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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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.

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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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