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.

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.

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.

The power of exploring “the road less traveled” through taking risks guided by reflection, positivity and inspiration from others.

As many of you know I’m a self-proclaimed “George Strait junkie” and have been ever since my father took me to my first concert as a kid at the 1988 Ohio State Fair. I’ve been all over the nation seeing the “King of Country” live over the years and am a fan in every sense of the word. Strait is a true legend. Well over 60 number 1 songs in his 30 plus year career with MCA Nashville Records. Impressive to say the least. While “Ocean Front Property” is my all-time favorite song by the King of Country another that nears the top the list, wasn’t even released to radio, much less one of his popular songs.

“The Road Less Traveled” is a phrase I’ll utilize sometimes within my PLN, career, life, etc. and to me personally this phrase along with the song of the same name is powerful. The title track from Strait’s 2001 The Road Less Traveled album aligns with how I strive to go about my daily life and also strive to build positivity with others and create cultures of positivity within the above mentioned PLN, career, life, etc. Risk. Leap of faith. When surrounded with the right people who truly believe in you – what better way to become better?

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The Road Less Traveled

Performed by George Strait

Written by Buddy Brock and Dean Dillon

There’s a road a winding road that never ends
Full of curves lessons learned at every bend
Goin’s rough unlike the straight and narrow
It’s for those who go against the grain
Have no fear dare to dream of a change
live to march to the beat of a different drummer
And it all might come together
And it all might unraveled
On the road less traveled

For the road less traveled ain’t for the faint of heart
For those who choose to play it safe and never stray too far
Me I want to live my life and one day leave my mark
And it all might come together
And it all come unraveled
On the road less traveled

I’ve chosen a pathway I may not endure
One thing’s for certain nothing’s for sure
And it all might come together
And it all might come unraveled
On the road less traveled

For the road less traveled ain’t for the faint of heart
For those who choose to play it safe and never stray too far
Me I want to live my life and one day leave my mark
And it all might come together
And it all come unraveled
On the road less traveled

There’s a road winding road that never ends

The lyrics in this song whether read or listened to (see the YouTube link above) are powerful. All about taking risk. Staying in your own path, your lane. Those that know me well know that I strive to do these daily.

Within the past year, I’ve really started embracing daily positives through my PLN through Social Media platforms most notably Twitter but also Facebook and also Instagram on occasion. My pal Sean Gaillard (@smgaillard) from Winston-Salem, NC and creator of #CelebrateMonday is somewhat responsible for this idea of mine along with my friend, fellow Wake County Public School System employee and co-presentation partner Renee White (@RaRaPenguin) – creator of #TootlingTuesday. I have created graphics to celebrate these weekly events which I routinely tag members of my PLN in first thing in the morning before as our day is just beginning and always make an effort during the day to myself tweet out at least one positive thing happening in our school and/or district and utilize the corresponding hashtag.

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#WednesdayWisdom, #ThoughtfulThursday and #SundayInspiration all give opportunity for some “wisdom” of mine or a thoughtful and/or inspirational quote will be shared within the PLN through Twitter often reflecting the basic framework of the lyrics above. A sampling of recent inspiration shared:

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On Fridays I utilize a #FF graphic and try to have different a theme each week for educational leaders of some capacity in an ongoing effort for all of us to grow our PLN effectively.

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While these are all builders in the positivity movement there are so many that motivate me in this arena and truly help me #BecomeBetter. Just to name a few others beyond Renee and Sean mentioned above. Mr. Phil Echols (@PhilEchols and check out becomebetter.tv), Mrs. Bethany Guillion (@Lead_thru_Love), Mrs. Leslie Kinard (@lmkinard) and Ms. NaShonda Cooke (@nasleia368hunni) just to name a handful of other “positive praisers” within my PLN.

Grateful for you all as my PLN helps me grow as a learner, in career and life daily while helping me truly #BecomeBetter even while heading down “the road less traveled.”

 

Blogging 2.0 – taking the leap!

After wrestling with blogging for nearly a year I finally took the leap in the summer of 2016, when so much interest among fellow educators throughout our district and state wanted to hear my connectivity journey through Twitter. I finally decided I wanted to blog about a story I had verbally told countless times. Already an ASCD member (www.ascd.org and @ASCD) I took the next step of blogging on their ASCD Edge blog post platform – one that several friends in education, notably Dr. Steven Weber (@curriculumblog) and Mr. Kyle Hamstra (@KyleHamstra) had utilized for some time, and encouraged me to utilize.

After that first post,  The Power of Twitter, being and connected educator and the PLN on my career, I started to blog here and there once a month or so, often after being encouraged by others in my PLN, but always on the same platform. I was enjoying the occasional blog post on ASCD Edge, but was remaining stagnate in terms of my overall growth as a learner and educator in this domain. I needed a change but didn’t truly realize it.

Fast forward to last this past week. I’m blessed to work in the Wake County Public School System (WCPSS) the largest school district in North Carolina and very progressive in terms of new concepts, ideas and innovative thinking within education. Every fall and spring, WCPSS holds a Convergence Symposium at the McKimmon Center at NC State University. This is a conference event held over two days with an opening and closing keynote address. The keynotes often hold a few sessions as well. Think smaller level of NCties on the state level or ISTE on the national level regarding what this conference is like. Edu tech and media services are the primary targets so every tech facilitator both school and district based is invited along with media. Additionally classroom teachers, administrators and other stakeholders in our district are often invited along with a handful of out of district guests in education. For the past two years, I’ve been fortunate to attend and also present at both fall and spring editions of the WCPSS Convergence Symposium. 15220046_10154486311260804_4758858825984773281_n

This year, I was excited to present in three sessions with some of my biggest edu heroes in our district: Mrs. Melanie Farrell (@MelanieCFarrell), the above mentioned Mr. Kyle Hamstra (@KyleHamstra), Dr. Sandy Chambers (@DrSandyChambers), Mr. Michael Parker West (@mikeaustinwest), Mrs. Renee White (@RaRaPenguin) and Mr. Phil Echols (@PhilEchols) all of these wonderful educators in our district are vital to my PLN and certainly recommend following on Twitter if you aren’t already.

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Going into this year’s Convergence, aside from presenting material on a large level, I was most excited about day 2 out of the gate. This was the day one of my biggest heroes in education was presenting, George Couros. (http://georgecouros.ca/blog/ and @gcouros) While George was presenting three sessions Wednesday, I knew I would only be able to attend his final presentation since his first two conflicted with sessions I was presenting in. However, his final presentation before his closing keynote address was one I couldn’t wait to hear. Blogging. Yes, I knew, thought didn’t verbally admit it, I was stalling in my blogging movement and desperately  needed to hear Couros’ message considering he’s quite the edu blogger. Did. He. Ever. Deliver. A few days later, I’ve created a WordPress account, upgraded to a personal account, and have shifted from being isolated to having my own blog and domain. Yes, Couros’ session sparked all of that (along with powerful lunch conversations with many of the above mentioned plus post conference discussions all about blogging next steps.)

This is where it all began. In a packed room at WCPSS Convergence. Wednesday afternoon, Nov. 30, 2016 Throughout George Couros’ presentation on blogging my head could barely contain it all. I had moved past the fact that despite being a life long Alberta resident, Couros was far more into NFL and NBA than the NHL, hence our limited conversation about hockey, which was a bit of a downer, though I digress. So much information was being tossed around though in that 45 minute, information and energy packed session, I knew it wasn’t a question of if I was going to take my blogging to the next level but when. After his session had concluded and we chatted about the day so far over lunch with a group of 30 or so connected educators from our district and beyond over Amedeo’s down the street https://twitter.com/edtechtom/status/804017450962583553 blogging took center stage of the conversation for nearly all of us present.

By the time George Couros started his closing keynote address Wednesday afternoon, I knew I was ready to “blog 2.0” as I began to refer to this “next step” in my blogging adventure.

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His closing keynote was so strong, so empowering, I knew that my inevitable when with blogging 2.0 was coming even sooner.

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In short, while my 2016 WCPSS Fall Convergence Symposium experience was one of the highlights of my career in education thus far because of the lasting impact of George Couros’ words, message and our conversations I would be neglecting the power of my PLN both in our district and beyond if I didn’t mention their lasting vital impact. Not only the above mentioned co-presenters but also “my tribe” pictured below and all by folks I’ve connected with through EdCamps around the state, district level meetings, Twitter, Voxer, etc. Your impact on my career has been and continues to be invaluable.

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In the words of another one of my true educational heroes, Angela Maiers (@AngelaMaiers) #YouMatter. (Which coincidentally is a central theme in one of our presentations at Convergence and will be presented again at the 2017 NCties Conference in Raleigh.)

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Here is to my wonderful PLN, George Couros, Angela Maiers and so many who have contributed in my ongoing effort to #BecomeBetter and make the leap from entry level blogging to “2.o” I truly appreciate all of you more than you’ll ever realize.

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