Being genuine in all walks professionally and personally – wrapping up 2018-19

I haven’t blogged much this school year. 4 times to be exact. I’ve fallen off the blogging “wagon” – I’ll own it. No excuses. My last post was New Year’s Day.

The 2018-19 school year has been very rewarding. Plenty of challenges, growth opportunities and inspirational moments galore mixed in. I’ve also backed off on my tweeting lately devoting more time to diving deeper with supporting students,  teachers, support personnel, school community  while advocating at the state and local level for public education at an increased level.

I’m back. Back to blogging. Back to picking up the “twitter game.” On Twitter there is often a lot of talk. Many educators are strong at sounding fantastic behind their keyboard or phone. A lot is sincere but also all too often superficial. Self promotion masked as “best for kids” and “best for education.”

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Allow me to catch up. As articulated in an earlier blog this school year it is vital that we lead intentionally by showing genuine gratitude for those we supervise daily. For me this year it included a group outing over the Holiday season to a hockey game, joining up at the ‘Day of Action’ education rally downtown Raleigh with teachers (see above), showing authentic appreciation beyond Teacher Appreciation week gifts (below), etc. The list goes on.

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For me, I have been determined daily to be present. Rarely in my office. Intentional at being present in the hallways and in classrooms. Daily. Students are never saying “Mr. Fetters is here…” or teachers asking “Do you need something?” My presence is part of the daily flow for the teachers I serve. This is true no matter how stressful or busy the day is – you make time. My presence in classrooms should never be anywhere near limited to teacher observations. Ever.

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Being visible and getting to know the staff you directly oversee is vital. Everyone has a story. Get to know the gist. This includes students just as much.

 

Be yourself. Be authentic. Build capacity in others. Work smarter. Share your space. #BecomeBetter together.

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Be yourself. Be honest. Be true. Be genuine. Authentic.

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School administrators – work with your team to continually push yourself out of your comfort zone to be the best leader you can be. For the sake of the students, staff and school community. #StriveForGreatness. 2018-19 was a fantastic ride and sure am looking forward to what 2019-20 brings.

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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

Relationships matter: the inspiration all around us

With the hustle and bustle of the 2016-17 school year now in the rear view mirror I find myself with time to catch up, take a breather and relax briefly prior to 2017-18 ramping up in full force in a matter of weeks. Time increases rapidly – and certainly never seems to slow down.

I just completed my 12th year in public education. From my humble beginnings as a first year teacher in small town Ohio to relocating very early in my career to the great unknown of the Triangle region of North Carolina, to obtaining my graduate degree in school administration and taking on leadership roles within the school I’ve always been invested heavily in relationships. Student to student, staff to staff, school community stakeholders, the list goes on. They’re genuine and ongoing as I’ve referred to in previous posts, its vital we are sincere as all those we serve, especially the kids, can spot a phony in an instant. Words and sincerity matter. Period.

This has always been my hallmark. Long before “relationships” became a buzzword in our profession. Long before my connections and eventual school partnership with Angela Maiers and Choose2Matter. Certainly before I met Mike Erwin and became involved with the Positivity Project beginning this past school year.

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At times we lose focus of how much our words matter. The students we all serve listen and hang on every word we say. As a younger 3rd grade teacher back in 2007-2008 I began branching out beyond the walls of my classroom. It was my third year teaching and I wanted to begin taking a bigger role. Looking back it was one of my first risks as a young, wide-eyed educator. I took time to get to know other students on the grade level outside of my classroom, their parents, getting to know them beyond student A, student B, etc. Having check-ins at lunch, or on the playground. The mentality shift from my students to our students had begun for me officially.

A month ago, that “wave” of third graders from my first elementary in Raleigh graduated from high school. In the months leading up to the big day I was amazed how many of these former third grade parents & students began reaching out to me via social media, phone, work email, etc. to ask for my address. They almost all had the same sort of blanket message “Mr. Fetters you made such a big impact on me/my child a decade ago we’d love for you to attend my/their high school graduation.” All told I received 10 invitations this year. Some were students I had in class, several were those I never taught but got to know through weekly check-ins. They were our third graders – clearly I made an impact.

I was able to attend a high school graduation this year that the bulk of students from my original WCPSS elementary school attended. Most of the students that invited me were there. It was amazing to see so many of them, hear of their accomplishments, aspirations, while also making me feel quite old in the process.

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I was able to attend one graduation party that day, a girl who I didn’t have as one of my students, but of course she was ours. Her mother reached out to me repeatedly and really wanted me to come to their house afterwards so I did. This young lady is incredible. Her exact words to me were “you always said you believed in me when I was in third grade – not a lot of people did but I knew you meant it. I wanted to prove you right.” I was taken back. Do words matter? Absolutely. Sincerity? Absolutely. This young lady has gone to places many never thought she would go. She’s going to move mountains. Just a small sliver of the impact we can and often do make on a daily basis within the profession regardless of our capacity.

These students have inspired me as much as I inspired them years ago. So powerful. Such an opportunity for rich reflection.

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Its easy to get caught up in the moment as educators. We all have tough days and the work we do is challenging. It truly takes a village. We all have a lot going on in our personal lives, career, homes, etc. but its essential we keep doing right by kids as the pinnacle of every decision we make as an educator. That should always be a nonnegotiable.

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. 

IMG_3601Taking an evening stroll along the riverwalk.

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.

“You can’t live a positive life with a negative mind.”

Several days a week I tweet out an inspirational message of leadership, thought or even something more specific to education. Normally these occur in the morning hours as I prepare my day often tagging fellow other educators within my PLN to share inspiration.

Recently the title of this blog went up in one as of the above mentioned positive tweets. “You can’t live a positive life with a negative mind.” Simple but very powerful. I normally receive a lot of traction over these messages but this particular unanimous quote received heavy traffic throughout the day and going on throughout the week. I’m known for my love of positivity – I’ll find a silver lining in any situation. Perhaps this is why I chose that particular line. It seemed so “order of business” to me.

However, easier said than done, right? “Ah, that can’t be done” or “Well…you know the family situation…” We as educators have heard these types of lines time and time again throughout our careers.  Regardless of the type of school, district or setting we are working in we’ve heard those and similar lines repeatedly from colleagues. It’s an unfortunate reality.

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I’m a huge fan of Ted and TedX talks. One of my favorite Ted talks launched a few years ago. It stars Linda Cliatt-Wayman, the principal of Strawberry Mansion a high school in inner city Philadelphia who was tasked with turning the school around. At the time of her taking on the school this was seen as daunting with Strawberry Mansion being one of the most infamous schools in the nation for violence, lack of resources and bottom of the state test scores.  A few years after her taking over the school, ABC news picked up her story which is how I was first introduced to Cliatt-Wayman. http://abcnews.go.com/US/strawberry-mansion-high-uss-dangerous-schools-receives-needed/story?id=21084212

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Additionally, the Ted talk itself is pure gold. If you’ve not seen this power talk – do yourself a favor and spent the 17 minutes to watch. If you’re not inspired my Ms. Cliatt-Wayman afterwards, check your pulse. Linda Cliatt-Wayman 2015 Ted talk

What she faced was daunting beyond what the vast majority of educators across America will face in their lifetime and that’s saying a lot considering the challenges education presents regardless of our role(s). However, that didn’t stop her. She believed in every child in the building. She believed in every educator who truly believed every child could succeed. Every decision she made was best for kids. Again, every decision was centered on what was best to meet the overall needs of the students. Every.

Did the transformation happen overnight? Far from it. Were there days she wanted to throw in the towel? Almost certainly. Did she? Never. Why? What’s best for kids was the center over every single decision she made. She believed in them and wasn’t going to give up on them nor were those leaders in and out of the classroom at her school who believed in the students just as much. Powerful. Inspirational.

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Be mindful of impossible. Where there is a will there is a way. We must believe no matter how seemingly grim the situation. As I so often say, we must surround ourselves with those who encourage us to #BecomeBetter. We as leaders in education and life must embrace the positive and pass it along to those we interact with day to day.

As the great educational leader Jimmy Casas (@Casas_Jimmy)  said “As a leader model the behaviors you want to see repeated. Lead  with passion, focus on the three Rs, strive for excellence, serve others.” The three Rs being relationships, relationships, relationships. Power of positivity, taking time, fostering relationships for creation of a solid foundation and reflecting before action.

The students we all serve know when we’re being sincere or not. What will you do tomorrow to go the extra mile? Will you embrace the challenge or just accept the things as they’ve always been and not even attempt to take the chance, the risk, in order to make a positive change. #YouMatter and the world needs our contributions as the equally inspirational Angela Maiers (@AngelaMaiers) so famously said.

Will we accept the way we’ve done it? What about a reflective mindset and innovation to meet the needs of all learners? Ball is in our court.

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