Saturday, June 15, 2019

Life Lessons from 7-year-olds

One of my favorite things to do in the summer with my kiddos who are relocated refugees is to take them out in small groups on little dates. When we go to the library for homework club or have parties, it is always a big party of everybody all at once! Those times are wonderful in a different way - but the depth of conversations when you have kids in 2s and 3s can't be replicated.



"Aubrey, we don't laugh at people who are different. Other people do, but we don't."
"That's awesome, girls. Because people who are different have feelings too...they want to be friends, just live everyone else."
"Yeah, like there's this girl who is really small, and so people laugh at her because she is really small, but we just talk and say hi and don't laugh."
Ah, the gift of seeing things like a child - I don't know exactly what is going on with this girl, but they just see her as really small. While I encouraged them to do more than just say hi, I also wanted to affirm them in knowing that it's not okay to make fun of anyone for being different!



"Aubrey, can I take some of this home to save for my [little] brother? Whenever I get anything tasty, I save some to take it home to share with him. And my other cousins are coming over tomorrow, so we can save it and share with all of them."
The spirit of sharing at its finest. If I had been taken out for froyo at this age, I'm not sure my first thought would be taking some home to share with my little brother and cousins.


I love working with these kiddos, and sometimes people say that they are lucky to have me & others as their support system. But, truly, it is just as much of a blessing to me. I always learn from them - and yesterday, it was life lessons from two 7-year-olds.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

"You're too young to be a director!"

How many times have I heard that? Or a similar quote:

"You look too young to be a principal!"


It is usually said as a compliment. It's said with a bit of surprise. And while I don't take offense, it sometimes sends a chorus of thoughts through my mind.

"Why? Do I have to be a certain age to be a director? Is it going to be harder to earn their respect now? Am I going to have to prove myself because I am younger? No, I don't want this to change how I act, I just need to be myself."

And then I start thinking about other implicit biases I see, in myself and sometimes in others. When am I caught off-guard by how somebody looks in comparison to what I "thought" somebody should look like? Is it based on age? Race? Physical appearance? Gender? Something else?

If I am honest with myself, it happens. I think that, if we are all honest with ourselves, we experience this. And...truly...it's okay. I'm not writing here to make anyone feel guilty. What matters is how we respond.

I can question myself: "Why did I think that? What did I expect? What is causing this cognitive dissonance? What does that tell me about myself and how I perceive the world? How does this change my understanding and perception?"

Honestly, it usually happens in the flash of a second, and I can choose to either ignore that brief moment of surprise or dig it out to see what it means. I'm trying to get better at choosing the latter, to recognize my own biases and where I need to grow.

As for being on the receiving end...I can just smile, say, "Yes, I know I am young, but I've grown into it and it's been a great fit," and move on and do my thing. I am in a leadership role because of my character, work ethic, and ability - and that will shine through on its own.

Friday, May 31, 2019

6 Interview Tips for Teachers

In my position, I have sat on a lot of interview committees and seen a variety of candidates this year. Since it's the season for interviewing for jobs, I wanted to put together a quick list of tips for prospective teachers (or anyone else applying for a job in education)!

1. Bring the energy that you bring to your classroom!
You might be nervous. You probably are nervous. But if you are applying to be a teacher, the people on the interview committee have to be able to imagine you interacting with kids. If you try to hold back and be too "formal" in the interview setting, it is harder to picture you in the classroom. This doesn't mean that you should treat it informally - but let that energy that you feel in the classroom come through.

2. What do YOU want to THEM to know?
This is one of the best pieces of advice I have ever gotten about interviews. They will be asking the questions, but you, as a candidate, get to do most of the talking. If you were to distill your message down to a few key concepts or phrases, what would they be? Not just "what they want to hear", but what makes you uniquely you as a teacher? Make sure you work those in during the interview as it makes sense with the questions they ask. Personally, I've found that this also keeps me from rambling too much, because it gives some focus to what I want them to remember about me.

3. Answer the question, and be honest.
While you are applying #2, make sure you also answer the questions. This sounds so obvious, right? But it's amazing how often people don't follow this rule. If you don't have a ton of experience with something they are asking about, don't gloss over it, be honest - but also show a willingness to learn! If you only remember half of the question, ask them to read it again. If you don't fully answer a question, this will put you at a disadvantage with being compared with candidates who did fully answer the question.

4. Check your resume and cover letter for grammar and spelling and style errors. Then check again.
I remember being disgusted when I was on a committee to hire an administrator and two of our candidates had pretty significant grammatical errors in their cover letters. The culprit? Copy/pasting from old ones. It's fine to reuse material, but please, read it through, out loud, and make sure it makes sense. In the field of education, people want to see that you can write well and pay attention to detail.

5. Don't just want any job, want this job.
You know how they always tell you to do some research about the school you are applying for? You don't need to know a ton of facts or memorize the mission and vision, but you want enough to show the committee that you are actually interested in working at the school, more than just getting a job. This will also help you tailor your answers to interview questions to "click" with what the committee knows about their school, their culture, and this position.

6. Be genuine!
If you remember nothing else, remember this one - be genuine! While skills, certifications, and experience are important, ultimately, the interview is about human connection. You wouldn't have gotten to that point if you weren't qualified for the job, so you can lay those worries aside and focus on being yourself. Even when first meeting someone, it is pretty easy to tell when they are trying to act a certain way, and that doesn't leave anyone with a positive impression. The best way you can connect with the interview committee is to be yourself, as Evan states in the Finale of Dear Evan Hansen:
"Dear Evan Hansen, ​
Today is going to be a good day.
And here's why: because today, today at least you're you and that's enough.​"

And a bonus #7...Make sure you have supervisors on your references list. Peers, friends, and fellow teachers are not as preferred as supervisors or cooperating teachers (if you are coming right out of student teaching).

Be bold, be confident, and be YOU, because that's enough!

Monday, May 27, 2019

Exhaustion & Rest

I've started and deleted blog posts on a couple of different topics this weekend, and I just can't seem to settle on anything to write about.

I think it is because I am exhausted.

The end of the year is always crazy, and this year felt even more so, being my first year in an administrative role. To add to the fun, our building is being torn down & reconstructed over the next 18 months, so we have to pack up and clear everything out. Add it all together, and the result is that I've been running on fumes.

If the building is going to be torn down, we may as well
tag the walls before we leave, right? :-)

This weekend, finally, I've gotten the chance to rest. Like sleeping for 9 hours and then taking a 2-hour nap in the afternoon. And getting out on a good hike with my family.




It has just made me think about how little our culture values rest...even though we need it so much! I feel rejuvenated after this weekend, and I'm confident that I will go back to work tomorrow with a better attitude and clearer mind.

As summer begins, whether you work through the summer or have a couple of months "off" (since most teachers are never really off), it is a time when we think about rest and refreshment. Maybe rest looks like sleeping. Maybe it looks like getting outside. Maybe it looks like spending good time with family and friends. Or maybe it means picking up a new hobby! Whatever it means, I'd encourage you to make an intentional plan for rest, refreshment, and rejuvenation this summer. We all need it...and your students & coworkers will thank you in the fall!

With that, I'm off to cook and watch TV and prepare for a BBQ with friends :-). Happy Memorial Day, everyone!

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Comfortably Uncomfortable

I am going to take a step back from my usual blog posts about my professional life and write for a moment about my personal life (although still very education-related). When I'm not at school, one of my favorite things to do is to hang out with a special group of kiddos (I've written about them on my blog before). These kids & their families have come to the USA as refugees, facing many challenges that are so different from my own life. This weekend, we're celebrating two girls who are graduating from high school - one is the first in her family, and one is the second (she has an older sibling).

Congratulations, graduates!

When I first met these two, they were in elementary school. We have spent many hours together - from our weekly library homework club (which has been going on for nearly ten years now) to parties to sleepovers and more!

"Family" goes beyond flesh and blood.

I may be the homework helper, but in return, they have welcomed me into their families. At times, it comes with a bit of discomfort. I don't know what kind of food I expected at their graduation parties, but I have to admit, it caught me a little off-guard when I walked in and saw all of this.

Shrimp - bon appetit!
Squid? Octopus? Something like that...

The full dining experience!

And while I don't know if I can say that I enjoy discomfort, I think it is such a good thing for me to experience. It is a reminder of what many kids feel every day when they come to school, to a world where they look different, sound different, and feel different than their peers. It's a reminder that my "normal" is not everyone's "normal" - and mine is not better than anyone else's. It is a reminder that we all have so much to learn from each other, but it takes intentionality and courage to step into a space that is outside of your comfort zone and meet each other there.

Just reach out - like our two first graders
walking to the park today!

When is the last time you were intentionally uncomfortable? What did you learn?

Saturday, May 11, 2019

5 Things I've Learned About Tough Decisions

When my supervisor asked me how my week has been, I responded that "I've felt a little beat up this week. But I'm happy with how I'm handling it." Being an administrator is full of making tough decisions, and often, those decisions generate negative feedback. Sometimes, like this week, a bunch of circumstances all converge, and it feels like I am hearing negative feedback about many different decisions and aspects of my job all at once.

"So what? It's a part of the job," you might say. It's true, but the problem is that I can be an approval addict. I want everyone to like me, all of the time! I know it's not healthy or possible, but it doesn't stop me from feeling uncomfortable when somebody is unhappy with me. This year has yielded many, *ahm*, "opportunities" to practice getting over this tendency.

As our conversation continued, she asked me, "What's different, that makes you you feel like you are handling it well?" While I can't narrow it down to just one thing, here are five things I've learned about making tough decisions:

1. Root your decisions in data, and don't be afraid to share your thought process.

This has been one of the biggest things for me to fall back on in my conversations. I don't make decisions "just because". There is a method to the madness! And when it is rooted in data, whether qualitative or quantitative, it is easier to articulate in a way that makes sense. Transparency and building understanding go a long way in helping people move forward after tough decisions.

2. Respond. Don't put it off.

As I have heard from a wide variety of stakeholders about decisions that I have made and responded, some people have seemed genuinely surprised and grateful to get a response. It's so tempting for me to put off calling back after hearing a voicemail or responding to an unhappy email, but when I do, it actually starts the conversation off on a good note, because it shows that I genuinely value their feedback and am willing to have a conversation.

3. K.I.S.S.

keep it simple stupid the office

Tough conversations can wander all over the place, which is okay, but in the end, I want to keep it simple. I need to be able to boil my decision down to a couple of simple talking points and keep returning to them. This takes me out of the space of having to respond to every emotion and accusation that comes up, and focuses on the core issue. I don't mean to say that you shouldn't listen and respond, or that you shouldn't be open to changing your mind...but make sure you are staying rooted in the real issue at hand, and not wandering into side issues as you go.

4. Proactive communication > reactive communication

As much as possible, proactive communication can help soften and set the stage when decisions need to be made. Nobody likes feeling caught off-guard! Sometimes it even helps to know that a decision is coming, so people can prepare themselves for it.
On a similar note, if you think that things might escalate, it never hurts to give your boss a heads-up that you anticipate some possible pushback. At that point, you can make sure you are on the same page and both feel comfortable with the decision, as well as your response.

5. Trust yourself, but be open to others.

Ultimately, no matter how others feel about it, some decisions are mine to make. I have to be confident enough in myself to know that I am doing the best I can with what I have, and that is enough. Sometimes I'll make mistakes, and that is okay too. This is where being open to others comes in. Prior to making a tough decision, soliciting feedback can keep you from missing certain angles and perspectives. After a decision has been made, if somebody points out something you haven't thought of, be open to that. Weigh it against your reasoning, and see if it changes your thought process. Don't be afraid to take more time to think about it if necessary. But in the end, if the decision is yours to make, the person you have to convince is yourself. Trust your instincts.

We all have decisions to make every day. What have you learned about making tough decisions? Share your tips and thoughts below!

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Aspen Summit 2019: A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

Last weekend, I enjoyed another #EdTechTeam summit. It was nice to be back in the ed tech world again, a bit weird to remember what it is like to present, and amazing to think about how much I have grown in the ~6 months since I last presented at a summit. I went through the #GoogleEI academy, have grown into an administrative/leadership role, and done a lot of personal reflecting and growing along the way.

A picture is worth a thousand words. I didn't capture as many details this weekend as I sometimes do in my sketchnotes, but I wrote down what was most meaningful and important to me. And that's what it's all about, right? Making meaning.


Have a great weekend, everyone!