Risk rewarded – raising the bar with #EdCampWake

About three years ago, the great Steven Weber  encouraged me to attend my first EdCamp. I had heard of the concept but wasn’t really sure what it was about, but knowing Steven was a fan encouraged me to at least check it out. After all, it was free PD, and local. So I stopped by the Friday Institute for a few hours to check it out. What a unique concept – an unconference. I really didn’t know what was going on initially but I liked it – and did a lot of listening. I could only attend in the morning but knew I would be attending more in the near future.

From that point on I became hooked and have been to roughly 10 EdCamps around North Carolina traveling to Charlotte, Salisbury, and various locations within the Raleigh/Durham area. A few years ago our district (Wake County Public School System) began hosting EdCamp Wake at our central office. It was good but having the event in an office building chipped away at some of the “organic” feel to the traditional school EdCamp setting. With the district’s blessing, this past fall Kyle Hamstra and Melanie Farrell had the bi-annual event shifted to the campuses of Davis Drive Middle and Davis Drive Elementary. Not only had Kyle and Melanie managed to move the event from central office to a school they pulled it off as a “hybrid” having some sessions in the middle school and afternoon sessions in the elementary next year. Outside the box thinking, eh? Brilliant.

As the day and the learning went on last fall, thoughts in my head began to swirl about how great this event was but what could be done to take it up a notch for the spring edition. Where would it be held? What could be adjusted? Scraped? Added? Hmmmm.

After the event, around 15 of us, mostly friends in education around the district and surrounding areas gathered to discuss the day’s learning. Being that the event in the fall was on the western side of our district (and county) my good friend Michael Parker West and I were based on the eastern side of the district (I’ve recently switched – but that post is forthcoming) we decided right then and there to inquire about Wendell Middle School pending the blessings of the WMS principal and eastern area superintendent.

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Fast forward a month – We now had the blessings of both Mr. Morrison and Dr. McFarland. Michael and I started planning #EdCampWake for Saturday, March 18 in late fall. Immediately, we wanted to go big. Knightdale High School jazz band in the morning during breakfast, WMS step team to open the welcoming, invitations to WCPSS district leadership, Board of Education members, etc. The bar was going to be raised.

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Mike wanted two WCPSS educators to open the day’s events with a presentation so he called on two of our district’s finest – Bill Ferriter and Paul Cancellieri who recently co-authored Creating a Culture of Feedback. In the afternoon, after lunch I came up with the idea of having two connected educational leaders from other parts of our state speak on topics of interest in the end of lunch going into the last session of the day. Two friends of mine came to mind immediately – Bethany Gullion from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and Leslie Kinard from Guilford County Schools.

I always talk about striving to #BecomeBetter. I live the actions ongoing and this was no exception. With Mr. West right along side we continued to plan weekly and as the months and later weeks to the actual event got closer gathered a leadership team of good friends from our district to tighten the “nuts and bolts” of the event – a big chore.

The ball started rolling… potential sponsors turned into sponsors. A conversation at a hockey game over holiday break with Ryan McLane and Eric Lowe turned into a pre-arranged Google Hangout session discussing contents of their book, Your School Rocks. A planned moderation of #EduGladiators chat turned into a promotion of our event and the chat thanks to Marlena Gross-Taylor’s  brilliance — a win-win. Everything was falling into place.

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As the final push to the event moved along, Mike and I spent most of the Saturday before the event printing out banners, creating the day of slides, signs, sponsorship orders and commitments were in order, etc.

There is so much more involved with organizing an EdCamp than we realized – especially the higher the bar is raised. Promotion, promotion, promotion! Both word of mouth, district email, social media blasts and promo videos helped us get the word out attract over 100 educators from around our district and state to EdCamp Wake on a Saturday.

The Friday before the event I made my way to Wendell Middle to make final preparations along with the “leadership team” Mike and I assembled. Together we spent several hours preparing and staging things so they would be ready for the morning. We were ready. As Mike and said several times during the actual EdCamp Wake — everything went smoothly because we were prepared, had a plan and most of all had a very solid team assisting throughout the day.

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Just as the case of the sponsors (seen above in a photo) without our leadership team of Juliette Kuhn, Karen D’Elia, Melanie Farrell, Kyle Hamstra and Chris Tuttell, there would be no EdCamp Wake. Period. Adding value to our profession and specifically EdCamp Wake doesn’t do the situation justice. Amazing people.

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The day of the event – everything went without so much as a slight bump here and there. All the planning paid off despite raising that bar. The KHS jazz band rocked in during breakfast, the WMS step team opened the day, Dr. McFarland (WCPSS Eastern Area Superintendent) welcomed the crowd to EdCamp Wake, Mike and I went through the day’s events and protocols. Everything on planned….

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17362844_10154817042700804_4243003267434957758_nConnected Educators welcome participants to #EdCampWake

Sessions, breakout events like the #EduGladiators chat, lunch presentations, lunch conversations — powerful, powerful. If you weren’t inspired after #EdCampWake – you might be in the wrong profession.

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Always great learning and growing with edu friends Derek McCoy, Leslie Kinard and Bethany Gullion.

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Your School Rocks session via Google Hangout with co-authors Ryan McLane and Eric Lowe.

17265106_10154817046110804_3299891847559155103_nPhil Echols, Mariah Walker and Gia Hoke. Some of WCPSS’ finest educators.

While it was exhausting planning and overseeing the day’s events with Mike and despite the fact we weren’t able to really attend sessions the joy of having a successful EdCamp Wake and the energy buzzing from all the learning and excitement made it all worthwhile and then some!

I’m grateful for the experience and eager to assist whomever takes the torch next. Prepare to raise the bar even higher in our ongoing quest to #StriveForGreatness and #BecomeBetter as educators and leaders. Goodbye, #EdCampWake — see you in the fall.

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Learning, growing and connecting at #NCties17

In the midst of co-organizing EdCamp Wake and making a signifiant mid-year shift in my career I managed to attend the 2017 NCties Conference. While this was the fourth time I’ve attended the annual downtown Raleigh event I found it was just as powerful and inspiring as always.

** For the record, the first two items referenced in my opening sentence will be covered in upcoming posts in some capacity **

For this guy with ADD, the event is especially daunting. When you first walk in on day one it’s information overload from the registration tables to the vendors downstairs it’s tough to take it all in. Lights, sounds, information, left, right, back and front. Oh, and there are people from around the district, state and nation I need to talk with that appear here there everywhere. Gracious, the actual event hasn’t even happened yet — I sit down with my good friend Juliette from our district and relax a bit before the opening keynote begins.

We make our way to the grand ballroom where hundreds of educators have already started gathering. I immediately see the main speaker at this year’s conference, George Couros, who will close the event tomorrow along with giving several presentations in between, standing in the front waiting for Jennie Magiera’s opening presentation to begin to officially kickoff this year’s conference.

Of course, being my mother’s son, I encouraged Juliette to make our way to the front to chat with our blogging inspiration we met back in November at our district’s fall convergence. (See https://brendanfetters.com/2016/12/03/blogging-2-0-taking-the-leap/ ) To my amazement, George said he’s proud of the work I’m doing with blogging since he last saw me. Haven’t been that blown away in years — here is one of the most recognized faces in education today, remembering me and acknowledging the work I’m doing in my blogging infancy. Humbled doesn’t begin to explain it.

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When this is is how your day begins, you know the day, and the conference are going to be a powerful experience and that’s exactly what happened.

c58jlznuwaacmglRichard Byrne’s “Best of the Web” 2017 edition session

c5784klvaaa5x6kJennie Magiera’s “PD is not a four letter word” session

c5_u_b0wqaa1y_eBrittany Miller’s “Personalized Learning through Student Agency” session

After attending several sessions in the morning, and typing, (sidebar how did we conference effectively before Google docs) tweeting, typing, tweeting some more… student showcases, catching up and connecting with edu folks near and far it was time for lunch. By this time my head is already starting to spin with so much new information inside.

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Over a delicious BBQ lunch at Bare Bones (which is amazing and all of us in the photo above highly recommend) we had a mini-debriefing session. Our crowd was diverse – mostly from our district but folks from various areas within some elementary, middle and even one high school. Some friends, some I barely knew but we all connected over education and knowledge gained. All of us were presenting later in the conference or had presented at NCties in the past so we had that in common as well. It was especially good to reconnect with my friend Leslie Kinard from Winston-Salem who I hadn’t seen since #EdCampLDR last summer.

c57-lvouyaaxhvi  As we all made our way back to the convention center, a few more sessions, a little time in the vendor area downstairs and it was off to our first and only session of the first day. Presenting with my presentation dynamic duo of Mr. Michael Parker West and Mrs. Renee White focusing Twitter chats was around the corner.

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As educators we have to be flexible. It’s engrained in our DNA out of necessity. This presentation was no exception. Having given the basic framework of this particular presentation at November’s fall convergence symposium for our district we had a crowed very well versed in Twitter. This allowed our presentation to fly through and we ended up, on the fly, having a very powerful round table discussion about Twitter chats and the deeper meanings of Twitter as it relates to education.

At the NCties Conference it was an entirely different crowd. We had many people who had A – never been on a Twitter chat and also B – people who had never signed up for Twitter. Both of these are fine but Michael, Renee and I had to really sloooooow down the presentation and give a lot of hands on assistance to the crowd. We signed several people up for Twitter, showed them how to utilize TweetDeck while those in the crowd who were more versed assisted others too — powerful.

We managed to get through the entire session and left the presentation feeling very positive at the high amount of impact we left on so many. We managed to have a very productive “mock Twitter chat” with the entire crowd even those who did not have accounts prior to walking in the room. The three of us added value to many in attendance at NCties that day and that’s what the conference is all about.

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The second day of NCties was jam-packed from beginning to end. Two George Couros sessions and presenting two more back to back. Add to the mix I was running on little sleep and many know Brendan doesn’t function all too well on under 7 hours or sleep – a few cups of coffee and I was good to go though in this case.

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Thankfully, the two sessions I missed from Couros back in the fall at WCPSS Fall Convergence I was able to catch today. Digital Footprint and Blended Learning were both powerful sessions. So much awesomeness packed into 45 minutes. From these sessions I rushed to a breakout session with another group of my “presentation pals” for #MeetMyPLN a repeat of a session we did at the fall convergence. Mrs. Melanie Farrell, Mr. Kyle Hamstra, Mr. Phil Echols, Dr. Sandy Chambers and I all introduced ourselves along with our respective “areas of strength” within our own avenues of our PLN and broke out into small groups.

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Partly due to our session falling in the lunch hour we had a small crowd with each breaking group having 4-5 people but the conversations were powerful and intimate. Sandy talked about how she utilizes Google to enhance the learning as a building leader, Phil talked about how he utilizes social media to #BecomeBetter, Kyle talked about how he hashtags K-5 Science curriculum objectives for learning purposes and I talked about spreading positivity through Twitter and Voxer. Melanie roamed around from group to to group to provide feedback then we wrapped up with a a great scratch-off giveaway at the end with participants taking away fantastic educational books.

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Great experience – we learned from our miscues in the fall and adjusted. This session was well received by those who attended. I admire all of my co-presenters and am honored to have them in my PLN along with considering all friends. They all certainly help me #BecomeBetter.

As soon as this presentation ended, I quickly said goodbye to my friends and darted to the other side of the convention center to meet my presentation “dynamic duo” of Michael Parker West and Renee White for our “Liberating Genius within the Genius Hour” session.

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We were able to take what we did in the fall at convergence and add student examples from early elementary and middle school along with testimonials to enhance an already strong message along with adding components to the Angela Maiers‘ Liberating Genius and over-arching You Matter message.

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The first three minutes of Angela’s 2015 TedX talk  was very well received by the crowd as were the student examples and testimonials with Genius Hour. Anytime I’m able to share the overarching You Matter message, I’m thrilled as are Michael and Renee.

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All told, the 2017 NCties Conference was a success both through the lens of an attendee and presenter. Most of all I was thrilled to spend the entire two days around educators who help me be the best I can be. Always learning, growing in an ongoing effort to #StriveforGreatness and #BecomeBetter.

“You can’t live a positive life with a negative mind.”

Several days a week I tweet out an inspirational message of leadership, thought or even something more specific to education. Normally these occur in the morning hours as I prepare my day often tagging fellow other educators within my PLN to share inspiration.

Recently the title of this blog went up in one as of the above mentioned positive tweets. “You can’t live a positive life with a negative mind.” Simple but very powerful. I normally receive a lot of traction over these messages but this particular unanimous quote received heavy traffic throughout the day and going on throughout the week. I’m known for my love of positivity – I’ll find a silver lining in any situation. Perhaps this is why I chose that particular line. It seemed so “order of business” to me.

However, easier said than done, right? “Ah, that can’t be done” or “Well…you know the family situation…” We as educators have heard these types of lines time and time again throughout our careers.  Regardless of the type of school, district or setting we are working in we’ve heard those and similar lines repeatedly from colleagues. It’s an unfortunate reality.

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I’m a huge fan of Ted and TedX talks. One of my favorite Ted talks launched a few years ago. It stars Linda Cliatt-Wayman, the principal of Strawberry Mansion a high school in inner city Philadelphia who was tasked with turning the school around. At the time of her taking on the school this was seen as daunting with Strawberry Mansion being one of the most infamous schools in the nation for violence, lack of resources and bottom of the state test scores.  A few years after her taking over the school, ABC news picked up her story which is how I was first introduced to Cliatt-Wayman. http://abcnews.go.com/US/strawberry-mansion-high-uss-dangerous-schools-receives-needed/story?id=21084212

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Additionally, the Ted talk itself is pure gold. If you’ve not seen this power talk – do yourself a favor and spent the 17 minutes to watch. If you’re not inspired my Ms. Cliatt-Wayman afterwards, check your pulse. Linda Cliatt-Wayman 2015 Ted talk

What she faced was daunting beyond what the vast majority of educators across America will face in their lifetime and that’s saying a lot considering the challenges education presents regardless of our role(s). However, that didn’t stop her. She believed in every child in the building. She believed in every educator who truly believed every child could succeed. Every decision she made was best for kids. Again, every decision was centered on what was best to meet the overall needs of the students. Every.

Did the transformation happen overnight? Far from it. Were there days she wanted to throw in the towel? Almost certainly. Did she? Never. Why? What’s best for kids was the center over every single decision she made. She believed in them and wasn’t going to give up on them nor were those leaders in and out of the classroom at her school who believed in the students just as much. Powerful. Inspirational.

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Be mindful of impossible. Where there is a will there is a way. We must believe no matter how seemingly grim the situation. As I so often say, we must surround ourselves with those who encourage us to #BecomeBetter. We as leaders in education and life must embrace the positive and pass it along to those we interact with day to day.

As the great educational leader Jimmy Casas (@Casas_Jimmy)  said “As a leader model the behaviors you want to see repeated. Lead  with passion, focus on the three Rs, strive for excellence, serve others.” The three Rs being relationships, relationships, relationships. Power of positivity, taking time, fostering relationships for creation of a solid foundation and reflecting before action.

The students we all serve know when we’re being sincere or not. What will you do tomorrow to go the extra mile? Will you embrace the challenge or just accept the things as they’ve always been and not even attempt to take the chance, the risk, in order to make a positive change. #YouMatter and the world needs our contributions as the equally inspirational Angela Maiers (@AngelaMaiers) so famously said.

Will we accept the way we’ve done it? What about a reflective mindset and innovation to meet the needs of all learners? Ball is in our court.

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Adding value to others – the innovative educators all around us

George Couros (georgecouros.ca) has had so much influence on my life and career in education. Risk. Innovation. Mindset. Inspiring others. All of these are traits that Couros lives and breathes through his speeches, blogs, tweets and presentations. #OneVoice: George Couros at TedX BurnsvilleED

It’s not a secret that George is my inspiration for ramping up my blogging to the next level after his presentation on portfolio blogging at our school district’s 2016 Fall Convergence Symposium at NC State University. https://brendanfetters.com/2016/12/03/blogging-2-0-taking-the-leap/

Upon recently reading George’s book The Innovator’s Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity it’s even more evident that in all aspects of Mr. Couros’ life as an educator of all walks, teacher, principal, speaker — he lives and breathes connections, relationships, positivity and most of all innovation.  One of the most inspirational quotes from the book to me is  “What I care about is that kids are inspired to be better people because of their experiences in my school.” How simple, yet powerful that is. So true though, right?

Recently, George Couros explained a powerful story referenced in the book in greater detail about the power of innovation regarding an Uber experience before, then after a conference. To say this example of innovation is powerful is a significant understatement. Developing “The Innovator’s Mindset” – The Connection Between Innovation and Being an Artist

I’ve been blessed to have district colleagues and members of my Professional Learning Network who have truly helped me #BecomeBetter. We all have strengths in weaknesses in not only our career but in life as well. We all fail. Learning from those failures are what make us stronger. With a strong network both near and far that’s where the growth and often “magic” happens in response to those failures. Leadership expert John Maxwell summed it up best with this quote:

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Taking risks and being innovative is one thing but it’s made easier when you have professionals around you who push to strive for greatness always and look to inspire the same out of others.

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A few times a year I gather with these significant people. All are fellow district employees from various walks. All have their own unique gifts and talents. Some I connect with on the regular more than others. However breaking bread a few times a year at least is powerful. Going above and beyond what is “mandatory” when we discuss articles and books we’ve recently read, blogs we’ve written, conferences we plan to attend, etc. and most of all what we’ve learned from the these and how we can grow together to #BecomeBetter. Powerful.

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These significant educators add much value to my life. I first connected with Barrett Royal (@Grade1Royal_ty) several years ago when she student taught at my previous school during my administrative internship. I had never seen such a motivated, talented and inspiring student teacher. Miss Royal was a natural. We’re blessed to have her in our district now as a first grade teacher. I’ve always believed in her and have kept in touch. Recently visiting her school I made sure to stop by and sure enough she inspired me with her “I believe in you” written and verbally stated culture around the classroom. So genuine. I’m so proud of her growth and now learning from her. Inspiring.

Juliette Kuhn (@jawkuhn) is the ITF (instructional technology facilitator) at Barrett’s school and a dear friend of mine. One of my top go-tos for tech issues in our district and also a great supporter who keeps me grounded. Both of these ladies add significant value to my life and are always innovative. They inspire me and so many around their building with their desire to grow as educators while spreading positivity.

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Two of my favorite educators in our district – Michael Parker West (@mikeaustinwest) and Renee White (@RaRaPenguin) have so much energy and thirst for educational knowledge. They both inspire me daily and I’ve been blessed to co-present with them several times sharing our collective passion and knowledge with educators of all walks and levels. They are both significant, innovative and certainly add value to my life.

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Passion, innovation and being a true life-long learner is one thing but these significant people possess that but also have the “nuts and bolts” down. Sometimes we don’t have all the answers. Whether things are coming from the state or our district or I just want to bounce ideas I might have I know my IRT colleague Amanda Nichols (@afnichols86) will always have great insight or can at least steer me in the right direction. At the central office level I can always call on Tonia Parrish or Shawn Johnson (@tonia_parrish and @ShawnJohn_1974) These friends in education certainly help me #BecomeBetter and I try my best to return the favor always. I value each of them greatly and they certainly add value not only to me but to so many educators in our district and beyond.

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I’ve learned so much from this leader. Mr. Shane Barham (@ShaneBarham1976) was principal at Wendell Creative Arts and Science Elementary for 7 years before being tapped to open the brand new Rogers Lane Elementary in our district. While he is no longer my direct supervisor, I keep in touch and certainly value his leadership. In my year and 1/2 under him I learned so much about being a reflective listener when it comes to leading and life. Wonderful person who I’m so blessed to have worked and learned from directly. I’m better because of him there is no question.

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Allison Stewart (@allisunrae) and Rachel Lawrence (@Tchr_RachelM) are extremely innovative middle school Science teachers in our district. Both of these ladies helped me get introduced to the EdCamp movement several years which I’m now a firm believer in. They pushed me when I was reluctant and have now become dear friends in education. Their passion and pursuit of greatness in their students and peers alike is so inspirational. I’m grateful for both of them.

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Ryan McLane (@McLane_Ryan) and Eric Lowe (@Ericlowe21) are two educational leaders from my native Ohio. Both of these men were doing amazing things with school promotion. I was amazed from afar hearing and seeing what they’re doing through their social media posts and videos. Their book Your School Rocks tells their story and then some and it truly kicked my school promotion ideas and innovation up a few notches. I appreciate these gentlemen. I’m lucky enough to sometimes catch up with them face to face while visiting family in Ohio — usually at Blue Jackets home games as in the photo above.

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Of all the innovative educators I’ve worked and/or connected with over the years – Chas Miller tops the list. (@ChasTweets) I was fortunate enough to teach under Mr. Miller several years and also do my administrative internship with him. One of the most global and forward thinking leaders I’ve ever met. Chas was always 3-4 years ahead of the curve. While Mr. Miller took his educational leadership talents to the state of Washington we stay connected through Twitter and beyond and I’ve shared his genius with several of my colleagues at the district level. His impact on my career is immeasurable and I’m forever grateful for his nudging me into leadership roles which I now embrace with open arms.

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I could go on for hours with many other people in education and beyond have added value to my life and career. As Dr. Maxwell says “Opportunity is a series of doors…” now how will react when opportunity knocks? It’s always better when we surround ourselves with those who are innovative and make us strive to #BecomeBetter. Don’t you think? Look around you – there are innovative educators all around us, find them. Learn, grow, share, repeat.

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Striving to be an All-Star through continuous improvement

I’m a hockey fan and have been since the day I was dragged to my first Columbus Blue Jackets game during their inaugural NHL season back the year 2000 when I was in my undergraduate education program at Wilmington College of Ohio. I didn’t know what in the world was going on at the time, but I knew I liked it. From that moment on I was hooked and have remained ever since. Columbus Blue Jackets 2000-01 inaugural season highlights

Hockey is now by far my favorite sport to watch and follow. It’s beautiful. Poetry in motion. Every pass along the blue line, check, odd-man rush, or one-timer requires near perfection in order to be executed properly. As I write this blog post I’m watching the midseason classic better known as the NHL All-Star Game. My beloved Blue Jackets have been rewarded for having a strong first half of the 2016-17 season by having three players representing the organization.

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As I watch this game in particular, while no the players aren’t skating at full strength much less making contact I’m reminded of how incredible these players all are to make it to this point. They all are playing in the top professional hockey league in the world for starters but not only that are the best of the best within that league. Impressive, eh?

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While all of these players have natural gifts, talents and for most part have played the game the vast majority of their lives, yes, they all must constantly work to improve their skill and refine the technical aspects of each of their own weaknesses to be the best player they possibly can be. Do any of the players at this level today especially settles for “good enough?” No way. Each of the players in this game is grateful for being here and striving to #BecomeBetter daily. They all know that as hard as it was to get to where they are today there are so many players within the NHL, minor leagues and in college eager to take “their spot” nothing is given.

Looking at this through the lens of education – we are all constantly learning and growing. Or are we? We are professionals. Constant growth and improvement should be a significant part of what we do. Whether we are a first year teacher or in the district central office with 20 plus years into our career we all should be striving to be an All-Star in education.

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Building your PLN, reading, reflecting, conferencing, repeating. Growth, growth, growth. This is beyond “mandated” professional development sessions or book studies at the school or district based level. Personalized professional development, genuinely wanting to grow, learn and reflect is when the magic happens. That’s when the “spark” in the eye occurs and when the great educators make the push toward All-Stars.

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Pictured above – Allison Stewart and Rachel Lawrence are amazing educators in our district. These two ladies are All-Stars but are constantly reflecting, reading, connecting and growing to refine their craft. So much of what they do is self-motivated above and beyond behavior. This is the overall betterment of students they serve as as well as their own personal growth. They are All-Stars but both know they must continue to work at “maintaining” that “status.”

Are some educators true All-Stars? Absolutely. However, it’s imperative we continue to learn, grow, soak up information and put it into practice or else we will slip in our craft just as the players in this game will if they “let up.”

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I lead by example with the above mentioned. I’ve always been considered a reflective educator throughout my career but I’m constantly doing the above mentioned, taking risks and reflecting upon my practice. These help keep me sharp and push me to strive to be a better educator always. We should all aim to be the best we do in all we do daily. In life and career. So the choice is yours – the puck is on the ice. Are you going to strive to be an All-Star?

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The power of #FailForward

#FailForward. I was first introduced to this term (and hashtag) over a year ago at my school district’s Fall Convergence Symposium on the campus of NC State University. This was my first time attending the conference and I was most eager to go because of learning opportunities but also the fact authors and illustrators Peter and Paul Reynolds (commonly referred to as the Reynolds brothers) were the main guests.

The adventures of young Ish in Peter Reynolds’ signature book, The Dot, has long been one of my favorite children’s texts and I adored the lessons within it. As a third grade teacher I always read this book aloud along with Chris Van Allsburg’s Two Bad Ants the first few days of school as a segway to discuss the importance of listening along with taking risks.

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https://www.amazon.com/Dot-Peter-H-Reynolds/dp/0763619612

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https://www.amazon.com/Two-Bad-Ants-Chris-Allsburg/dp/0395486688

I discuss, tweet and now blog about risks often. However, I utilize the specific term #FailForward just as much seemingly. Why? It’s ok to fail. Why? Some of the best learning comes when we fail, reflect and emerge stronger. It’s vital that we embrace failure and utilize it as a growing tool. Think of our country’s greatest inventors and innovators Edison, Gates, Jobs, Ford. All of them had amazing success in their respective fields eventually but failed time and time again on the front end to get their product or process “just right.” Once they got their product just right, they had to innovate especially in the case of Gates and Jobs to keep up with competition. Ironically, this is what did Henry Ford in as he refused to innovate and his competitors caught up with him and eventually surpassed, though I digress. However, we can learn from Ford in that regard as well because we must never be content with maintaining the status quo and staying too long in our “comfort zone.”

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Former United States Senator and Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy might have said it best over 50 years ago when he said “only those who fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” How simple, yet powerful are those words? So true, right? It’s vital that we as educators especially in leadership capacities, embrace not just by saying but also by doing. Demonstrate risk. If we fail, we learn and grow — leading my example.

They Reynolds brothers are huge into not only #FailForward but also the 4Cs which are a national movement in education as well as a significant aspect of our school district’s strategic plan. http://www.wcpss.net/strategic-plan

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Which is where the Reynolds’ brothers come in again with #FailForward and how their message weaves so meaningfully with our shift to 21st century learning, 4Cs integration and #FailForward. In one of their most recent books, Going Places, 4C integration and #FailForward are both address significantly. This book was used by me to assist in the roll-out the 4Cs and to our staff last school year in the video form. It’s ok to fail, as long as we’re learning, evolving and growing as learners and educators.

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ywo44VF1Log

“The way we’ve always done it” is simply not acceptable mindset in education today. This is my 12th year in education. I have been successful in every aspect I’ve been in within the profession whether classroom or administrative end – am I ever content? No. Do I always seek to grow, learn and evolve. Absolutely. Daily in fact. The way I taught on my first day in education is far from “best practices” now — that’s how quickly our profession is advancing. It’s vital we evolve at the pace of our students and how they learn given their ever changing environment and technology exposure(s).

Ask. Take risks. Evolve. Learn. Repeat. That is what’s doing what’s best for us as educators, no matter our role, and above all – for the students we all serve.

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“Don’t be scared, just enjoy your ride”

Taking risks, stepping out of our comfort zone, leaps of faith – all of these are phrases and actions I am a fan of. Learning experiences from #FailForward moments are some of the most powerful – with zero question in my opinion and from my experiences within not only my career but also life.

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Growing up in rural Ohio, I was exposed to a lot of country music. Not exclusively as oldies, classic rock and the “modern” 80’s pop music was easily accessible in my house growing up in the 1980s. However, being in a farm family and the fact that most of the radios in my family’s tractors only picked up country stations I became a fan from an early age riding with my grandfather or father and later driving and tending the land myself as I got older.

I’ve blogged about George Strait before and how his music has had significant impact on my life and career. While George is a universally known talent, my second favorite country star growing up and even today is the late, great Chris LeDoux.

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I first gained exposure to LeDoux in the early 1990s when Garth Brooks burst onto the national scene. Brooks single-handedly brought the then underground LeDoux to the mainstream. LeDoux was a genuine as they come. A native of Wyoming who tended his ranch when not performing or recording and was a former world champion rodeo star. Aside from his music, which often drew life lessons from his own rodeo, life and learning experiences, I also liked the fact that the man took significant risks – did things his way.

If you’ve ever been to a Garth Brooks show you know it’s quite the spectacle. Lights, sound, in his younger days especially, Brooks would dangle from wires above the crowd always putting on quite the presentation. A showman of showmen.

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Brooks’ admiration of Chris LeDoux came from LeDoux’s stage presence. Despite being middle aged at the height of his career – LeDoux would ride mechanical bulls mid performance, leap from the stage with fire bursting all around and really put on a show. He did what no one else was doing – taking a risk doing things his way, telling his story and putting on his show in his own unique way. One of my greatest regrets is never seeing the man live as he passed away in 2005 after a lengthy cancer battle. Garth Brooks recorded Good Ride Cowboy shortly after LeDoux’s death as a tribute to his fallen friend.

Chris LeDoux inspired so many with his lyrics, upbeat personality and positivity. While I loved his music, and still do, I adored his genuine nature just as much. Even when he was battling illness he was always smiling and even recording when he could. In what would end up being his final album, 2003’s Horsepower, he recorded one of my favorite songs and certainly most inspirational – The Ride. The song is all about taking risks, leaps of faith and leaving your comfort zone through life — all through the lens of a rodeo man like so many of LeDoux’s songs were.  The Ride

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The Ride

Recorded by Chris LeDoux

Written by Lonnie Melvin Jr. Tillis and Sam Weedman

Copyright 2003 Universal Music Publishing Group

I was six years old, my brother was ten
One July day came runnin’ in
Seen a Ferris wheel at the edge of town
So, of course, we headed on down

Well, it took us an hour to walk that far
Carryin’ our fortune in a Mason jar
It was all pretty sad, a cheap county fair
With a few old rides but there was ponies there

Well, the ponies stunk and the air was still
In that dusty circle behind the ferris wheel
This old guy smellin’ of smoke and rum
Swung me up and sat me down on one

Well, I’d never rode a horse but I’d seen it done
Cowboy movies made it look like fun
This old man whispered a few soft words
It was the best advice I’ve ever heard

He said, “Sit tall in the saddle, hold your head up high
Keep your eyes fixed where the trail meets the sky
And live like you ain’t afraid to die
And don’t be scared, just enjoy your ride”

I went up a kid with shakin’ hands
But I came down a full grown man
It was like he’d cast some voodoo spell
Things were different for me now, I could tell

‘Cause whenever troubles come wanderin’ in
His rhyme would pop in my head again
And somehow I rode through the needles and nails
Brambles and thorns that life entails

He said, “Sit tall in the saddle, hold your head up high
Keep your eyes fixed where the trail meets the sky
And live like you ain’t afraid to die
And don’t be scared, just enjoy your ride”

Well, I know some day, farther down the road
I’ll come to the edge of the great unknown
There’ll stand a black horse riderless
And I wonder if I’m ready for this

So I’ll saddle him up and he’ll switch his tail
And I’ll tip my hat and bid farewell
And lift my song into the air
That I learned at that dusty fair

Sit tall in the saddle, hold your head up high
Keep your eyes fixed where the trail meets the sky
And live like you ain’t afraid to die
And don’t be scared, just enjoy your ride
Now, don’t be scared, just enjoy your ride

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In the spirit of enjoying your ride, my #OneWord2017 is “unwritten” and one of my professional goals this year was to jump into educational leadership podcasting. An opportunity presented itself recently and I was able to jump head first into it when Marlena Gross-Taylor (@mgrosstaylor) asked me to be her guest last week on the #EduGladiators podcast on YouTube live. I jumped at the chance – a little nervous but I knew I needed to tell a story, share and took that leap of faith.

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Was the event flawless? No. Were there things I wish I did or said? Yes. Learning experiences gained? Absolutely. Will I do it again? (If Marlena asks of course) Without question.  #EduGladiators Podcast episode 5 – Connected Ed

What do I get from all these personal experiences and those drawn from others? Always make the most of every situation and live life to the fullest. One life to live, make the most of it. Take that leap of faith and don’t look back. Never wonder – “what if…” How do we as educational leaders expect our fellow educators and students we all serve to take risks if we don’t lead by example first? Your ride, your opportunity. Make the most of it or not – the choice is yours.

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Flexibility. Powerful word in education and in life.

Make no bones about it, Winter Storm Helena has had her way with much of the southeast the past few days. Altering much of our plans here in North Carolina and beyond. While the Triangle region didn’t get hit nearly as hard as other parts of the the state and southeast, many alterations had to be be made for folks throughout the region.

https://weather.com/storms/winter/news/winter-storm-helena-impacts?cm_ven=T_WX_LL_10717_4

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Businesses closed, events cancelled, postponed, rescheduled. Even our state’s new governor was forced to give his inaugural address from inside the executive mansion this morning in place of the traditional outdoor address and formal swearing in ceremony on the steps of the state capitol.

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As many of us are forced indoors the next few days due to snow, ice and in climate weather we’re reminded of the importance of being flexible. When even our governor can brush  aside significant formalities and make the best of the situation, it really puts things all into perspective.

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We as educators are flexible. We have to be. Everyone at my school knows I always have my Google Calendar accessible whether by laptop or my phone. One or both are always on me. Are those dates, times, meetings in stone? No. Why? Need to be flexible. Period.

Life happens. We need to make the most of unfortunate events such as Helena-induced inclimate weather which causes delays or cancelation of plans and adapt.

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As I write this blog the above photo shows the current situation on one of our city’s major highways. You can see there isn’t much traffic. Most folks are heeding the advice of the networks, DOT, Governor Cooper and other stakeholders, staying off the roads and remaining home unless they absolutely need to travel. This is significant time to catch up on things at home. Spending more time with family, catching up on chores, or in my case finding inspiration for my weekly blog post.

Flexibility is vital. We can either complain about changes or embrace and move it along. I am notorious for finding a silver lining in any situation. I’ve found it in this winter weather this weekend. I had several plans – they were all dashed. Now, what do I going forward?

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I’ve already found inspiration to blog today and am now making plans for an upcoming #EduGladiators podcast (shameless plug) What about you? Ball is in your court.

Goodbye to 2016, hello to 2017. Next steps? Unwritten.

As an educator, I’ve taken many risks throughout my career. This is a topic I’ve spoken, tweeted and even blogged about numerous occassions. Taking “the road less traveled” is so significant to me I devoted an entire post to the subject and the song based on the meaning to me. 2016 is a year that saw a lot of growth in me professionally as an educator.

I bring up my love of taking risks and encouraging others within my district and profession in general to do so because of the great learning experience(s) and powerful reward involved.

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As I look back at 2016 professionally, risk reward and fail forward moments are the cornerstone without question. For me, it’s truly all about staying on track and following the principles below…

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In the spring, my first significant risk came in the form of being asked by a trusted friend and district colleague, Mrs. Melanie Farrell, to be part of her presentation group at the Wake County Public School System’s 2016 Spring Convergence Symposium. While I had presented for the faculty several times at my school I had never presented at a large venue.  However, considering the topic was something I was very well versed in, Twitter for educational growth and connectivity, why not? Leap of faith. Huge success. I not only grew as a learner, leader and educator but was also found something I truly enjoyed – presenting to others and helping them grow and learn. Powerful learning experiences in the “Twitter Garden.” clbk8zfuyaaipsc

In the summer I took the leap by being on the leadership planning team of Ed Camp Leadership – North Carolina. While I had attended several EdCamps locally and throughout the state, I had never been on the planning committee. That changed in July when a group of of us worked together for several months to successfully plan and oversee the second #EdCampLDR. Another leap of faith. Was the event perfect? No. Did we learn from the #FailForward moments? Absolutely. Growth, growth, growth. Looking forward to next summer’s event which will be even better and stronger. http://midcareer.gse.upenn.edu/edcamp-leadership

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This experience made the decision to co-organize #EdCampWake with Mr. Michael Parker West this coming spring much easier. https://www.eventbrite.com/e/edcamp-wake-tickets-30179882842

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At the beginning of the school year “inservice days” before the students arrive the principal, assistant principal and I spent a day taking turns diving into relationships and cultural proficiency with the staff. I presented on relationships staff/staff, staff/student, student/student. The presentation was powerful and was centered around Angela Maiers’ #YouMatter initiative and TedX talk.  https://vimeo.com/103280107

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The experience was so powerful and well received I decided to blog about it on the ASCD Edge platform: http://edge.ascd.org/blogpost/refreshed-recharged-and-ready-to-go-in-2016-17

While I got a lot of positive feedback from that blog post, I never realized the true impact until a month or so later when Angela Maiers contacted me about the post. She loved it, adored my/our work at the school and wanted to have a phone conference. Wow. Really? A few weeks later it happened. A conference call with myself, principal, a literacy coach and a classroom teacher and Angela Maiers. A 45 minute conversation that was liberating and could have gone on for hours. Empowering puts it mildly. Great advice and encouragement throughout to help us #BecomeBetter as educators in reaching the students we all serve while building the #YouMatter message throughout the school. Powerful experience for all of us involved – Mr. Shane Barham, Mrs. Fran Haley, Mrs. Kim Edmiston and Angela.

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In the fall, Dr. Sandy Chambers, an amazing principal in our district, invited myself, the above mentioned Mr. Shane Barham and Mrs. Melanie Farrell along with my friend Ms. NaShonda Cooke from Durham, NC to attend Racial Equity Institute training at her school. This two day emersion training was extremely empowering. Life changing. Attending was something that took a bit of a risk. Why? I was stepping way out of my comfort zone but engaging in a topic that would enrich my leadership and overall well being in not only my profession but personal life. My attendance was something I really wanted to do but it took risk. I’m eternally grateful to Dr. Chambers for offering this experience to me. Top notch organization and truly life changing experience – no way around it.  https://www.racialequityinstitute.org

In November, I presented with several key stakeholders in my PLN, including the above mentioned Dr. Chambers, at the Fall Convergence for our district on the power of the PLN – I recently blogged on this session and Fall Convergence experience in depth. The successes of these presentations were the culmination of the previous experiences listed above and #FailForward moments. Grateful for my presentation pals both in that session and Mrs. Renee White and Mr. Michael Parker West with whom I love presenting with and am truly looking forward to again in March at NC Ties 2017. http://ncties.org/conference/index.php

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All of these planning sessions came with the assistance of Google Hangout which is quickly becoming invaluable to professional development and a tool I added to my arsenal this year as well. Google Hangout even aided the teachers at my school last spring when my friend Mrs. Kara Brem, a teacher on the other side of our large district held an interactive Seesaw session via “GHO” with our faculty. Powerful.

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Much of the above mentioned and so much of my growth can be attained to the work of John Maxwell. Many that know me well know I’m quite the fan of Maxwell’s work. Most notably his “value added” model. It’s always important we stay focused, #StriveForGreatness and aim to #BecomeBetter but also vital we add value to others and seek to surround ourselves with those who add value to our lives. The basic parameters of this concept can be found here: http://www.johnmaxwell.com/blog/the-law-of-contribution-7-tips-to-cultivate-an-attitude-of-growing-others

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Additionally this brief clip on the subject by Dr. Maxwell is also powerful: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e1OQcdYyjJU

Most that know me know I’m always on the go and continually very “global.” It wasn’t until I stopped and actually reflected a bit that I realized just how significant 2016 was on my growth as a leader, learner and educator. What’s next? Well, that’s still unwritten. This song and the corresponding lyrics sum it up well though… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b7k0a5hYnSI

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Unwritten

Performed by NaTasha Bedingfield

Written by Tarik L. Collins, Ahmir K. Thompson, Karl B. Jenkins, Tahir Cheeseboro Jamal, Khari Abdul Mateen, Radji Mateen, Ridhwan Mateen

Copyright © EMI Music Publishing, Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Universal Music Publishing Group

I am unwritten

Can’t read my mind
I’m undefined
I’m just beginning
The pen’s in my hand
Ending unplanned

Staring at the blank page before you
Open up the dirty window
Let the sun illuminate the words that you could not find

Reaching for something in the distance
So close you can almost taste it
Release your inhibitions
Feel the rain on your skin
No one else can feel it for you
Only you can let it in
No one else, no one else
Can speak the words on your lips
Drench yourself in words unspoken
Live your life with arms wide open
Today is where your book begins
The rest is still unwritten

Oh, oh, oh

I break tradition
Sometimes my tries are outside the lines
We’ve been conditioned to not make mistakes
But I can’t live that way

Staring at the blank page before you
Open up the dirty window
Let the sun illuminate the words that you could not find

Reaching for something in the distance
So close you can almost taste it
Release your inhibitions
Feel the rain on your skin
No one else can feel it for you
Only you can let it in
No one else, no one else
Can speak the words on your lips
Drench yourself in words unspoken
Live your life with arms wide open
Today is where your book begins

Feel the rain on your skin
No one else can feel it for you
Only you can let it in
No one else, no one else
Can speak the words on your lips
Drench yourself in words unspoken
Live your life with arms wide open
Today is where your book begins
The rest is still unwritten

Staring at the blank page before you
Open up the dirty window
Let the sun illuminate the words that you could not find

Reaching for something in the distance
So close you can almost taste it
Release your inhibitions
Feel the rain on your skin
No one else can feel it for you
Only you can let it in
No one else, no one else
Can speak the words on your lips
Drench yourself in words unspoken
Live your life with arms wide open
Today is where your book begins

Feel the rain on your skin
No one else can feel it for you
Only you can let it in
No one else, no one else
Can speak the words on your lips
Drench yourself in words unspoken
Live your life with arms wide open
Today is where your book begins
The rest is still unwritten
The rest is still unwritten
The rest is still unwritten

Oh, yeah, yeah

 

The gift that keeps giving – my PLN.

During this holiday season as we all scatter about our towns, communities and even the country to see family, friends and loved ones we often reflect on the positives in our lives and all we’re grateful for. While I certainly have many blessings to be thankful for – one I’m most grateful for and a true gift is my PLN.

My PLN is wide and powerful – a daily resource of information. Whether utilizing resources within our district to capacity, a wide variety of connected educators throughout the country and beyond on Twitter, Voxer and most recently, Instagram — I’m so thankful. Each member of my PLN adds value to my life and career. Whether we bounce ideas off each other once a year or once a week — there is power in learning and growing together.  As we close 2016 here are some significant impacts members of my PLN have had this year alone…

15202739_10154486310625804_7461757797978786816_nSurrounding yourself with people who help you #BecomeBetter isn’t just a tagline it’s a way of life for connected educators and a daily aspect for all members of my PLN who truly challenge me to be my best. I truly appreciate Dr. Sandy Chambers, Mrs. Melanie Farrell, Mr. Phil Echols and Mr. Kyle Hamstra pictured above. Each of these leaders in education from within the Wake County Public School System have their own unique skill-set they bring to the table within our profession and together we share and grow to #BecomeBetter. Powerful. Together we shared our PLN journey and areas of strength at the 2016 WCPSS Fall Convergence Symposium.

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Ryan McLane and Eric Lowe are connected school leaders in my native Ohio that are leading the charge in school promotion, an area I’m passionate about. The book these gentleman co-authored, Your School Rocks…So Tell People About It! single handedly opened me to utilizing Instagram and expanding the news program(s) at our school. Check out their book if you haven’t already: https://www.amazon.com/School-Passionately-Promote-Positives-Happening/dp/0986155527/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1458400536&sr=8-1&keywords=your+school+rocks+so+tell+people+about+it

img_2028Mrs. Renee White and Mr. Michael Parker West are significant members of my PLN and also great resources for elementary and middle school curriculum within our district. I’m blessed by their ongoing student-first mentality, positivity and co-presenting with them several times.

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Dr. Steven Weber is one who continually pushes me to expand my learning and growing as an educational leader. He is responsible for my initial dive into blogging, trying EdCamps (and being quickly hooked), Voxer and growing my PLN in general. I owe so much to Dr. Weber — even though I don’t see him as much as in the past he still continually adds value to my life and career.

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Angela Maiers makes me better daily. I have such high regard for her and her work through Choose 2 Matter, the You Matter initiative and Liberating  Genius. www.choose2matter.org

Marlena Gross-Taylor’s work with #EduGladiators has made a significant impact on my career and makes me go outside of the box in various arenas. She believes in me and I believe in her. I have massive respect for both of these ladies and very much look forward to connecting face to face soon. http://www.marlenagrosstaylor.com/about

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My “tribe” is significant. Mostly ITFs in our district they continually push me to try new ideas/concepts and lead with positivity. Melanie Farrell, Chris Tuttell, Wanda Hanley, Michael Parker West, Kyle Hamstra, Karen D’Elia, Juliette Kuhn and Erica Woodard are amazing educators. I value each and every one of these ladies and gentlemen (one member is missing in this photo)

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The language of mattering is powerful. I truly believe it and this gift that the above mentioned PLN members above and countless others as well. We are truly better together. Thank you all for your gifts  – #YouMatter and the world truly needs your contributions.