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

Striving to be an All-Star through continuous improvement

I’m a hockey fan and have been since the day I was dragged to my first Columbus Blue Jackets game during their inaugural NHL season back the year 2000 when I was in my undergraduate education program at Wilmington College of Ohio. I didn’t know what in the world was going on at the time, but I knew I liked it. From that moment on I was hooked and have remained ever since. Columbus Blue Jackets 2000-01 inaugural season highlights

Hockey is now by far my favorite sport to watch and follow. It’s beautiful. Poetry in motion. Every pass along the blue line, check, odd-man rush, or one-timer requires near perfection in order to be executed properly. As I write this blog post I’m watching the midseason classic better known as the NHL All-Star Game. My beloved Blue Jackets have been rewarded for having a strong first half of the 2016-17 season by having three players representing the organization.

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As I watch this game in particular, while no the players aren’t skating at full strength much less making contact I’m reminded of how incredible these players all are to make it to this point. They all are playing in the top professional hockey league in the world for starters but not only that are the best of the best within that league. Impressive, eh?

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While all of these players have natural gifts, talents and for most part have played the game the vast majority of their lives, yes, they all must constantly work to improve their skill and refine the technical aspects of each of their own weaknesses to be the best player they possibly can be. Do any of the players at this level today especially settles for “good enough?” No way. Each of the players in this game is grateful for being here and striving to #BecomeBetter daily. They all know that as hard as it was to get to where they are today there are so many players within the NHL, minor leagues and in college eager to take “their spot” nothing is given.

Looking at this through the lens of education – we are all constantly learning and growing. Or are we? We are professionals. Constant growth and improvement should be a significant part of what we do. Whether we are a first year teacher or in the district central office with 20 plus years into our career we all should be striving to be an All-Star in education.

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Building your PLN, reading, reflecting, conferencing, repeating. Growth, growth, growth. This is beyond “mandated” professional development sessions or book studies at the school or district based level. Personalized professional development, genuinely wanting to grow, learn and reflect is when the magic happens. That’s when the “spark” in the eye occurs and when the great educators make the push toward All-Stars.

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Pictured above – Allison Stewart and Rachel Lawrence are amazing educators in our district. These two ladies are All-Stars but are constantly reflecting, reading, connecting and growing to refine their craft. So much of what they do is self-motivated above and beyond behavior. This is the overall betterment of students they serve as as well as their own personal growth. They are All-Stars but both know they must continue to work at “maintaining” that “status.”

Are some educators true All-Stars? Absolutely. However, it’s imperative we continue to learn, grow, soak up information and put it into practice or else we will slip in our craft just as the players in this game will if they “let up.”

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I lead by example with the above mentioned. I’ve always been considered a reflective educator throughout my career but I’m constantly doing the above mentioned, taking risks and reflecting upon my practice. These help keep me sharp and push me to strive to be a better educator always. We should all aim to be the best we do in all we do daily. In life and career. So the choice is yours – the puck is on the ice. Are you going to strive to be an All-Star?

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