my view of the world and, ultimately, led me to a completely different path that I did not even consider a few months ago.

I often come in contact with people who do not understand or have any desire to connect through social media, particularly professionally. I do not believe that it is a function of any negative reason, but just that, in a busy world, and a busy profession, some people do not fully recognize the benefits or understand why it would be beneficial to aim focus or time at this goal. 

I have recently been reading BrandEd by Eric Sheninger and Trish Rubin. This book talks about why we should tell our school stories, that we can use the power of branding to build relationships and empower learning for students, staff, and community. 

I was really struck by a particular section early on in the book that talks about a teacher from New Jersey (@MrsMooreFRSD if you want to check her out on Twitter) and how she uses social media to share what is happening in her classroom with all stakeholders on a daily basis. The obvious reason for use of social media as an educator is that parents can have an idea of what is happening in classrooms, the teacher can share all the great things she is doing in her classroom, and students learn that they can have an impact beyond the classroom even at a young age. 

But the part that really impacted me was the opportunity for parents to have better quality conversations with their students about their day and further strengthen the relationship between parent and child. As a parent of two teenage children, I would love to eliminate the answers of “good” or “fine” as a response to asking my children about their day. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a small glimpse at what your child is doing and to be able to ask specific questions?

When my children were younger, I knew everything that was going on in their lives. I recognize that, as they get older, I shouldn’t know every small detail but it doesn’t mean that I don’t want to. Trust me when I tell you, I am not a helicopter mom, but I would love to have deep, rich discussions with my children about their lives. We get such a short time with our children living with us where we can teach and guide them. I want as much information as I can have access to to make my guidance the best it can be. What an excellent opportunity we have as educators to support parents in this way and to build that bridge in partnership with our community. Shouldn’t this be a goal of schools? Social media is not the only tool to build connectedness and provide information, but it is an efficient, vibrant tool that can be utilized by all educators to share our story, support parents and build community partnerships. 

Please take a moment to follow these accounts on Twitter so you can see share in our story:

  • @PrincipalVest 
  • @BrenhamElem 
  • @BrenhamISD 

World Class Service in East Texas 

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I have recently been listening to a number of podcasts by Andy Stanley, and one of my favorites is on providing world-class service. In this series of 2 podcasts, he speaks to Horst Schulze, Chairman and CEO of The Capella Hotel Group, the group who led the way to the quality customer service experience at all Ritz-Carlton Hotels. Mr. Schulze maintains that customers want 3 things: a defect-free product, timeliness, and caring service. He states that in the presence of a defect, the response by the organization determines the customers’ experience.

Last night, I had the opportunity to see a stellar example of world-class service in a tiny town called Canton, Texas. Each year we have a family girls’ trip to Canton for shopping and fun. Every year we stay at the Best Western motel in town. This year, unlike the many, many trips in the past, the tiny town of Canton, Texas was ripped apart by at least three tornadoes, one at least a 1/2 – 1 mile wide, leaving a path of destruction across the county 15 miles wide and 35 miles long.  This is where we spent our Saturday evening.

Upon our arrival at the hotel last night as we began removing our bags from the car under the port-a-cache, the tornado alarms began sounding. We rushed into the lobby with all of our things and the staff immediately greeted us and took us to the kitchen, the safest place in the motel. We sat in the kitchen talking with other guests and feeling nervous but enjoying the company. Things seemed to settle so we moved to the dining area and began exploring the day’s finds. The staff turned on the TV so we could get alerts, and we realized the evening’s activity was not over. The alarms sounded again, and we went back to the kitchen. The motel staff came with regular updates as we hunkered down in the kitchen trying to keep our children calm and focused on other things while the alarms wailed over and over again. We heard confirmation that at least one tornado had touched down before the power went out. As we sat in the dark, the manager on duty came to tell us that the General Manager was headed our way with food for everyone present. She arrived, soaked to the bone, barely escaping a second tornado herself and delivered rotisserie chickens, lunch meat and cheese, bread, chips, and news to everyone holed up in the kitchen/dining area. She shared some of the destruction in town and that it was likely not over.  As we all ate, the alarms went off again and we rushed back to the kitchen, securing coverage for our children under sinks and crouching against walls listening to the roar of wind outside. When it was over, the staff continued to take care providing waters, canceling and rearranging rooms to make people feel safer, more comfortable. We huddled in the lobby in the dark and watched the lightning. The security guard for the hotel came back and forth providing updates about road conditions and safety. When I joked with the girls that I would pay $100 for a Dr. Pepper, 4 sodas magically appeared for me and the girls with a statement that these were free, “no $100 necessary.” In a situation filled with defects the staff did not create and could not control, they gave world-class service by providing timely, caring service. We felt safer and calmer and more prepared to face whatever came as a result of their commitment to service. They made lifelong, loyal customers out of us last night.

As I sit, safe in my own home, and think about all of the people who no longer have a home or a job or a car or even their lives, I am thankful; thankful and grateful for God’s protection over my family. While we are exhausted and sad, our situation could have been far worse and I am sure there are many in Canton, Texas right now who would prefer to have our bad day instead of the one they are experiencing. When I think about the amazing staff at the Best Western and the world-class service they provided under the most difficult of circumstances, I am compelled, as always, to think about our customers in public school and to reflect on how this applies to what I do daily. So many questions are rattling around in my head – How can we provide world-class service to our customers (students, parents, community) on a daily basis?  When we have a problem to resolve or as Mr. Schulze states, a “defect,” how will we ensure our response builds customer satisfaction and loyalty? How can I provide world-class service to my staff? How does my service to them enhance and ensure better service to our students? I feel certain these questions and this experience will shape me for many years to come, and I look forward to discovering the silver lining in this experience.

#SpeakLife 

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I absolutely love Toby Mac. I have loved his music for a long time, and he now has a series of images out on his Facebook page that are in a series labeled #SpeakLife. I find that they just resonate with me in so many circumstances. Each one has beautiful graphics and quotes from people who have impacted the world in varied ways and many come from the Bible.  They truly #SpeakLife to me.

Most recently, the one that I keep returning to is the one that states,

 “Jesus replied, ‘You don’t understand now what I am doing, but someday you will.’ John 13:7

I think this particular quote speaks to me because over the many years of my life and career, as it is for anyone, there have been many situations and circumstances that I did not remotely understand. I did not understand the possibilities, the reasoning, the scope and range, or the “why.” Many of those experiences were positive, life-changing, and enjoyable, and some of them were not. The only similarity about all of these experiences is that, at the time, I did not realize the future impact that they would have on my life or the magnitude of my feelings when I realized God’s hand in each of them. 

It is unnecessary to go into every detail, experience, situation, or heartache that has led to this realization, but I will say that I have never in my life felt more certain about how God perfectly knits our lives together to accomplish His plan for us. For me, most recently, God’s plan is for me to leave the familiarity of the district that I grew up in to step out into a new, awesome, innovative, positive district as the new Principal at Brenham Elementary. The signs all pointed in this direction and when I finally stopped pushing my own agenda and plan and let God #SpeakLife to me, He showed up in a major way. And now, I move forward, excited and prepared to #SpeakLife to others through my service to staff, students, and the commmunity of Brenham ISD. I am so thankful for those who #SpeakLife to me daily and most thankful for God’s care and concern and patience in this beautiful life.

If the Hat Fits or Even if it Doesn’t, Wear It

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If the Hat Fits or Even if it Doesn’t, Wear It

Today, during our team meeting time, we played a fun icebreaker activity. My principal, my partner, and myself brought in about 30 different hats – everything from softball caps, visors, and hard hats to viking horns, Mickey ears, and the Mad Hatter’s top hat.  Each person selected a hat that they felt represented the role they play on their team – team player, charge ahead, creative and crazy – so many wonderful traits that make up our amazing teams. We laughed a lot and had some really great discussions about how all of their different skill sets and strengths culminate in the amazing teams who support each other and, ultimately, do fantastic things for our kids.

As I reflect on the day, it made me think a lot about the hats that we wear as educators. Not only the personal roles of husband, wife, mother, child, sibling, or friend, and the career roles of teacher or tutor, but the roles we play to our students, staff, and community that may not always be seen or recognized.

As educators, we often serve as cheerleaders – encouraging students that they can reach their goals, celebrating when they do.  We serve as coaches – analyzing skills, guiding and instructing to improvement, giving feedback that strengthens and builds, and providing reproach and encouragement when needed. We serve as nutritionists – teaching them healthy habits, guiding them to eat all of their lunch and to save the cookies for last! Today, I watched our kindergarten teachers, while teaching parts of the plant, also slide good, healthy eating habit information in and ways they could help to impact better eating at home. We serve as nurses – checking temperatures with our hands, handing out band-aids which fix most problems, and offering a drink of water when we know that a friend is not really sick but just needs a break. We serve as cruise directors – planning daily and special activities that engage and excite students – to create that experience that will help a child love school, love learning, love us. We serve as detectives – not only literally finding lunch kits, jackets, a pencil; but figuratively, digging deep into a learning problem or personal problem and trying to find ways to meet the child’s needs in the 8 hours we have them each day. For SOME students, we even serve in the parent role – giving hugs, checking grades, giving high fives, buying them lunch or even a new pair of shoes, listening to their worries and dreams, showing them their options for a great life.

I believe the biggest hat we wear as educators, the 10-Gallon Stetson or Sombrero of roles, is the hat of Role Model.  Every little face in the room, whether they seem to or not, looks to us to be a positive, supportive, fair, consistent example of an adult.  For some students, we could be the only example they see, and for others, we can provide another example who might do things a little differently. When we enter our buildings, even on our worst day, we have to shed the burdens that may lie outside the school, and put on the hat of the day and keep our focus on the main thing – our students. I have watched many educators drop deeply heavy burdens at the door – loss of a child, loss of a spouse, loss of a parent, loss of a dream.  Educators bear a strength that is unmatched and when you enter the classrooms of these people who may have lost so much, you would never know it because they keep their focus on the job they came to do, the job they love.

Putting on a hat that doesn’t fit, or isn’t your style, or isn’t what you planned is never an easy task. But, wearing many hats is the job we signed up for, and the rewards far outweigh the work.  I am thankful to get to wear so many hats each day, and I am thankful for those who wear many hats for me and my children as well.