I recently began blogging. In fact, this will be my third post. I am looking forward to reading all of the blogs related to The Innovator’s Mindset Open Online Course. #IMMOOC I also appreciate having this opportunity to help me create a cadence of accountability in my blogging journey. One of this week’s blog prompts is “Why is innovation in education so crucial today?” Right away, I think about my two school-age children. My daughter is in 3rd grade and my son in 1st. My daughter loves everything about school- even the worksheets. She comes home from school and plays school and she is really good “doing” school. When my son became school age, I had a huge wake-up call. All of a sudden all of the things that I appreciated about him so much were almost working against him in the game of school. He wasn’t good at sitting still, he loathed worksheets (especially filling in a 100’s chart daily in math), and never felt like he had enough “center” time. His curiosity, eagerness to move, and desire to create and play- all seemed like attributes that made it harder for him during his Kindergarten year. Thankfully, he had a wonderful, compassionate teacher that was open to dialogue about making some changes to help him be and feel successful.
In his Introduction, George Couros referenced the video “An Open Letter to Educators” featuring university dropout Dan Brown. Brown said, “You simply need to understand that the world is changing, and, if you don’t change with it, the world will decide that it doesn’t need you anymore.”
It got me thinking, are kids deciding they don’t need school anymore? And if they are deciding this, are they in some cases correct in their thinking? We are blessed with having the world at our fingertips. All it takes is a cell phone and a google search, and I can teach myself to do almost anything that I couldn’t do before. My six year old son knows how to use Siri to search and loves watching kid created video tutorials. In the video below he is describing what he purchased while we were on a vacation. He forgot one of the names of his cars, and instead of getting frustrated, he simply states that he will use his phone to look it up.
Do I believe that school should just be replaced by a search engine and we can all stay home? Absolutely not. I do, however, believe that as the world around us changes, we need to adapt to create a more meaningful school experience. School used to be one of the primary proprietors of knowledge. I wonder what school would look like if it were the primary place to collaborate, create, and pursue passions for adults and students? There are many teachers and leaders in many schools pursuing this. Little by little, we are re-imagining and re-focusing our efforts to reflect what our students and our world needs. As the world changes, we are being given a continuous invitation to innovate.
The writing of our school mission statement was something that took much longer than I had originally expected. I facilitated many learning experiences and at one point our staff even joked about drowning in a sea of words. This process of idea and belief gathering from our students and staff took almost a year. I actually felt frustrated for a while when we still hadn’t landed on something short and easy to remember to share with our learning community. Then I decided to take a step back and remember that efficient is not always effective, and I needed to be present and honor the process. We had the opportunity to re-imagine our school DNA. We had the opportunity to synthesize our beliefs about the “why’s” of school and create a new path. Thank goodness we came together as a staff and went slow to go fast. Now we have a mission statement that truly defines us and helps us keep a laser light focus on what is important. Now that we have created this new mission statement, our work has only just begun. This will never be something that we can simply check off. Rather, it will continue to serve as our compass. We will continue to aspire to live our mission. Every opportunity, experience, and initiative must pass the mission test. Does this move us closer to “seeing, inspiring and empowering the lifelong learner and leader in all of us”? There is an amazing sense of pride and purpose in creating a shared mission. I can see it and feel it among the adults in our building. It left me wondering how we could better connect our students to our mission.
In a recent learning experience I threw this thought out to our students: “Our mission statement is just words on a wall, right?” Thankfully they disagreed with me. They all knew what a mission statement was, just not quite sure what our school mission statement actually meant. Individually and collectively, we defined the power words: see, inspire, and empower. I gave them no initial definition because I didn’t want them worrying about redefining the “right” answer. Of course, they had amazing ideas. Here are a few of them.
See: Look at things in your own way. See through peoples mistakes. Have different visions. See with your heart. Seeing the leadership in someone where others don’t.
Inspire: A flicker of creativity. To help others grow- it is everyone’s job to inspire. Someone who energizes you to be a better person. People can inspire others to do things never done. When people look up to you or you look up to people.
Empower: Give someone the power and strength to do what they live to be. To have power in what you are doing. To be the power of yourself. Give opportunities. Give people confidence to do things that they think they can’t. Make us all stronger to do things.
I was very moved by these responses. Collectively, they had similar ideas, yet each student had a slightly different personal connection. This experience helped me make more connections to our shared mission. Each day, we have the amazing opportunity to choose what we see. We can choose to see the greatness in others, or we can choose to focus on deficits. Choosing to see greatness will have a profound impact on our actions. When we “see” greatness, words and actions of inspiration and empowerment are more likely to follow. It’s on us. It’s all of our responsibility to see greatness in not just some of us, but all of us. I love that our mission statement is inclusive. ALL of us. “All of us” means that we choose to operate not in scarcity, but abundance. The lifelong learner and leader in ALL of us!
I have always dreamed about blogging and sharing stories because I am inspired on a daily basis by those that allow themselves to be visible and vulnerable through sharing. What has stopped me? Silly things. Not making the time, wondering where to start, wondering who would want to read it. I have been challenged by friends, mentors and colleagues, and yet I waited. Today, I feel called to start. Especially today, I am reminded that everyone has a story to tell. Nine years ago today was one of the most joyous and heartbreaking days of my life. My first son, Jenner, was born on this day. Except his arrival was different than most. This sweet boy would not come home with me. I would never have the chance to interact with him alive in the outside world. This was unexpected and something that I couldn’t fathom or begin to understand. One might wonder why I would consider this day both heartbreaking and joyous? It was joyous because the moment I laid eyes on him, I felt love like I have never felt before. The moment I said goodbye to him, I knew that I would be inspired to keep him alive. I quickly learned how brave I could be and that going through all of that was worth it, because I became a mom. Jenner became my “why”, my purpose. Today I have four beautiful, healthy children that are also my “why”, and it doesn’t stop there. All kids are my “why”.
So why am I sharing this and what does this have to do with an education blog? In the book, Love Warrior, one of my favorite authors, Glennon Doyle Melton, talks about peeling away costumes so that people can see who you really are. I feel like to really know me, you need to know my story. My story impacts my mission and my mission impacts the work I do every day. I believe the same to be true for our students. Each student has a story, and that story impacts what they carry with them every day. It is nothing new to say that cultivating meaningful relationships proceeds learning. When we think of our best teachers and mentors, we most often think of those that invested the time to know our story and inspire us to find our voice. As educators, we have the most amazing responsibility to invest in, care for, and empower our students. I work among many educators that are masters at this. We also have the opportunity and power of connectivity to share ideas. Here are a few ways that we can invest in relationships with students:
Talk to them. Get to know your students by taking the time to talk, and not just about content, or school, but about their life. You may have heard of the 2×10 strategy. This refers to talking to an individual student for two minutes each day for 10 days. The student drives the conversation and can talk about anything on his or her mind.
Ask them. Students are our greatest and often most underutilized resource. Ask them what they want to learn, what their strengths are, what they are passionate about, why they come to school. This can take on many forms: class meetings, interest inventories, student reflections, question of the day/week.
Greet them. One of my favorite parts of the day is greeting students in the foyer in the morning. I have a calendar reminder for this every day because sometimes I can get so caught up in what I’m working on and forget that the 500+ reasons why I come to school each day are arriving and deserve a warm welcome. I never regret taking the time to welcome students, but I do regret the days that this doesn’t happen.
Share with them. Share your pieces of your personal and professional life with students. I loved when my teachers shared stories about their life. I never thought, “Oh man, I wish that we had that 90 seconds back to practice more math facts or spelling words.” In the building I work in, we all post our mission statements outside of our classroom space. I love walking through the building and seeing educators model their own learning and growing through their mission statement.
I look forward to learning and connecting with you. We are all on this journey together!