Friday, September 1, 2017


All of my adult life, I have lived by the mantra…every situation that you’re experiencing…the good and the ones that demand keeping a growth mindset…is somehow preparing you for an experience yet to come. Never has that belief been truer than life right now.

#WhoKnew that when I sat this summer, after reading Option B by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant, and reflected on what happens when Option A doesn’t work (you kick the heck out of Option B), that the focus on your #WHY would fuel my work with our staff. Today, exactly a week after ending our week-long professional development, where the staff painted and shared their #WHYs, we will need to lean on those WHYs, as we prepare to embrace our students whose trauma of being evacuated and losing not only their worldly possessions but their sense of belonging, will haunt them indefinitely. Their loss, their pain, their need for adults who will shower them with all the love they need will be our #WHY and we’re ready to kick the heck out of Option B.

Positive Energy Filled the Room
#WhoKnew that when my district offered me the opportunity to become a nationally certified principal coach through NAESP, that one simple activity I did this past June – The Energy Stick – would be the final activity I did with our staff before heading out to face the uncertainty of Hurricane Harvey. We stood around our PE Room, all 104 of us, and watched as the energy we transmitted to each other by holding hands, helped to light up an energy stick. We observed that if one person lets go, it has an impact on that energy stick, and shared how important it was for us to “stick” together – leave no man behind. Now, we are prepared to transmit that energy to our students and school families as only positive vibes will get us through the unknowns that we will face as a school community.

#WhoKnew that when one member of our team reached out, on behalf of another staff member who was being evacuated, and had nowhere to go…that another team member would leave the comfort of her home, and try for three hours to get to her. When that didn’t work, another team member stepped up and offered her home…all this for a staff member brand new to our campus…leave no man behind, even our #Rookies.

#WhoKnew that when our school was adopted by our business partner EagleBurgmann, three years ago, that we would have the opportunity to pay it forward and support one of their employees. For three years, our liaison worked tirelessly to support our campus, leading to a partnership unlike any other. They gifted us $250,000 to support an initiative, mentor our students, teach Junior Achievement classes, provide monthly treats for our staff, and the list could go on. So when our liaison reached out and shared that she was trapped with rising water and two little ones, I felt helpless being physically unable to get to her…but then I called upon our team…one simple Remind message asking for help, and within two minutes, more than a dozen people wanted to know where she was. The smiles on her kids’ faces after one our staff members got them out is simply priceless…#WhoKnew

#WhoKnew that when one of our staff members left her home because she was in the flood zone and relocated to an area she thought would be safe…only later to leave due to a mandatory evacuation of the relocation site…that it would put her 9 minutes away from a parent (more than 45 minutes away from our local community) who reached out to say that she was out of food and gas with two little ones. Her two relocations put her in the right place to support a family in need…#WhoKnew

#WhoKnew that when I read Kids Deserve It two summers ago and learned about Voxer, my professional life would never be the same. Almost one year ago to date, I stumbled upon #MomsAsPrincipals (MAPS) and soon after #PrincipalsInAction (PIA) and found a tribe that I would lean on daily…lean on indefinitely. These principals, (more than 200 strong between both groups) are my daily dose of coffee in the morning (and I don’t drink coffee) and my Dr. Pepper in the evening (and I don’t drink Dr. Pepper). I connect with them via Voxer…I listen, I learn, I share…we laugh together, cry together, pray for each other, sympathize with situations that only we understand, build each other up and #Reframe situations to help maintain a positive outlook, no matter the situation. I am a better leader because of them…all of whom I have never physically met, but can identify them by voices. So this summer, when someone in MAPS mentioned #WorthItBoxes…more than a dozen of us made trips to Michael’s all over the country, buying out all boxes we could find. So as the staff left one week ago…before this life altering event that will forever be etched in our memories, they found each other’s Worth It boxes, and told each other why they are #WorthIt. As our students return, it’s our turn to fill their Worth It boxes and share with them why they’re worth it…why they are worth every ounce of energy we will exert to create a new normal for them…a normal post Hurricane Harvey.

#WhoKnew that when I shared with MAPS and PIA that I had students who were displaced, students who would have needs beyond measure, that the side voxes would come in faster than I could keep up, with dozens of principals praying for the safety of our school (which miraculously did not have a stitch of damage despite the surrounding neighborhoods being completely submerged in water) and committing to adopting our campus. #Connectedness  No one asked about our students’ socio-economic or immigration status. It is confirmation that there are good people in the world…that despite the political images that flood our daily lives, we are a country more united than divided, and despite all the negatives that are shared about social media, it is social media that has provided the avenue for support that we will undoubtedly need to get through the road ahead. Yes, miracles still happen!

So what I know for sure is that when given lemons, you make the most refreshing lemonade that you can…because despite the doubt and despair, unknowingly, life is preparing you for the next experience. Not that I need another Hurricane Harvey experience, but I know that this experience, is somehow preparing me for one that I will face in the future…or perhaps, I will be able to pay it forward and support another leader or campus…and when it comes, because I know my WHY, I will be ready…so thank you Hurricane Harvey for preparing me for what is yet to come. My hope is that everyone reading this will dig deep and think about their WHY, because knowing your WHY matters. 

Thursday, May 25, 2017

End of Year Reflection...3....2...1

It's the time of year when all principals spend endless hours writing summatives to help their staff reflect on the school year. In helping teachers reflect on their practices this year and what they are looking forward to next year, I felt compelled to carve out some much-needed time to reflect on my journey as I bring my 4th year (3rd year at my current campus) as an elementary principal to a close.

These are the questions that I asked the staff during their end of year why shouldn't I answer them for my end of year reflections as well?

3 - What are the three celebrations you have this year?
  • Leading by example - it was my goal to demonstrate my commitment to lifelong learning by modeling risk-taking, maintaining an innovator's mindset and showing that failing forward is the norm at our campus...this year's grade A-
  • Deepening my professional growth and development through various PLNs - by surrounding myself with like-minded principals, in my district and across the country, most of whom I have never met, and may never meet, I have broadened my horizons and the knowledge attained from #MomsAsPrincipals and #PrincipalsInAction have made me a better leader, wife, mother, and person....this year's grade A+ for sure.
  • Opening the doors of our campus to host more than 100 visitors this year to share our blended learning successes and struggles. We sailed the ship while we were building it and it was by no means smooth sailing, but when students share how meaningful this year was to them and how much fun they had along the way, I'll count that as an #EduWin!...this year's grade A

2 - What are two areas you know you need to continue to work on next year?

  • I continue to ask myself - What do I need to do differently to build relationships with the staff? We discuss the 3 R's on our campus, rigor, relevance and relationships...and when asked to put them in the order of importance as it relates to students, relationships always surface as the most important R. My goal is to have every staff member know that my care and concern for them is not simply about them as an educator, but them as a person....a mom, brother, wife, son, sister....this year's grade B...B+ would be a stretch
  • Being deliberate in explaining the why behind decision-making and encouraging/promoting problem solving especially when opportunities for negativity begin to rare its ugly head...this year's grade B-

1 - What is the one thing you would change about your experience this year?
  • I don't believe that I will ever achieve a work-life balance. Balance, to me, means 50/50. I do, however, need to establish a healthier ratio where I establish times that are non-negotiable to spend time with my family and do what's needed to take care of my mental and physical health. After all, health is my #OneWord2017...and at best, I have a D as my grade this year.

Now what?
Within the past two weeks, I have had at least four staff members share that while they once thought they would become a principal, they would never want to be a principal now. Of course, I was devastated when they said that because for me, that means I am not being a good model. They shared it's not because they think I do a terrible job, but because they think I do a great job, and see all that is required...which includes sacrificing time with your personal family in an effort to support your school family. I give 200% each day for 972 kiddos whose blood does not run through my veins, at the expense of time with 3 kiddos who I pray will one day see that I have modeled for them the value in being committed, dedicated and passionate about the choices you make in life...because leadership is a choice. I also want them to know that you must surround yourself with people who will lift you up, because you cannot go through life alone. 

So in reflecting, my advice to everyone is to find your tribe..for me that's my MAPS...Moms as Principals...we learn, cry, collaborate, pray, vent, encourage and support each other..because no one else in the world understands all that comes with wearing those two hats. No matter what path you choose, you are only going to become a better person if you surround yourself with people who will challenge you, who will celebrate your successes, who will validate your hardships, but also tell you to get over it when that's what you need to hear.

Who do you need to surround yourself with?

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Mindset Matters

Recently I had the opportunity to learn alongside two dynamic fourth grade teachers when we attended the TCEA conference for three days. 

Rewind - when I initially asked them to attend the conference a few months ago, they agreed, but I know that they were both hesitant because they had to be away from their students for three days. Dedicated teachers never want to be away from their students because they know that there's no substitute for great first instruction. I explained that I was inviting them to the conference in preparation for them being a part of our blended learning team next year. 

They will both admit that we walked away every evening on information overload because there was so much great information shared throughout the three days, but I think I learned the most...from them. While I may have thought about it previously, what I am absolutely certain of now, is that the greatest barrier to student success is adult mindset.

During our breaks, at lunch, and at dinner those three days, they could hardly contain their excitement about how they were going to take what they were learning and enhance their instruction to meet the needs of their students. They connected with other educators, took a little bit of this and a little bit of that from the various sessions, and formulated plans for making the learning relevant to what their students needed. They brought with them an open mindset and that is the key to student success...having teachers who are open-minded, and willing to try something new.

Fast forward - last week, I hosted a visit from our middle school feeder pattern leadership teams who wanted to see blended learning in action and how we are using technology to leverage instruction. More importantly, they wanted to see what we are doing so that when our students transition to middle school, they will be prepared to embrace their learning styles and support their academic journeys. And kudos to them for thinking ahead!

While we visited our blended learning classes in our pilot initiative this year, I also took the opportunity to visit the two teachers who attended TCEA with me. Remember...they are not yet part of the blended learning initiative, but being with them for those three days, I knew that they were coming back fired up and ready to start trying new ways of doing. They didn't disappoint. 

Our visitors and I were just enthralled when we walked into their two 4th grade classes. In the math class, the teacher took information she learned about making flip videos, and had students use the Hover Cam to teach the class and share their thinking. Some students were logged into their Google Classroom accounts and were watching videos previously made by the teacher. The students could make comments while reviewing the videos, allowing the teacher to check for understanding. The students expressed that when they are having difficulty with a concept, they can log in, review the video as many times as needed, and ask clarifying questions when they meet face-to-face with the teacher; others watch videos that introduce new topics so they can move ahead once they have mastered a subject.

In the bilingual reading, language arts classroom we saw students totally engaged in a plethora of learning tasks as they explored characteristics of biographies. As we spoke with the students, they shared that they had a choice in how they would design their work products. A group gathered around the Promethean Panel was involved in a heavy discussion as they generated the questions they wanted to research. One team member typed the questions and they appeared on the Promethean Panel for the group members to agree upon. Another group was busy creating their own anchor chart outlining the key components they felt had to be included as they began their research. Others worked on their Chromebooks on a Bio Cube which served as their guide for constructing the biography they were working on. Yet other students camped out under a tent and wrote in their writers' notebooks. How did they all decide what they wanted to do? The teacher gave them choice. When we asked a few probing questions, the teacher shared that she came back truly ready to let go, and let students lead...let them think...collaborate...problem solve and work together to create their products. In other words...provide them with experiences that will benefit them in the real world.

I am fortunate to work with amazing teachers who give their blood, sweat and tears everyday to support our students...some of whom are academically fragile. So it was hard to decide the thing I saw in the classroom this week to blog about, as per our #PrincipalsInAction weekly challenge. So why did I choose what I saw in these classrooms? 

The teaching and learning in both classrooms were all about students moving beyond the basics and embracing the 4C's for 21st century learning. Students will automatically embrace them but what I do know is that those 4C's cannot happen without the open mindset of the adult in the classroom.

Collaboration - working together to reach a goal
Creativity - trying new approaches to get things done 
Critical thinking - looking at problems in a new way and linking learning across subjects and disciplines
Communication - sharing thoughts, questions, ideas and solutions

Every single student was an active contributor to their learning in both classrooms and my heart melted when some students shared that they would rather stay in and work on this project than go out to recess. Say no more!

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Hidden Figures Among Us

This evening, as I looked to the right and saw my husband...who rarely ever sheds a tear...with a few tears  running down his face, the significance of the movie Hidden Figures truly hit home. I don't want to be a spoiler for anyone who has yet to see it, but this movie truly highlights the definition of perseverance and overcoming obstacles. The three main characters, African American women, simply couldn't and wouldn't take no for an answer, and in doing so, went on to make history.

What stood out for me was not just how far we have come as a country, but how far we still have to go, especially given the climate today. As educators, we are the beacon of hope for so many of our students entrusted to our care. Our girls, our ESL/bilingual students, our African American boys, our economically disadvantaged students...they are our hidden figures who need us to show them how they can overcome obstacles, and not allow someone else's perspective of what they think they are capable and worthy of, to become their reality.

Ironically, last Friday, I challenged our leadership team to do a task that was two-fold. It was the last day of College and Career Week and I asked each one on the team to pick a grade level, and visit a few classes with their diplomas and share their college experiences. Since January is also Random Acts of Kindness Month, I asked them to use the time they were in the class as a five-minute break opportunity for the teacher to grab a snack from the lounge. I knew that I was asking them to do "one more thing" on a Friday, when we had a three-hour leadership meeting already scheduled. The joy we all found in sharing our stories was priceless, for both those of us who were sharing and the students who hung on to every word. 

I am hopeful, that one hidden figure...a Hispanic young lady in fifth grade...who came up to me after I shared that I was the first person in my family to attend college in the United States, earning three degrees and still thinking of going on to earn my doctorate...will realize that her status now of being an illegal immigrant, brought here by her parents, does not mean that she should not set goals and dream big dreams. We exchanged a tear in the hallway when I told her that I too was an illegal immigrant, brought to New York at the age of 12 by a single mom, who wanted me to have a better life than she did, just like her mom did, bringing her from Mexico. I walked away wiping the tear and hopeful that I planted a seed that will bear great fruit. 

As I tucked my three sons into bed tonight, 9, 8 and 6 years old respectively, I realized that I have never shared that part of my life with them. Sundays are known as Story Sundays. Instead of reading a book, my husband and I take turns telling them stories from our childhood. Tonight, I shared the story of the heartache I suffered the year I graduated from high school, but could not go to college because I was still an illegal immigrant at the time. I also shared that the minute I was able to obtain my resident status, I immediately began applying to universities and never looked back, knowing that the one year I could not go off to college when all my friends were, was not going to define me.

Planting seeds, giving hope, inspiring our hidden figures...that is what we are called to do. Whether in our personal or professional lives, I am reminded today that my words and actions matter because there is always a hidden figure in my midst and I am responsible, as a citizen of the world, for helping someone else persevere - to persist in anything undertaken, maintain a purpose in spite of difficulty, obstacles or discouragement, continue steadfastly. And I encourage you to do the same.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Reason, Season or Lifetime

People often do not believe me when I say that I do not drink coffee, and rarely drink soda, so as a mom of three boys, wife, daughter, and principal to almost 1,000 students and 120 staff members...what keeps me going?  Two recent #PLNs (Professional Learning Networks), #MomsAsPrincipals and #PrincipalsInAction have been my morning and evening caffeine and keeping up, or at times, catching up with our daily voxes while in the car have reinvigorated my love for learning and leadership and in doing so, it has made me a better mom, wife and daughter. 

So why a blog post after an almost 4-year hiatus? Our #PrincipalsInAction Voxer group with principals all across the country has a weekly challenge. Heading back to the second semester, the question was posed, Who ignited your spark? That jolting question, coupled with our last two weeks of sharing our #OneWord 2017, ignited the itch to dig out my Blogger password and share my thoughts. Moreso, the two words beneath the question - Give Thanks - was the ultimate reason for feeling compelled to share.

My word for this year is HEALTH - physical, emotional, spiritual, financial and relationships. Yes, I want to work on maintaining healthy relationships and so must give thanks to one person who truly ignited my spark. I came into my current district four years ago, having served as a principal for one year in a neighboring district. At the end of that first year as a rookie principal, I knew that I would not be able to stay in a district that did not resonate with my moral compass. That led me to transfer to my current district, and as CRAZY as it sounds, I was elated to take a pay cut and join the district where my children attended school as an assistant principal. After being an assistant principal for 7 years, and a principal for 1 year, here I was a rookie AP in a new district. In life, sometimes it is important to take a step back in order to leap forward. It was in this new rookie role that my spark was ignited. 

As cliche as it sounds, some people do indeed come into your life for a reason, season or lifetime. The principal who tapped me on the shoulder and planted the seed for leadership was undoubtedly placed in my life for a reason. I never ever thought I would be a the first person in my family to complete college in the United States. For that tap on the shoulder, I will forever be grateful.

Who is in my life for a lifetime?

During that rookie AP year, I attended an AP meeting...all the rookies...and listened to APs sharing their first-year AP struggles. I sat there and thought, really, why am I here? This is my 9th year as an administrator! We were split into groups to listen to experienced principals in the district share their words of encouragement, and immediately, the spark was ignited. I listened to every word that Susan Brenz shared with our group and I couldn't help but want to hear more...she was the consummate servant leader...the opposite leadership style that I "grew up" under in my years of being an AP in NY. As I listened to her, I knew I wanted to be the servant leader she described. Fast forward less than 3 months later, I was approached by district leaders, and asked to apply for a principalship. I was not in the district a year, and was quite comfortable getting acquainted with the district's way of doing, in the role of an AP. So that March, I took a leap of faith and accepted the principalship. One week after the announcement was made, I was assigned my mentor principal...Susan Brenz! You could only imagine the jubilee and elation I felt knowing that I would get to work with and learn from her. While we are assigned a mentor principal for a year, it is my 3rd year as a principal in the district, and Susan and I are now friends for life. She is currently my three boys' principal and so we are also connected on a personal level. Our connection wasn't luck, it was faith...this was a master plan long before we even knew it.

This weekend, I had the opportunity to celebrate Susan's 50th birthday with her, and while I will always see her as my mentor principal, she now tells others that the roles are reversed, and I'm mentoring her on innovative ideas to help transform teaching and learning. She recently visited my campus along with a team of principals, and of all the visitors coming by this year as we embark on our Blended Learning initiative, it's Susan's compliments...that here she is visiting to learn from me when our relationship began with me learning from her... that are most heart-warming. 

So while there have certainly been many others who have supported me along this journey, and those who will be there for the various seasons as I grow in leadership, I am grateful beyond measure for the one who truly ignited my spark. My #AhaMoment from this experience is that as educators, we never know what seeds we are planting for our students and staff, so with every conversation, we could and should be igniting a spark. I encourage you to be intentional with your torch.

                                              #PrincipalsInAction - thank you for the challenge!

                                                      May your 2017 be your best year yet.