Saturday, October 29, 2016

Learning from Others #KidsDeserveIt

This past week I had the experience of visiting a friend's school and seeing what they were up to.  I've always been a believer in connecting with others online and learning from and with them. But that is only a piece of the puzzle.  To truly learn from someone you have to see them in action!

Time and time again, I have learned so much more from personal visits to schools rather than conferences, webinars, and trainings.

This week I was able to spend a day at Brad Gustafson's (@GustafsonBrad) school in Minnesota.  Brad and I have been friends for years and talk on a daily basis.  Brad (and Ben Gilpin) have been my constant source of encouragement and coaching as I've entered this administrative world.  I met Brad on Twitter, and over the last couple of years through Twitter and Voxer we've become great friends. Our wives are even good friends now and we have traveled together on several occasions.

It's one thing to hear about things someone says is happening at their school.  It's another to see it in action, especially since Brad was just recently awarded the National Distinguished Principal for Minnesota.

I was so impressed with many things I saw.  From the student work posted everywhere, the amount of teachers trying innovative seating/classroom design options, to the clear focus on literacy (student AND teachers advertising what they're reading), to the friendly little touches such as the welcome mats and signage.  It was a great day with lots of learning.

I share all of this to remind and encourage you of the power of connecting with others.  I always say "no matter where you work and how talented the people are that you work with, your ideas are still limited to the four walls".  Putting yourself out there and connecting on sites like Twitter really does expand your learning and opens doors like nothing else.  Then when you can push those "twitter" connections to the next level, and make face to face learning happen, it's a whole new ball game!

Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Words We Choose #KidsDeserveIt

Every one of us know what is feels like when someone shows interest in who we are as a person.  When they truly care.  Each of us also know what it feels like when someone says something hurtful that feels like it cuts us to the core.

Our words are powerful.  Aldous Huxley once said "Words can be like X-Rays if you use them properly -- they'll go through anything. You read and you're pierced."

I have a friend who I met 8 years ago.  His name is Sergio.  He was staying with a family friend of mine as part of a foreign exchange program.  It was his very first time in a country other than his own (Venezuela).  He knew no one. He knew no English.  When you're thrown into an environment like that, it's terrifying.  Sergio quickly learned English though (he really had no other choice!)  Sergio and I, for whatever reason, also became quick friends.  He made it through his year of the Exchange Program and afterwards I went out and spent 3 weeks with his family in Venezuela and experienced a taste of what life was like for him, where no one spoke the language I spoke.

It's been eight years, but Sergio and I finally were reunited this week.  It was like not a moment had passed.  We laughed, we learned each other's languages again, and we had a great time.  It was then that I sat with Sergio as we were reminiscing.  I asked him how exactly we had become friends.  His response hit me and was the reason for the the title of this post.  He said "When I came to this country everyone treated me differently.  I was different.  Some thought I was dumb because I couldn't speak English.  Some people talked to me really slow.  But after being here for a few weeks, you were the first person who asked about me.  Who tried to speak my language and get to know the real me.  What I liked, what I didn't like, about my family.  You really cared."

That simple statement reminded me of how powerful our words truly are.

Our words can build up.  They can connect us, change our lives, and develop friendships we would have never expected.  But as I've seen in my own life and the lives of others, words can destroy to.  They can place mistrust, they can destroy reputations, they can cut you all the way to the bone where you wonder if you will ever heal from the hate that was thrown at you.

Every day we come into contact with others we have a choice with how we use our words.  Whether it's in what we say, the look on our face, of our body language.  Those are all forms of communication.

This week I encourage you to think about the words you're using with your students, your co-workers, and your families.  Let's be extra cognizant about the words we choose.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

When We Choose to Serve #KidsDeserveIt

So many times I have seen how much our jobs are like those of servant leaders.  We must continually give of ourselves day after day not only to our students, but to their families, our co-workers, and our own families.

Because of how our jobs so easily look like servant leadership I think sometimes we forget that, as good people, we still need to serve others in different ways than just teaching and giving up of time.

This week I was able to help serve food in the cafeteria.  It was something that had been on my "to-do" list for a while.  Monday evening and Tuesday morning before work I took an hour and a half "Safe Food Handler" course and then a 40 question test.  I passed and got certified to handle food!

It was such a joy to serve next to our hard working cafeteria ladies as they serve our students every day, many many many times thanklessly.  I loved the looks on kids faces.  My favorite quote of the day? "Mr. Nesloney, do you still work as our principal or were you fired?"

With the world we live in today, especially with the way our future political leaders act, it is so much more important now that we show compassion and servant hearts towards all.  So often our custodial or cafeteria staff are viewed as "less than" the rest of our school family.  I wanted to show our students that we can stand next to anyone, regardless of stature, race, viewpoints, whatever and still do something good.

I don't share this as a "woah look at me!" story.  There are numerous instances on a daily basis where I haven't served in the way that I should have.  Where I haven't set the example I know I wanted to set.  But life is about learning.  It's about growing.  And it's about continually finding ways to get better.

So my challenge for you this week is to find someone to serve.  Find someone you can give up some of our resources or time to help, to stand next to and work alongside of.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Leave it in Your Car #KidsDeserveIt

Every day when we come to work, we have a choice.  That choice looks very simple on paper, but in reality it isn't quite that easy.

What is that choice?  That choice is to come to work with all of our baggage or to leave it in our car.

Our students show up to school every day with their own pain.  The absence of a parent and they have to take on the adult responsibilities, the cycle of physical/emotional/sexual abuse at home, the fear of the electricity or water being turned off again, gangs down the street, drugs sold out on the front porch, family member arrested again, little brother sick and no money to get medicine, drunk parent coming home late again, and so on and so on.

When our kids come to school they come longing for a safe place.  A place where they feel loved, appreciated, and wanted.  A place where the monsters go back under the bed for a little while.

They long for a place where they can escape the harsh realities they're forced to live in outside of school hours.

And sometimes they come into a school (or a classroom) where the adults haven't left their own baggage in the car.

Buildings (or classrooms) where they employees are angry and take it out on their students.  A classroom where they teacher never smiles.  A classroom where students are told to sit down, shut up, and do their work.

As adults we all have bad days.  And some of us have more bad days than others.  I am by no means saying that you don't lean on your school family. You do! Go into a colleagues room and just sit and talk and cry.  Go into the office and find a quite space to be alone for a little.  Take a walk around the building to clear your head. All of that is ok!  We all need our "moments".

But what we have to remember, what we can never do, is bring our personal baggage into the classroom.  When we walk into that room, all of our own personal things disappear, and we have to be there completely for those kiddos. And sometimes we have to "fake it til we make it" and put that smile on and bring the energy regardless.  Our kids deserve to have the best, most encouraging, and safest place in the world when they enter your room.

Let's make this week awesome for our kids! #KidsDeserveIt