Let’s Learn From Panera…

I have always found it interesting that name tags at Panera include the employee’s passion. Often times I find myself striking up a conversation with the cashier about it and why that’s their passion. Sometimes, they are caught off guard and don’t understand why I’m asking them the question. They eventually realize it’s about their name tag. One thing that always happens though is their level of engagement and excitement in the conversation is much higher than when they were first taking my order. Sunday morning, I struck up a conversation with Melissa about her passion. Her name tag said family and music. She beamed when I led with the question…What are you more passionate about…family or music? She went into a story about growing up with six siblings and all of them played different instruments and loved to sing. She completely forgot about the line behind me, and it seemed as if she was taken back to twenty years ago when she was playing the piano and her brother was on the drums. For those few minutes, she was passionate about what she did for a living. Yes, she was taking my order and not playing the piano, but there was a difference to who Melissa was. I may be wrong, but I bet that was the best iced caramel latte she’s ever made!

What if this model was taken from Panera and put into schools? What if teachers had their passions posted somewhere present for everyone to see? What if students had their passions on display? Would learning be taken to whole new level? Would teachers find ways to connect their passions to what and how they taught? Would students find ways to connect their passions to what they were learning? If students and teachers were able to have conversations on a daily basis about their passion, would deeper learning take place?

I know I harp on this a lot, but it’s because this is what I am passionate about. Passions need to be present in what we do throughout the day if we want to do things well. The same is true for learning. A few years ago, I heard Will Richardson (@willrich) say that if it was up to him, college students wouldn’t declare a major, they would declare a passion. How powerful would that be? I lacked passion throughout my college years. Because of it, I barely skated by. Once I found what I was passionate about, it showed in my graduate work and in my daily life when it came to my career. If we can get students to start developing their passions when they first walk down our halls, imagine the possibilities.

To Melissa at Panera…I hope that you are still finding ways to live out your passion. I hope that you and your family are still making music. Don’t stop! And thank you for the drink!

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New Year’s Resolutions…

Growing up in a single parent home where I was the youngest by five years, my dad and I spent a lot of time together. We had a lot of the same interests, and he was just cooler than most dads. One thing we did together was work out at the gym in the evenings after my practices end and he would get home from work. I’ll never forget how he would always say to the worker at the front desk on our way out in late December, “See you in February.” He hated going to the gym when it was packed. Who wants to wait for a treadmill or a different machine to open up? No one. He knew that by the time February would roll around, our gym would be back to the usuals. All of the people who wanted to “get in better shape” had all given up on that resolution and were back to their normal selves. I remember thinking…I’ll never make a resolution I can’t keep.

For educators, I think this can be a huge trap as well. We have all of these elaborate plans and ideas that we want to do for each new school year. We plan unbelievable projects, units, and ways we are going to be more innovative with our students and their learning all summer long. By September 1, a lot of teachers stop going to the gym. Then January rolls around and we remember those things we wanted to do to benefit our students. In education, we sort of get a second chance when it comes to resolutions. Having goals and plans to improve what you do for your students is amazing, but my fear is that most teachers don’t stick with them. Why? Too big? Not enough time? What causes these resolutions/goals to go away like our trips to the gym?

I think sometimes, we think too big. I’m a dreamer, so it feels awkward for me to type this paragraph. But I think it’s true. If we think too big, then nothing will get accomplished. Is it better to have the greatest, most elaborate ideas ever and do nothing with it, or take it small and do everything you set out to do to increase opportunities for your students? It’s not a very thought provoking question. Of course we want to put something into action. I want to challenge educators to make a new kind of New Year’s Resolution this year. My challenge is for you to scale it down. Every week, try one small thing that is either different for you, or something that has been difficult for you. Don’t throw out all that you’ve done all year and start from scratch. Take one thing and find a way to work it in throughout the week. It can be as big as helping them develop learner agency by personalizing more of their learning, or it could be as small as offering students more choice in the way they are assessed. The point is that you are working towards being better at your craft. You are giving your students what they need…a teacher who is showing them what it means to have a growth mindset and to take risks.

Don’t pay for the gym membership for 12 months and only go in January! Take small steps and set goals that you know you can stick with.

I’d love to hear how you are going to grow this semester!

Be Vulnerable

Six months ago to the day I hit publish on my first post. Four blogs in six months…that’s about right. I keep seeing others around me posting weekly, and it makes me wonder what I’m doing wrong.  After six months of soul searching, I finally figured it out. For the first time in my career, I’m afraid of what others might think. I was always the first in line to tell other educators that they should learn from/with others around them, they need to share what they’re doing, and that they should crave for others to be in their rooms to offer feedback. Those things came naturally to me. They were easy. To some, that makes them want to throw up and find a different profession. I’ve never quite understood that…until now.

Blogging is my “having others in my classroom to offer feedback.” Blogging has taken me to the line that my insides have created that separates tranquility from feeling like a war zone. Based on the fact that this is my fourth blog in six months, you can easily figure out which side of the line I’ve been on. I don’t want that. It’s actually the last thing I want. If I’m pushing my teachers to not focus on their fears of others judging them, why am I not modeling that for them? I have the opportunity to use this as a platform to showcase the great work they are doing with their students and hopefully to help them grow their craft. I don’t see any negatives there. It’s me not living out what I’m pushing them to do themselves.

Robert Kaplinsky wrote a blogpost a few weeks back that has caught the educational world by storm to start this school year. It’s more than a blogpost. It’s a challenge to be vulnerable. Since this post, teachers across the country have been posting a sign on the outside of their classroom asking for visitors to come in, watch them teach, and then offer feedback based on specific areas they want to improve. #ObserveMe is a sign of vulnerability. It’s not a statement to others saying I’m comfortable with anyone being in my room. What is actually says is that I’m willing to put student learning ahead of my own personal feelings, because I want to be better at what I do for my kids. In the past few days, #ObserveMe signs have been placed on four different classroom doors in one of my buildings. I love the desire to get better. I love the willingness to put nerves and personal feelings aside for the sake of improving. I love that being vulnerable, which is naturally difficult, will allow these teachers to reach more students.

I’m expecting four to turn into eight, and then into sixteen. I think when others see that it’s okay to not feel comfortable, it’s going to continue to spread. Seeing these four teachers post #ObserveMe signs made me really think about my issues with others reading my writing. It doesn’t have to be perfect. I know that. I’d like for it to be perfect though. Regardless, I’m not going to let that fear stop me from sharing stories and hopefully helping other educators connect and grow.

Let’s be vulnerable!

Find your passion and follow it…

I tell my students every year that my job is to help them discover what they’re passionate about, develop that passion, and apply it to their learning moving forward. I have felt like the biggest hypocrite these past years. It was a “do as I say, not as I do…” sort of situation. I discovered a while ago that I am passionate about helping educators give their students endless opportunities to learn in the way they learn best. I have had small glimpses of doing this, but they were independent of each other and then I’d go back to my 5th grade team and students. As of last week, I am now following my passion. I accepted the position to be the Innovation & Learning Coach at Kellybrook Elementary and Shoal Creek Elementary. I can now practice what I’ve been preaching!

My mind hasn’t stopped racing of things I’d like to do to help student learning. That is the end goal…don’t forget. Student learning! One of my goals for the year is to make sure that whatever I do with teachers, students, or even when I’m outside of the building visiting other classes or in meetings, I need to make sure that it is for student learning. I can have an endless amount of great ideas, but if it turns into “my ideas” then I’m not doing my job well.

A friend spoke with me this morning about how humbling becoming a coach was. She said she was used to getting praise for all of the great things she was doing with her students in her classroom, but then it wasn’t there as a coach. At first she struggled with that, but then realized that coaching wasn’t about her…it was about students and their learning. It sounds simple, but just like everyone else, I am human. Recognition is nice. However, humility is an incredibly important trait of being a coach, and that is my desire. Thank you for the words of encouragement and the reminder!

Leaving Lewis & Clark is nearly impossible. The staff, the students, the families, the culture…it’s the total package. It is a dream job for any teacher. People keep asking me why I’d give that up…a job that so many teachers desire.

I’m showing my students how important it is to find a passion and follow it!

Here’s to changes and jumping into the deep end feet first!