#OneWord2017 — August temperature check

As the 2017-18 school year opens for students in our district in the very near future (August 28 for our traditional calendar schools) what better time to reflect on personal growth and gauge a self temperature check?

On December 30, 2016 I blogged about my #OneWord2017. At the time of the post I was an elementary curriculum coach spinning my wheels going through daily grind of 11.5 years in public education all at the elementary level in a variety of capacities. I had learned, grown and evolved as an educator, professionally and personally so much over the years but overall the next — was truly unwrittenC1CLK8QXgAAtlW0.jpg-large.jpg

Natasha Bedingfield’s lyrics to the song with the same name rang so true….
2017 came in with many changes. My beloved principal at my elementary school had just left to open a brand new school in our district.img_2198
I was loving what I was doing but deep down needed a change. That opportunity came when I least expected it and in March I made a difficult decision to leave the elementary world and so many amazing educators behind leaping to the middle school world as a curriculum coach when an perfect situation came my way.
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A complete fish out of water feeling for several days, even weeks literally a sink or swim situation. I embraced it and kept it moving – I’m at home with the best yet to come.
We hear a lot of talk about risk, leaps of faith and #failforward moments. This experience has embraced all of the above and then some. I was taking another step toward writing the unwritten for 2017 in a significant way.
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In between transferring from the elementary to the middle school world I was blessed with presenting and co-presenting in three sessions at the 2017 NCties (ISTE-affiliate) conference in Raleigh. Powerful experience being on the presenter end of this amazing conference.
As the months rolled on in my new role I continued to learn, grow and become more comfortable in the secondary setting. Growing capacity in myself and others.
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Adding into the mix co-organizing a highly successful the spring edition of #EdCampWake was another growth opportunity where risk was taken and the reward was high.
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My initial visit to the RACE: Are We So Different? exhibit in April led me to deepen my work with equity and education policy — while further seeing the shear power within “embracing the uncomfortable.” The power of personal growth in the exploration of the uncomfortableHow-To-Leave-Your-Comfort-Zone...-And-Feel-Awesome-733x414
Learning and growing with school and district peers this summer at ISTE 2017 in San Antonio fueled professional passion, growth and strengthened relationships. Further writing the “unwritten.”
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Through all this I’ve gained a new job title for the new school year as well. Always growing, always learning. As we complete our beginning of 2017-18 meetings, trainings, “nuts and bolts” and gatherings before the students arrive. What will the final 4 months of 2017 hold? Who knows. I like the trajectory things are heading currently. I’m only as strong as those around me who guide me daily, help me #StriveForGreatness in our ongoing quest to #BecomeBetter. Best is yet to come! KOKO. (Keep on keeping on)
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Rest of 2017? Unwritten….

Relationships matter: the inspiration all around us

With the hustle and bustle of the 2016-17 school year now in the rear view mirror I find myself with time to catch up, take a breather and relax briefly prior to 2017-18 ramping up in full force in a matter of weeks. Time increases rapidly – and certainly never seems to slow down.

I just completed my 12th year in public education. From my humble beginnings as a first year teacher in small town Ohio to relocating very early in my career to the great unknown of the Triangle region of North Carolina, to obtaining my graduate degree in school administration and taking on leadership roles within the school I’ve always been invested heavily in relationships. Student to student, staff to staff, school community stakeholders, the list goes on. They’re genuine and ongoing as I’ve referred to in previous posts, its vital we are sincere as all those we serve, especially the kids, can spot a phony in an instant. Words and sincerity matter. Period.

This has always been my hallmark. Long before “relationships” became a buzzword in our profession. Long before my connections and eventual school partnership with Angela Maiers and Choose2Matter. Certainly before I met Mike Erwin and became involved with the Positivity Project beginning this past school year.

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At times we lose focus of how much our words matter. The students we all serve listen and hang on every word we say. As a younger 3rd grade teacher back in 2007-2008 I began branching out beyond the walls of my classroom. It was my third year teaching and I wanted to begin taking a bigger role. Looking back it was one of my first risks as a young, wide-eyed educator. I took time to get to know other students on the grade level outside of my classroom, their parents, getting to know them beyond student A, student B, etc. Having check-ins at lunch, or on the playground. The mentality shift from my students to our students had begun for me officially.

A month ago, that “wave” of third graders from my first elementary in Raleigh graduated from high school. In the months leading up to the big day I was amazed how many of these former third grade parents & students began reaching out to me via social media, phone, work email, etc. to ask for my address. They almost all had the same sort of blanket message “Mr. Fetters you made such a big impact on me/my child a decade ago we’d love for you to attend my/their high school graduation.” All told I received 10 invitations this year. Some were students I had in class, several were those I never taught but got to know through weekly check-ins. They were our third graders – clearly I made an impact.

I was able to attend a high school graduation this year that the bulk of students from my original WCPSS elementary school attended. Most of the students that invited me were there. It was amazing to see so many of them, hear of their accomplishments, aspirations, while also making me feel quite old in the process.

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I was able to attend one graduation party that day, a girl who I didn’t have as one of my students, but of course she was ours. Her mother reached out to me repeatedly and really wanted me to come to their house afterwards so I did. This young lady is incredible. Her exact words to me were “you always said you believed in me when I was in third grade – not a lot of people did but I knew you meant it. I wanted to prove you right.” I was taken back. Do words matter? Absolutely. Sincerity? Absolutely. This young lady has gone to places many never thought she would go. She’s going to move mountains. Just a small sliver of the impact we can and often do make on a daily basis within the profession regardless of our capacity.

These students have inspired me as much as I inspired them years ago. So powerful. Such an opportunity for rich reflection.

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Its easy to get caught up in the moment as educators. We all have tough days and the work we do is challenging. It truly takes a village. We all have a lot going on in our personal lives, career, homes, etc. but its essential we keep doing right by kids as the pinnacle of every decision we make as an educator. That should always be a nonnegotiable.

Learning, bonding, collaborating and growing at #ISTE17

For months I anticipated attending my first ISTE Conference. Several days of learning at the annual massive educational tech conference were around the corner and I was so excited. Having attended and presented at ISTE-affliated NCties Conference several times I had an idea about ISTE but also knew NCties was a fraction of the size of ISTE.

In the weeks ahead of ISTE my colleagues and I that would be attending the conference together met with magnet office representatives to plan out our days at the conference in San Antonio and go through a Google Plus community set up to share and learn from one another as a would “divide and conquer” as best as possible in an effort to maximize our session learning.

As the day of our travels began excitement mounted as we boarded the plane heading to Texas for 5 powerful days in San Antonio and soaking up #ISTE17 knowledge. The #WeAreCarroll team was ready, eager and excited to travel together to Texas!

We arrived in San Antonio a day ahead of the conference which allowed ample time for unwinding, relaxing and most of colleague bonding through exploration of San Antonio. This proved to be one of the most powerful aspects of our time in Texas as we dined together daily and truly got to know one another much better personally and professionally.

IMG_3558There is no basement in the Alamo. 

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After a day of collaborating, final plans for session attendance, vendor exploration, poster sessions, etc. were made and we prepared to take on ISTE the next morning. Our first day at ISTE was going to be huge! I was finally going to meet and collaborate some with Angela Maiers. Angela and I ended up connecting after she read my blog post late last summer on kicking off a “You Matter” movement at my previous school. Add into the mix a session with Kids Deserve It! co-author Todd Nesloney along with the great Alan November later on I was so excited about this day.

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As the team headed in to register, get our bearings and head to our initial sessions my first thoughts were “oh my goodness – this is the biggest conference I’ve ever been to!” People everywhere – this was NCties times 10. Navigating was a challenge – eager to learn educators at every single turn. Unreal. So powerful.

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As the hours and days wore on we all became more comfortable within the massive conference and were able to break off during the morning – debrief over lunch and then again at dinner daily.

IMG_3568.jpgAlan November was incredible. The Who Owns the Learning? author gave an on-the-fly presentation on how to push students to go outside their comfort zones, own their own learning and become global thinkers.

IMG_3573.jpgFor me the highlight of #ISTE17 was attending Lord Jim Knight and Angela Maiers’ session on the power of mattering. We’ve been well connected for about a year now and it was great to have a rich conversation after her presentation. She’s an amazing asset to my PLN and I cherish her positivity greatly. She’s added so much value to my career. 

IMG_3575.jpgVery cool to chat with Todd Nesloney prior to his session. His work and vision is incredible. I was so appreciative of his kind words regarding my blog post last month. His TedX is one of my all-time favorites. So genuine.

All sessions on day one and with the next few days being spent in a few sessions, poster sessions, Expo hall sessions leading up to our way back to Raleigh on the final day of #ISTE17.

IMG_3580.jpgLoved the informality of the poster sessions. Great inside information directly from the source — the educators themselves about the why, who, what, when and how! 

IMG_3588So cool hearing about the transformation and evolution of makerspaces from the guru herself, Laura Fleming

IMG_3589.jpgLearning about Future Ready initiatives from Tom Murray. Great to briefly chat with someone I’ve followed on Twitter and admired his work from afar for years. 

Many takeaways from #ISTE17. My brain is full. My heart is full. The bonding we made as a team was as significant as the days of intense learning and growing were without question. As I’ve had many days to digest all that we soaked in – one thing is certain. We are all much stronger educators today than we were before our visit to San Antonio. 2017-18 is going to be an amazing year at CMMS as we spread our experience and build capacity within our peers. Get ready, buckle up — big things coming!

Spending many days in Texas and being a life-long George Strait fan, I’d be remiss not to remind everyone that their truly is a song by the King of Country for every life situation. Even this unreleased San Antonio-themed track from the 90s.

My ISTE experience only deepens my love for education, growing as learner and leader while always doing right by kids in every decision and situation. I look forward to returning once again in the near future.

Taking authentic risks through embracing the uncomfortable

We hear a lot about the word risk. For someone who has taken my fair share and have blogged, tweeted and embraced the experiences I find so much value in such. Risks are great but they have to be authentic. Taking a small step outside of your comfort zone isn’t a risk. It’s an extremely calculated safe hop – not a leap, nor a risk. Period. Sometimes the two are conflicted. There is clear contrast.  https://brendanfetters.com/2017/03/25/walking-the-talk-taking-leaps-of-faith-to-achieve-personal-and-professional-growth/

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We also hear a lot about Kids Deserve It. While I love this phrase along with Adam Welcome and Todd Nesloney’s message what I love most is how authentic their work is. Want to talk about risk? Todd lives and breathes it. Just take 15 minutes and embrace his TedX talk if you want proof. He fully believed in those parents in that school with a school community that some do not truly believe in – lets face it. (Uncomfortable reality) Powerful. Why a risk? So much had never been done. Was there inital pushback? You bet. Why did it work? He believed in his work for starters but most of all he believed in his school community.

Why else was this successful? He took a risk and embraced the uncomfortable. So many that talk about risk are doing such superficially because they have no desire to embrace the uncomfortable. What do I mean? —>https://brendanfetters.com/2017/04/29/the-power-of-personal-growth-in-exploration-of-the-uncomfortable/

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Want to talk about Kids Deserve It? They certainly do — and it’s our life’s work, right? Kids first – always. However, as much as everything rises and falls on leadership as Dr. Maxwell always says it also rises and sets on both authentic risks through embracing of the uncomfortable. After all, Kids Deserve It.

The power of positivity through genuine relationships

Jimmy Casas (@casas_jimmy) speaks often to the power of the “three Rs” relationships, relationships, relationships. So true, both in education and life without a solid relationship foundation what do we really have? Nothing. While relationships have become a buzzword lately it’s imperative these are genuine and not just “going through the motion” by “checking off the box.” The students we all serve can spot phony in a nanosecond. When we are truly invested in them as individuals far beyond mere data points, they know.

If you see my Twitter feed enough you know I send out daily motivations often early in the morning. Monday – #CelebrateMonday created by my pal Sean Gaillard; Tuesday – #TootlingTuesday created by my friend and district colleague Renee White; Wednesday – #WednesdayWisdom; Thursday – #ThoughtfulThursday; Friday – #FF (Follow Friday); Saturday – #SaturdaySpark and Sunday – #SundayMotivation. All of these daily tweets are designed to provide positivity in some fashion. Celebrating the great aspects of the school, regognizing district colleagues going above and beyond, inspirational quotes or sayings, providing PLN educators who might be beneficial to increase their personalized learning, the list goes on.

While daily tweets of inspiration, praise and thought are one thing how do we put relationships into action. Enter my work with two projects at both the elementary and middle school level.

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In 2011, when I was new to Twitter one of the first interactions I had on a “global level” (educators beyond my district and state level) was Angela Maiers. Angela had just rolled out her You Matter initiative and I was blown away.

Her work inspires me greatly and through bringing her You Matter movement to my previous school caused me to blog about the experience which led to a conference call with Angela, myself and school stakeholders. Angela’s overarching work and her Choose2Matter organziation (http://www.choose2matter.org) transformed the student and staff culture at Wendell Creative Arts and Science Magnet Elementary  and I’m so grateful for the opportunity Shane Barham afforded me to bring this initiative to his school.

When I transitioned curriculum coaching roles within our district from elementary to middle school levels one of the areas of attraction that led me to Carroll Leadership in Technology Magnet Middle School was the school had recently integrated the Positivity Project (https://posproject.org) I immediately saw the deep value in relationship as well as clear positivity of the initiative.

What was even more powerful once I arrived at the school was the ability to intertwine Positivity Project (P2) with our Leader in Me/Seven Habits which is part of of our magnet theme. Amazing, right? Excited to see where this program takes our school in 2017-18.

Even more exciting is as a pilot school in our district we recently invited over 30 other schools in our district to our school to learn more about P2 from our student leaders and the president and co-founder of Positivity Project, Mike Erwin. From that workshop we now have several new schools in our district planning to implement P2 for 2017-18. Strength in numbers – and a growing Positivity Project PLN within our own district. The #OtherPeopleMatter initiatives are powerful.

While all the inspirational tweets, blogs, initiatives, and are talk have great power none of these have true value or merit without genuine, ongoing relationships. Relationships with students, staff and community stakeholders. How are you doing in that department? Remember, the students we all serve can spot the artificial quickly. Be honest, reflect, improve. We all can. We are better together. After all, #KidsDeserveIt.

The power of personal growth in exploration of the uncomfortable

This past week I had the privilege of attending an educator’s night at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences  to help roll out the museum’s latest special exhibit RACE: Are We So Different? I had the great opportunity to spend several hours of conversation and exploration of the new exhibit with a group of educators from around the region while sharing the space with several district friends and colleagues as well.

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At the end of the evening, my biggest takeaway was not about the content. It was that the common inclination of many is to shy away from the uncomfortable.

As someone who is fairly “comfortable” being uncomfortable – from racial equity training, to diving into education policy in an effort to gain deeper meaning of what’s happening within our profession at the state and local level to having discussion about poverty in our schools  I see the value in being uncomfortable.

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As educators, we all are busy. Balancing life along with our career is so often a delicate act especially in the later stages of the academic year when we all are rolling along in 5th gear seemingly. However, as professionals it should always be up to us to grow, learn and improve as not only educators but also humans.

The person I am today as a professional is a far cry from 5 years ago. That’s not saying I was a lousy educator or human being but rather I have learned, grown and improved significantly in that time. A big reason why? Embracing of the uncomfortable.

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Its often much, much easier to simply “bury our heads in the sand” to utilize my grandfather’s favorite cliche than learn and grow together by having challenging “uncomfortable” conversations.

As educators, we should be learning more about the students and families we all serve on a deeper level. I’m thankful that in our district, Dr. Trice and his team in the Office of Equity Affairs we have made great strides in this effort. This effort introduced me to the Cultural Proficiency text which broadened my horizons even more.

Two friends and district peers Mr. Michael Parker West and Dr. Sandy Chambers introduced me to the Racial Equity Institute which challenged my thinking on a much, much deeper level. Can all of this be uncomfortable? Absolutely. Is it meaningful? 110 percent. Vital in order to shift the conversation? Absolutely.

As educators I can’t begin to express the importance of facing the uncomfortable. Follow what faces our profession directly with legislation. In our state alone we are blessed to have two excellent weekly programs which address our profession directly and/or indirectly on an in depth and balanced level. My point being the information is out there, readily available. Its up to us as professionals to take that information, have conversations that are sometimes uncomfortable and advocate.

IMG_9291-1080x675hqdefaultThere is incredible capacity within the uncomfortable. There is strength in harnessing the uncomfortable initially and turning into comfort. This is how we truly have the greatest impact on our schools, peers, families, stakeholders and ultimately the students we all serve.

Taking that initial leap into the uncomfortable is always tough. After all its a risk – outside of our comfort zone. At the end of the day, Dr. Maxwell might have said it best with this quote… 167903-John-C-Maxwell-Quote-A-person-who-refuses-to-risk-change-fails-to.jpgThe resources are all there. Will we embrace them and have conversations or will we be sufficient with a “things will all be ok” mentality?  The ball is in our court.

I can’t accept not trying. My grandfather’s impact on my life and career.

Yesterday, April 22, is always a significant day for me. It’s Earth Day, yes, a day when we should all reflect on being good stewards to the earth and make an ongoing effort to protect it. Very true. While this day is very important, Earth Day is not the reason for this post – my maternal grandfather’s life, legacy and impact on my life is.

My father recently had many of our old home reel videos from the early 1980s up to the camcorder VHS tapes of the late 80s and early 90s digitalized and sent to me on DVD. I have enjoyed watching these slices of family vacations, reunions, tours of our family’s farm, etc. greatly. My father always loved taking videos when I was growing up. Sometimes it would drive us crazy but in retrospect I’m very glad he did. Most of all it “reconnected” me with several family members who are no longer with us. While all of this was significant this especially rang true with one man – my Grandpa Marshall.

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April 22, 1916 Joseph Marshall was born. Growing up in Lexington, Massachusetts (the “birthplace of America” as my grandpa would always proudly announce) my grandfather worked his way through Boston College proudly obtaining an education degree even though he had his military dreams set. He enlisted in the Army Aircorp (now Air Force) as a young man and despite his small frame of just over 5 feet tall – became a pilot through hard work and determination. A successful pilot at that flying in both WWII and the Korean War and Blind Bat missions in the height of the Vietnam War where he received the Purple Heart. Grandpa loved to tell about the C-130 in Vietnam and especially his beloved P-51D Bonesie as well as the lessons learned and sacrifices made for his family. Beyond his wartime experiences my grandfather’s military career led the family all over the US and to South Dakota, Louisiana, New Hampshire and even a few years in Okinawa where my mother and uncles were in DOD schools. Finally my grandfather was stationed Columbus, Ohio where he would end up retiring from the Air Force after a lengthy career.

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Retiring a Major in the USAF my grandfather had a full, successful military career. He could have easily hung it up for good. He didn’t. He had an education degree from a top-notch university he had never utilized. He entered a middle school classroom. He taught, loved it, grew and returned for more. 10 years in fact. Loved his “post retirement” career. Then he retired for good.

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While I don’t remember my grandfather teaching I do remember him telling me about many of his experiences in education. I was blessed to have 17 years of my life with my grandfather. I can honestly say that in the the last 6-7 years of his life especially as I grew from elementary to middle school and  started high school, my grandpa became my best friend. My grandparents lived 45 minutes away but I would always visit several times a month, often weekly. Often I would be together with family but the older I became the more my grandpa and I would have discussions, go to games alone or out to lunch or dinner. It was during these visits the bond grew even closer. As many flying stories as grandpa had he was equally proud of climbing in his beloved (and despised by everyone else in the family) orange Chevette and driving to the school daily to teach. It was apparent that although he spent far more time in the military and had a deep love for it his admiration for education was just as strong.

I have had many influences in my decision to enter education, most notably my mother and several educators I had in school growing up but my maternal grandparents were also a big push especially my grandfather. He was so proud of his daughter, my mother, for being a career teacher and by the time I was in middle school knew that I would follow those footsteps — was elated I wanted to be come the third generation educator in the family.

While my grandfather passed unexpectedly when I was 17 he’s always with me. Just before his passing he gave me a very well crafted watch for Christmas. That very watch has been with me almost 20 years now. That watch has been with me for the significant events in my life he couldn’t attend but I know he was there in spirit. My graduations from high school, undergraduate school, graduate school, interviews, speeches I’ve given, etc. – If I have something significant the watch is on and my grandpa is with me.

We all have significant members of our family who have passed who’ve contributed significantly – Joseph Marshall was just that to me. We loved sports – specifically our beloved Red Sox and Celtics. We also shared great admiration for Michael Jordan and his dedication to success through good times and bad. One year growing up I received Jordan’s inspirational book, I Can’t Accept Not Trying he co-wrote at the height of his career. My grandpa and I collectively shared so much inspiration in this book. Its contents and my grandfather’s belief in me always despite when times were tough — fueled my growing up and continue today. 15978017_10154639138095804_8026454115205786936_n

I have a lot of drive, ambition and will find a silver lining in the most dire situations. Much of this is attributed to family, friends and people in my life. It’s strong now and I’m grateful for that but the initial drive for success was laid by in the foundation my family set for me. They always believed me and pushed me. My grandfather was a colossal part of that. Even though he’s been gone many years and would be 101 and today – I hope I’m doing him proud. He pushed me to #BecomeBetter and #StriveForGreatness long, long before hashtags were a thing. I’m forever grateful for those 17 years with my grandpa and with so many other significant influences throughout my life who have and continue to add value to me. I’m truly blessed.

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Rolling out the red carpet — authentic student led learning in action!

The past few months have been a whirlwind. Accepting a middle school instructional coaching position 2/3 into the school year and making the leap from a career deeply rooted in the elementary level to the “great unknown” of middle school has been quite the career journey that I’ve embraced with open arms.

Learning and growing through risk doesn’t stop with the adult learner by any stretch of the imagination. In fact it should be practiced and embraced ongoing with the students we all serve.

At Carroll Leadership in Technology Magnet Middle School student led learning occurs a variety of ways perhaps most notably through challenged based learning (CBL) aided with the support of our amazing CBL coach Christine who offers ongoing support from afar as well as several on campus visits throughout the academic year.

Within the CBL students are able to engage in thought provoking challenge tasks while deeply hitting all the 4C components (communication, critical thinking, collaboration and creativity) in a fun learning environment. The results of the CBL activities are amazing — learning opportunities the students will remember for months and often years to come because of the fun factor but most vital – the deep learning aspect.

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During our Leadership Night this past week, I was exposed to the final aspect of many current 6, 7 and 8th grade CBL projects in full (after witnessing many in progress in the weeks leading up) as we welcomed our rising 6th grade students and families to CMMS. Every grade level had several CBL projects on display which student leaders led the discussion with classroom teachers only offering clarification if need be to the parents – the students truly owned the learning in every single room…powerful.

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While this evening was an authentic representation of many of the amazing aspects of what our school has to offer it also shed light of our work with the 7 Habits as a Leader in Me school woven through our work with the Positivity Project. These were evident by the language the student leaders were using as well as “P2” gear being sported around the school and examples as well as Leader in Me/7 Habits throughout the school. Most notably as soon as students and their families arrived they were greeted by several faculty and made their way down there long hallway on a red carpet where roughly 3/4 of our faculty loudly cheered as one family at a time’s name was called out by one of our 6th grade teachers. The students and their families made their way down the red carpet and to the auditorium where student leaders and CMMS principal Mrs. MacWilliams officially kicked off the evening. Powerful. Authentic. Positive. All of which start from the top and trickles down. https://twitter.com/CYarzy/status/849800519266832388

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Through community partnerships, great publicity through social media, word of mouth, other avenues the community and our magnet nodes are getting wind of what the amazing learning environment. This was evident by a phenomenal turnout by our Future Leaders and their families.

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While this night was a huge success it wouldn’t have been possible without the tireless work and weeks of planning without the administrative team, classroom teachers, academic support team members and especially our fantastic magnet coordinator, Mrs. Maloney. I’ve been a part of many community/family school events throughout my career this was hands down one of the highlights within my career.

However the true stars of the night were the students. Both our current students who served as student leaders in many capacities whether in leadership showcases in rooms and around the halls, or student leaders on the stage, greeters, etc.

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Also our future students who came to the school many for the first time in knowing that this would in fact be “their school” in 2017-18. Learning and leading all around. So strong – so powerful. Great things happening and even more to come in the coming months. #WeAreCarroll.

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Walking the talk – taking leaps of faith to achieve personal and professional growth

Risk. Failing forward. Leaps of faith. If you follow my blog, Twitter feed or spend time with me you know I live and breathe these daily. I’m very motivation driven, feeding off positive people who inspire and encourage me to do my best as a professional and above all person.

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Growing up in rural south-central Ohio in a farming community I was exposed to the value of hard, physical work helping out on my family’s grain and livestock farm operation throughout the year growing up. Having a mother as a high school English, public speaking and journalism teacher I was exposed to the value of hard work within education. I watched as my mother spent so much of her free time making connections with her students – sacrificing sleep for her entire 30 year career to be the best mother she could to me while also providing above and beyond feedback for her students in the classroom. That inspired me. My maternal grandparents inspired me with their tales as educators.

When I think about risk my first substancial exposure relating specifically to me was back in 2006. While having been exposed to much of the country in the form of travel with family and friends, I really hadn’t left the general central and southern Ohio region. I went to college not far from my hometown and my first teaching job was a mere 15 minutes from my parents in the next school district over from the one I attended growing up and my mother spent her career teaching in. I was enjoying what I was doing career wise but I needed something different, a change. A significant break from small town Ohio. Perhaps a break from the heartland altogether was what I needed?

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I had an offer on the table from Wake County Public Schools to relocate and teach third grade in Raleigh, North Carolina. Every fiber in my being knew I should be scared. I had no connections to North Carolina. My aunt and uncle had done their medical residencies at Duke University when I was in elementary, were married in the Duke Gardens and even practiced in the area initially. My cousin Matt was even born in Durham. However, at the time, my uncle and aunt had relocated a decade prior from the state and I no longer had a connection.

My aunt and uncle were all in favor of me giving this a whirl. They loved their time in the Triangle and and at Duke and spoke highly of the area. My parents, despite me being the only child, encouraged me to give it a try. I could always come back home, right?

June 25, 2006 I took the leap. Not knowing anyone at all – my parents, one of my father’s work trucks, a pull behind U-Haul, my tiny “college car” loaded to the brim and I all made the journey from south-central Ohio to the great unknown of Raleigh, North Carolina.

Risk. Rewarded. 

I immediately fell in love with the area. The people. The district. I learned, grew, collaborated. Several years of teaching third grade turned into several years of fourth  grade which turned into going to graduate school to pursue an administrative degree.

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Everywhere I’ve been in the now 5 schools I’ve worked at in my career (counting my brief time in Ohio) have added insight to my life and career. I keep in touch with all of my past principals and at least a handful of former teachers from each school who have added significant value to my life and career. Several have become dear friends. Each one of these stops along my ride have helped mold, strengthen and sharpen the saw on my professional journey.

After a decade plus in my career I had spent my entire time at the elementary level and was becoming stale. I didn’t realize it yet –  but I was. My friend from grad school LaTeisha had encouraged me on several occasions to consider high school administration. While that wasn’t quite in my wheelhouse – yet… it opened the door to consideration of a big change. I was stubborn about leaving elementary but wasn’t even realizing it.

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My friend Michael and I had embarked on several collaborative partnerships with my now former elementary and his middle school down the road. The more I visited his middle school the more my eyes started opening. Ironically at this same time my friend Bethany from Charlotte had recently transitioned from an entire career in elementary both teaching and as an administrator going to middle school and was raving about it — how empowering the change was for her career.

I was ready for another leap but knew I needed the right opportunity. I’ve never been one to change for the sake of changing. It always has to be the right opportunity and situation for me personally and professionally.

A few months ago – when I wasn’t even looking, opportunity knocked. I opened the door, explored, liked what I saw and took that leap. Mid school year and all – I was leaping from elementary – all I’d known my entire career in education to middle school.

I go with my gut – always. I was so far out of my comfort zone I didn’t even know where to start — but I knew I was in the right place for me professionally. I was going to grow significantly and thrive. I took the offer – and I leapt.

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Several weeks into the new position and setting I’m loving it. Gaining my footing more and more daily and comfort level rising. Growth, growth, growth all around. Risk rewarded. Onward.

That leap in 2006 was significant. The leap I made in early 2017 is just as much. Both of these wouldn’t be possible without the strong support team I had in both situations and ongoing. We should always be learning, growing and improving together. Supporting one another through the ups, downs of life and career.

Some of us talk about risk, leaps of faith, fail forward and stepping out of our comfort zone but what do you do when opportunity knocks?

One of my favorite songs about risk is a lesser known early 90s country song by Lionel Cartwright from when I growing up. Leap of Faith has always inspired me and is a song I’ll turn to for inspiration from time to time. Lionel Cartwright – Leap of Faith

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Leap of Faith

Written and performed by Lionel Cartwright (1991 – MCA Nashville)

[Verse 1]
You want a no-risk guarantee before you take a chance
You wanna know how the song will end before you start to dance
Well I can’t foretell the future, but my heart clearly sees
Your hand in mine for a long, long time if you could just believe

[Chorus]
And take a leap of faith, cast away your doubt
Darling come what may, we can work it out
A love that’s real will always find a way
If you’ll trust in me like I trust in you
There’s no rain or fire that we can’t go through
The first step’s always the hardest one to take
It’s a leap of faith

[Verse 2]
I understand all your doubts and fears of laying your heart on the line
But aren’t you afraid of just throwing away a love like yours and mine
I know your heart’s been broken, you’ve been let down before
Though the stakes are high, give it one more try, this time you can be sure

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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