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.

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

The power of #FailForward

#FailForward. I was first introduced to this term (and hashtag) over a year ago at my school district’s Fall Convergence Symposium on the campus of NC State University. This was my first time attending the conference and I was most eager to go because of learning opportunities but also the fact authors and illustrators Peter and Paul Reynolds (commonly referred to as the Reynolds brothers) were the main guests.

The adventures of young Ish in Peter Reynolds’ signature book, The Dot, has long been one of my favorite children’s texts and I adored the lessons within it. As a third grade teacher I always read this book aloud along with Chris Van Allsburg’s Two Bad Ants the first few days of school as a segway to discuss the importance of listening along with taking risks.

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https://www.amazon.com/Dot-Peter-H-Reynolds/dp/0763619612

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https://www.amazon.com/Two-Bad-Ants-Chris-Allsburg/dp/0395486688

I discuss, tweet and now blog about risks often. However, I utilize the specific term #FailForward just as much seemingly. Why? It’s ok to fail. Why? Some of the best learning comes when we fail, reflect and emerge stronger. It’s vital that we embrace failure and utilize it as a growing tool. Think of our country’s greatest inventors and innovators Edison, Gates, Jobs, Ford. All of them had amazing success in their respective fields eventually but failed time and time again on the front end to get their product or process “just right.” Once they got their product just right, they had to innovate especially in the case of Gates and Jobs to keep up with competition. Ironically, this is what did Henry Ford in as he refused to innovate and his competitors caught up with him and eventually surpassed, though I digress. However, we can learn from Ford in that regard as well because we must never be content with maintaining the status quo and staying too long in our “comfort zone.”

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Former United States Senator and Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy might have said it best over 50 years ago when he said “only those who fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” How simple, yet powerful are those words? So true, right? It’s vital that we as educators especially in leadership capacities, embrace not just by saying but also by doing. Demonstrate risk. If we fail, we learn and grow — leading my example.

They Reynolds brothers are huge into not only #FailForward but also the 4Cs which are a national movement in education as well as a significant aspect of our school district’s strategic plan. http://www.wcpss.net/strategic-plan

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Which is where the Reynolds’ brothers come in again with #FailForward and how their message weaves so meaningfully with our shift to 21st century learning, 4Cs integration and #FailForward. In one of their most recent books, Going Places, 4C integration and #FailForward are both address significantly. This book was used by me to assist in the roll-out the 4Cs and to our staff last school year in the video form. It’s ok to fail, as long as we’re learning, evolving and growing as learners and educators.

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ywo44VF1Log

“The way we’ve always done it” is simply not acceptable mindset in education today. This is my 12th year in education. I have been successful in every aspect I’ve been in within the profession whether classroom or administrative end – am I ever content? No. Do I always seek to grow, learn and evolve. Absolutely. Daily in fact. The way I taught on my first day in education is far from “best practices” now — that’s how quickly our profession is advancing. It’s vital we evolve at the pace of our students and how they learn given their ever changing environment and technology exposure(s).

Ask. Take risks. Evolve. Learn. Repeat. That is what’s doing what’s best for us as educators, no matter our role, and above all – for the students we all serve.

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“Don’t be scared, just enjoy your ride”

Taking risks, stepping out of our comfort zone, leaps of faith – all of these are phrases and actions I am a fan of. Learning experiences from #FailForward moments are some of the most powerful – with zero question in my opinion and from my experiences within not only my career but also life.

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Growing up in rural Ohio, I was exposed to a lot of country music. Not exclusively as oldies, classic rock and the “modern” 80’s pop music was easily accessible in my house growing up in the 1980s. However, being in a farm family and the fact that most of the radios in my family’s tractors only picked up country stations I became a fan from an early age riding with my grandfather or father and later driving and tending the land myself as I got older.

I’ve blogged about George Strait before and how his music has had significant impact on my life and career. While George is a universally known talent, my second favorite country star growing up and even today is the late, great Chris LeDoux.

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I first gained exposure to LeDoux in the early 1990s when Garth Brooks burst onto the national scene. Brooks single-handedly brought the then underground LeDoux to the mainstream. LeDoux was a genuine as they come. A native of Wyoming who tended his ranch when not performing or recording and was a former world champion rodeo star. Aside from his music, which often drew life lessons from his own rodeo, life and learning experiences, I also liked the fact that the man took significant risks – did things his way.

If you’ve ever been to a Garth Brooks show you know it’s quite the spectacle. Lights, sound, in his younger days especially, Brooks would dangle from wires above the crowd always putting on quite the presentation. A showman of showmen.

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Brooks’ admiration of Chris LeDoux came from LeDoux’s stage presence. Despite being middle aged at the height of his career – LeDoux would ride mechanical bulls mid performance, leap from the stage with fire bursting all around and really put on a show. He did what no one else was doing – taking a risk doing things his way, telling his story and putting on his show in his own unique way. One of my greatest regrets is never seeing the man live as he passed away in 2005 after a lengthy cancer battle. Garth Brooks recorded Good Ride Cowboy shortly after LeDoux’s death as a tribute to his fallen friend.

Chris LeDoux inspired so many with his lyrics, upbeat personality and positivity. While I loved his music, and still do, I adored his genuine nature just as much. Even when he was battling illness he was always smiling and even recording when he could. In what would end up being his final album, 2003’s Horsepower, he recorded one of my favorite songs and certainly most inspirational – The Ride. The song is all about taking risks, leaps of faith and leaving your comfort zone through life — all through the lens of a rodeo man like so many of LeDoux’s songs were.  The Ride

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The Ride

Recorded by Chris LeDoux

Written by Lonnie Melvin Jr. Tillis and Sam Weedman

Copyright 2003 Universal Music Publishing Group

I was six years old, my brother was ten
One July day came runnin’ in
Seen a Ferris wheel at the edge of town
So, of course, we headed on down

Well, it took us an hour to walk that far
Carryin’ our fortune in a Mason jar
It was all pretty sad, a cheap county fair
With a few old rides but there was ponies there

Well, the ponies stunk and the air was still
In that dusty circle behind the ferris wheel
This old guy smellin’ of smoke and rum
Swung me up and sat me down on one

Well, I’d never rode a horse but I’d seen it done
Cowboy movies made it look like fun
This old man whispered a few soft words
It was the best advice I’ve ever heard

He said, “Sit tall in the saddle, hold your head up high
Keep your eyes fixed where the trail meets the sky
And live like you ain’t afraid to die
And don’t be scared, just enjoy your ride”

I went up a kid with shakin’ hands
But I came down a full grown man
It was like he’d cast some voodoo spell
Things were different for me now, I could tell

‘Cause whenever troubles come wanderin’ in
His rhyme would pop in my head again
And somehow I rode through the needles and nails
Brambles and thorns that life entails

He said, “Sit tall in the saddle, hold your head up high
Keep your eyes fixed where the trail meets the sky
And live like you ain’t afraid to die
And don’t be scared, just enjoy your ride”

Well, I know some day, farther down the road
I’ll come to the edge of the great unknown
There’ll stand a black horse riderless
And I wonder if I’m ready for this

So I’ll saddle him up and he’ll switch his tail
And I’ll tip my hat and bid farewell
And lift my song into the air
That I learned at that dusty fair

Sit tall in the saddle, hold your head up high
Keep your eyes fixed where the trail meets the sky
And live like you ain’t afraid to die
And don’t be scared, just enjoy your ride
Now, don’t be scared, just enjoy your ride

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In the spirit of enjoying your ride, my #OneWord2017 is “unwritten” and one of my professional goals this year was to jump into educational leadership podcasting. An opportunity presented itself recently and I was able to jump head first into it when Marlena Gross-Taylor (@mgrosstaylor) asked me to be her guest last week on the #EduGladiators podcast on YouTube live. I jumped at the chance – a little nervous but I knew I needed to tell a story, share and took that leap of faith.

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Was the event flawless? No. Were there things I wish I did or said? Yes. Learning experiences gained? Absolutely. Will I do it again? (If Marlena asks of course) Without question.  #EduGladiators Podcast episode 5 – Connected Ed

What do I get from all these personal experiences and those drawn from others? Always make the most of every situation and live life to the fullest. One life to live, make the most of it. Take that leap of faith and don’t look back. Never wonder – “what if…” How do we as educational leaders expect our fellow educators and students we all serve to take risks if we don’t lead by example first? Your ride, your opportunity. Make the most of it or not – the choice is yours.

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