Relationships, relationships, relationships. The foundation for all aspects of education.

As I twirl through Twitter and see tweets from educators, hear district leaders across the nation speak in person or on video, blog posts, articles or even books we hear a lot about curriculum. We hear a lot about content. We hear a lot about data.

Relationships have become a significant buzz word in our profession in the last 2-3 years especially. However, everyone in our profession or outside of it can always, even if they’re 50 years removed from their K-12 experience can remember a few teachers and/or school leaders who made a significant impact on their life. Someone who believed in them through thick and thin. Someone who didn’t give up on them when doing just that would have been much easier. Someone who forged a solid, genuine relationship.

As educators we have a responsibility no matter our role to get to know each of the students we serve. In the hallways, in the cafeteria doing classroom visits. Getting to know students’ academic strengths, weaknesses but also their likes outside of school. Allowing students to see us as humans. Not most of the students we serve, all. Yes, including those kids. Education isn’t about teaching the ones coming to school eager to learn but in also generating interest in those that often might be labeled as “unreachable” or a “challenge” possibly even a “lost cause.” This is unacceptable but unfortunately some in profession are guilty of this.

Stop. Pause. Embrace the uncomfortable. You know I’m right about the above. Step out of your bubble if you think otherwise for a minute.

We must must ensure that we are reaching all students not almost all or most but all. Once we have them all and truly have them then and only then can we truly tackle content, curriculum and plow through but its still so uber important that we continue the relationship piece ongoing.

When I was a classroom teacher I spent the first two weeks of school doing next to no academics. Did this put me “behind” some? Yes. However I knew I had to and I mean had to set my foundation. By the end of the two weeks my students would move mountains for me. In turn we moved mountains together and the students’ academic results spoke for themselves. My principals were amazed at how well so many of the students did some were those kids. The ones the previous teacher(s) would say “oooooh I’m so sorry Mr. Fetters…” when class lists were distributed. Ironically many of those kids are some of the students I made the biggest impact on in my career and reinforced the most how much I love this profession. Visiting a child at a game on a Saturday afternoon can truly turn a student’s world around for the positive. Believe me, I’ve seen it and lived it.

Fast forward to now as a school leader. Every student has a story. It is paramount we get to know the students we serve far beyond the surface level. Chats at lunch are a time for me to get to know the students on the grade level I support. During observations whether informal or formal, seeing the students in the classroom asking questions about their learning I often learn as much from them. In the hallways, at sporting events, plays, performances, reaching out to parents for balancing phone calls for positive reasons, always offering support in any capacity, the list goes on.

When you tell a student you believe in them, mean it. The students we all serve can tell when we’re authentic or superficial in a nanosecond. We life in a superficial world all too often as I’ve posted about in the past. We need to be authentic and ongoing in our relationships with students, their families. Everyone has a story. Yes, even those kids. Get to know their stories, all of them. You’ll be surprised what you find and you’ll be surprised in the content you can cover by not just plowing through right out of the gate. The “unreachable” can be reached – if you make a valiant and authentic ongoing effort.

This concept isn’t new. My career high school English teacher mother told me often throughout my undergraduate career at Wilmington College going into my first few years in education the “challenging” students will be your favorite. “Listen to them fully, believe in them and guide them.” She was so right. As a classroom teacher and school leader this is so very applicable daily.

Content, curriculum and knowledge are all powerful but you must have your solid foundation first. Do you in your classroom? How do you root the faculty you lead in truly seeing the value of this? Are the right people on your bus?

Deep thoughts rooted in a rock solid foundation of solid, genuine relationships. They take time to build up and foster but are always, always worth it. After all, #KidsDeserveIt, right?

Proud to be on the #TeamKidsFirst faculty where we foster this overarching mindset daily. Follow the hashtag to see our work in action. social Media Carroll

Get informed. Leave the sideline. Take a seat at the table.

“Thank you for standing up for educators, Brendan.”

“Your passion and dedication for all of us is so impressive”

“You are such a strong voice for our profession.”

You always know what’s going on with the inner workings politically as it relates to education.”

This is a sampling of what I hear often from fellow educators. Why? I’m involved fairly heavily in educational policy in our state. While the above words of kindness are nice, and always well meaning I tend to push back on it. To me, as professional educators we all should be at the very least, informed.

As alluded to in a previous post, our state, especially in the Triangle market, does a great job of providing local political coverage that relates almost always indirectly, often directly to public education.

With the bulk of the funding in North Carolina coming from the state level (legislature) it really should be in the interest of all educators in the public sector especially to keep a close eye on what is happening on Jones Street and how it connects to our profession.

The Public School Forum of North Carolina offers a weekly program, Education Matters, that airs locally and also is available through online and podcast platforms that deals with significant issues directly related to our profession.

NC Spin offers weekly balanced debate on issues that often at the very least indirectly effect public education weekly and offers a strong method to be informed about what’s happening legislatively. In addition to airing locally, the program also is available online and in podcast formats.

Locally in the Raleigh market, the News & Observer has a daily blog and weekly podcast Under the Dome which provide insight and analysis that often dig deep into K-12 and higher education happenings.

In addition to being informed the next aspect is having a seat at the table. Whether local funding through the Wake County Board of Commissioners, or statewide advocacy groups like Public Schools First NC, North Carolina Foundation for Public School Children or the above mentioned Public School Forum of North Carolina being able to support public education at the next level is significant. Telling examples of what is happening in our schools, the needs, the successes, how we can improve and what specifically is needed. The seat at the table provides a voice. The more seats at the table, the louder the voice.

Being aware is the first step, involvement the second. Everyone in our profession should be aware. You don’t know what you don’t know is dangerous. Awareness is key. Involvement in the profess is the next step. At times it can be a little scary initially. Step out of your comfort zone. Advocate for the students we all serve and our profession. This is the opportunity to tell the amazing things happening in our schools K-12 and beyond on a daily basis to key stakeholders in our communities and beyond.

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Stay after these meetings, talk with with the board members, elected officials. Consider making an appointment with your local elected official or state house representative or state senate member. You’d be surprised how much these people truly want to hear what they can do to better the process.

It helps when you advocate in groups. For example the below group of educational leaders and I locally are all involved with equity outreach.

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Once you have that initial foundation when the time is right – step off the sideline. Make your voice heard. #KidsDeserveIt after all, right? So what do you say? Up for a seat at the table? Embrace the uncomfortable.

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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.