Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Just Ask

Just Ask

It sounds simple enough, yet it’s something that many of us in leadership positions struggle to do. A recent experience highlighted why it is important to practice what I preach. In leading a campus of almost 120 staff members each day, I am always telling someone, “Just ask for help when you need it. That’s why we’re here.” Or I’ll preach the mantra, #TeamworkMakestheDreamWork. But how often do I internalize those same sentiments and apply them personally? Rarely.
Rewind the clock to last spring. In my quest to model the art of failing forward aka taking risks, I found myself drawn to introducing an Edcamp to our district. After reading about Edcamps and visiting several to enhance my learning as a leader, I wondered why one was not done in my district. After studying the mission and purpose through the Edcamp Foundation, I thought, “I could do that! For sure, I can organize an Edcamp for my district to come together and learn from each other’s best practices.” As the lead learner of a blended learning campus, I am committed to fostering an environment that also differentiates the learning opportunities for our adult learners as well as our students, and this is in essence what Edcamps are all about…giving educators a voice in deciding what they want to learn about.

As the thought bubbles popped up and the wheels started turning, I quickly realized that although I could organize this event in a district of my size (the 4th largest district in Texas), it would not be as successful without support. In thinking about the different tasks that would need to be done (nailing down a location, setting up registration, getting sponsors, publicizing the event, food…you can’t have an event for educators without food, etc.), I knew that it was important to have a diverse team. After all, I have never designed or built a website, and that was a requirement. The easy way out would have been to simply throw in the towel before the match even began. I am so glad I did what was right, not what was easy. I simply asked for help…it was the right thing to do, and as a result, almost two hundred educators came together last Saturday, to listen, learn and share best practices, all to the benefit of thousands of students; and if I do say so myself, they had fun along the way.

At the Inaugural Edcamp Cy-fair educators came not only from my district, but from seven surrounding districts and private schools, and spent four hours on a 70-degree Saturday morning, building their Professional Learning Network (PLN) and deepening their pedagogy.

Asking for help is truly a sign of strength and not weakness, and knowing who to ask is just as important as the actual asking. I asked 16 other educators for help; based on the relationships I had previously established with them, I knew their strengths, and every single one jumped on board, feet first…2 other principals, 4 assistant principals, 2 digital coaches, 3 instructional specialists, 1 classroom teacher, 3 members of our district’s technology department and our director of communication. With only one face-to-face meeting, shared Google docs, a Voxer group for the team, and a Zoom virtual meeting, we bonded and had an epic event. I am truly indebted to each one of them, because they are difference makers...as evidenced by this sweet note by left by our associate superintendent.

I walk the halls of a campus each day and encourage students, staff and even parents to reach out and “just ask.” While those who attended the event had amazing takeaways as noted in Meredith Akers' post, my learning was priceless…it’s okay to “just ask.”

When asking for help:
·       Know who to ask. Building relationships is the key to knowing people’s strengths and how they can complement yours.
·       After asking, step back and allow others to lead. There was a reason why you called upon them; no need to micromanage. In asking, learn to trust.
·       Fear not; people actually love helping. Be specific in your asking and be able to articulate the desired outcome.

Many of us shy away from asking for help, and ironically, we’re not alone. My #OneWord2018 is WHY. So WHY am I sharing this story? There are so many of us, no matter what our role or profession, who are reticent about asking for help when we most need it. Is it fear that gets in the way? Fear of appearing not to have it all together? Well, I have learned to fear no more. When you “just ask” the result is rewarding not just for you, but for the others who are choosing to serve as well. We are better together, so the next time you are hesitant to step out and ask for help, remember the impact that asking for help had on the almost 200 educators who attended #EdcampCyfair, an event that may never have happened.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Know Your Why

I’ll be honest. With the busyness of bringing the fall semester to a close, all I had on my mind was doing nothing during the winter holiday. Can you actually do nothing? After all, do is a verb – an action word. How was I going to accomplish doing nothing? I knew that a mental break was needed in order to re-energize and come back ready to push through for the spring semester.  

I was successful for a few days…doing nothing…and as someone who is always doing something, the art of doing nothing felt awkward, but pretty good. That doesn’t mean that the laundry list of things to do on my Google Keep was not still at the forefront of my thinking. It sure was, but when the thoughts surfaced, I consciously chose to dismiss them. I felt so compelled to do nothing, that I didn’t even want to exert my thinking about my #OneWord2018. Yes, PRAY, kept me focused in 2016, and HEALTH reminded me of the need to take better care of myself in 2017, but I was fine with 2018 ringing in without putting that all too often pressure I place on my shoulders with identifying that word that I would commit to.

COMMIT – in decorating my son’s room on one of my do nothing days, I posted a series of positive sports affirmations on the walls. One read – When you feel like quitting remember why you started. Something drew me back to the room and back to that sign several times, and I thought of the word COMMIT. My friends and family and certainly my staff would probably say that COMMIT is not something I need to work on. Indeed, I’m a pretty committed person; but the problem actually lies in over-committing. I over-commit to work and career, but fail to commit to what satisfies the person, not the principal. 

I don’t commit to family, stay connected to loved ones, make time for my physical, spiritual and emotional health, and I could keep going. So do I need to COMMIT in 2018? Something about the word stings; I already feel the pressure, for once I say I’ll commit to something, and for one reason or another it doesn’t get done, then the word that I perseverate on is failure. When you feel like you’ve failed, you’re usually not even willing to continue trying. Been there; done that!

There was the sign again…this time, what drew me into it was When you feel like quitting remember WHY you started. WHY – knowing your why impacts your what and your how. It's not the why as in why me, but the why that makes you think about every decision that you make, no matter how great or small, and ensure that you are making decisions that fulfill your purpose and feeds your soul. So while I am not committing to going to church every week, on those Sundays I am contemplating whether to go to church or not, I am going to remind myself WHY I need to feed myself spiritually, and regularly. While I am not committing to going to the gym X number of days per week, on the days when I think I can go tomorrow, I am going to think about WHY I need to be more physically active to model good habits for my kids and let that drive the what I do and the how I do it. While I am not committing to spending a certain number of hours with my kids and husband each week, I am going to pay attention to WHY a work-life healthy ratio will help to build relationships with those who matter most in my life. 

A recent visit to my old stomping ground in Brooklyn, NY, highlighted WHY staying connected to your loved ones is important, despite the busyness that comes with everyday life. By not paying attention to the WHY, you do not live with intentionality and purpose. Small moments lead to big memories but only when you live your WHY. As the hum drum of everyday life sets in, and the novelty of a new year fades, I am going to continually let my WHY guide my thoughts and actions.

So here I am, not committing to anything in 2018 but looking forward to letting my WHY lead the way. I hope yours does as well.

I encourage you to begin your journey of knowing your why by perusing Start With Why.