Better together: 2 years later so much has changed… what will tomorrow bring?

Two years ago today, the Covid-19 pandemic had really started to affect us locally, at state level, nationally and globally. Locally, it had been a few weeks since the first confirmed case. Concerts, the NBA, events and most notably locally, the beloved ACC basketball tournament had all been cancelled. Schools all across our area had closed. The local headlines seemed on the very day (March 13, 2020) our schools all across the state (and for the most part, nationally) closed.

https://www.wral.com/how-long-before-things-are-normal-we-don-t-know/19010726/

Since that day so much has changed in our world and especially our profession. The shift to virtual school, back to in person in a cohort model, back to virtual when variants spiked, mask mandates, vaccinations, boosters, return to school at full capacity, etc. So many shifts in the last school year — enough to make ones head spin when they stop and think of it.

Education is tough. Education during the middle of a global pandemic, even tougher. Now we see more hurdles. The great resignation sweeping the nation has hit our schools, too. With so many staff outages daily, unfilled positions, etc. teachers and school administrators all across the country find themselves often filling these gaps. Trying to maintain daily structure while filling staffing needs however possible is a new level of challenging.

https://www.inquirer.com/opinion/teacher-shortage-attrition-challenges-philadelphia-schools-20220311.html

It is clear the past two years have taken quite the toll on everyone. Our profession is not spared. As we rethink our profession in a post-covid world there is a lot to consider. It is evident we must make the profession attractive to those who might and hopefully would consider entering the field. Stakeholders with most ties to pursestrings depending on individual states’ salary structures would do a great service by making significant adjustments to salary structures within public education. While increased pay would help significantly, especially to those just starting out in the profession it would also assist in attraction to the profession which began taking a hit in the years leading up to the pandemic now even more significant. Expecting professionals to continue to do more with less simply isn’t attainable. We must look at effective ways to rethink how we do things in a post-pandemic world in general, our profession is no different.

https://www.fastcompany.com/90728707/how-to-convince-people-to-become-teachers

As a general rule most of the voices in the back making significant noise aren’t the answer. Arguing over non-existent “problems” and attempting to create political points over such is problematic to put it mildly. We can and should be better as a nation.

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2022/04/pandemic-p

Take time to listen. Our teachers, administrators, support personnel and most of all, the students we all serve, need us now more than ever. It is so important we support one another. Is it one more thing? Absolutely. Does it take a village? Always. Is it vital for success in a school year truly like no other? You better believe it.

Self care and balance has been the hallmark for many during the past two years. I’ve preached this often throughout and stand by it daily. I can’t say enough how important it is now more than ever to check on each other though. Focus on the positives and stand up for one another. Offer support when needed.

We may not know what the future holds but I am fortunate to work with so many amazing educators both directly and indirectly I have no doubt it will be bright. Better together. We’ve got this. Trust and believe.

Wrapping up 2021. Breathe. Continued balance. Perspective. Repeat daily.

2020 was a lot. 2021 has proven to be even more. Our profession has really taken a hit locally, throughout the state and nation. Teachers, central office personnel and fellow school administrators are leaving the profession. Maintaining high morale has been a challenge while navigating my own. A few things have kept me balanced throughout navigating my career through the nearly past two years of the Covid-19 pandemic. Making family/loved ones, friends, health/wellness, and hobbies a focus while having clear work/home balance each and every day have helped significantly.

NPR ran the article below today that really hit me.

https://www.npr.org/2021/12/23/1067077413/teachers-pandemic-school-classroom-return-to-in-person-learning

Times are tough in our society and especially education. Maintaining a growth mindset, focusing on our circle of control and silver linings are vital.

Make time daily for wellness. Ideally well over an hour but less if needed. Uninterrupted. Phone in another room. Focused. Peloton is my universe of choice but choose what works best for you and stick with it. Make it part of your day. Completely free of distractions – that is key. You’ll be amazed at how great you feel physically and mentally. Ample sleep nightly and well balanced meals help significantly, too.

Make time for family. If they’re far away — call, Zoom, Facetime. If near make time once a week to see them even for an hour or so. Device and distraction free.

Make time for friends. Make time at least once a week to catch up with friends in some capacity. Also uninterrupted time is paramount here.

Make time for a hobby or two. You can do it solo or with family, friends, loved one(s) just make the time to find the joy. For me it is fitness, going on walks on the greenways or trails, listening to some vinyl, reading, or even the occasional Netflix binge. Find what works for you and stick with it.

Work is vital but it is not our everything it shouldn’t consume our daily lives 7 days a week and 365 days a year. Far from it. Balance.

Focusing on negatives accomplishes nothing and is in fact counterproductive. Focus on the positive aspects of work and life. Yes 2021 has been tough but shown below are just a sampling of some of the positive vibes that 2021 has provided professionally to put things in perspective.

We’ve got this. Happy Holidays and a very happy 2022 to all!

Balance and the importance of self-care in our daily lives

Two phrases we hear often in not only education but in the work space as a whole as well as throughout society are balance and self-care. Its so easy to go into rabbit holes of work, work, work, and nothing else if we let it consume us. We always have to be sure we make a valiant attempt to strike the right balance between work productivity, life, self-care and making sure are personal connection needs are met,

One of the things that struck me often, especially before the Covid-19 pandemic completely upended our collective worlds in early 2020, was how “great” I was at maintaining a “work-life balance.” Every day I would cut off from from the outside world almost entirely while at work. As soon as I left for the day a switch seemingly occurred, I was done. Able to focus almost exclusively on friends, family and myself for the rest of the day, weekend, etc. I’m very accessible at work — all stakeholders have my direct number — but it was wide known not to contact me unless an emergency after work hours. I had this down.

As the pandemic rolled along and our lives changed to a work from home model and gradually in person then fully in person throughout the 2020-21 school year, I started to read more about moving away from this “work life balance” model and instead thinking of balance as an ongoing circle. This has been something I’m striving to do, and self-care is woven in.

https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20210302-why-work-life-balance-is-not-an-achievement

https://www.fastcompany.com/90641070/work-and-life-arent-opposites-and-balance-is-biased-heres-why

This TED Talk really spoke to me. It was filmed just as vaccines started to rollout in early 2021 and we were about a year into the pandemic. Our lives had totally shifted. How do we focus on building capacity in others? Instead of taking on so many tasks ourselves embrace those around us. Share. Lead by example. Shift. All the adjustments that have been made as school leaders from the beginning of the pandemic, ongoing and throughout — wow. Mind blowing in retrospect. What did we learn? How did we adjust? How are we better? How will we maintain balance going forward?

For me personally, I dedicate time and space 6 days a week for self-care in the form of fitness. 30-90 minutes daily. If I have plans in the evening I’ll get up earlier in the morning and knock it out. Must be a priority. For both my physical fitness and overall well being but also time to completely disconnect from the outside world. Excuses go out the window. Just do it.

I also devote time and space several days a week for friends and family. Uninterrupted and again, disconnected. The personal connection time, no matter how busy we get, it vital. Also is completely focused and connected on the person (or people) not our devices.

Time and space for hobbies for me its been walks 2-3 times a week alone or with a friend enjoying the community, nature, the area and fresh air. Refreshing. Also, listening to music, specifically my love for vinyl a few times a week. Losing self in music can be so beneficial. Blogging, writing and taking time to read a book for pleasure can also give great joy. Find hobbies that bring you joy, relaxation and a brief pause from the day to day grind.

All of these forms of self care are also intertwined in our balance and something that is so beneficial for our overall well being.

https://www.yahoo.com/lifestyle/naomi-osaka-allyson-felix-talk-210616238.html

https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/self-care-4-ways-nourish-body-soul-2017111612736

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/click-here-happiness/201812/self-care-12-ways-take-better-care-yourself

We always have ways to stop, pause and reflect. This was an area I struggled with for so long. Now I focus on daily — a priority. All around. Balance. Self-care. Mid-2021 and beyond. How are you doing? Real talk. You are 1 of 1. Limited edition.

One year later.

One year ago today. My world changed. The lives of my building colleagues changed. My lives of my district colleagues changed. The lives of my friends, family and neighbors all around our community, state, nation and world changed. Dramatically. One year ago today the world started to shift rapidly in response to Covid-19 which had just officially been named a pandemic by the WHO.

In the past year like so many people within education and all walks of our community, state and nation I have learned, grown and adapted so much. Shifts are ongoing throughout the pandemic. A natural planner, I’ve had to shift. One day at a time. Focusing on circle of control ongoing. Leading with grace, listening and understanding always even if its hard to focus on the positivity myself often — always focus on those silver linings just as I’ve been doing the past year even more than usual.

We now have three approved vaccines which truly is a modern medical miracle. There is light at the end of the tunnel. Our return to normal will not be the same as pre-Covid it’s becoming more and more clear.

When we do return to a world without masks, social distancing and mass gatherings again what value adds will be bring from this experience.

Slowing down, reflecting, a deeper respect of self care in the form of diet and fitness while working smarter ongoing are some of my main take aways. I have no doubt I’ll emerge a better person professionally, physically and mentally. You?

This past year has been extremely challenging for everyone especially our front line workers, medical personnel, educators and our elected officials who have had to make difficult, often extremely challenging weekly, sometimes daily decisions throughout the ever-changing landscape of the global pandemic. Offer grace. Lately it seems we’ve drifted away but remember we’re all in this together. Let us aim to emerge better – together.

Turning the page on 2020 — flipping to 2021

2020 was a tough year. This is no front page news. Professionally, personally. For so, so many. Myself included.

Throughout this past year I have been determined to focus on almost entirely two things — “silver linings” along with circles of control, concern and influence. (For more on this see the clip of Dr. Covey below)

What do I have control over? What has gone well this year? What are the main silver linings of the day? Week? Month? Year? They are always around – focus on those.

For me my parents recently retired near me. In the past they were several states away and if I was lucky would see them 3, maybe 4 times a year. Now, not always in a “normal” manner I’m able to see them weekly which has been such a blessing in general but especially during a pandemic when in person interactions are at a minimum often.

At work we’ve gained two outstanding educators to our administrative team and several new faculty members who are have fit seamlessly into our lineup and are going above and beyond daily during these challenging times.

I made a goal at the start of the year to go above and beyond with fitness and while the significant shift I knew I needed was expedited by lockdowns early on in the pandemic I’m forever grateful. Having fitness in my daily life again and at a deeper level than ever in my professional life has helped so much not only with my health but also providing daily motivation, peace and balance.

Those are just a few of the truly significant “pros” of 2020. I could go on and on. Appreciate what we have, what we’ve gained from these experiences and how we will add on to this for the new year and well beyond.

Resolutions seem to have more importance to people now more than ever as we leave a year that putting it mildly disrupted our lives and forced us all to significant adapt to sizable shifts within our daily living. When we make them (if we do) it is important to be both intentional and realistic by choosing targeted resolutions that will lead to happiness. This recent article in The Atlantic gives outstanding perspective on this very subject.

Happy New Year! Make 2021 truly great or not. The choice is yours.

Navigating social media during challenging times and lessons learned from a pause in usage

In the months since I last blogged our collective lives have changed even more. COVID-19 remains with us and without a vaccine continues to alter our worlds. In the wake of the recent deaths of George Floyd and Brianna Taylor on top of years of racial inequities outrage sparked nationwide and even globally. These events have resulted in rapid idealogical shifts along with much needed conversations and in many cases action to lead toward real movements to confront these inequalities all across the nation. By far the positives of people trying their best to become better allies, supporters and friends while deepening overall understanding, learning and growing within the ongoing work was evident throughout social media.

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https://sports.yahoo.com/a-changed-world-mlb-managers-explain-how-they-are-leading-clubhouses-after-george-floyd-coronavirus-003336144.html

https://www.cnbc.com/2020/06/11/ceos-unveil-plans-against-racial-inequality-after-george-floyd-death.html

https://www.cnn.com/2020/06/16/world/meanwhile-in-america-june-12-intl/index.html

https://www.wral.com/books-for-kids-to-help-spark-conversations-about-race-justice/19128212/

https://www.cnn.com/2020/06/13/us/changes-from-protests-george-floyd-trnd/index.html

We all are living in very anxious times during these times of such uncertainty. Since the pandemic rocked the world in March our lives have drastically shifted. We’ve had to collectively shift our day to day lives as we all navigate living with a global pandemic.

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When will there be a vaccine? How and when will large in person concerts and sporting events return? What about schools? When will we have more normalcy in our world? So many questions. So much unpredictability. Social media can assist with the pandemic at local, state, federal and global level when reliable information/sources are utilized.

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/managing-stress-anxiety.html

Social media is a great and powerful tool. It’s been a significant part of my life for well over a decade, especially Twitter. I joined the platform nearly a decade ago and had so much impact on my life even once blogged about my entry into the Twitterverse.

I’ve always operated all social media platforms under the mindset of using Facebook and Twitter for good. During these often unstable times this is especially true.

However far too often we see users not abiding by this. Actively complaining, engaging in unhealthy/productive conversations and not abiding by social media etiquette best practices. What value is added by utilizing social media platforms in such a way?

The above mentioned activity became so toxic recently in my own social media circle that I voluntarily cut out all social media for over a week. Logged off my laptop, desktop, all iOS social media apps. Done. Didn’t think about it for over a week. Life went on. The break from the negative energy was refreshing, honestly. I had so much more of my day left. I lived my life completely removed from the social media bubble. After a week plus away I was rejuvenated.

Below are some sound resources on social media best practices.

https://www.houstonpress.com/news/4-rules-of-twitter-etiquette-to-follow-immediately-11271695

https://wlstraininginc.com/social-media-etiquette/

https://www.huffpost.com/entry/10-facebook-etiquette-rul_b_9425740

https://topdogsocialmedia.com/twitter-etiquette/

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We are living in very trying times as a society. We all deal with stress in a variety of ways. Be mindful of who and what you represent. Your words matter. Pause and reflect before you post.

 

 

Navigating a rapidly changing landscape in career and life during COVID-19

 

It’s amazing to think of how quickly our worlds both professional and personal have changed in the last few weeks alone. Interacting with teachers, students and my administrative colleagues in the building was a daily thing. Wrapping up observations for this cycle, visiting classrooms, conducting various meetings, etc. was the daily norm. Little by little cases of COVID-19 popped up in other parts of the US, then North Carolina then right here in my beloved Wake County. District meetings started to cancel, then sporting events, then, like the entire nation now, our district canceled as a preventative measure.

Teleworking. What was that? Legit has never heard that phrase a month ago, even a few weeks ago. Now – after two weeks of teleworking through Zoom, Google Hangouts, etc. it’s the “new normal” as much a part of our lives as “social distancing” which also was a phrase that’s rapidly become part of our daily lives.

What has been amazing through all this is how rapidly, and effectively we all, especially within all walks of education have adapted to this swift change. Teleworking, utilizing Zoom to meet with grade level teams, district level leaders, smaller groups of educators, etc. daily to make sure we’re all on the same page with upcoming district roll-outs of distance learning and checking in on one another for some “face time”

This entire now two week plus experience above all has really put things into perspective. Life, family, our work, etc. Lots of time for pause and reflection. During the hustle and bustle of the “normal” work flow these things are easy to overlook.

Our teleworking schedules are often sandwiched with tv updates from our local and state leaders with advice and in some cases even closure announcements of various types of business and local/state “stay at home” orders from our Governor and county commission chairman. Our Governor and Department of Health and Human Services Secretary are on tv daily in one way or another providing guidance to the people of our state. CDC task force experts do the same daily at the federal level. These are truly unchartered territories for all of us young and old alike. We are all in this together navigating through times unknown.

 

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So much has happened already and so much is yet to come as this journey continues both personally and professionally. One thing helps more than any. Check up on friends and family – your colleagues. Even a quick phone call or text if you can’t Zoom. We are all in this together – better together. These are uncertain times but thankfully we have modern technology to help in at least somewhat weathering the storm that has come and what is undoubtedly ahead.

Sometime in the next few months when things are back to “normal” we will look back on the moments we are in now and be even so more thankful we followed the guidance of the CDC, our elected officials and all went above and beyond for the overall well being of our society.

Grateful. Celebrating the awesomeness all around us.

I fell off the blogging wagon. Again. Sigh. Back on — here we go…

On this Thanksgiving we often reflect on our blessings we have in our lives. I have so many — a loving family, two of the most amazing parents who have instilled so much in me, connections within education policy and the local and state political world who continue to make me better all-around and build capacity, a circle of friends from all walks of life who share a tight bond with me, the list goes on.

I’m focusing today on the school community. 2019 alone. Nearly halfway through the school year and things have already shaped up to be an amazing school year. I’m so blessed to work with one, if not the best, administrative teams in our school district. I learn so much from my three administrative colleagues daily — we truly make each other better daily.

As their grade level administrator, I expect a lot from the teachers I lead. They know I’m right there with them every step of the way — expecting them to go above and beyond while taking risks throughout. I model by example often with the latter. They all rise to the occasion day in day out which is why I truly celebrate them so often in a variety of methods — notes, Twitter shouts, verbal praises in public spaces, etc. Be intentional — and always authentic.

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I’m grateful. Grateful to not only work along such phenomenal school leaders but also so many teacher leaders willing and often requesting to go well above and beyond the call of duty. My kind of people. Positivity. Grit. #TeamKidsFirst . They all go such a long way. Celebrate ongoing and as always in an authentic manner.

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Celebrate successes. Faculty and students alike. Positive praise, ongoing communication in a variety of methods to parents, faculty and students are powerful. Be intentional, reflective and authentic. Celebrate success. Ongoing.

I have much to be grateful for. Legit. I’m lucky. Even luckier to work with so many truly amazing people who push me to #BecomeBetter and #StriveForGreatness daily. Blessed.

Authentic education advocacy. Take the risk.

In this blog space I post about three things with a fair amount of consistency – authenticity, taking risks along with the ongoing importance of adding value to ourselves and others.

I also post about the importance of educators advocating. In North Carolina, where the vast majority of funding for public education comes from the state level, I would argue, is even more important than many states in the nation due to our funding structure. Below is a link from the local NPR affiliate that takes a deep dive into public education funding in North Carolina.

https://www.wunc.org/post/10-questions-understand-school-funding-nc

Living in the Triangle, we are blessed with having fairly easy and ongoing access to our state legislature (North Carolina General Assembly), ongoing news coverage specific to state government and the ability to have discussions with house and senate members.

The past two years, educators from around the state have gathered in Raleigh to rally for increased per pupil spending, pay increases to our classroom teachers, school administrators, support personnel, etc. as well as more overall support and genuine respect for public education in general from our state legislature. These events have been very well attended and covered both at the local and national level.

https://www.newsobserver.com/news/politics-government/article229849024.html

https://www.cnn.com/2019/05/01/us/south-carolina-teachers-protest-may-1/index.html

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While the majority of those that attended the May 1 event (and similarly last year) teachers made up the lion’s shared of those “in red.” As a school administrator, I proudly stood by the teachers I support in and around the school on a daily basis who were downtown doing their part. I did this last year and I did it again this year as well. Never a bit of hesitation. https://brendanfetters.com/2018/05/19/20000-nc-educators-marched-now-what/

While I was so pleased with strong turnouts, a well organized event by NCAE (North Carolina Association of Educators — National Education Association affiliate) both years I was very disappointed with the lack of educators wanting to go inside and have meetings with members. It is not a secret that I spend a few hours, afternoons and even days sometimes at the legislative building downtown lobbying members of both parties for increased education spending, support in the form of the annual budget, bond proposals for new school construction, etc. I know my way around Jones Street and the halls of both the NCGA and legislative office building pretty well at this point after several years of education policy involvement.

 

A lot of educators are fearful of going inside the legislative building. Fearful of having discussions with members about their profession. This is an unspoken level of discomfort that goes beyond just education – to the general public as well.

I recently had coffee with my state representative one Saturday morning. She asked how the ‘Day of Action’ went. I articulated my concern that so many of my brothers and sisters in education had little to no desire to join me in post-rally meetings even though I had done the legwork of setting up several meetings with key house and senate meetings after the event. Rep. Adcock made it very clear the importance that constituents realize that members are not experts in all walks of life.

Who knows what’s best for the needs and concerns of a family farm in eastern Wake County the best? A farmer who is working ground in that specific region. Who knows what’s best for a hospital in rural western North Carolina? A nurse or doctor in a hospital. rural western North Carolina. Who best knows the needs of K-12 education in their specific area of the state? A teacher or school administrator in that member’s specific area of the state.

Our voice is powerful. Our opinions matter. Do not assume that we are insignificant in the decisions going forward. As I’ve blogged about it the past we have power at our fingertips – utilize these resources and run with them.

https://brendanfetters.com/2017/12/17/get-informed-leave-the-sideline-take-a-seat-at-the-table/

Rallies can be powerful – authentic conversations with people making policy decisions directly effecting our profession are even more. Take a risk. Add value to you, your colleagues and the profession. Advocate.

 

 

Being genuine in all walks professionally and personally – wrapping up 2018-19

I haven’t blogged much this school year. 4 times to be exact. I’ve fallen off the blogging “wagon” – I’ll own it. No excuses. My last post was New Year’s Day.

The 2018-19 school year has been very rewarding. Plenty of challenges, growth opportunities and inspirational moments galore mixed in. I’ve also backed off on my tweeting lately devoting more time to diving deeper with supporting students,¬† teachers, support personnel, school community¬† while advocating at the state and local level for public education at an increased level.

I’m back. Back to blogging. Back to picking up the “twitter game.” On Twitter there is often a lot of talk. Many educators are strong at sounding fantastic behind their keyboard or phone. A lot is sincere but also all too often superficial. Self promotion masked as “best for kids” and “best for education.”

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Allow me to catch up. As articulated in an earlier blog this school year it is vital that we lead intentionally by showing genuine gratitude for those we supervise daily. For me this year it included a group outing over the Holiday season to a hockey game, joining up at the ‘Day of Action’ education rally downtown Raleigh with teachers (see above), showing authentic appreciation beyond Teacher Appreciation week gifts (below), etc. The list goes on.

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For me, I have been determined daily to be present. Rarely in my office. Intentional at being present in the hallways and in classrooms. Daily. Students are never saying “Mr. Fetters is here…” or teachers asking “Do you need something?” My presence is part of the daily flow for the teachers I serve. This is true no matter how stressful or busy the day is – you make time. My presence in classrooms should never be anywhere near limited to teacher observations. Ever.

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Being visible and getting to know the staff you directly oversee is vital. Everyone has a story. Get to know the gist. This includes students just as much.

 

Be yourself. Be authentic. Build capacity in others. Work smarter. Share your space. #BecomeBetter together.

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Be yourself. Be honest. Be true. Be genuine. Authentic.

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School administrators – work with your team to continually push yourself out of your comfort zone to be the best leader you can be. For the sake of the students, staff and school community. #StriveForGreatness. 2018-19 was a fantastic ride and sure am looking forward to what 2019-20 brings.

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