What I Miss: Being a “Teacher Mom”

During our third week of distance learning (March 30-April 3), we asked students, staff and parents to share photos of what they missed about being at school. 

Each day I posted photos of different things I missed not being at work:

  • Day 1: Teachers, staff & admin
  • Day 2: iTeam students & lunch duty time with them
  • Day 3: Being in classrooms 
  • Day 4: Our STEM students

As the week went on and I thought about what I missed from school, I knew my Friday post was going to be about missing the mother-daughter time I get at school – being a “Teacher Mom.”  But when Friday morning arrived, I realized I couldn’t put what I felt about missing that time into 240 characters and 4 photos.

So here is my #foxfam Day 5 share:

At our house, we just finished week 3 (of who knows how many) social distancing weeks. I am beyond grateful to have my two daughters home with me for this clearly historic (and often stressful) time.

I am thankful we have shelter to keep us safe.

I am thankful we have food to eat.

I am thankful we have the resources we need to continue our education and work.

I am thankful to have this unexpected time together with my daughters.

But I also miss being a “Teacher Mom” at school.

For the last six years I have had at least one of my daughters at school with me.  Being part of each other’s school and work lives is a privilege like no other. 

State Championship Game 2019

We have enjoyed the little moments and the special occasions.  We have celebrated birthdays and holidays at school together. I have taught lessons in my daughters’ classrooms. I have organized their overnight STEM Lock-ins and other special celebrations. 

But this is my youngest daughter’s senior year, and we will never get this time back.  There will not be any “next times.” 

Yesterday was supposed to be Senior Field Day.

Today was supposed to be Prom. 

Top Ten Breakfast, Senior Celebration, STEM Senior Dinner, and Graduation are all in limbo. 

And although (at the time I write this) school is only “cancelled” through April 30th, I am doubtful that we will return to our school this year. And if we do, it will only be in time for her to do AP testing.  “Regular school” for her will be over.

While I am incredibly sad at the thought of missing these special events with my daughter, I think I almost more sad about missing the little moments:

  • Having her scream “Hey, Mom!” across the commons
  • Unexpectedly running into her in the hallway and getting a hug
  • Having a house full of her friends
  • Seeing her laughing with her friends at lunch
  • Being called “Mom” by her friends

I know I am incredibly lucky to spend these social distancing days with her in our home. But I needed to take some time to stop and to reflect.  I needed a little time to mourn what we are missing. We all need time to mourn whatever it is we are missing (no matter how big or little). We need to recognize these feelings will also come in waves.

I already knew that next fall would be challenging for me: my first without any children at home or at school with me.  But I was expecting that. I was not expecting to lose our last 2 ½ months together at school.  

Being a “Teacher Mom” has been an amazing opportunity. I am so glad I had it (no matter how long it lasted).


(Related post:  Hey, Mom!)

Routines & Growth: a Mindset

Recently I’ve spent quite a bit of time thinking about routines vs. growth. Anyone who knows me knows that I am a creature of habit and love my routines. I walk every morning on the treadmill, I eat the same thing for breakfast and lunch every weekday, and I always read before I go to sleep at night. 

My routines help me prioritize what matters. 

But I am also a firm believer in the concept of growth and change. 

As I think about my belief in the importance of growth, I realize that this may be because I have spent my entire career as an educator. In fact, I have spent my entire life around schools.  During high school and college many of my jobs were education related: creative writing teacher at Boys & Girls Club and at a summer camp, a university bookstore employee, and an elementary school buddy. I guess education is in my blood.

I believe that in order to have success at anything you need to be willing to grow and change. One of our jobs as educators is to help students see their potential for growth and understand that trying new things, while at times scary, is the only way to grow.

While it seems that routines and habits may be at odds with a growth mindset, I’ve found that having a clear foundation based on routines and traditions is what allows most of us to be able to grow. 

In just the last week I can think of numerous examples where people I know (myself included) were willing to try new things:

  • Last weekend I spent Saturday at EdCamp Greenville. It would have been easy to stay home and find other ways to spend my day. but I wanted to see what edcamps were about. I wanted to learn something new and see the potential for this type of learning in my own community. Stepping out of my comfort zone allowed me to meet new people and explore new ways of learning.  And as a bonus, I even won a new desk!
  • This past Wednesday my teachers spent their instructional technology professional development morning growing as individuals and as teams. These teachers continuously look for better ways to serve their students. They will step out of their comfort zones to try something new whether that is a new tool like Pear Deck or Edulastic or a new strategy such as reciprocal teaching. Even being willing to learn in a new format of professional development shows a growth mindset.

This week I saw many examples of students being willing to grow:  

  • Our STEM Student Advisory Board students organized an event to welcome our new Class of 2024 “STEMMIES” to the school. For some of our students speaking in front of the entire room or leading a tour of new students was something they had not done before. But I am so proud of them for trying something new. 
  • In an English class, students gave presentations to students and teachers they had never met before. Public speaking is often cited as the number one fear for most people, so it’s amazing that these students were willing to risk failure in order to see success. 
  • Last weekend I attended our school’s AMAZING performance of “Chicago.”  The stage was filled with students who had taken a risk trying out for the show and several for whom this was their first year on stage. I also applaud the growth mindset of our drama director who is a second year teacher and came to teaching as a second career.

I could spend all day listing examples of a growth mindset that I observed this week.

My biggest takeaway as I reflect today is that I don’t want to take the growth mindset for granted. I want to do all I can to encourage growth in the students and teachers I work with as well as in myself.

#Oneword – CONNECTIONS

Over the winter break, I truly took a break from work.  That included a break from Twitter, education reading, and podcast listening for most of the time as well.  I felt like I needed the time for myself and my family. It was completely worth it.

As January 1 approached and I spent a little time online, I noticed many people tweeting about their 2020 #oneword.  

I love the #oneword concept and have incorporated it into a graduate course I teach.  I love trying to find a word or phrase that can encompass a goal and give you focus.  

As I read through different words from people around the world, I started to wonder what my new word should be for 2020.  What do I want to focus on? Should I wait until summer to pick a word? (As a teacher back to school time can be a more natural goal-setting time than Jan 1).

But then I remembered that I already had a #oneword! 

Hmmm – seems like I might have lost my focus if I forgot I had a #oneword!  I scrolled through my blog to try to find my #oneword only to realize that I had not written a post about it – but I had made a graphic in Adobe Spark and posted it on Twitter.   (Note: I did write a post about my 2018 word – positive).

My 2019-20 #oneword is CONNECTIONS – and now I’m writing a blog post about it!

My #oneword – Made with Adobe Spark

I am also going to print two copies of my graphic – one for my home office and one for my school desk – so I can refer to it more often.  But even though I haven’t kept the #oneword front and center, I realize I have been focusing on CONNECTIONS. I guess CONNECTIONS was a natural fit for my year.

To me, choosing the word CONNECTIONS was about trying to improve CONNECTIONS between:

  • Me and my DFHS colleagues
  • Me and our DFHS students
  • Me and District 5 colleagues
  • Me and educators outside of my physical community – yeah PLN!
  • Our technology goals and school/pedagogy goals
  • Various content areas
  • My goals and how I spend my time

While I can always work to improve CONNECTIONS, I’m happy with what I’ve been able to do so far this school year in this area.

Some of the opportunities I’ve had to strengthen CONNECTIONS since the summer include:

  • Working with my Technology Teacher Leaders (TTLs) and teachers in all departments in our school both one-on-one and in teams
  • Working side-by-side with students at iCare (our school technology help desk) and in numerous classes
  • Collaborating with other Digital Integration Specialists through co-teaching a social media graduate course, starting our #Listenin5 podcast, and through District 5 #LeaD5 professional development 
  • Traveling to TCEA in Austin to work with educators on the first steps of ISTE Educator Certification
  • Participating in Twitter chats and other Twitter conversations with people from around the world.
  • Collaborating with my Assistant Principal for Instruction and my TTL team to create connected instructional technology PD opportunities for our teachers

What a year 2019-20 has been so far!  I can’t wait to build even more authentic CONNECTIONS in the second half of the year.

Stepping Out of My Comfort Zone

Being willing to take risks is scary, but trying new things can be the best learning we ever do.

I’m currently teaching a section of a graduate course called “Social Media and the Connected Educator.”  #Connectin5 We offer this course through our school district instructional technology department in conjunction with the College of Charleston.  This fall, I teach a section for middle and high school teachers and my colleague Heather Reit (@hreitDIS) teaches the elementary/intermediate group.

Heather and I at FETC 2014 or 2015!

Working with Heather has been a joy and a challenge (like most good work should be).  I have learned so much from Heather. She has taught the course before and developed much of the content in conjunction with our colleagues who have taught it in the past.  

The joy has come from working with someone who is dedicated and works hard to serve all of her students and teachers.  We both like to focus on what will help our teachers move their learning forward. We also love working one-on-one with those taking the class to see what we can do to help them.

The challenge has come from how different Heather and I are.  I am what many would call overly organized, type A.  It’s just how my brain works; I have to have a clear system and process for everything I do.  Heather is full of passion and energy that flows through everything she does. Heather pushes me to think differently and do more — and I need that.

This fall we have worked side-by-side to blend our styles of teaching and learning, always keeping in mind our learners: the educators in our district.  I think the course and the teachers we work with are better for it.

Midway through the course Heather and I decided to take a leap and create a podcast.  In the course, we require teachers to explore podcasting by listening to a few and creating a single short podcast via screencast or other tool of their choice.  So Heather and I decide we need to put ourselves out there.

We met one evening and brainstormed what we wanted from the podcast.  We talked about many possibilities, but eventually came to the conclusion that we want to share the wonderful things going on in our district and help educators connect with each other.  

We played with a name and tagline and came up with:

Listen in 5 – A short sweet podcast to connect and inspire Lexington Richland 5 educators.

Our #Listenin5 logo – made with Adobe Spark. Love Spark!

Since we work in District 5 and much of our social media presence revolves around “5” ( #Pridein5 #Connectin5 #Teachin5 #FabuDIS5 ), the name seemed to fit. The podcast is meant to be quick to listen to. For now we’re aiming for 5 minutes and can adapt later if needed. We’re using Anchor to record and broadcast and have recorded three episodes so far.  

We came up with five questions that would be the basis for each episode:

  1. What is your role in education?
  2. What makes your school great or special?
  3. What is one project or activity you’d like to share?
  4. What is a favorite tech tool or tip you’d like others to know about?
  5. What suggestions do you have for educators looking to grow via social media?  This could be a tip, a hashtag, or another educator to follow.

We hope that many of our @LexRich5Schools colleagues will be willing to share.  And who knows where we’ll go from here. We believe that our LexRich 5 educators have a lot to offer the world.

I am so thankful for Heather and our collaboration!  

If we had not worked together this semester I do not think I would have ever been willing to put a podcast out to the world. I would have needed to know every detail about where we were going, how many episodes there would be, frequency of publishing, etc. 

But Heather has reminded me that sometimes it’s good to share and move forward even if I don’t know where I’ll end up.  That’s a big step out of my comfort zone, and I need to do that more often. Thank you, Heather!

FYI: Link to the podcast:


I’ve Found my People – Podcasts!

The online educational community is jam-packed with podcasts. A year ago, I’d listened to a few episodes here and there, but had not really been bit by the podcast bug.

I consider myself a visual learner who would much rather learn by reading than by listening. I like to take notes while learning and often mark up passages when reading informational text. I want to be able to go back and pull out the quotes or ideas that spoke to me.

But this past February, that changed. I had an almost 3 hour drive to Myrtle Beach to go to a conference. And I can’t remember why, but I decided I was going to queue up the latest #eduducttape podcasts by Jake Miller (@JakeMillerTech) and away I went.

As I drove, I remember thinking – I’ve found my people: educators who think about the “why” before the “what” of edtech.

I listened to guests Sean Fahey (@SEANJFAHEY), Alex Oris (@mrORIStech) and Karly Moura (@KarlyMoura) talk to Jake about student choice, student voice and so much more.

And despite missing one turn because I was listening so intently, I found that I could listen and learn because I felt connected to these people.

Listening to educators who are so passionate about what they do is refreshing and gives me hope for the future of teaching.

Since that “fateful” drive 8 months ago, I’ve discovered even more podcasts that I enjoy and rediscovered a few that I’d tried before. Some of my favorites are:

I’ve decided it’s ok if I listen purely for the enjoyment and the “collegiality” I feel while listening – much the same way I enjoy talking with educators in my school and district.

I also love being able to connect to these podcasters via Twitter – whether it’s a shout-out to let them know I loved an episode or sharing something I do that relates to the topic.

The connections that podcasts and social media provide are amazing!

#LeaD5 professional development day

I’ve enjoyed listening so much that I’ve made listening to podcasts a part of the district-wide #LeaD5 professional development I lead and the graduate courses I teach. I want to help others discover the joy I’ve found in listening. There are so many education podcasts out there that I’m sure all educators could find ones to enjoy.

There are still many times when I’m driving and listening or walking and listening and I wish I were taking notes. Sometimes I’ll try repeating something in my head hoping I’ll remember it when I get home or to work so I can write it down. But if I don’t, it’s ok. I’ve enjoyed the listening and know that the important ideas will also come back around.

Mom, Did you ever think?

It’s wonderful to have a daughter who goes to school where you teach.  It’s even better to have a daughter who cares about what you do during the day and asks you about it.

Last Friday while eating dinner, my daughter asked what I’d done that day (as she does most days).  I told her how I’d helped five biology classes use our Class VR virtual reality goggles to look inside a eukaryotic cell and helped world history students build “Choose Your Own Adventure” stories to demonstrate their knowledge of trade routes.  We talked about how interesting it is to work with students at all levels and with a variety of teachers.

Her next question has stuck with me all weekend: “Mom, a few years ago did you ever think you’d be showing students virtual reality tours of the cell?”

The truthful answer is no. 

When working with seniors in English classes, public speaking classes, and ACT/SAT prep, I never could have imagined all of the different types of teaching and learning I’d be involved in just a few years later.

What my role has allowed me to do with technology is awesome! From virtual reality and digital breakout boxes to student portfolios and live video calls, my role as the school’s Digital Integration Specialist allows me to explore more than I ever thought possible.  

But it’s not just the technology tools that encourage me to grow and change. In my role I observe phenomenal teachers throughout our building and learn from them every day. I have endless opportunities to collaborate with teachers in all departments and in many different subjects.  Through co-planning and co-teaching lessons, I’m able to explore statistics, economics, German, music, chemistry, art, creative writing, engineering, and so much more.  

The variety of students I get to work with is also amazing. I work with students in our highest AP courses and in our honors STEM magnet program as well as with students in our life skills and special services classes.  I have always believed that everyone has something to offer the world and working with our students only confirms this belief.

So, did I ever imagine I’d be showing VR videos of human cells and talking to students about Golgi apparatus and organelles?  No, no I didn’t. But I’m so glad I have a job that not only allows but encourages me to try new things.

I am grateful for the daily opportunities I have not only to teach, but to be a learner as well.

What is an Instructional Coach?

While my official job title is Digital Integration Specialist, I often refer to myself as an Instructional Coach.  I strive to be someone who helps teachers as a collaborator rather than as an expert in technology.  

But what really is an Instructional Coach?  Turns out that’s not such an easy term to define.

Today I had two different learning experiences both tied to defining the role of a coach:  

I discovered the Teaching Keating podcast last school year and find myself listening to random episodes on my way to and from work.  It was such a coincidence that the one I listened to today was about Coaching.  

Wes & Molly talked about how it’s important that coaches have something to bring to the table and the person being coached needs to be willing to learn.  They also talked about how difficult it can be to let someone in and allow them to critique our teaching – so true!

I enjoyed listening to their conversation and thinking about how it applies to what I do with my teachers.  This drive to school listening served as a primer of sorts for the rest of the learning I did today.

Thanks to our amazing district Coordinator of Instructional Technology, Carol Lunsford, I had the incredible opportunity to participate in the first day of Cognitive Coaching Seminars with the rest of the district Digital Integration Specialists and a few other district instructional leaders.  I was not sure what to expect, but I loved it. It was just what I needed to help me work towards creating a clear purpose for my role.

For reference, here is some brief information from their website:

From: https://www.thinkingcollaborative.com/seminars/cognitive-coaching-seminars/

Our day was SO FULL that I can’t include it all here, but I want to record a few of my many takeaways.  Most were helpful because they help frame and give language or structure to ideas I was familiar with but had not formalized.

  • Relationships and trust are the foundation for everything!  (I did already strongly believe this one!)
  • Coaching is not the same as collaborating.  Both have their place and are valuable, but they are not the same.  And neither are the same as consulting. Being aware of what role I’m in at any given time will help me help others get the most out of our interactions. 
  • Coaches need to be great listeners.  We need to be patient and not jump in with “answers.”  We also need to ask good questions.
  • There are five States of Mind that work together: efficacy, flexibility, craftsmanship, consciousness & interdependence.  Our “level” in each of these areas can depend on our roles and our circumstances and can change from situation to situation.
  • Your identity (your role & how you see yourself) affects your actions and how you interact with others.  If you want to make changes, you have to work to change your identity before you change behaviors or your environment.

So, what is a Coach?  I don’t think I’m ready to finalize my own definition yet.  I’ll continue to work on that this school year under the guidance of our Cognitive Coaching seminars.  I look forward to the growth that comes with this (and all my other) learning experiences.

2019-20: Creating and Sharing Instructional Technology Professional Learning Goals

CREATING THE GOAL/PLAN:

In my role as Digital Integration Specialist at a large high school, one of my responsibilities (and privileges) is helping to set goals for the school and a professional development plan for our 108 teachers.  This process is always a little daunting. It also varies each year depending on our administrators, district goals, number of new teachers, my Technology Teacher Leaders and the amount of time we are given for instructional technology professional development.

Creating these goals and plan is something I start thinking in the spring each year.  This spring, our teachers had three opportunities to give feedback related to instructional technology.  One was a district-wide survey through BrightBytes. Students and parents also took this survey, so it gave us a lot of good data.  Teachers completed Google Docs reflections on their 2018-19 instructional technology work as part of our April technology day. They also completed an End of the Year Instructional Technology Google Form to share what worked best for them, how they chose to get help and what they’d like to see for next year (along with other questions).

So this summer, I sat down with all of that data and just read through it (a few times). I looked for common themes and places to start when planning.  2019-20 will be our 7th year as a 1:1 school (4 years with iPads and now our 3rd year of Chromebooks). Many of our teachers are strong in their implementation of instructional technology to help meet their standards and help students learn.  We have had approximately 40 new teachers in the last 3 years. Some come to us with a strong foundation in instructional technology while others are brand new to a 1:1 environment.   

As for time, we will be working with a little less time for PD than we have had in the past.  Since I started this job in the 2013-14 school year we have been fortunate to have 7-8 hours of dedicated instructional tech PD each year (usually once a month on our delayed Wednesday mornings).  This year in an effort to provide more common planning time for teachers, we’ve cut back on sessions dedicated to instructional technology professional learning.

As I was planning for 2019-20 I also thought about the teacher technology course I taught last year:  Authentic Technology Integration and Instructional Design ( #D5AuthTech ). Each semester I had a group of teachers from throughout the district take this intermediate/advanced course for graduate credit and/or technology proficiency.  Teachers shared amazing lessons and ideas during this course, and I knew I wanted to take some of those ideas and apply them to our general instructional tech PD.

My main takeaway from both BrightBytes and my #D5AuthTech course was a focus on the 4 Cs: communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking.  We have talked about these in our PD the past, but they have not been the central focus of our PD. When I talked to my new Assistant Principal for Instruction, this idea fit right in with other school and district goals – she was excited.  When the Technology Teacher Leaders and I met for back to school planning I shared my ideas with them and we figured out some of the details. I love working with a dedicated team!

So for 19-20 our instructional technology PD goal is to provide all teachers with professional learning opportunities tied to the 4 Cs.   

SHARING THE PLAN:

I was excited to share this idea with our teachers. I knew I needed to introduce our plan in a way that would model and reinforce communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking.  I had 30 minutes at a faculty meeting this past week and wanted to make it count.

I create a Pear Deck with some quick information for our teachers.  I wanted to let them know where this idea had come from and that we had listened to their suggestions.  Our plan is designed to:

  • Support & improve teaching and learning
  • Connect with standards, data teams, SLOs, etc.
  • Recognize best practices & teacher knowledge
  • Respect individuals
  • Provide choice
  • Build on last 7 years

I shared a lightning-fast look back at our some of our focal points over the last seven years including:

  • ISTE Standards for Students & Educators
  • TPACK & SAMR
  • Profile of the SC Graduate
  • Bloom’s & Webb’s DOK
  • Google Classroom for communication
  • Using technology to support reflection

Then I rolled out our new 4 Cs logos and asked teachers to choose one area where they felt most confident (star) and one where they wanted to grow (heart).  They were to think about the 4 Cs in relation their students needs and how instructional technology can help meet these needs. With Pear Deck they simply “dragged their icons” and then I was able to show their responses to the whole group.  It did not surprise me that their icons were all over the place. That fits right in with our faculty and their great breadth of knowledge and the strength that comes from recognizing their differences.

Then it was time for action!  Instead of telling them about which days we’d be doing which activities and what resources are available to them for professional learning, I created a digital BreakoutEDU game.  They were in groups of 3-4 and had 10 minutes to complete 6 locks. All of the locks were tied to a new Instructional Technology website I’d created this summer. The site is full of resources for teachers and also has pages dedicated to our PD goals, the 4 Cs and our professional learning opportunities.

This was our first faculty breakout, and I was not sure what to expect.  I have taught about digital breakouts at conferences and had large group participate, but I was not sure how it would go over at 4:30 on a Tuesday afternoon after a full day of teaching.  But our teachers were great and they jumped right in. Most groups broke out in the 10 minutes.

I’m glad our teachers were able to experience a digital breakout and see how it’s great for introducing new information or reviewing material already learned. And talk about needing the 4 Cs! All 4 were evident as teams worked together.

So, what’s next?  We’ll focus over the next two months on resources related to communication and collaboration.  Then we’ll move to creativity and critical thinking (although they are, of course, often intertwined).  In the spring, teachers will have even more ways to learn – podcasts, e-learning, in person PD, #Comeseemeteach and more.  Then they’ll get to decide how they want to share what they’ve learned. Teachers will get to earn badges for each of the 4 Cs by sharing how they used instructional technology to help their students.  

I can’t wait to see what great teaching and learning happens in 2019-20 at Dutch Fork High!

☀️ Summer Teaching and Learning ☀️

Although summer is coming to an end and we are busy with back to school work, I wanted to take a little time to think about the professional learning opportunities I had this summer.  I’m thankful to have had such variety in my summer.

In June I was able to share what I love at two conferences:  SC Midlands Summit hosted by Richland Two and SC Education Business Summit.  

Held the second week of June, SC Midlands Summit is a conference filled with SC educators who have just wrapped up the school year but are already looking ahead.  I have presented at this conference several years and always appreciate the people who attend my sessions. This year was no different. I led a session about Digital Breakouts and the educators came ready to participate and learn.  

I also was able to attend other sessions and meet a few of my Twitter PLN in person. Making in-person connections with people I follow and respect online is a great part of summer conferences.

At SC Education and Business Summit (EBS) I presented the Digital Breakouts session twice and a session on maximizing Google Chrome.  It was my first year at EBS and a nice opportunity to connect with new educators as well as see a few familiar faces. I am impressed that these educators are committed to preparing our students for the workforce.  My session attendees were full of energy (and a little competitive with those breakouts!). It makes me so happy to think that something I shared might help others this coming school year and beyond.

In July I was part of our District 5 LeaD5 professional development days.  These days deserve their own blog post because they were an incredible chance to learn, grow and plan together.  I appreciate that our district invests in its own people and recognizes the talent and skills our teachers have to share.  I also appreciate the staff in my own school who I met with in the last few weeks to plan for this coming school year.

Besides conferences or in person opportunities, the summer was also filled with professional reading, listening and online learning.  

I had a chance to read Tech with Heart and EdRenaline Rush and re-read Learning Transformed – all of which I’d recommend!  I also have more great education books to finish (the list keeps growing).

I also caught up on some podcasts. Teaching with Keating and Shukes & Giff were probably my summer favorites, but there are so many good ones out there.  Check out http://www.edupodcastnetwork.com/ for suggestions.  

I also enjoyed the online Teach with Tech conference – 3 days packed full of mini-sessions on a variety of edtech topics.  I’m glad I paid to have the option to go back and watch the videos since there were more sessions than I could keep up with.  

And on top of the more “formal” types of learning, following dedicated educators on Twitter allows for numerous opportunities to grow.  I learn so much from the little and big things people share on Twitter.

While I technically did not “work” from June 10-August 13 this summer, I don’t think I could ever truly take a summer “off.”  When you love learning like educators do, learning goes on all year round. I always want to learn more so I can be better at my job and help more people. 

I’m even more ready to start 2019-20 school year because of the opportunities I’ve had this summer.

Leading with Purpose: What is your WHY? Keynote by Thomas Murray

Last week I attended and presented at the South Carolina Midlands Summit (@SCMSummit) hosted by the fabulous instructional technology team in Richland District Two.  I loved the sessions I attended (and probably need a separate post about them), but I think my best decision at the conference was to attend an extended 2 hour session with Tom Murray called “Leading with Purpose.”

6/12/19 with Tom Murray @SCMSummit


I met Tom in 2017 when he came to our school district as a part of Future Ready Schools (read more about Future Ready at https://futureready.org/).  After that visit, I also bought his book co-authored with Eric SheningerLearning Transformed: 8 Keys to Designing Tomorrow’s Schools Today. I already knew and loved Eric’s work from FETC.  Learning Transformed is an awesome read for any educator. I also love connecting with both of these educators on Twitter – @Thomascmurray  and @E_Sheninger .

But back to last week.  

Like many educators, I was tired and overwhelmed. Tired after a busy school year that ended the Friday before.  Overwhelmed thinking about all I need to do this summer to make sure my teachers, staff and students have a great 2019-20 school year. I wasn’t sure what I was going to get out of Tom’s session, but I knew I’d enjoy it.  And did I ever. It was JUST what this tired and overwhelmed educator needed the first week of summer break.

Tom started us with the most important question of all – WHY?  What drives you? What is your why?

He gave us time to think, reflect, and write about this.  As I sat writing for several minutes I found that I could feel some of the tension leave me.  Just spending time refocusing on my why helped me drown out some of the noise I often let overwhelm me when I think about my role in my school.

My stream of consciousness writing included:

  • Make a difference
  • Be a person who makes something (anything) better for someone else: easier, more meaningful, more engaging, more fun
  • Help people feel success and create new things
  • Help people be their best selves
  • Keep growing and challenging myself
  • Encourage others to grow
  • Reach new people

What a gift it was to have the time to stop and think.  Thank you, Tom.

The rest of his session was just as amazing.  Tom talked about leaders vs managers and how both are important.  He encouraged us to balance the time we spend working in each of these roles.  As someone who can immerse myself in the managerial part of my job, I needed the reminder.

Throughout the session, Tom built in intentional time for reflection and for talking to others.  I was able to meet and share with a few assistant principals and teachers attending from other districts.  

Tom also focused on relationships and how we build them in our schools.  He challenged us to reach out to someone in our school building and thank them for the work they do every day (PS – Tom – I sent my note today!).  Tom also talked about how every faculty meeting is an opportunity to model your expectations and build relationships. We did two brief get to know each other activities that I look forward to bringing back to my school.  

The last thing from Tom’s session that I want to mention here is Tom’s discussion about fear.  He reminded us that the best things in life are on the other side of fear. He shared a video of Will Smith telling a story about the fear he had leading up to the first time he went skydiving.  That story stuck with me. Why are we more afraid before the scary thing than we are after or during? What could we accomplish if we faced our fears? And no – no skydiving for me any time soon!

If we are clear in our WHY, we can Face Everything And Rise.

Thank you, Tom, for an inspiring morning that was just what this tired and overwhelmed educator needed!