Shifting from “thanks for all you do” to genuine gratitude

“Thanks for all you do.” This has to be one of the most over-used and superficial phrases of “gratitude” uttered in our society today. Personally, I’ve long despised this phrase – with a passion. Why? For starters this is so ridiculously vague. It’s not personal, specific or even meaningful.

The Holiday season is upon us. A time for showing gratitude. How do we show those that we serve, work with, co-exist in this space that we genuinely care?

At my school, our administrative team is divided by grade levels. This school year, I knew very early on in the year I was blessed with an extremely special group of educators. Often and ongoing I let them know I cared deeply in a genuine way for each of them. Daily rounds, often leaving notes, sending a tweet or a quick “hey, I really liked —- within your lesson today,” etc.

I truly went above and beyond for them daily the entire first semester. My office was rarely occupied most days because of my strong presence around the building – especially within learning spaces.

As Thanksgiving came and went I was determined to do something special for this far beyond “thanks for all you do – happy holidays” type lines, candy, cards, etc. Purchase Starbucks? Nah, already did that last year. Dinner? Nah, not unique enough. Then an advertisement came on our local NBC affiliate in the Raleigh-Durham, NC market for the Carolina Hurricanes NHL team. Bingo. That was it.

Immediately I made up my mind. I was going to call the Hurricanes organization in the morning and inquire about group tickets. No backing down. After discussing this with my boss and thinking on it a week after getting a price quote from the ‘Canes sales rep. I made it happen.

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Last weekend, over 15 educators and some of their spouses enjoyed fellowship, laughs and most of all staff bonding over the world’s greatest sport (in my humble opinion) it was simply magnificent. Yes this was a huge investment both time wise and fiscally but it backed up so much of what I constantly say and do over and over. The teachers I serve truly matter greatly and I was determined to demonstrate this. Truly priceless.

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When you tell someone “you’re significant” and “you matter” are you being genuine? Is there authentic meaning behind this or are you giving more of a “thanks for all you do” answer. Words matter. Actions are greater.

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This holiday season and ongoing strive to always demonstrate authentic gratitude in your actions no matter the situations life throws our way.

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Receiving a holiday card like the one at the bottom of this post with such genuine words on it from the above referenced people makes it all worthwhile after all.

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2017 in review: No longer “unwritten.” (#OneWord2018: confidence)

One year ago I was in an interesting place within my career. I was humming right along as an elementary curriculum coach. I knew deep down it was time for a change of pace, scenery, and perhaps position. My beloved principal, Mr. Barham, had just left my school to open a brand new school in our district which intensified this need for a change. While 2016 had been a banner year personally and professionally, 2017 was truly unwritten which is why choosing that as my #OneWord2017 was such a breeze.

My path professionally in 2017 started to shift from being unwritten to in progress very quickly. Early in the year, along with my good friends Renee White and Michael Parker West co-presented two sessions at the NCties conference in Raleigh. Taking the leap from the district convergence symposium to presenting at the largest education conference in the state. Learning and growing indeed. 

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Later that very month, Mr. West and I co-organized the spring edition of #EdCampWake. The two of us spearheaded many new an innovative features within our local EdCamp including inviting the Wendell Middle step team, area high school jazz band and having two educational authors Google Hangout from Ohio in one of the sessions. All and all a lot of planning but a most successful day.

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The biggest piece to the formerly unwritten puzzle was taking the leap when opportunity knocked. Being in my comfort zone within the elementary setting my entire career was something I was ready to change when the right opportunity knocked. It might have been well into 2016-17 but it happened. The door opened, I explored, and took the leap. Haven’t looked back and continue to be so grateful for the opportunity Mrs. MacWilliams provided. Another giant leap in long history of risks but this was near the top. https://brendanfetters.com/2017/03/25/walking-the-talk-taking-leaps-of-faith-to-achieve-personal-and-professional-growth/

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As referenced in the post above the song below by Nashville recording artist Lionel Cartwright has always been a motivator for me whenever life throws a challenge and it certainly came through yet again.

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As I continued to grow as a learner and leader I took on a new role and cherished the opportunity to experience the ISTE conference with colleagues in San Antonio which provided several days of intense learning and relationship building with peers.

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One of my proudest moments this year occurred when several building peers participated in Racial Equity Institute training which led to the creation our school’s equity team work I’m extremely passionate about. Love that so many on our faculty are embracing the uncomfortable and engaging in this powerful work. https://brendanfetters.com/2017/09/23/the-other-side-building-capacity-within-embracing-the-uncomfortable/

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Besides expanding my role as leader within the school and district I also continue to grow my work with education policy. Always aiming to build capacity in others in and around education in this powerful work. 2017 saw a lot of growth in both of these areas.

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In order to make an impact you have to at least leave the sideline. https://brendanfetters.com/2017/12/17/get-informed-leave-the-sideline-take-a-seat-at-the-table/

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22179720_1477488702342433_5502877955342734371_oIn recognition of 2017 all the trials and triumphs its now time to look ahead to 2018. What’s my #OneWord2018? Confidence. This has to be ongoing — even when the times get rocky. If there is one this 2017 taught me personal and professional growth can happen, but even quicker with ongoing confidence. With confidence, never arrogance, even greater things will happen both personally and professionally – mark it down. Here is to 2018.

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The other side – building capacity within embracing the uncomfortable

A year ago, my friend and a strong, innovative principal in our school district, Dr. Sandy Chambers invited me to her school for an intense, thought provoking, immersion training with district peers. I had heard so much about the Racial Equity Institute and their training sessions from Sandy and another district friend, Mr. Michael Parker West for many months. Now I was engaged in the process.

Life changing professional development. Courageous conversations, learning and growing with mostly educators but a handful of folks from other professions as well. I was hooked immediately. I wanted to learn more, grow more with this work. How could I get more educators to become aware and not remaining complacent in “not knowing what they don’t know?” Embracing the uncomfortable as so often have said in the past year or so is powerful, yet so many in my profession and beyond shy away, why? How can we get more educators and beyond to embrace the uncomfortable, to build capacity within this powerful and such meaningful work?

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In conjunction with my education policy work and through REI circles within our district and beyond I started to connect with other educators to learn and grow more. To encourage other educators to understand, grow, and build capacity and interest within others. I give major props to the above mentioned Michael and Sandy but also Ms. Erica Everett and Mr. Jeff Bugajski for further driving my understanding through sharing articles, viewing opportunties ongoing, inviting me to events, etc. Additionally, in the policy world, NC Rep. Graig Meyer, Wake County (NC) Commissioner Jessica Holmes and the Public School Forum of NC’s Mr. James Ford have all pushed me significantly with my understanding of equity and sparked courageous conversations through providing deeper learning opportunities with such.

After attending Racial Equity Institute (REI) trainings as both an attendee initially then as alumni to gain deeper perspective, I wanted to bring this work to key stakeholders at Carroll Middle School. I made an initial pitch to Mrs. MacWilliams over lunch with assistance from Michael and Sandy last spring. She was all in. We were going to have faculty from CMMS engaged in this meaningful work in the near future.

Fast forward to today, Saturday, September 23, 2017. I’m in the back of the REI circle at Brier Creek Elementary in Raleigh, NC — the “alumni area.” I’m so proud seeing my so many of my colleagues from Carroll Middle (along with district peers at Brier Creek Elementary and Horton’s Creek Elementary) voluntarily involved in this meaningful, deep work on a Saturday (and Sunday too) for the betterment of the students we all serve, our own craft and as a society overall.

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I’m beyond stoked to see where this work goes from here has the capacity is being built to take off both at Carroll Middle with our #TeamKidsFirst faculty here today (and tomorrow) as a result of this training and the engaging conversations occurring.

Proud day as an educator but this work is only getting started. #EquityMatters. Embrace the uncomfortable.

 

#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….

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.

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.

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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