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.