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.

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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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.

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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Goodbye to 2016, hello to 2017. Next steps? Unwritten.

As an educator, I’ve taken many risks throughout my career. This is a topic I’ve spoken, tweeted and even blogged about numerous occassions. Taking “the road less traveled” is so significant to me I devoted an entire post to the subject and the song based on the meaning to me. 2016 is a year that saw a lot of growth in me professionally as an educator.

I bring up my love of taking risks and encouraging others within my district and profession in general to do so because of the great learning experience(s) and powerful reward involved.

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As I look back at 2016 professionally, risk reward and fail forward moments are the cornerstone without question. For me, it’s truly all about staying on track and following the principles below…

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In the spring, my first significant risk came in the form of being asked by a trusted friend and district colleague, Mrs. Melanie Farrell, to be part of her presentation group at the Wake County Public School System’s 2016 Spring Convergence Symposium. While I had presented for the faculty several times at my school I had never presented at a large venue.  However, considering the topic was something I was very well versed in, Twitter for educational growth and connectivity, why not? Leap of faith. Huge success. I not only grew as a learner, leader and educator but was also found something I truly enjoyed – presenting to others and helping them grow and learn. Powerful learning experiences in the “Twitter Garden.” clbk8zfuyaaipsc

In the summer I took the leap by being on the leadership planning team of Ed Camp Leadership – North Carolina. While I had attended several EdCamps locally and throughout the state, I had never been on the planning committee. That changed in July when a group of of us worked together for several months to successfully plan and oversee the second #EdCampLDR. Another leap of faith. Was the event perfect? No. Did we learn from the #FailForward moments? Absolutely. Growth, growth, growth. Looking forward to next summer’s event which will be even better and stronger. http://midcareer.gse.upenn.edu/edcamp-leadership

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This experience made the decision to co-organize #EdCampWake with Mr. Michael Parker West this coming spring much easier. https://www.eventbrite.com/e/edcamp-wake-tickets-30179882842

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At the beginning of the school year “inservice days” before the students arrive the principal, assistant principal and I spent a day taking turns diving into relationships and cultural proficiency with the staff. I presented on relationships staff/staff, staff/student, student/student. The presentation was powerful and was centered around Angela Maiers’ #YouMatter initiative and TedX talk.  https://vimeo.com/103280107

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The experience was so powerful and well received I decided to blog about it on the ASCD Edge platform: http://edge.ascd.org/blogpost/refreshed-recharged-and-ready-to-go-in-2016-17

While I got a lot of positive feedback from that blog post, I never realized the true impact until a month or so later when Angela Maiers contacted me about the post. She loved it, adored my/our work at the school and wanted to have a phone conference. Wow. Really? A few weeks later it happened. A conference call with myself, principal, a literacy coach and a classroom teacher and Angela Maiers. A 45 minute conversation that was liberating and could have gone on for hours. Empowering puts it mildly. Great advice and encouragement throughout to help us #BecomeBetter as educators in reaching the students we all serve while building the #YouMatter message throughout the school. Powerful experience for all of us involved – Mr. Shane Barham, Mrs. Fran Haley, Mrs. Kim Edmiston and Angela.

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In the fall, Dr. Sandy Chambers, an amazing principal in our district, invited myself, the above mentioned Mr. Shane Barham and Mrs. Melanie Farrell along with my friend Ms. NaShonda Cooke from Durham, NC to attend Racial Equity Institute training at her school. This two day emersion training was extremely empowering. Life changing. Attending was something that took a bit of a risk. Why? I was stepping way out of my comfort zone but engaging in a topic that would enrich my leadership and overall well being in not only my profession but personal life. My attendance was something I really wanted to do but it took risk. I’m eternally grateful to Dr. Chambers for offering this experience to me. Top notch organization and truly life changing experience – no way around it.  https://www.racialequityinstitute.org

In November, I presented with several key stakeholders in my PLN, including the above mentioned Dr. Chambers, at the Fall Convergence for our district on the power of the PLN – I recently blogged on this session and Fall Convergence experience in depth. The successes of these presentations were the culmination of the previous experiences listed above and #FailForward moments. Grateful for my presentation pals both in that session and Mrs. Renee White and Mr. Michael Parker West with whom I love presenting with and am truly looking forward to again in March at NC Ties 2017. http://ncties.org/conference/index.php

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All of these planning sessions came with the assistance of Google Hangout which is quickly becoming invaluable to professional development and a tool I added to my arsenal this year as well. Google Hangout even aided the teachers at my school last spring when my friend Mrs. Kara Brem, a teacher on the other side of our large district held an interactive Seesaw session via “GHO” with our faculty. Powerful.

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Much of the above mentioned and so much of my growth can be attained to the work of John Maxwell. Many that know me well know I’m quite the fan of Maxwell’s work. Most notably his “value added” model. It’s always important we stay focused, #StriveForGreatness and aim to #BecomeBetter but also vital we add value to others and seek to surround ourselves with those who add value to our lives. The basic parameters of this concept can be found here: http://www.johnmaxwell.com/blog/the-law-of-contribution-7-tips-to-cultivate-an-attitude-of-growing-others

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Additionally this brief clip on the subject by Dr. Maxwell is also powerful: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e1OQcdYyjJU

Most that know me know I’m always on the go and continually very “global.” It wasn’t until I stopped and actually reflected a bit that I realized just how significant 2016 was on my growth as a leader, learner and educator. What’s next? Well, that’s still unwritten. This song and the corresponding lyrics sum it up well though… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b7k0a5hYnSI

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Unwritten

Performed by NaTasha Bedingfield

Written by Tarik L. Collins, Ahmir K. Thompson, Karl B. Jenkins, Tahir Cheeseboro Jamal, Khari Abdul Mateen, Radji Mateen, Ridhwan Mateen

Copyright © EMI Music Publishing, Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Universal Music Publishing Group

I am unwritten

Can’t read my mind
I’m undefined
I’m just beginning
The pen’s in my hand
Ending unplanned

Staring at the blank page before you
Open up the dirty window
Let the sun illuminate the words that you could not find

Reaching for something in the distance
So close you can almost taste it
Release your inhibitions
Feel the rain on your skin
No one else can feel it for you
Only you can let it in
No one else, no one else
Can speak the words on your lips
Drench yourself in words unspoken
Live your life with arms wide open
Today is where your book begins
The rest is still unwritten

Oh, oh, oh

I break tradition
Sometimes my tries are outside the lines
We’ve been conditioned to not make mistakes
But I can’t live that way

Staring at the blank page before you
Open up the dirty window
Let the sun illuminate the words that you could not find

Reaching for something in the distance
So close you can almost taste it
Release your inhibitions
Feel the rain on your skin
No one else can feel it for you
Only you can let it in
No one else, no one else
Can speak the words on your lips
Drench yourself in words unspoken
Live your life with arms wide open
Today is where your book begins

Feel the rain on your skin
No one else can feel it for you
Only you can let it in
No one else, no one else
Can speak the words on your lips
Drench yourself in words unspoken
Live your life with arms wide open
Today is where your book begins
The rest is still unwritten

Staring at the blank page before you
Open up the dirty window
Let the sun illuminate the words that you could not find

Reaching for something in the distance
So close you can almost taste it
Release your inhibitions
Feel the rain on your skin
No one else can feel it for you
Only you can let it in
No one else, no one else
Can speak the words on your lips
Drench yourself in words unspoken
Live your life with arms wide open
Today is where your book begins

Feel the rain on your skin
No one else can feel it for you
Only you can let it in
No one else, no one else
Can speak the words on your lips
Drench yourself in words unspoken
Live your life with arms wide open
Today is where your book begins
The rest is still unwritten
The rest is still unwritten
The rest is still unwritten

Oh, yeah, yeah

 

The gift that keeps giving – my PLN.

During this holiday season as we all scatter about our towns, communities and even the country to see family, friends and loved ones we often reflect on the positives in our lives and all we’re grateful for. While I certainly have many blessings to be thankful for – one I’m most grateful for and a true gift is my PLN.

My PLN is wide and powerful – a daily resource of information. Whether utilizing resources within our district to capacity, a wide variety of connected educators throughout the country and beyond on Twitter, Voxer and most recently, Instagram — I’m so thankful. Each member of my PLN adds value to my life and career. Whether we bounce ideas off each other once a year or once a week — there is power in learning and growing together.  As we close 2016 here are some significant impacts members of my PLN have had this year alone…

15202739_10154486310625804_7461757797978786816_nSurrounding yourself with people who help you #BecomeBetter isn’t just a tagline it’s a way of life for connected educators and a daily aspect for all members of my PLN who truly challenge me to be my best. I truly appreciate Dr. Sandy Chambers, Mrs. Melanie Farrell, Mr. Phil Echols and Mr. Kyle Hamstra pictured above. Each of these leaders in education from within the Wake County Public School System have their own unique skill-set they bring to the table within our profession and together we share and grow to #BecomeBetter. Powerful. Together we shared our PLN journey and areas of strength at the 2016 WCPSS Fall Convergence Symposium.

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Ryan McLane and Eric Lowe are connected school leaders in my native Ohio that are leading the charge in school promotion, an area I’m passionate about. The book these gentleman co-authored, Your School Rocks…So Tell People About It! single handedly opened me to utilizing Instagram and expanding the news program(s) at our school. Check out their book if you haven’t already: https://www.amazon.com/School-Passionately-Promote-Positives-Happening/dp/0986155527/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1458400536&sr=8-1&keywords=your+school+rocks+so+tell+people+about+it

img_2028Mrs. Renee White and Mr. Michael Parker West are significant members of my PLN and also great resources for elementary and middle school curriculum within our district. I’m blessed by their ongoing student-first mentality, positivity and co-presenting with them several times.

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Dr. Steven Weber is one who continually pushes me to expand my learning and growing as an educational leader. He is responsible for my initial dive into blogging, trying EdCamps (and being quickly hooked), Voxer and growing my PLN in general. I owe so much to Dr. Weber — even though I don’t see him as much as in the past he still continually adds value to my life and career.

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Angela Maiers makes me better daily. I have such high regard for her and her work through Choose 2 Matter, the You Matter initiative and Liberating  Genius. www.choose2matter.org

Marlena Gross-Taylor’s work with #EduGladiators has made a significant impact on my career and makes me go outside of the box in various arenas. She believes in me and I believe in her. I have massive respect for both of these ladies and very much look forward to connecting face to face soon. http://www.marlenagrosstaylor.com/about

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My “tribe” is significant. Mostly ITFs in our district they continually push me to try new ideas/concepts and lead with positivity. Melanie Farrell, Chris Tuttell, Wanda Hanley, Michael Parker West, Kyle Hamstra, Karen D’Elia, Juliette Kuhn and Erica Woodard are amazing educators. I value each and every one of these ladies and gentlemen (one member is missing in this photo)

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The language of mattering is powerful. I truly believe it and this gift that the above mentioned PLN members above and countless others as well. We are truly better together. Thank you all for your gifts  – #YouMatter and the world truly needs your contributions.