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, 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.

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.

Listening, caring, reflecting. A true holiday gift.

Among the hustle and bustle of the final few days before winter break of cramming in meetings with grade levels, academic coaches, supporting students and getting in a few last minutes check-offs before taking a brief pause on the work flow for the holidays. This time of year we find ourselves reflecting on the past year, checking off final boxes at work, home, gifts, etc. before scattering about town or wherever life takes us for the holidays. It’s truly a joyous time of year but often chaotic – controlled chaos is a phrase I sometimes use to summarize the days prior to an extensive break.

A series of events (I’ll spare details both for time sake and insignificance for this post) led me to my prior school in our district today. While I taught and completed my administrative internship at this school for a total of 4 years, I had not returned to Powell since I left nearly 2 years ago. That changed today.

I never realized the true impact I had on so many children at the school until today. It made my heart beyond happy. As I walked down the hall to reach the 4th and 5th grade hall where I taught doors started opening in every room with calls of “Mr. Fetters!”, “Hey, Mr. Fetters is here!” and the like at literally every door. While I made it to most of the classrooms for a 2-3 minute visit per classroom to see former colleagues and meet a few new teachers to the school I was amazed how so many students came up to me with specific examples of how I impacted their lives academically and socially. Mind you, I never had any of these students in my class but always made a point to know every child in the school on some level – a connection, relationship – at least be able to say beyond hello to every single child.

While it was fantastic to see so many of the amazing teachers at Powell today the strongest  takeaway were the conversations that took place with the students. They were so fascinated to learn about what I’m doing in education now but also to tell me about what they’re learning now. “Remember when I was in second grade and you told me you believed in me? I couldn’t read well then but I have a level 3 in Reading now.” one child told me.  Another child who I worked with a lot in my internship talked about taking a chance a risk – something we talked about a lot. Now this child is a 5th grade leader helping out on the stage crew and setting a great example for his younger peers and siblings. Why? Because he took a risk and jumped out of his comfort zone. Many children whose parents I got to know directly or indirectly told me their moms and dads asked about me often and would be sure to tell them I came in today. Today’s visit, while brief, was empowering. Yes, it’s always great to connect with former colleagues but the connection with students we all serve and knowing we’re making a vital impact in their lives solidify why we’re in education. I’ve never regretted following in career path of my mother, grandparents and aunt for a moment and today only further cemented those feelings. angela-maiers-favorite-quotes-14-638

It also further instilled my belief in the language of mattering and Angela Maiers’ #YouMatter work. While I owe so much of my positivity, listening and caring to my inate abilities as a person and educator I feed so much off my PLN and others like Angela who drive me daily to strive for greatness and become better. Eternally grateful. Today was truly a wonderful holiday gift.

Angela Maiers’ “You Matter” TedX

Never underestimate the fact that #YouMatter and the world needs your contributions.

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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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