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."