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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