Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The End of 2013 - Original, I Know!

Happy New Year 2014! We have exactly 48 more minutes left in 2013 and I'm pretty pumped for a new year! This evening has been wonderful.  Full of friends, loved ones, delicious food and even better drinks.  For the past few weeks, I've been thinking about my final blog post of 2013.  Sounds funny since I only started my blog a couple of months ago. But...I had this great idea to capture all of the progress that has been made in 2013. I imagined myself writing a blog post about how far I've come as an educator in the past 12 months, how far my school has come, and how proud I am of our accomplishments.  However, tonight, I just sit here in awe. 

I spent the day shopping at IKEA with a 3rd grade teacher who is getting rid of all her desks tomorrow.  I received a text from a 4th grade teacher who asked when I would be around this week because she thought of a new procedure that may help our hectic pick-up procedure.  I received an email from a teacher who wanted to share pictures of the socks her class collected for men and women who have cold feet this time of year.  I got a text from our PTA President who wants to help me plan our upcoming family math night. I received an email from a parent with a picture attached of her daughter and me in our "wacky tacky winter wear" and I couldn't help but think...forget the numbers, the stats, the hoopla.

This year has been incredible.  2013 has been full of hard moments, difficult decisions, challenging times.  But it has also been full of wonderful people, special students, and supporters who for no reason have held me up when I didn't think I could stand alone.  I am grateful.  I am lucky. I am full of love, hope, and faith for a 2014 full of promise and new beginnings.  I've watched dreams come true in 2013. And 2014 is going to be even more spectacular.  My heart is full thanks to all who have made 2013 special, and as for 2014, watch out, be ready, because I'm anticipating all the best for a year full of dedication, hard work, and promise. Happy New Year! 

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Sunny Days & Warm Reflections

Procrastination has finally been good to me! When I was tagged in @MarkALuque's #SunshineAward, I didn’t act on it right away (I’m either super spontaneous and react to things immediately, or I procrastinate until it’s too late.) Before I knew it, @LS_ Karl had given me even MORE homework which means that I’m taking it upon myself to do the #SunshineAwards Fadeji Style. #dangerous When I first figured out what the #SunshineAwards were all about, I felt like I was 13 again. I mean I almost logged into my aimelou01@hotmail.com account or had the urge to see if someone had recently IM'd me on AOL Instant Messenger. Don't you remember those emails that circulated like this around 1997? In any event, I'm always up for something fun and reflective so let's do this! 

Direction #1: Acknowledge the nominating blogger (in this case, bloggers) 

First of all, Mark and I are a great example of how Twitter connects educators in mysterious ways. One day when I was with a bunch of new administrators at the Sonoma County Office of Education, we had a guest speaker (@POUSDSupt) come talk to us about the power of Twitter. As Jennie shared with us, she explained that just minutes earlier, she had tweeted out a question, asking her PLN (Personal Learning Network) to respond in order to show us the network of people she had immediate access to when she needed support, advice, or insight. One of the first responders to Jennie’s question was @MarkALuque. Mark Luque?! This was a name I had heard over and over again from 2001 – 2005 when I was a student at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Not only had I heard Mark’s name but I had seen dozens of pictures of his adorable children and heard family stories about him. Crazy! Mark’s sister, Renee, and I were roommates at Cal Poly and she remains one of my closest friends. Although at the time, I hadn’t met Mark face to face, we have since been able to connect thanks to #fallcue and I look forward to hanging out with him in the future as well. As I told your sis Mark, you’re kind of a big deal.

And then there is @LS_Karl. It’s funny to think about my first encounter with Karl because I feel like we’ve known each other forever. I’ll keep it brief but will highlight the fact that yes, @chaugen and I totally stalked Karl at the Google Summit last July when we realized we were in the same sesh. It’s actually quite surprising that I was able to concentrate during @awesomecoachv’s session after meeting Karl LS! I mean seriously…there was a LOT going on that day! Since our meeting, Karl and I have been cheering each other on in our work and I sincerely appreciate his constant positive energy.

Direction #2: Share 11 random facts about myself (harder than you may think!) 

#1 When I turned ten, my parents got me a Shih Tzu that I lovingly named Kelly after Kelly Kapowski on Saved By the Bell.
6 out of the 8 "Barn Girls" in the Dominican Republic 2011
#2 In college, I lived with 7 other girls in an iconic house called “The Barn” and to this day, the 8 of us are still referred to as the “The Barn Girls” by strangers and friends alike in a variety of countries. (lots of stories to go with this one!)
Gimmelwald, Switzerland

#3 I have a minor in Spanish, though I am extremely shy when it comes to speaking the language.

#4 I got sent to the principal’s office TWICE as an elementary student. Once for throwing spaghetti and another for lying in order to get “seconds” of canned peaches. #cafeteriaproblems

#5 I love big hair.

#6 Someday, I would love to run an orphanage but first, I’d like to adopt.

#7 Growing up, we owned a goped, a moped, and a go-cart. #killer

#8 I was ASB President my senior year of high school.

#9 Me encanta spicy food and sushi.

#10 I recently received a free upgrade from North Bay CUE when I moved from a “member at large” to an official board member. #promotion #luckyme

#11 Gimmelwald, Switzerland is my favorite place on earth. 

Direction #3: Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for me. 

1. What is your dream job?
Since I was 18 (so just for the past 5 years), I have wanted to be a principal. I realize that sounds so dorky but honestly, I get to experience my dream job on a daily basis.

2. Who is your best friend and how did you meet?
Ashley Litton. We met freshman year of HS in Spanish class. She couldn’t get enough of my bangs and I loved her sarcastic and frank attitude.

3. What is the biggest risk you’ve ever taken in your life? How did it work out?
In 2005, I left everything I knew and adored in California to chase after a boy I fell in love with who lived in Alabama. We’ll be celebrating our 7th wedding anniversary tomorrow. I’m not going to lie, marriage is hard work but I’m extremely proud of all that we’ve accomplished together and I thank God daily for Tayo’s love.

4. You could have dinner with three people from your PLN, who do you invite?
@jenny_derby @cashleywilliams @missamandagrey I can’t get enough of these three. See why here. They are all dynamite teachers too.

5. Are you the oldest, middle, or youngest child?
Oldest. Love my little brother Joe.

6. If you could spend one day doing whatever you want, how do you spend your day?
Sleep in, zumba with @jennyderby, latte, gel mani, massage, pool time with girlfriends, dinner with hubby, episode of The Good Wife.

7. What is the most important characteristic you look for in your friends?

8. What is your go to beverage on Friday evening? Why?
Red wine or a margarita. Why? Because it usually involves friends, fun, and a guaranteed sweet night of sleep.

9. What needs to happen in 2014 for you to be reflecting on a successful year 52 weeks from now?
· Call my grandmas more often.
· Organize more staff get togethers.
· Work out regularly. (yikes!)
· Spend less time at my desk and more time in classrooms by following the Breakthrough Coaching model.
· Stop adding to my already full plate.

10. Who is your hero? Why?
My Grandma Frannie. The “why” would make this already too long post even longer but I don’t know anyone else on the planet like my Gram.

11. What is your proudest moment as an educator?
I’ve had several but they all have several things in common. Spending time with students who need it most, going to extreme lengths to give them what they need, and remaining in their lives years after they were “mine.” Just yesterday I made a frozen yogurt date with one of my students who was in my very first 3rd grade class in Mobile, Alabama and now she is a sophomore in high school. Can’t wait to see her.

Direction #4: List 11 bloggers that I believe deserve some recognition and a little blogging love

Let me be clear that there is NO WAY I’ll get to 11 and I’m sure some of you have already been given this HW so you can merge your posts like I did. Either my circle is too small or not enough of the people I know are blogging.

Kenneth Durham (a rockin’ principal and dad who models solid leadership for me)
Ashley Williams (yes, this means you will need to start a blog)
Jenny Derby (yes, this means you will need to start a blog)
Emily Dunnagan (roomie!)
Katy Foster (I don’t care that Sergio beat me to you)
Mark Hammons (no, you’re not too cool for this)

Direction #5: Post 11 questions for the bloggers I nominate. 

1. What is your greatest fear?
2. If you could travel to any place right now, where would you go?
3. What are you REALLY good at? (don’t be bashful)
4. Do you make New Years resolutions? If so, what will they be for 2014?
5. When you want to totally relax, what does that look like for you?
6. Describe your perfect day.
7. What’s one of your favorite childhood memories?
8. What is your favorite quote or at least one that speaks to you?
9. Most exotic (or just plain crazy) food you have ever eaten?
10. What is one of the funniest things a kid has ever said to you? 
11. What percentage of the people you work with do you think are actually “in it” for the right reasons? 

Happy writing!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Open Candy, 20 Questions, and A Good Man

If you've left your house anytime within the past 48 hours, you know that there is just a tiny bit of Christmas craze going on out there.  Busy parking lots, bustling shoppers, and long lines.  For the most part, I've noticed that people are behaving pretty kindly to one another.  After church yesterday morning, I found myself in Target for a few last minute stocking stuffers for my brother.  Yep, he's 26 and we both still love stockings the most.  In fact this year, that's all our family is doing. Stockings.  To be honest, there just isn't really anything that any one of us needs or wants badly enough to have a huge present fest over. Actually, what I'm most excited for is Christmas Eve service with my small but wonderful family and my mom's tasty prime rib dinner on Christmas Day.  

Yesterday afternoon, my husband, Tayo, and I were at Big 5 waiting to check out.  I couldn't help but watch the young boy in front of us with his dad as they purchased a couple basketballs.  If you're an educator, you know how this goes.  It's that moment when you notice a child who needs a little guidance and you have to make the choice to either put on your teacher hat and guide or look the other way and ignore.  I remember last year about this time of year when a kid dumped a ton of DVDs on the floor at Best Buy and then walked away as if nothing had happened.  If you know me at all, you know that there was NO way I was going to let that fly but yesterday, I sat back and watched, and I'm glad I did.  

This little boy who I'd guess was probably a kindergartner, stuck his hand in the candy jar, started to unwrap a piece of bubble gum and kindly said to the cashier, "Ummm, excuse me, can I have this?" The dad (who clearly saw the gum was unwrapped) told his son, "No, put that back," and the little boy put the opened gum back into the jar. I gave Tayo my best Principal Fadeji "Really?!" expression, but much to his happiness, I kept quiet.  The kindergartner then wandered over to the credit card machine.  "Excuse me, what is this red button for?" "Excuse me, what happens if I push this button?" "Excuse me, what is the yellow button for?" "Excuse me, does this button do anything?" By this point I was this kid's number one fan.  Not only was he using his "excuse me" manners, but his level of curiosity was so awesome that I couldn't help but give him approving smiles after each question. After about 16 more questions (all of which the cashier answered with simple, yet kind responses) the little boy and his dad left the store. 

As we proceeded to check out, Tayo said very sincerely to the cashier, "You're a good man."  Without skipping a beat, I half gasped, half interrupted and said, "Really?!" I mean in my mind, the cashier was polite but he could have extended the kid's thinking a little more. In an effort to make the moment a little less awkward and pump up the cashier's ego (which I had just accidentally deflated), I said, "Oh, yah, you were great! But I mean kids are supposed to be curious, he was like 5 years old!" In that moment a bunch of things came together for me. 

I realized in that moment that being an educator, I expect the adults around me to coach children.  I expect our students to use manners, and I expect curiosity to be completely acceptable and encouraged. I also expect people to cheer each other on, to encourage one another and to point out the successes of others that are worthy of celebrating.  That's the culture I'm working to create at my school and in my community. And for just a small moment at Big 5 yesterday, I saw that culture being replicated in the midst of Christmas craze and it made me smile. Those unexpected moments are real. And sometimes they start with open candy, 20 questions, and acknowledging a good man. 

Friday, December 13, 2013

Thank You Teacher. I Love You.

During my last year of teaching 2nd grade (2011-12 school year), I got an email from the father of one of my students. (Commonly referred to as "one of my dads" but that can get tricky.)  He shared with me that he knew of a local construction company that was interested in investing in the lives of their Spanish-speaking employees through an English course.  I'm not sure if this dad had heard about my recent mission trip to Casa de la Esperanza Orphanage, if he knew that I minored in Spanish while at Cal Poly, or even worse, if he had spotted me devouring guac and chips at a nearby Mexican restaurant, but regardless of his intuition, I was hooked from the beginning.  Before I knew it, I was sealing the deal at a mansion in Kentfield, sipping hot apple cider with two of my close teaching friends and meeting our future students.  

After a business development and coaching meeting over lattes with the famous Randy Roberts, the three of us teachers emerged feeling empowered as the new small business owners of AJA: English Made Easy.  We wrote a business plan, a proposal for the company (cringing at the amount of money we were charging, after all, we were JUST teachers!), and filled out numerous insurance and facility use forms. To our surprise and within just weeks, we were up and running! I don't think Jenny (@jennyderby), Amanda (@missamandagrey) or I knew just what we were getting into when we held our first class in Room 20 at Brookside Upper Elementary. 

As all good teachers do, we spent the first few classes getting to know our students.  We learned that many of them had been hired from the area in San Rafael known as the "canal."  If you aren't familiar with San Rafael, the "canal" is an area where workers stand for hours on end hoping someone will drive by and hire them for a day job. We learned that most of our students were living here in the U.S. but their wives, children, and extended family members were living in other countries.  We learned that several of our students never even completed 6th grade.  With hopeful hearts and realistic expectations, we started our journey.

Two years later, we no longer teach in Room 20.  We teach in a classroom near the "canal" that our students BUILT for us with love and care in the middle of their construction warehouse! We've had numerous 12-14 week intense rounds of ESL classes, and we've added a dynamic teacher, @cashleywilliams to the mix.  We've laughed together, we've struggled together, and we've celebrated together. 

Sharing the #eduwins that have occurred with our students over the past two years would be a heart warming and reflective walk down memory lane.  However, tonight, I had the privilege of being a part of one huge #eduwin that summarized the last two years for me.  Tonight, I watched a flourishing top-notch company invest in the lives of their employees.  I watched ten business executives drink, eat, and be merry with men who stumble over their sentence structure, who are often covered in paint and dirt, and many of whom will spend this holiday missing their family members who live in Mexico or El Salvador.  Tonight, I watched my three friends, who have busted their butts for the past three months to teach with enthusiasm, hold back the tears as we hugged our students goodbye for a few months. Tonight, I saw a room full of people who know what it means to Give. Risk. Learn.

This holiday season, I'm sure I will receive close to 100 Christmas cards but I already have my favorite card picked out.  It's the card below. The card where these 16 men wrote personalized messages to each of us teachers. It's funny how the things that once bothered me have melted away over time.  I used to hate it when my 2nd grade students called me "teacher." Spelling mistakes, poor grammar, and incorrect punctuation have also been known to drive me crazy on more than one occasion. This year however, my favorite Christmas card is the one full of mistakes. The one that says, "Thank you teacher. I love you." 

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Wire It Up!

This is a combined post from @awelcome and @mrsfadeji about being Wired Principals in 2013!

(Amy Fadeji) @mrsfadeji - Penngrove Elementary School

Although it's fairly common to ask someone, "What do you do?" I'm personally not one who is big into titles.  As a principal, I hear parents constantly saying, "I don't want my child to be labeled" and I totally get that.  However, whether we like it or not, those around us are constantly labeling us, making observations, and drawing conclusions about us that may or may not be totally accurate.  A principal friend of mine, Adam Welcome (@awelcome), recently referred to me as a "wired principal."  I have to admit that I did a quick Google search on "wired principal" and ended up without any concrete evidence of what or why anyone would consider themselves a wired principal. 

What I can share with you is that I find myself constantly plugged in for the sake of my students and staff. On campus, you'll rarely catch me without my phone. (P.S. I just got a new iPhone 5s yesterday and it's beautiful! I'm such a sucker for black Friday shopping. #embarrassing)  In between stepping into classrooms to share in the goodness of all the learning taking place on campus, I am easily guilty of responding to a few emails, checking in with our office manager, tweeting classroom happenings, texting a teacher or two and re-scheduling appointments.  However, it is in the classroom, where I really feel wired!  Wired about the risks our teachers are taking, wired about the ownership our students are taking with their learning, and wired about the contagious momentum spreading like wildfire across our campus. #forestfire

Being a wired principal isn't just a feeling or a mindset. To me, being a wired principal is about being fully connected to everything and everyone in a variety of ways. As with many aspects of this profession, being a wired principal looks different on any given day.  In the month of November, here are just a few of my favorite wired moments:

  • Recording an Audioboo with some 2nd graders about what we are thankful for.
  • Joining in on a GHO (Google Hangout) with one of my 5th grade classes as they tried to guess the location of another 5th grade class in California.
  • Writing a couple of reflective blog posts from a local coffee shop and hearing that our 4th graders are starting to blog now too!
  • Meeting up with fellow admins on five different occasions to collaborate just for fun and learning.
  • Visiting JSE Roadrunners with another principal friend and meeting tons of energized teachers who are now connected with our awesome Penngrove teachers.
  • Brainstorming and collecting feedback from some students about our implementation of Google Docs.
  • Video recording students as they visit our "Say Something Nice" stand during recess and lunch.
  • Constantly making heroes out of students and staff members via our school Twitter account @pennpanthers.
  • Facilitating a "Third Thursday PD" with @lorideen after she successfully convinced our Superintendent to join Twitter. 
  • Getting a lesson on Animoto at a #brewcue hosted by @NorthBayCUE in St. Helena.
  • Celebrating the fact that two of my teachers will be presenting at the Google Education Napa Valley 1:1 Institute after their submission was accepted! 
If being a "wired principal" was just another label or title, quite honestly, I wouldn't be that interested.  However, when I look at the list above, and I think about the incredibly talented people who I get to share these experiences with, I can't help but claim this title with excitement!  Let's wire it up! 

(Adam Welcome) @awelcome - John Swett Elementary School

Thinking back to my first 'wired' moment(s) as an educator goes back six years and my time as an upper elementary teacher. I approached my districts technology department about moving forward with Google Apps for Education.......and the idea fell on deaf ears. So, I 'bypassed' a little and set up local accounts based around our school website rather than district wide. Change would be an understatement when describing the effect GAFE had on my classroom, then school and then finally district wide.

Fast forward six years and being a 'Wired Principal' is VERY important to me and setting the tone on campus is what I believe pushes our work and thinking on a daily basis.

Why do I lead this way?
  • At John Swett Elementary (@jseroadrunners) we're all members of 'Team Kid' (Translation) We do what's best for kids on a daily basis, our entire staff being wired is a huge part of that!
  • Wired is the new foreign language and preparing kids for a much different economy and work environment so they're successful is our purpose.
  • Wired = Mobile.....Not being tied to a specific learning environment (ie - classroom/desk) models for Ts + Ss!
  • Wired engages kids, teachers, parents and community in ways not previously possible!
  • Sharing with the world is so much more fun and meaningful than just with those that can read your newsletter. 
  • Being the example for Ts + Ss 'Sets the Tone' - Leading from the front shows people where you want them to go, not just talking about where you want to go.
  • Twitter connects classrooms at my school, across town, across counties and across the world! Get your staff on Twitter, we are!
  • The Principal is way more learner than manager, show your Ts + Ss how to connect and be connected. 
  • I want kids to produce knowledge/content, not just consume what someone else has produced!

How do I lead this way?
  • Having a school blog shows digital writing in action and sets the tone for student blogging!
  • Tweeting your school shares all the greatness that's going on, open those classroom doors for the world, it will inspire your Ts + Ss!
  • Wired Wednesday's started the progression at John Swett, 15 minute Professional Development sessions once/twice a month start the conversation, in a major way!
  • Ts will start presenting the Wired Wednesday's, now that's POWERFUL!
  • Ditch the Dell desktop in your office, get a laptop (I prefer this), iPhone and iPad to run your school, it can be done! Come to SVCUE onSaturday, March 8th to hear US talk about how if you're interested!
  • Talk about all of this! With PTA, Site Council, Ts, Ss, district office......blog about it, Tweet about it, spread the word. Don't keep the message a secret, people won't know what you believe in unless you share! 
  • Show evidence of other schools/leaders that are already leading this way. Look to Twitter, Edutopia and the plethora of educational blogs out their to provide support.
  • Stay strong and believe in your ideas/mission, even when people look at you like an alien!
  • Spend LOTS of time in classrooms, this is where schools 'make their money.' Visibility Visibility Visibility
  • Being part of the #SAVMP (School Admin Virtual Mentor Program) with @PeterMDeWitt and @gcouros

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Listen & Watch with Intention

This morning, I had the pleasure of spending an hour (which wasn't nearly long enough) with a good friend of mine who happens to be one of the most incredible teachers I know.  For the sake of this post, we will refer to her as Molly. (random name choice - seriously random, #weird) Molly and I have known each other for about five years now. She was the one who took me under her wing when I was hired to teach next door to her in a dirt bag portable as we referred to our classrooms.  My first summer in the Bay Area, Molly toured me around Chinatown, all over SF, and throughout Marin.  We discovered some favorite restaurants, we began a healthy latte addiction, and we even forced our husbands to become friends. Over the course of our teaching careers together (a short lived three years before I plunged into admin), I found Molly to be like no other teacher I had ever worked with.  She truly knew how to create a classroom community.  Molly taught her students to trust one another, she got down and dirty with them, and when one of those little seven year old faces looked at her with wide eyes, she knew exactly what that child needed.

Today, in my coffee conversation with Molly, I missed those days. I especially missed those days because Molly is having a challenging school year. One of those years where a couple of students are really making learning difficult for the majority of the class.  I'm not talking about a little extra "boy energy" or a few "blurters," I'm talking about some REAL challenges.  There wasn't much I could say or do to make Molly feel better as she vented about her failed attempts to get support and help from just about anyone who would listen to her.  But what I was able to tell Molly, was that I don't think the people around her know her well enough.  If they did, if they REALLY knew Molly, they would know that when she asks for help, she is all out of tricks.  If they really knew Molly, they would know that when she calls out for assistance, she is down on her knees pleading for support.  If they really knew Molly, they would know her students as well, because they would have been IN her classroom watching and learning.

I could go on and on about Molly, her class, and where I feel there have been breakdowns along the way in the "systems" that are in place, but what I really walked away with after our conversation was a huge reminder for myself.  A reminder to stop and listen to those around me who might be asking for help.  A reminder to stop and watch for colleagues who may be in need of extra support.  A reminder that it's my responsibility to know the people I work with so that when I see them struggling, I will hopefully be able to catch a glimpse of it in their eyes and know how to intervene.  

99 days out of 100 I love being a principal.  But today, I just wanted to be a 2nd grade teacher, back in my old dirt bag portable, waving to Molly through the window.  I wanted her to see my face smiling at her, reminding her that she is wonderful, that she can do this.  For now, I guess I'll have to settle for the lesson she left me with...to listen and watch with intention.  

Monday, November 11, 2013

Calling On A Hero

Mr. & Mrs. Bell
Photo taken: November 16, 2007

It had been a long day of teaching.  One of those days where you feel a little defeated and beat up when the kids all walk out the door.  One of those days where bus duty feels like a huge punishment, and you "supervise" by pretending you don't see the kids hiding behind the benches throwing erasers at one another. Mrs. Ramey had apparently had a similar day to mine because I remember walking into her classroom after bus duty and feeling relieved when she gave me a look that said, "Please tell me we aren't still going." 

Ramey was one of my very best teaching friends when I lived in Mobile, Alabama. She was one of those teachers who was never too busy to answer my endless questions.  Her precision to detail and OCD tendencies (as she herself would admit) coupled with my big picture views and lofty goals were a dynamite combination! We were a killer 3rd grade team, Ramey and me. On this particular fall day, Ramey and I had planned to drive downtown to a museum that was featuring a new photography gallery depicting the story of  World War II.  After a quick debate on if we should still go or not, Ramey and I grabbed our after school snack of Diet Dr. Peppers and Cheeze-Its, and headed for the museum. 

The World War II photographs were breathtaking.  I stood in awe of the countless pictures of young men who had picked up and left everything they knew to serve and protect our country.  A part of me kept an eye out for a picture of my grandfather, Charles M. Barnett, who had passed away a year earlier.  I didn't see grandpa in any of those pictures, but I felt him with me in that museum. I remember feeling so proud that he had served our country, came home to raise a family, and then spent his life as an educator sharing his knowledge of photography with his students and investing in their lives until his own passing.  Standing in that museum that day, I could smell my grandpa's "dark room" where he spent hours upon hours developing pictures years earlier, but where us grand kids had thought it was cool to just hang out and be kids together.

As I was lost in my own personal thoughts, Ramey called me over to a photograph that had clearly captured her attention.  Together, we read the story of Maurice Bell, a seaman on the USS Indianapolis who survived 4 days and 5 nights in shark infested waters, waiting to be rescued after a Japanese torpedo sank the USS Indianapolis in the middle of a 1945 July night.  We were moved to tears, touched by his story. One of only 317 men who survived out of approximately 1,200 men on board, Mr. Bell's story was beyond comprehension for even Ramey who grew up in a military household of bravery and tradition. And then we saw it..."Maurice Bell currently resides in Mobile, Alabama with his wife Lois." It was as if Ramey and I knew immediately that Mr. Bell was going to change our lives, and our students' lives with his story and his honor. 

Two weeks later, Maurice Bell, the sweetest old man your eyes had ever seen, sat in my 3rd grade classroom with my twenty students.  He shared his story with a room full of eight year olds.  A room full of students who didn't know or understand war. A room full of students who couldn't understand what it was like to hear their friends being taken one by one into the dark waters by sharks. A room full of students who didn't understand why their teacher was misty-eyed. However what I saw that day, was that Mr. Bell also shared his story with a room full of students who suddenly didn't care when recess was or what was for lunch.  Students who ran up to him after his talk and hugged him asking for his autograph. Students whose eyes glistened with pride when Mr. Bell let them wear his seaman's cap and when he crouched for a picture with them.  

What I saw that day, was a hero.  A real live hero.  In my classroom.  With my students.  I felt so proud that Veterans Day week.  Proud of the fact that Ramey and I had sucked up our bad day, and gone to learn and experience something special together. Proud that we did something about it by calling up a stranger and inviting him to connect with our students. Proud that those little eight year old lives would forever have the experience of meeting Mr. Bell and his lovely wife, Lois. 

Proud that we called upon a hero.  

Written with much love in the memory of Grandpa Chuck and Maurice Bell, two heroes I think about often.
Read and watch more about Maurice Bell's story from PBS here.

With Grandpa Chuck on Thanksgiving 2005

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Culture, Open Doors, and Breakthroughs

Great. I'm addicted already after writing just 1 blog post.  For days now, I've had the itch to sit down with a piping hot cup of coffee and let the thoughts running through my mind spill onto the screen. However, we all know how it goes, we're busy people. Pulled in thousands of directions and not always having the freedom to spend time on the things we "want."  As if I don't have enough addictions already: Twitter, adorable children, sushi, The Good Wife, and most recently, I've come to terms with the fact that I am completely addicted to surrounding myself with incredibly talented and fun people (#dangerous), NOW this...blogging! You've got to be kidding me. I can barely handle myself these days. I'm sure it's perfectly "normal" to call your friends and chat about what you're going to blog about in your next post right? #dontanswerthat 
Last night, as I sat down to write my school "newsletter" (which I usually loathe since I wait until Tuesday night at 10pm to get started and it gets emailed out first thing Wednesday morning) I decided to go all "blogger" on my newsletter and let's just say, I can hardly wait until next Tuesday night!  I promise, I won't make you read my elementary school newsletter each week but as for this week, you're SO reading it. Don't worry, my Google Doc titled "Blog Ideas" is filling up fast, but for now, I'd love to share with you a glimpse into the life of some shifts taking place at Penngrove Elementary. A place where I have the pleasure of pouring out my heart and soul daily. Enjoy! 
November 6, 2013
Dear Penngrove Families,
Culture is an interesting phenomenon isn't it? We see culture all around us on a daily basis, yet we sometimes don't realize our "culture" because it has become such a part of who we are and how we see the world. When I look around the campus of Penngrove Elementary School, I see evidence of a strong and healthy culture.  I see a culture centered upon student learning, where families feel welcomed and comfortable on campus.  I see a culture where staff members exhaust all resources to be the best they can for their students.  I see a culture where students ask questions because they are curious, and they feel safe in their learning environment.  I see a culture where parents volunteer endlessly and without question to make our jobs so much easier.  I see a culture of respect, compassion, and genuine good will.
As with all healthy school cultures, there are appropriate times for shifts, growth, and even challenges that may test us, but in the end, they make us stronger.  Lately, I have observed a few of these shifts and growing pains as we learn together and make adjustments to our incredibly wonderful school culture for the benefit of our students.  Last week, I had the pleasure of watching our teachers working diligently to understand and dive deeper into the Common Core State Standards in Mathematics.  I took a moment to reflect on the huge undertaking that our educators face as we strive to engage our students in new and exciting ways that promote deeper learning.  
I often find myself wondering if I am doing all that I can to support our students and staff members in the classroom and around campus, where the learning is taking place.  Sadly, at times, I know that I fall short of this large responsibility...a responsibility that I take extremely seriously.  Sure I visit classrooms, of course I spend time with teachers and students, and yes, I can even play a mean game of four square every now and then but REALLY, let's be honest...am I getting down and dirty when it comes to learning with students? Am I modeling the high expectations that I have for each and every one of our students both academically and socially? 
Being open and honest with you all is something that comes naturally for me.  If you don't know by now, I have an open door policy and I can't imagine how some leaders operate without such a policy.  According to Wikipedia (not my favorite resource), an open door policy encourages openness and transparency.  It fosters an environment of collaboration, high performance, and mutual respect.  An open door policy sustains empowerment and positive morale while improving efficiency, productivity, and growth.  These are all descriptors of things that I want for our school and for our culture.  
In an effort to remain open and transparent with you, I want to let you know about a seminar I attended recently with Ms. Tafoya called Breakthrough Coach Training.  I'll spare you the details of the two day coaching session, but what I will tell you is that the experience drastically opened my eyes to the priorities I need to set not only myself, but for our campus as a whole.  I know some of you are getting nervous because you think the "ch" word is about to come out, yes.... C H A N G E, but, all I can do is think of the famous quote by Margaret Mead  which reads, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
Penngrove is committed to constantly looking at ways to improve the educational experiences of our students.  We know that students won't always remember what they were taught, but they WILL remember how they felt along the way. As a function of this commitment, beginning this week, I will be spending two full days every week in classrooms in order to help improve the teaching and learning that happens on a daily basis. Therefore, I may not always be available to speak with you when you drop in or telephone me. However, I really do value communicating with you! So, when you want to reach out to me, please contact Nicole Tafoya (who is doing a wonderful job as our new office manager!) and she will schedule a time for us to talk. My door is still very much open to you.  In fact, it's not only open to you, but it's open to the possibilities that lay before us, the solid foundation that lays behind us, and the culture we shape and mold daily, for the benefit of the most amazing 418 little faces I've come to know and love.
Thank you for your ongoing support of Penngrove and your patience and understanding as we implement these practices! 
Transparently yours,

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Gift of #EduPressure

I can't tell you how many times over the past few months I have been asked, "Fadeji, do you have a blog?" Sadly, my response has been, "No, but some day!"  Writing is something I have loved since I was in elementary school. Anyone who knows me well knows that I love bright colored pens, handwritten thank you notes, and I'm a sucker for funky fun fonts. Whether I'm typing a quick email to a colleague, jotting down a reminder on a neon post-it note, or simply making a "to do" list (yes, I still make those), there is something about writing that just feels right. 

After some serious #EduPressure from two principals whom I admire greatly (@chaugen and @awelcome), here I am, on a Sunday evening SO excited to be writing my first blog post. I'm also convinced that without a magical brainstorming/work sesh with @awesomecoachv, this blog would have a lame name and I wouldn't know where to even find the "compose" icon.  To the three of you, you make me want to Give. Risk. Learn. Trust. 

GIVE.  As educators, we are constantly giving, right? Giving of our time, our resources, our money, our hearts, our knowledge, our energy, our lives. I think giving is something that exhausts us all, but in the most incredibly rewarding way.  I spent the last couple of days in Napa at the Fall CUE Conference (#fallcue) with some of the most giving people I have EVER met.   No, seriously. The people I surrounded myself were relentless in their giving. Although this list of items may sound superficial, the thoughtfulness behind each item, is far from materialistic or meaningless. An extra hot pumpkin spice latte driven 24.8 miles to me by @EduTrace, a free registration to an upcoming conference given to me by a friend who loves mustaches, a new classroom walkthrough form created just for me by @PrincipalDurham, a rockin' pair of huge turquoise earrings "just because" given to me by @AlideGuia, time and friendship shared with me by @CAshleywilliams, and last but certainly not least, a toothpick which I'll probably save forever, given to me by @mhammons. Reflecting on this nature of giving that was so graciously poured out by these friends of mine, reminds me to give more of myself daily to those around me. 

RISK.  We hear it all the time, "Teach our students to take risks...teach them it's okay to fail... celebrate mistakes." I believe deeply in each of those statements.  However this weekend, I found myself wondering how often I'm really modeling "risk taking" for my students and colleagues. My conclusion: I'm just not sure people would consider me a risky risk-taker. My analysis: I'm not okay with that. Prepare yourselves, this principal is about to get serious when it comes to risk-taking.   

LEARN.  For the sake of not writing a novel tonight, I will just say that I learned a LOT this weekend at #fallcue. I learned so much that I cried, I laughed, and I sat amazed at the talent around me in each of the rooms I entered. Over time, I hope to share some of this learning with each of you and I hope it changes you like it changed me. On a side note, I did learn that @LS_Karl and @pronovost are WAY better at bowling than @CTuckerEnglish and I are! #embarrassing Clearly, the fact that I bowled (I hate bowling) with these three rockstars shows that I'll do just about anything to keep the "learning" going. 

TRUST.  For me, this is where things get hard. I tend to insert myself in EVERYTHING for varying reasons and mostly because I love people and want to be in the trenches with students, teachers, etc. ALL of the time! However, I'm realizing quickly, that what I need to do is believe harder than ever before in my colleagues, equip and support the many talented teacher leaders on my campus, love and care for my 416 students like there is no tomorrow, and trust that all of the pieces will fall into place as they should be.  This means letting go. It means holding on. It means continuing to surround myself with people who care. People who make me better. It means making every day a #fallcue day. It means creating a dynamic culture and leading by example, showing others what it means to Give. Risk. Learn. Trust.