The Good Old Days (or Stop Waiting to Tell People How They’ve Impacted You)

Tonight I’m going to write a letter to a friend who is leaving my school district. It’s her last week, and I have no hope for capturing all I’ve learned from her and all I want to thank her for in the letter.

But I am unmistakably better because I have worked with her.

Better as an educator. Better as a person. Better.

I hope we all get to work with someone who is like that. A person who has made the transition from colleague to mentor to trusted friend.

So, as I sit down to write my letter, I wonder why I always leave these messages unsent while folks are around. Certainly the end of a season together is a reasonable time to share something like this, but why do we wait for those moments?

If you have a person like that, why not tell them today?

Who deserves a letter from you? Who has left an indelible mark on not only your career, but also on you as a person?

What’s stopping you from telling them now?

Why wait for another occasion to tell that person how he or she has impacted you?

Regret Prevention

Think about the end of the year. You will have accomplished a great deal, and your students will have done the same. An entire school year provides so many opportunities for amazing things to happen.

But I’ve never had a school year go perfectly. Certainly there is plenty that can happen that is clearly out of our control. But there are always things that happens throughout a year that I have full control over and wish I could go back and change when the end of the year rolls around.

So I want to lay down a little challenge—both for you and for myself. What do you want to make sure you have no regrets about?

Is it connecting with one particular student?

Is it speaking up about something that’s been gnawing at you?

It is trying something new in your classroom?

Is it taking a different approach to discipline as an administrator?

Is it wrapped up in random acts of kindness?

Is it taking time to take care of yourself?

Is it finding someone you trust to share what you are really working through as a teacher?

Is it connecting with that colleague who never seems to be included?

What is it that you want to be sure you do not regret at the end of the year?

I want to end the year without any regrets. I want you to do the same. But that won’t happen by accident.

I love this quote that’s often attributed to Mark Twain:

What will you do during the remainder of the school year to make sure you finish the semester without any regrets about a missed opportunity this year?

If you like what you’re reading here, you might like my book, Shattering the Perfect Teacher Myth: 6 Truths That Will Help You THRIVE as an Educator. The book highlights six truths that will help you THRIVE as an educator. Get the book on Amazon or read more about the book here.

4 Questions to Help You Actually Create Change #TeacherMyth

Before Roger Bannister ran the first mile under four minutes, it was thought to be impossible. Not only that, if you talked to a medical professional about the idea of running a mile in less than four minutes at the time Bannister was chasing that mark, he or she would have likely told you that there were serious health risks associated with even attempting such a feat.

Last month (June 2017), the tenth high school student recorded a sub 4 minute mile. Think about that. 65 years ago, common thought among medical professionals was that this would be seriously risky for your health, but here we are with a new understanding of what is possible because someone dared to push back on an established idea.

Sometimes it feels like we might need more than we feel we have to offer to create meaningful change. Maybe we feel need more courage or different ideas. Maybe it’s that we simply lack confidence. Maybe fear keeps us in our place, or perhaps it’s simply our own inertia that keeps us from moving forward.

In her 2008 Harvard commencement speech, J.K. Rowling reminded graduates that they did “We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better.”

I agree with her wholeheartedly. We have the power to imagine better, but I often find myself doing the same old things. Making a plan won’t create the change we want to see, but we will not break out of our old routines and practices without a plan.


What do you want to change next year?

Go ahead and think big here. (Of course you don’t need my permission, but a little encouragement never hurt, right?) What is it that you would most like to see change in the next school year? What would you like to change in your classroom?

Why are you in education? What made this sound like a worthwhile career to invest yourself into when you began? Don’t just think about that–write it down.

Now compare that to what your day to day looks like. How will this change bring you back to your why?

What are your current obstacles?

One of the trickiest things about creating change is the dynamic landscape we are often working within. No two schools are exactly alike, and although many are similar, we have to be careful about broad stroke comments about how to actually create change on the ground in schools.

Think about your situation. What are the obstacles that you can already see coming? Anticipating those road blocks (because there will most certainly be road blocks) will allow you to avoid some of the frustration that comes with those interactions with those who do not share your perspective. Will it make it easy? No. Will it help you feel like you are the one continuing to drive this movement forward? Absolutely.

Who will help you create this change?

For this to become a movement (that’s what you want, right–not just you toiling away on your own trying to make a difference), you need to make sure you’re not going to take this journey alone.

Successful change happens when passionate people do what others believe is impossible. What you hope to change is going to make a difference, and that’s why people are in education: to make a difference.

You need a few people around you to help you refine your idea and help you identify those early obstacles mentioned earlier. You also need them as a sounding board for when you begin to get feedback (because as someone who is about to stir things up and create change for good, you will get feedback).

Two things will happen when you begin to get some movement: People will love it, and people will hate it.

Don’t move forward without at least two people you can count on to support and challenge you throughout this process.

Change calls people out of their comfortable routines. Some are going to see what you are doing and be invigorated to make their own change. Some will want to join your cause. And some will not be happy with you. Be prepared for that. Don’t give in to that feedback. I’d shy away from completely dismissing it, but take it in, determine if there’s any validity to the critique, and move past it. You have work to do and only so much energy to spend doing it.

What time & energy can you commit to this change?

You cannot continue to pile more things onto your plate forever. You are not limitless. You cannot do everything. (Yes, I’m talking to you, too, if you just responded, “Yes I can” to that claim.) We have a finite amount of energy, and that’s ok.

You cannot give more than all you have to give.

But that reality is hard to swallow because the common narrative is that the best are the ones who can keep going forever, the Energizer Bunnies who never seem to stop, never seem to waver, and always accomplish their goals beautifully. I’m tempted to say, “That’s great if you can pull it off,” but I am really coming to believe that nobody can pull that off. At least I can’t, so I’m trying to dedicate my available time to the goals that matter most to me (more on that as the school year approaches).

If you give everything you have at school, you likely won’t have enough for your family and yourself when you get home. (I know I’ve heard Jimmy Casas share about the difficulty of balancing an emotionally draining job with the desire to be fully present at home when you’re there. I feel like I’ve heard others share a similar sentiment. If there’s a chance I heard that from you or you recognize where I should give other credit, please let me know so I can give credit where it’s due.) Certainly there are days like this. Things come up, the reality of serving others is that it can be simultaneously live giving and incredibly draining all at once. I’m not exactly sure how, but that’s my lived experience. What I’m saying is that we cannot schedule ourselves to that point. We have to keep something in the tank for the others in our lives and for ourselves.

Giving every last bit of energy you have to your work is not a healthy long term solution. Figure out what you have to give and go full throttle into giving that amount. Be dialed in, focused, and determined to drain every ounce of that dedicated time to create change, but be willing to give yourself the white space to recharge afterward.

Achieving the Impossible

Bannister’s record breaking run in 1954 changed the landscape of track and field. The next runner to break the “impossible” four minute barrier did so just two months later. Hundreds have done it since. Last month, the tenth high school student broke the four minute barrier. Some runners have finished a mile under four minutes more than 100 times.

The impossible is happening.

I’m excited for you and for your future. The changes you make this year will have an impact far greater than you are likely to every know. But they won’t happen without someone like you getting back to the reason you got into education and pushing your reality back toward that original motivation.

Where will you upset the status quo?

If you like what you’re reading here, consider checking out my book, Shattering the Perfect Teacher Myth. The book highlights six truths that will help you THRIVE as an educator, including one–Imagine It Better–that discusses how we can and should disrupt the status quo in education. Read more about the book here or find the book on Amazon

3 Ways to Make a Difference This Week

This time of year often brings out this question: “Am I making a difference?”

I often share lightheartedly that now is the time where we’ve shifted from a “We have so much of semester left” mindset to a “We have so much left to do in the semester” reality. As the days go by, to do lists fill up, testing rolls around, and if we’re not careful, we’ll find ourselves spending most of our time doing things that have noting to do with why we set out to become educators.

I know this happens because I’ve noticed this in myself. Earlier in the semester, I set out to start the day focused on the things that matter most to me. Before heading out to morning duty, I wrote out projects for the day that helped me focus on accomplishing two overall goals: “Create an environment where all staff and students feel safe and welcomed. Equip teachers to innovate in the classroom.”

That became the litmus test for the projects I could take on and the direction the flexible time in my schedule took. Often, that wasn’t an overwhelming amount of time, but when it did come along, I was focused on getting meaningful work done. And then, I got busy. I missed a day. Then I missed a couple of days. And before I knew it, I hadn’t written out that why statement in a couple of weeks.

It was not my favorite realization from this year.

Pursuit of what matters in education is an everyday exercise. Our momentum will carry us far less than we’d like, but the disciplined pursuit of excellence in this area can create lifelong change for ourselves and those we serve.

Before reading further, take a minute to write down why you believe in being an educator. Maybe it’s why you started out in this field. Maybe it’s something that’s changed over time. But think about this: Why are you still excited about doing this tough work? Tweet that out. Post it on Facebook. Put it somewhere where you and others will see it. We need that positive reinforcement and reminder about not just all the “what” we have to do. We need to see why we’re doing this. But don’t post it and forget it. In what you can control, relentlessly pursue the work that matters most to you. Don’t miss the opportunity to do something amazing before the school year ends.

I’ve yet to find the person who exclusively does what they are most passionate about in education. We all have responsibilities that feel more like work than others. Still, we need a plan (or at least I need a plan) to help stay on track during the busiest times of the year.

We cannot let our circumstances define our reality. Our purpose is bigger than our to do list.

So, I want to counteract that overwhelming feeling that can sometimes creep in on us. I know each of us have some nonnegotiables that simply have to be done. However, in the midst of what can feel like some pretty busy spring days, here are a few ideas to help keep us focused on our why.

1. Keep Getting to Know Your Students

Relationships are our focus in August, but we prioritize getting to know kids during the spring semester in a different way. By now, relationships have formed and we’re getting to enjoy the interactions with our students that only come after substantial time and energy has been invested. But as some relationships go deeper, who are we missing? Who are the students in the gaps? The ones that multiple teachers are thinking, “Someone else must have connected with him, right?” Who are the invisible students who have to be sought out? Write down a couple of students you can make a point of getting to know this week. Put reminders in your phone or somewhere you will see to make sure it happens.

2. Create a Collegial Connection

What do people expect from their interactions wth you at school? Where do you notice that you tend to stay surface level? With whom do you dive a little deeper relationally? Think through your routine and identify a couple of coworkers you can get to know better this week. I’m not asking you to do something terribly deep and vulnerable here. Maybe it’s striking up a conversation between you and a coworker who is not in your hallway/grade level/department (where isolation tends to settle in on many campuses). Maybe it’s checking in with a friend on another campus. In any case, intentionally connecting at any level reminds is that we are not alone in this work.

3. Make Someone’s Day

Think about someone who deserves something awesome in their day. Maybe it’s a student. A teacher who’s always serving others selflessly. Maybe it’s a staff member whose in a service role–a custodian or cafeteria worker. Think about what would make their day and find a way to make that happen. Maybe even rally a few people around to help celebrate this person. It doesn’t have to be complicated; even finding a student and asking them about a connection you have can make their day. Whether your random act of kindness is something ordinary or over the top, time and energy spent in the service of others is always well spent–even during the busiest times of the year.

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I’m thrilled to be able to add this sketchnote from Julie Woodard. She’s an amazing sketchnoter. Check out her work on Twitter!