What Exactly Do Great Educators Do Differently?

April 1, 2019

I woke up ready to find out the answer to this question…exactly what great educators do differently?! I anxiously packed for a trip to Houston, Texas where I’d find out the answer! I was anxious because, although I’d been on a plane before, I had never navigated an airport alone and would be going the furthest west I’d ever been.

Maybe you just learned something new about me. I’m not exactly a world traveler (yet). I was pretty worried about this trip. I checked off a lot of “firsts” while finding out what great educators do differently… first solo airport navigation (including security, where I learned that multiple Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc books stacked at the bottom of my carry-on looks suspicious enough to merit a bag search), first flight alone, first time renting a car, first time being in Texas (I’d only visited TX long enough to stop at the welcome center when I was a teenager visiting friends in Louisiana), first time driving in the city, first time driving through a toll (yes, seriously), first time attending a conference alone, etc, etc. You get the point. For someone with generalized anxiety disorder (ahem, me), this was a HUGE undertaking.

I made it to the Texas airport, and as I was approaching the line to get my rental car, I hear my name. Nervously I looked around and (insert squeal of delight) THE Pirate Captain is coming down the escalator! I’ve never been so happy to see a friendly face in my life! That might be a slight exaggeration, but not by much.

That evening I had the privilege of meeting & chatting with several of the speakers for the Houston 2019 What Great Educators Do Differently conference – David Geurin, Jimmy Casas, Amy Fast, Katie Martin, Jeff Zoul and I got to reconnect with my dear friend, Derek McCoy and my awesome publisher, Dave Burgess! Heading to bed early, I was ready for the upcoming fast-paced day of learning!

April 2, 2019

As always, Dave lit the room on fire with his Teach Like A Pirate keynote. It reminded me that this month is ONE YEAR since I experienced his keynote for the first time. I wrote a blog about it here. (Spoiler: It changed my life; literally a Life-Changing Lesson, or LCL as it’s referenced in the book.) I saw it again in June 2018 in Florence, SC, so I was pumped to take it all in again. This was the perfect way to start the day. From Dave’s keynote, I got that great educators create experiences, not just mere lessons; for “lessons are easily forgotten, but experiences live forever!”

Following up on this idea was Jeff Zoul‘s session on classroom management. It is unrealistic to expect every student to be engaged every second of the day. It had been a long time since I’d engaged in a best practices session on classroom management, so I was excited to hear what Jeff had to say. I was affirmed in this session because many of the management strategies I already use, Jeff shared. What I learned about great educators in Jeff’s session is summed up in this tweet. Don’t copy someone else’s management techniques… they have to be YOU!

Perhaps one of the sessions I was most excited about was Jimmy Casas’s session. I’ve got to be honest, I didn’t care what the author of Culturize (and more) presented on… it could have been oompa-loompas, fairies, or proper techniques to watch paint dry… I just couldn’t wait to hear from him! (Culturize left me in pieces – read more about that in my #DBC50Summer blog post.) He did NOT disappoint. His session on addressing underperformance was a clear reflection of his passion and purpose in developing a strong culture in schools. I learned from Jimmy that great educators don’t shy away from the difficult conversations. Great educators have the conversations and offer help, not just in that moment, but checking in & following up with those who are struggling.

As if the day couldn’t get any better, it was time for our lunch keynote from Rick Wormeli. Yep… THE Rick Wormeli, one of the first National Board Certified Teachers, international speaker extraordinaire, and the man who made me realize that traditional grading practices are asinine during his #HiveSummit interview with Michael Matera (author of Explore Like A Pirate) this summer. Lunch was delicious, I met Aaron Hogan (author of Shattering the Perfect Teacher Myth & a new book coming soon – so excited), AND Rick owned the keynote and taught me that great educators “never sacrifice sound pedagogy because someone above [them] isn’t there yet.”

It was time for the final session and I wanted to see David Geurin, Derek McCoy, Amy Fast, AND Katie Martin speak! I would have LOVED to clone myself in that moment. I split my time between Katie Martin and Derek McCoy. Katie’s story about her own child’s struggle in school reminded me that great educators know their learners. Great educators focus on the strengths of their learners and grow them from where they are. Derek got me when he said, “we can’t spend any more time building schools based on what adults need!” From him, I learned that great educators are focused on the students.

By the end of the day, I had chatted and learned from these phenomenal educators and several of the participants!

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(Left to Right and Top to Bottom) David Geurin, Dave Burgess, Jimmy Casas, Amy Fast, Aaron Hogan, Jeff Zoul, Katie Martin, Rick Wormeli, Derek McCoy

April 3, 2019

As I confidently (because hey, I survived so many “firsts”) packed up my suitcase, careful to separate the books this time to get through security faster, I reflected on my time at the What Great Educators Do Differently conference. I wondered, if I were to sum up what I learned in one or two sentences, what would I say?

I spent the majority of my flight home considering that, and came to this…

Great educators are willing to take risks in the best interest of their students. They are willingly to relentlessly learn and grow, seeking the very best way to teach every learner.

And I realized in a VERY humbling moment… I did just that. I took a huge risk, investing time, money, and a tremendous amount of anxiety to attend a conference to better myself and my practices for every learner I have, both adult and middle school learners. Flying halfway across the country to attend a conference alone, meeting and reconnecting with several educators I admire and respect, was something many around me could not understand. (Trust me, they asked why I was doing this multiple times.) I am so grateful for the opportunity to attend #WGEDD and I highly recommend going to one if you have the chance. I will definitely seek it out again!

**I believe this qualifies as my #DBC50Summer implementation of Ditch that Textbook by Matt Miller and serves as a piece of my implementation of Lead Like A Pirate by Shelley Burgess and Beth Houf. I had no idea about this conference during the writing of those blogs, but it certainly fits the implementations of letting go of fear and being relentless, don’t you think?

#DBCBookBlogs: They Call Me “Mr. De”

Cassie Bernall, Steve Curnow, Corey DePooter, Kelly Fleming, Matt Kechter, Daniel Mauser, Daniel Rohrbough, Rachel Scott, Isaiah Shoels, John Tomlin, Lauren Townsend, Kyle Velasquez, Coach Dave Sanders

The names of those murdered by two students at Columbine High School on April 20, 1999. Frank DeAngelis was the principal at Columbine that day and he remained principal for the following 15 years. This may go on record as the shortest #DBCBookBlog to date as I feel that anything I would say would diminish the power of this book. This book left me speechless. I cried. I mourned the loss of those lives. I felt the Rebel Pride of Columbine as I read about the recovery, the hope, and love of the community through Frank’s eyes. This is a must-read book.

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There are certain events that have occurred in which I remember exactly where I was and how I felt. The mass tragedy at Columbine was one of those times. I was in middle school and as news didn’t spread quite as quickly as it does today, I found out about the shooting on the evening news. There wasn’t a lot of information available, but I remember feeling stunned that this could happen. The community of Columbine seemed so much like my own community – supportive, vibrant, and loving.

To say that anything “good” came from that day must feel like a slap in the face to those who experienced the horror. With that in mind, I will just say that I am thankful for the efforts of Frank and so many others to protect students across the country from these senseless tragedies. At my school, we now have locks on our doors that lock from the inside, a full-time School Resource Officer (SRO), video surveillance across our entire campus, a front-door buzzer, panic buttons, badges for volunteers and visitors, and more. We practice two lockdowns per year in conjunction with our Sheriff’s Department. However, with all of these safety protocols in place, these tragedies continue to occur.

While I feel as though I’m powerless to prevent this from happening to anyone else, I can be certain to be more involved in the lives of my own children. By my children, I mean both my biological daughters and the thousands of students whom I consider to be my children. I struggle to believe that children are born evil. I’m not sure what changed the two gunmen from silly little boys to murderous young men, but I can be sure to be proactive as a parent and an educator. No one knows what tomorrow holds. We can only spread kindness, hope, and love, just like Frank DeAngelis.

One of the things that stood out to me the most from reading this book is the effort Frank put in to include the names of every single person who was instrumental in the recovery and resiliency of the community. He honors the students who lost their lives by sharing their stories and being involved in countless charities and organizations. He speaks across the world and reaches out to those who have been affected by similar tragedies. Lean on others when you need support. Like Frank, it’s important to seek treatment by a professional and show your emotions. Grieve together. Share positive memories with one another. Check up on each other. If you are a spiritual person, dive into your faith like never before. These are some of the keys to Columbine’s hope, recovery, and resiliency.

Thank you, Frank DeAngelis, for sharing your story. Thank you for being raw, honest, and vulnerable. Thank you for allowing us to see you. I imagine writing this story was part of your own recovery and I appreciate your heart. Because of you, the lives of the Beloved Thirteen will continue to be remembered. Never Forgotten.

∞∞∞

No matter what your profession, no matter your political affiliation, your spiritual beliefs, every person should read this book. It’s important that the truth is shared and that these lives are remembered. Read a free preview, then order your hardcover copy here.

#DBCBookBlogs: From Teacher to Leader

During the summer of 2016, I received a call from my Superintendent’s office asking me to meet with him the next day. I wasn’t entirely sure what this meeting was about and to say I was nervous was an understatement. I joked with him as we walked to his office that I now knew how it felt to be called to the principal’s office.

After exchanging pleasantries, he shared a job description with me that was pretty much something out of a dream. Not only would I formally combine my love of instructional technology and reading, I would be piloting a position unlike anything in our district. I would be working with students and teachers in an effort to support our first magnet program that had opened just a couple years before, in a school that had been open for 16 years.

There were tears as I realized this would mean I would have to leave an elementary school full of students (including my own daughter), teachers, and administration that I loved like family and venture into a completely new world of middle school.

The 64th book in the Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc line of incredible books is one that I would have loved to have during this transition in my career. In the book From Teacher to Leader, author and educator Starr Sackstein takes us on a raw, unfiltered journey through her first year as a leader.

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From the very first chapter, I knew this book would be something special. Two quotes from page one had me fully invested in whatever Starr was ready to share from that moment on.

“Regardless of whether they stay in the classroom or go to another position, they must reimagine themselves in order to stay relevant and excited about the work they are doing.”

“From the second I decided education was my path, I never allowed good enough to be part of my story.”

Status quo, complacency, and mediocrity are some of my biggest pet peeves. I appreciate that Starr shares this same philosophy and lives it out loud immediately in her book.

Making the decision to leave the classroom was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done professionally. It was November 2013 when a media coordinator position opened in my district. Anytime a singleton position opens in a school, especially in a small district that you love, you know you have to go for it – even if it is 45 minutes from your home. So I did. Telling my students that I was leaving mid-year was devastating. I will never forget that last day of school with them. They were so proud of me for following my dreams and yet, we cried through the entire day. One student didn’t even come to school that day because he was so upset. When we returned from Christmas break, they had a new teacher and I had nearly 300 new students.

Even as I left my classroom that afternoon (nearly five hours after the students left from their early dismissal), I stood in the doorway and cried as I thought about the laughter, learning, and love shared in that room. It’s one thing to leave the classroom… I was leaving my students. I felt so selfish leaving them; I knew that if I didn’t go for it, it might be several years before another position came open. I had to do what was right for my family and me. It didn’t make it any easier to leave.

As a media coordinator, I felt the first of the feelings of isolation that Starr authentically shares with us in her book. I was a “singleton” – the only person in that position in my school. However, when I began the pilot position I mentioned above at the middle school… well, that was a whole new level of isolation. By definition, a pilot is the first. In this case, it was the first and only in a middle school. There was only one other educator in the entire state of North Carolina with the same job description (who interestingly enough was also named Alicia) and she was nearly two hours away and serving in a high school. I couldn’t share any of my frustrations with anyone at school for many reasons. I didn’t know them, there was no trust built yet, and to be honest, some of my frustrations were about one staff member or the other, or the way things had historically been done, and I certainly couldn’t air those as an instructional coach. Talk about destroying relationships before they even started! Isolated, alone, and desperately craving camaraderie and fellowship with others, I turned to Twitter.

Oh how I wish I’d had this book then! Knowing that others have felt those same feelings would have talked me off a ledge so many times. Thankfully my directors were just a phone call away. I tried building relationships that first year and planting seeds as Starr suggests. I felt like an epic failure. I couldn’t see that I was making any difference, like I was a hamster spinning in my wheel inside my big brick cage. Anytime I felt like throwing in the towel (which was about weekly), my directors would come to my rescue. I can’t tell you how many times my mentor and friend Lucas Gillispie shared the same line with me.

Play the long game. -Lucas Gillispie

Looking back on the past three years, he was right. I see the shifts that have happened at my school. While I’m not naive or prideful enough to believe it was all because of me, I am grateful to have a small part to play in those changes. I am so proud to work for the students, teachers, and community I serve and I love that I get to see many of the seeds that I sporadically threw on the ground that first year grow into some amazing experiences and terrific relationships!

Starr shares excellent advice on how to handle that first year (let’s face it… years, plural) as a leader. She shares about cultivating relationships, co-planning and co-teaching, remaining relevant, supporting teachers by meeting them where they are. The reflections from her Education Week Teacher blog “Work in Progress” are so powerful because they are truly the unfiltered version of her first year. These were her thoughts as she went through those trials and successes – reflecting and celebrating, sharing her intentions publicly.

I did quite a bit of highlighting in this book because I kept reading things that stood out to me as truth! So much of what Starr shares I can personally vouch for its effectiveness in new leadership roles. Things like showing up, modeling learning, gathering feedback, knowing adult learners, and knowing your change-makers are all vitally important in establishing yourself as a successful leader.

Starr encourages us to frequently ask ourselves if we are the type of leader we would want to work for. I love that she never asks the teachers she serves to do something she wouldn’t do herself. I fully support that and I believe teachers appreciate when leaders are willing to “do the dirty work” – I know I did as a classroom teacher. It spoke volumes to me when one of the leaders would work one-on-one with a student, or teach my class while I observed another, etc. I try to do the same for the teachers I serve.

So finally… that brings me to my implementation of From Teacher to Leader which stems from Starr’s wisdom about listening. I’ve got to be honest with you; I’m a horrible listener. My brain is always going a mile per minute and I’m so guilty of thinking about how I will respond (or even something totally off topic) while someone else is talking to me. During one of the coaching PD sessions I attended, we participated in some excellent protocols for listening.

In one, Partner A did the talking for 2 minutes while Partner B drew sketchnotes about what Partner A said. Then, for one minute, Partner B shared the sketchnote with Partner A sharing what they heard them say. Partner A then had 30 seconds to correct or extend on anything Partner B said in their restatement.

Another protocol was based solely on feelings. For three minutes, Partner A talked about something they felt strongly about while Partner B made eye contact and listening without speaking. Partner B then has 90 seconds to restate what Partner A said relaying the emotions they saw exhibited from Partner A. Finally, Partner A gives feedback about how it felt to truly be heard by Partner B. Then the roles switch.

I have to tell you that both of these were incredibly awkward. I didn’t realize how strange three minutes of eye contact with a friend would feel and how many times my mind would start to drift and I’d have to purposefully bring myself back to the conversation. It did prove to me how important active listening is and how poor I am at doing it on my own!

So my implementation is to purposefully engage in active listening with both the teachers and the students I serve. I’m not saying I’ll employ either of the protocols I just shared, but I will be more attentive and intentional about pausing the thoughts in my head and allowing what others are saying to process completely before responding. (This is going to be so tough for me… anyone else struggle as much as I do with this?)

No matter what, it’s important to remember what Starr says here! The learning happens through mistakes. Take all the learning you can from every mistake throwing perfection out the window. Leaders make mistakes, too. Being transparent in those mistakes will build more authentic relationships which leads to more successful leadership.

Man, what a book! I am loving Starr Sackstein and her vulnerabilities in sharing her story. If you’re considering making the move from the classroom, have recently made the shift, or are already in a position of leadership and are looking to grow professionally, I would definitely get From Teacher to Leader and start reading! Bet you can’t put it down!

As always, the flipgrid is available for your reflections if you choose to use it (thank you Andrea Paulakovich for allowing me to join in this brilliant idea for global collaboration on every DBC, Inc book) and I would love to connect with you on Twitter or Instagram. I definitely recommend that you connect with Starr (contact info will be updated here soon) and check out a free preview of the book here. Warning: you’ll want to purchase it! If you want more awesomeness from Starr, you can google her to find tons of podcasts, YouTube videos (including this TEDxTalk about giving up grades), and check out her other books!