Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Calling On A Hero Part 2

Veteran's Day is just one of those holidays that I want to cling to for way longer than 24 hours.  Standing at the parade in downtown Petaluma today, I said to my girlfriends, "I'm going to re-post my blog from last Veteran's Day later on" but then I realized, I had more to say than just a re-post. Funny how that happens.  I haven't blogged since September. Not sure what the funk has been about but within the past 24 hours, I've had 3 ideas come to me that I just can't wait to get out.  

Today, I spent a lot of time missing my grandpa and being thankful for the friendship I made with Mr. Bell when I lived back in Mobile, Alabama (read more about him below). Recently, we lost my grandma also and it feels a bit like losing my grandpa all over again.  I think when he passed away in 2006, I shifted all of my love for him onto my grandma.  And now, that generation has come to an end.  The circle of life. 

Proud of our PHS Band!
It's strange to think that the images and concept of "war" way back when (WW II days are especially on my mind) are so different than the images and concepts we have of war today.  I'm not at all trying to get political here so let's not go there. All I'm saying is that weapons were different, boundaries were different, training was different, technologies were different, tactics, strategy, and power were different. It's hard to believe that soon, all of the WW II vets will have passed away and those stories will become second and third hand stories.  Despite all the differences of war "then" and "now" - I can't help but see a lot of similarities too.  Respect. Honor. Love. Freedom. Pride. 

The Veteran's Day Parade was incredible today in Petaluma.  It lasted over an HOUR and I didn't want it to end. There were so many groups of people represented in the parade that serve people in one way or another.  Besides every military branch you can think of, there were emergency response crews, city council members, the American Red Cross.  My personal favorites were the veterans who waved at the crowds and nodded in appreciation.  Some of THEM were even mouthing the words, "thank you." As helicopters and jets flew overhead, the overwhelming sensation of gratitude just took over all of my senses.  One second I was whistling, then I was clapping, next I would be waving my flag, and in between all of those came smiles, cheers, and even a few tears.  
Helping others all the time.
So fascinating.

With my girls. Ash & Derb.
 I was just another fan in the crowd but I had at least ten moments where I felt like a veteran looked me right in the eyes and smiled and nodded at me.  The American spirit was alive. It was strong. There was a gentleman a few people away from me who was probably in his late  20s.  He stood for the entire parade (so did a lot of us but this guy had a comfy chair he could have been sitting in). He must have been in the service also because so many veterans looked at him and just KNEW he was a fellow hero serving his country.  It was incredible to watch their unspoken interactions over and over again. I was honored to be standing so close to him, and to witness the unspoken love.  

Here I thought sleeping in, having lunch with girlfriends, getting a massage, or resting under a blanket on the couch was going to the best part of my day.  Boy was I wrong. Waving that flag, watching children look at heroes with awe, hugging friends, seeing some of my students, getting a wink from a 90 year old man who had a sparkle in his eye like my grandpa used to, those are the things that will stick with me forever.  Happy Veteran's Day. 

The following blog post was written exactly a year ago on November 11, 2013. Not only is it one of my fav posts but I also love how much chatter started about my totally incredible Hutchens Elementary School uniform. :) YES! 

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

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Love the Most? #reflectiveteacher Day 4

My small contribution to the Reflecting Teaching: A 30 Day Blogging Challenge for Teachers.

What do I love the most? That's going to be a problem for me. There are a million things in life I love. Mint chip ice cream, glitter, a new set of colorful flair pens, fire pits, inspirational videos, red wine, teachers who tweet, down comforters, books, hammocks, sleep, singing in my car, 5 year olds, the list goes on. But what do I love the most about "teaching"? Well, that's easy.

Quality time.  

I have a hard time when educators talk about making connections and having meaningful relationships with students because it feels SO obvious to me. Sadly though, having these intentional relationships with students is not as frequent as one might think.  I had to take a #caedchat sabbatical about a year ago because it felt super "trendy" to say things along the lines of, "Invest in the lives of your students" and I found myself getting a little agitated that those words even had to be stated.  Thankfully, I've been able to take a step back and remind myself that even the most dedicated, loving, hard-working educator has to make a conscious effort to set aside quality time for students. 

When I was teaching, one of the things I loved most about my job was taking my students on field trips.  I know field trips can be a challenge.  Driver insurance paperwork, car groups, bus reservations, the fear of losing a child, money, gift shops, rule breaking chaperones (yah, you know who you are), the list goes on! For me, field trips were just such a huge gift.  A time to step away from the daily routines and to really spend quality time with my students, their parents, and my teammates. 

When I transitioned from being a classroom teacher to a site principal, I promised myself a lot of things. I promised myself that I would never get too far away from my students and that I would always make spending quality time with them a top priority.  Those special moments are just priceless.  

One of our Penngrove teachers spending some
quality time with one of her students.
Yesterday, I spent the day with one of our 4th grade classes, our two 4th grade teachers, and about 15 parent volunteers at the Fort Ross Historic State Park on the beautiful Pacific Ocean. Honestly, the day was perfect. It was full of quality time.  That's what I always loved most about teaching, and being a principal has made me appreciate those moments even more.  I could write about Fort Ross for hours.  The lessons learned, the personalities that shined, the struggles that were overcome, the relationships that were solidified. It was a magical day. For me it was a reminder of the importance of quality time. And that's what I love the most about teaching, about being a principal, and about life. Time is a gift. How are you using yours?

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

New Tech This Year. #reflectiveteacher Day 2

My small contribution to the Reflecting Teaching: A 30 Day Blogging Challenge for Teachers.

Hold me accountable: My Nexus 7 and Feedly. 

This year, I have a new toy thanks to the amazing Google for Education team and the Google Teacher Academy.  Meet my Nexus 7.

The first device I've EVER put a sticker on - still cringing inside.

I feel like I should name this bad boy. Any suggestions?  Having a Nexus 7 feels super glamorous I just have to say. Being that I have plenty of devices, this just feels excessive. In my house currently, I have an iPad given to me by my last 2nd grade class, a Chromebook, a huge Dell laptop, a MacBook Air, and a MacBook Pro, I mean it's kind of ridiculous. 

What I love about this Nexus is that I don't know anything about it. It will be my first Android device in YEARS. Learning about my Nexus is going to push me to be curious, patient, and well, patient. (Not my strong suit.) I am sure there are all sorts of great things I'll learn to do on my Nexus but what I'm most excited to do is finally set up my Feedly account just the way I want it.  I love reading and I love writing but I dream about the day when I can sit on my couch in the evenings and scan through new blog posts, articles, and other topics of interest on Feedly. Yes, I realize I could do this on my other devices but for some reason, my Nexus is just screaming, "Feedly!" to me! And there you have it. Those are my tech integration goals of the year. Simple, but hearty.  If you read yesterday's post, guess what?!  I asked lots of questions today! SCORE!

Asking: My Goal for the Year #reflectiveteacher Day 1

Thankfully, addiction has never been something I've struggled with, well - until I became a connected educator.  I've always known that I was a "people person" and I grew up having others comment on my "outgoing personality" and "extroverted tendencies."  However, this past year I've come to realize that I'm pretty much addicted to a certain type of human being and no matter how hard I try, I just can't kick it.  Since I've never been addicted to anything other than energetic, passionate, forward-thinking, exhausting, inspiring, thoughtful educators, I guess I shouldn't complain but every now and then, these "friends" of mine, can get me in some real trouble.  Enter Kenneth Durham, also known as the famous @PrincipalDurham.

Durham and I are only one month shy of our one year anniversary of being official #edubuddies (I wonder if he has a gift picked out for me yet?) but in that year, we've supported each other through a number of every day admin duties and roles.  Whether I've needed a reminder to get out of my office, had a question about discipline, or just needed a good laugh about life as an administrator, Durham has been a pretty solid source.  And that's where I find myself in trouble. 

In a recent Voxer chat, Durham posed the question to our group asking if we were going to participate in the "Reflective Teaching: 30 Day Blogging Challenge for Teachers."  Now let's just be honest, who has time for one more challenge, daily duty, blah blah blah right?! Clicking the link to the blogging challenge was my first mistake. Don't do it....I'm serious, don't do it. But now it's too late. I read the challenge, I read Durham's post about "service" and I got all "Fadeji" on myself. The thing I like about this challenge is to me, it feels more about accountability and responsibility, rather than just another item on my checklist.  I should be reflective and I should be reflective daily. In a way, I'm sure I am, but for me, right now, I think some intentionality behind my reflection with the support of some of my closest #edubuddies feels pretty darn good. 

So what is my goal for the year? Asking. This year, my goal is to ask more questions.  I plan to ask easy questions, hard questions, silly questions, and deep questions.  I want to ask all kinds of things to my students, our staff, and the larger community that I serve. Asking means I'll be doing a lot of listening and we all could use a little more of that in our lives.  

I bought a shirt yesterday that says, "Take less. Give more." It's funny, I was in a rush and bought the shirt thinking it said, "Talk less. Give more." I was pretty pumped to wear it to a staff meeting and challenge our teachers to do just that but once I took it out of the bag, I realized that I liked "Take less. Give more" a whole lot better any way. If I could add another line, I might add, "Ask hard." This year, I'm going to think harder about asking questions.  We'll see how it goes. I did a little exercise with a colleague last week thanks to the coaching of Liz Wiseman, author of The Multiplier Effect.  My colleague and I had to converse for FOUR minutes and Partner A could ONLY ask questions of Partner B.  It was hard! Level two was asking deeper, more meaningful questions, and let me just tell you, "asking" is an art to be practiced! 

As I wrap this up, I'm looking forward to all bonuses that will come with asking questions this year.  Hopefully, I will know a lot more about the things and people around me. With luck, I'll feel be even more connected to our thriving school culture. I'll have a lot more answers when people need to ask me questions. And finally, I'll be doing a lot of listening and reflecting along the way. Perhaps I'll even Talk less. Take less. Give More. And Ask Hard. 

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Sometimes, it's the Little Things.

Writing my school newsletter can sometimes be a real hardship. During the week, I constantly find myself struggling with time management, work/life balance, and the never-ending battle of wrestling with my "to do" list. Thankfully, our PTA is AMAZING at Penngrove and they alternate weeks with me for our school newsletter. One week I write it, and the next week they write it. Love that! A week and a half ago, I got really lucky because I actually had something fun to write about - balls at recess! Yep, that's right. Because I chose to write this particular newsletter in a blog format, I thought I'd post it here too just for fun. It's a reminder to us all about the little things.

Taken from the August 20, 2014 Penngrove Connection

A note from Principal Fadeji...
*Disclaimer: I love blogging and this newsletter will likely feel more like a blog post than an informative newsletter. Enjoy!

Dear Families,

Elementary school life is full of twists and turns. If you've spent any time volunteering in our classrooms, you know that at any given time, you might find yourself instructing a group of children, cleaning up a bloody nose, sharpening pencils, prepping for the next lesson, the list goes on. As educators, we often find ourselves being a jack of all trades. I'd be lying if I didn't tell you that I have definitely thought a time or two to myself, "Ummm.....I didn't learn this when I went to school to become a teacher OR a principal! Now what?!" This week however, I was reminded of the little things.

At our last staff meeting, we spent time hearing presentations about school safety, the district practice of "shared decision making" and Mrs. Mainaris led us through a mini lesson on a program called Socrative. Sounds riveting right?! And there we were with 2 minutes to spare and I threw out the crazy question, "Anything else we need to talk about or discuss?" I can't remember who brought it up, but a teacher said, "Yes, can we talk about recess and the ball problem? It's seriously getting out of control." Inside, I started laughing, "Oh GREAT! We get to talk about basketballs and footballs AGAIN!" However, the discussion that followed was informative, collaborative, and full of problem solving. We came up with some ideas, some new things to try, and reminded each other of some helpful procedures for our students. And then, we all left the room.

As the principal, I added "solve the ball problem" to my "to do" list and moved on. The next thing I knew, it was Monday afternoon and I was meeting with our Leadership Team which consists of a grade level leader from each team. You'll never guess what came up AGAIN! Yep! That's right, the ball problem! It's not that I had pushed this agenda item to the back burner, or that I had even forgotten, but quite honestly, sometimes something like "solving the ball problem" just can't be my #1 priority. Although on Monday afternoon, thanks to our Leadership Team, we made it our #1 priority.

This ball situation got so complex that (some of you may be about to laugh) but I actually reached out to some other principals and educators whom I admire, to ask them how they handle balls at recess. Even as grown adults, we were all laughing together on our Voxer channel (you should Google that) due to the fact that we were having such a thoughtful conversation about recess balls of ALL things!

You see sometimes, things that can appear to us adults as the "little things" are really the things that matter most to our children. The need to feel safe, secure, valued, and loved is within all of us. As a principal, if a seven year old little girl wants to play 4 square, I want her to know right where to go, just what equipment to get, and where to return it when she's done. I want a 12 year old boy to get all his energy out playing football if that's what works best for him and I don't want him doing math at 9:30 am wondering if he's going to get the football at recess. Sometimes the "little things" to us, aren't really so little for students.

That's just one of the many things I love about Penngrove. Even when there are so many BIG things looming over us. Change, new curriculum, technology, schedules, meetings, student incidents that require a considerable amount of time and energy - our staff is never too busy to stop and talk about the "little things."

As an adult, that's an important reminder for each of us. I hope you enjoy the rest of the week watching for the "little things" that often are not as little as they appear.


Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A Reminder.

I've had lots of reminders lately.  Reminders about students, reminders about personalities, reminders that it takes effort to stay on top of my game.  I've been reminded (kindly) about things I've forgotten, been reminded by the looks of those I care about that they need me, reminded that it's time for this or time for that. Reminders are constant it seems.  Don't you find yourself saying, "Remind me to ..." or "Hey, don't let me forget to..." 

Yesterday, one of our newest Penngrove teachers reminded me that I hadn't blogged in awhile.  I loved that. I appreciated that she noticed, and it made me want to do better.  A reminder. 

Tonight I am reminded of several things.  It's the eve before I begin the journey known as #GTAMTV. For those of you who aren't familiar with the hashtag, #GTAMTV is the Google Teacher Academy in Mountain View, CA.  Here I sit, in my hotel room with my colleague and buddy, Catina Haugen, and I'm reminded of a feeling I once knew so well when I was in school. There are so many unknowns and if I'm quiet and still for long enough, they wash over me. Where will my classroom be? Will my classmates like me? What time should I leave to get there on time? What should I wear? Will my teacher be nice? Will I know what to do? What if I don't "get" something? How will I know I did something right? Am I going to fit in? If I get confused, should I ask for help? These are all reminders.  Reminders that we shouldn't take for granted as educators. Not this school year, or ever.  I'm a 31 year old principal, who needs assurance, comfort, friendship, love, warmth, and security.  And I can't help but be reminded of the magnitude at which my students must crave those exact things. I am reminded.

Additionally, I am still struggling personally with the fact that I am a part of this cohort of incredible educators from around the globe.  I know quite a few people who applied to be a part of this group. People who inspire me, who make me better at my job, people who I want to learn from each and every day, but people who aren't with us this time around. I'm reminded that we don't always get what we want in life. And it feels hard when we don't see the whole picture in the moment. There will be many things I reach for, opportunities I strive to accomplish, that just won't work out for me.  This week, I'm grateful that this experience is real, but I am reminded that it won't always be so easy.  In that, I find reality, hope, and trust. I'm reminded that each opportunity is a gift.

Finally, I am reminded about the journey I have been on for the past year.  A year ago, I had just attended my first Google Summit.  I was starting my second year as a principal and wasn't exactly sure what CUE, GTA, GAFE, G+ and all of this even stood for. (I might be slightly exaggerating but barely.) Tonight, I am reminded of the people who have invested in me over the past twelve months.  Those who invited me to events, asked me to present, encouraged me to lead my teachers with reckless abandon, those who approved of risk taking along the way. And I can't help but be so full of love for each of those moments in time that added up to this evening before #GTAMTV. 

I am reminded.

Monday, July 7, 2014

And So It Begins...

For those of you who don't know me well, I am not really much of a morning person.  I mean by the time most people actually see me in the morning, I am just fine. Energetic and smiling actually.  But that's after I've hit "snooze" on my alarm about 6 times, have had my cup of coffee, listened to some music to pump me up, and have made about 3 "to do" lists.  Last night as I drifted off to sleep, I prayed that I would wake up right on time this morning, at 5:30am.  I asked for energy, strength, and excitement to just pull me out of bed BEFORE or as my 5:30am alarm was going off.  I think I've only woken up before my alarm about seven times in my entire life time, however at 5:28am today my prayers were answered. Even Mr. Fadeji was graced by my presence this morning as he agreed that he was witnessing a straight up miracle. 

And here I am, early morning on a Monday, super excited to start back to work.  Since my school is on a year round schedule, we have a pretty short summer (I know, poor us...) which means that today, I start back to work, next Monday, our staff starts back to work and Wednesday, our hallways and classrooms will once again be filled with the wonder of children's voices, laughter, and love. 

I've wanted to blog almost all "summer" but like with everything, we all need a break now and then and I decided to practice what I preach by slowing down and giving myself enough down time over the past two weeks to relax and rejuvenate.  After doing the dishes this morning and throwing a load of laundry in the washing machine from our weekend getaway with my family up to Tahoe (6 hour drive home yesterday - solid), I opted for a quick work sesh on my laptop.  And then I saw my neat little stash of goodies waiting for me on the dining room table. 

The book: Yes, I finally read Mindset by Carol Dweck this summer.  Although I was already familiar with the "fixed mindset" and the "growth mindset" through other avenues, it served as a great reminder for how I want to lead.  It made me want to coach the many people I work with and care about into working towards a growth mindset and also challenged my thinking about how to help students become aware of this mindset.  This year, I hope to tackle the "right kind of praise" with my staff. I hope I never hear, "You're so smart" again, but I will, and we will all learn together. Seeing this book reminded me that, I can and should read more often.

The coffee: Well let's just be serious, nothing would have gotten done this morning without that. 

The laptop: It's not the laptop I noticed, although the teal cover is one of my favorite principal accessories, but instead, it's the two cards on top of my laptop.  Unfortunately, those are sympathy cards that I needed to write. It was a summer of loss for many people, and honestly, there are always people around us experiencing a season of loss.  The cards reminded me to never be too busy to stop, take time, and write a note. They also reminded me that so often, we have no clue what those around us are going through.  Yes, we all know this - but do we change our behaviors because of it? We should. Each day this coming year, I hope to be more caring, more compassionate, and more forgiving. 

The nail polish: This summer, I was out to coffee with an educator whom I admire deeply.  This woman honestly models a lot of things for me that I treasure daily. As we were sipping our lattes, talking about real world issues, I couldn't help but be distracted by her perfect, red, gel manicure. And that's when I told myself, this year - I was going to be a little more polished than in the past. Both personally and professionally.  So today, before I step back into work, you can bet your bottom dollar that this girl will have a brand spankin' new coat of "Dream On" and "Taupeless Beach" to serve as a reminder that we all could use a little polishing now and then.

Hot pink post-it notes: You should see what my office looks like.

The dying plant in the background: I almost moved this plant because at first, I thought it made the picture look really tacky but then I laughed (yes, out loud in my kitchen, alone at 5:49am) because it represents something really important and worth remembering.  First of all, I clearly cannot take care of any plant.  My office staff knows that if they don't take care of the plants in our office, they will die immediately. I thought SURELY that at home this "summer" I could handle ONE plant right?! WRONG. This plant represents something really powerful for me. I am not good at taking care of plants.  In fact, there are many things I'm not good at but part of knowing myself is to find my strengths, use them and then draw on the strengths of those around me to make a dynamic team.  On the surface level, we all know things we are good at and things we aren't. However, this year, I hope to dig a little deeper and really identify my weaknesses, my strengths and to make time to coach those around me to do the same.  Can you imagine?  I'm super excited for this venture and I can hardly wait to start reading Strengths Finder by Tom Rath.  (given to me by the mysterious lady with the amazing red nails) 

And there you have it - I'm back at it. Back to school, back to blogging, back to "work" where I find great joy on a daily basis. Back to being in classrooms as much as I possibly can. Back to four square games with seven year olds. Back to trying my best to make sure my staff knows how much I value and appreciate them. Back to late nights and early mornings. Back to all of it. 2014-15 watch out.....it's going to be a magical year.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Student Teachers, Full Calendars & Closed Doors

I remember my very first staff meeting as the new principal at Penngrove.  We were brainstorming our "hopes and dreams" for the year and I was writing as quickly as I could smiling along the way as staff members called out various topics, scenarios, and ideas.  I remember a teacher earnestly sharing that she would really love to see student teachers return to the Penngrove campus.  This teacher shared with the group that at one point in time, there had been many student teachers at Penngrove but due to university supervisors wanting more "concentrated sites," Penngrove had lost connection with the nearby colleges.  I couldn't help but notice the many heads nodding in agreement as this teacher shared the value of having student teachers in the classroom and around campus and I thought to myself, "Easy! That's a quick fix!" Later that week, I made a couple phone calls to Sonoma State and Dominican University, took a deep breath, and hoped for the best.

Twenty-two months later, we have to practically turn student teachers away from our campus.  Currently, we have nine student teachers at Penngrove and last Tuesday, I had the privilege and honor of meeting with four new incoming student teachers for Fall 2014. Let me back up for a quick second. I have to admit that when I glanced at my Tuesday calendar and saw "meet w/ student teacher advisor from SSU" for an HOUR and a HALF, I thought that Nicole, my invaluable office manager, must have made a typo.  What could I possibly have to talk to the SSU advisor about for that length of time?!  It probably didn't help that by 10am, I was on the verge of tears due to a number of circumstances beyond my control including finding out some really heartbreaking news about several of my students. Most days, I find myself being so strong for our students, for our staff, for our community.  But there are days where I could almost crumple to the ground in a sob when certain things come to light in unfortunate ways. Back to the meeting. 

So here I was, meeting with Jane, the SSU student teacher advisor.  Jane confirmed that we were indeed meeting for an hour and a half.  15 minutes to prep, an hour to interview/get to know the new student teachers, and 15 minutes to debrief.  I tried to not look too disappointed or irritated but then I decided to just come clean with Jane.  Jane is a retired principal so she totally "gets" it.  She knows that feeling when the pull of needing to be in 10 places at once weighs you down. Jane "gets" that long meetings and returning phone calls aren't always at the top of the priority list, and she certainly "gets" that student teachers can take up a lot of time and energy that isn't always easy. I took a couple of honest moments with Jane, venting about my morning, asking her to excuse my disheveled behavior and letting her overhear me beg Nicole to order a latte and a breakfast sandwich from down the street.  

And there they were. Four bright-eyed, youthful faces with eager spirits and smiles that would light up even the darkest of rooms.  As I invited them into my office, Jane and I welcomed them one by one.  We sat around my conference table sharing and learning about one another.  I learned that Daniela enjoys creative writing.  She has worked at quite a few schools but she wants more experience with creating lesson plans and classroom management.  I discovered that Jayme is an animal lover who attended Penngrove as an elementary student! I listened intently as Jeff shared with us that teaching runs in his family and despite his attempt so curb his interests in teaching, he was finally succumbing to his strong desire to inspire curiosity in his students, which he feels is the key to happiness.  I heard Katie share about her love for music and traveling, yet admit that she needs to gain the confidence to know that she IS a real adult now.  

As I sat there listening to these student teachers, it took all of my strength to fight back the tears that had tried so hard to escape earlier that morning.  I couldn't help but to see right into their hearts. I couldn't help but to feel the honest and genuine excitement that they possessed just to be able to work with students.  I sat there feeling so incredibly fortunate to be the principal of a school where we value student teachers.  A school where we want to soak up that youthful desire to inspire and generate curiosity in students.  And how lucky am I to have SO many talented, dedicated, loving teachers who are willing to be mentor teachers to this new generation of educators? After Daniela, Jayme, Jeff, and Katie left my office, Jane and I discussed where we thought each student teacher would flourish. We placed each of them in a wonderful "home" and Jane and I parted ways.  

And then I did something I don't do often enough. I closed and locked my office door. I sat at my desk with my eyes closed, and I reflected for just a quiet minute or two.  I reminded myself that each and every meeting on my calendar has the ability to be impactful and powerful in its own way.  I allowed myself to feel guilty for having a bad attitude about the hour and a half meeting.  I forgave myself for scarfing down a breakfast sandwich in front of these young, impressionable minds.  And I let a single tear fall. A tear that represented heartache, grief, and challenge.  And then the second and final tear. The tear that represented new life, gratitude, excitement, devotion, vulnerability, and joy. 

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

April's Identity Crisis

My months are all messed up these days.  It feels more like November than April to me.  Usually in November, people are extra thankful, the word “grateful” gets thrown around a lot more frequently, and generally speaking, people seem to be genuinely more patient with one another.  I attribute this to my favorite holiday of the year (besides Cinco de Mayo of course), Thanksgiving.  However, on both a professional and personal note, April has been all about gratitude and thanks - and I kind of love that.

Meet Fred.

Fred is our custodian at Penngrove Elementary and Fred is simply the BEST! A few months ago, I was at school WAY too late after a PTA meeting.  As I went to turn off my computer, an email caught my eye, “Last chance for CSEY Nominations” - I didn’t even know what CSEY stood for but for some reason, I opened the email.  While skimming the email, I learned that there were only 24 hours left to nominate any classified employee who demonstrated outstanding service to his/her community.  Fred immediately came to mind.  

To be honest, I get SO many emails on a daily basis and I really struggle with keeping up on them.  In fact, I see opportunities like this all the time where I think, “Oh this would be great to participate in, be a part of, experiment with, etc….” and it pains me that I cannot personally add more hours to the day in order to make all of these possibilities a reality.  Back to my late night office sesh.  On top of already being super late to get home (my husband now knows that, “I’m leaving in 10 minutes” could mean any number of ridiculous things), I was leaving the very next morning at 6am for a conference and I hadn’t even started packing. #typical As tempting as it was to head home, I knew that I had to stay, and complete the nomination packet for Fred. After all, Fred is the best custodian ever. It’s a darn good thing I did stay late because guess what?!  The selection committee chose Fred to be THE finalist and winner of Sonoma County’s Classified Employee of the Year! Curious why? Listen to one of our 6th grade students tell you about Fred. 

It’s moments like these where I feel grateful to work with the people I do, and thankful that I make time to recognize the hard work of those around me. In case you’re wondering, I didn’t even forget anything when I finally got home to pack. And, my husband is still speaking to me. Score!

Staff Meetings: Mix It Up!

This past Wednesday, during our “staff time,” I threw out a bunch of notecards on a table.  Each box of cards was different and unique.  Some were glittery, others were loaded with bright colors, some had printing, others cursive.  But all these cards had one thing in common: a message of thanks. My only instruction to the staff: "Take the next 5 - 10 minutes to thank someone you have really been meaning to thank.  It could be school related, or it could be totally personal, but take some time to share your gratitude."  Oh the joy!  Some teachers looked at me like, “Really?!” and another one exclaimed, “Had I known, I could have brought my list from my wedding shower this past weekend!”  Slow your roll @MsONeil7 :) At the end of the 10 minutes, I had to really pry the thank you cards out of everyone’s hands.  I had just assumed that each person would write one thank you note but they were going buck wild! 

After our staff meeting, one of our team members came up and said, “That was the coolest idea.  Thank you for that.” As he walked away, I thought I caught a glimpse of a card that said, ‘Mama” and I couldn’t help but smile. 

Even I received an unexpected thank you note from one of our 4th grade teachers. Lucky me. Sometimes it's not the gesture of writing the card, or the words themselves, but it's the person behind the words that really make an impact.  In particular, the thank you card pictured here is quite possibly the most meaningful card I have received all school year.  Honest moment here: in the back of my mind, I've always thought Ms. Barrell and I had a solid working relationship. She is helpful, full of great ideas, she speaks her mind, she is adventurous, she is always eager to share "cool things" that her students are doing, and we've even had some fun "personal" conversations.  However, deep down, a piece of me has always been curious to know what Marianne thinks about me.  About my leadership style. About how our school culture is shaping up. About how I barge into her room from time to time to ask her for advice. As a principal, I tell students all the time not to worry about what others think of them.  But after reflecting on this pivotal moment, maybe I should reconsider that "talk." Because on this day, in this instance, it totally mattered to me what Marianne thought and I finally got the answer that I had been looking for. 

Principal’s Day?! What?!

On Wednesday, April 16th, much to my SURPRISE, the staff and students at Penngrove organized “Principal’s Day” and let me tell you - they went ALL out.  Does “Principal’s Day” even exist? I’m not quite sure but I’ll take it!  Not only did the whole school serenade me with their rendition of “You Are My Sunshine” at our morning assembly, but they decorated the entire school with bright colored signs laden with glitter and paint that showed their creativity and love. I was speechless!  Upon returning to my office, I found a HUGE box full of “sunshine” (crazy good gifts that were all themed and yellow and orange), a latte and pastry on my desk, and a variety of special guests and visitors that made the day extra special. Maybe some day I will figure out a way to properly thank @MrsLaw10 who spearheaded this touching day, but for now, all I can do is smile and hold back the tears.

Personally, it can be a challenge for me to be the person on the receiving end of so much gratitude but in the spirit of “Give. Risk. Learn. Trust.” I allowed myself to be put to the test, to soak it all up, and to be present in the moment. What a day. 

And Then There Was May…

With April being full of so much emotion, gratitude, and excitement, I can only imagine what May has in store for our school, our team, and our continued love affair with the art of giving, risking, learning, and trusting together. Happy May.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Surprise Visits. So Much More.

It was just another ordinary day.  I mean, don't get me wrong, it was April Fool's Day which always has me a little nervous at what could or could not happen on campus, but April 1st was just another morning.  I had driven to work around 7:30am, resisting the urge to check emails, text messages or Twitter. That's something that I struggle with often on my drive.  It's the only 25 minutes a day where I have complete solitude and quiet.  Sometimes it feels like the perfect time to "catch up" or "connect" but I really try hard to enjoy the scenery, belt out a few songs, and stay safe.  On this particular morning, I talked to a few colleagues on my drive, got to school, and did our morning announcements before beginning my "office day".  

It wasn't long before my lovely Office Manager said, "Mrs. Fadeji, you have a special guest here!" and low and behold, in walked @EduTrace!!!  Now, let me tell you a little about @EduTrace, also known as Tracy Walker.  Last year, when I was new to Twitter, I started following Tracy because she seemed like a fabulous teacher! We occasionally conversed about different hot topics and favorited each others posts from time to time.  I immediately loved her wit, her spunky personality, and the way she cared about her students.  We finally met face to face at EdCamp Sonoma (there is another one coming up April 12th! Details here) last year and I am pretty positive that I almost took her to the floor with my enthusiastic hug upon first sight! 

Months later, I now consider Tracy a dear friend who I treasure deeply.  We just connected from day one, and I always look forward to any time I get to spend with her.  I've been trying to convince her to bring her children to Penngrove, but the year round schedule and distance from her house makes it nearly impossible.  Selfishly, I just want more of the Walker Clan! Is this an ode to @EduTrace you may be asking, no, not really.  What I want to depict is the special nature of her visit.  

Special April Fool's names on our coffees!
Tracy has two toddlers.  She gets one week off for Spring Break. Her parents are in town visiting. I am SURE she had a list of things to do, people to see, places to visit.  But what did she do on her Tuesday morning?  She surprised me with a venti vanilla latte and visited classrooms with me for a good thirty minutes. She talked to students, she posed for pictures, she connected with teachers.  It was the best 30 minutes of my day.  A precious moment in life when a teacher, whom I admire, took time on her vacation to come give me a hug and scope out my school...just because.  It's moments like these that I am grateful for Twitter, for EdCamps, for all of the many educators who work so hard to facilitate professional connections.  Without these avenues for building a PLN, I may never have met Tracy.  The thought of that alone is difficult, as she challenges me to be a better administrator with her thought-provoking questions, and her innate desire to always be learning more.

I survived April Fool's without anything surprising, wild, scary, or troublesome happening at school. Except for of course, a selfless and sacrificial visit from one of the most lovely people I have met in the past year. Thanks for stopping by for a surprise visit @EduTrace.  To me, your visit was: So Much More.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Lovin' Learning. Lovin' CUE.

Wow, a blog post about #CUE14, original Fadeji.  But that’s what we are supposed to do right?  As lead learners, aren’t we supposed to give ourselves opportunities to take risks, learn new things, and trust that we will reflect on our learning in order to improve our skill set?  Yes, we are! (And yes, I also realize that it is totally dorky how I just worked those four verbs into the intro of this post. #wordsmith #easilyamused)

I probably should have waited to read any #CUE14 blog posts until after I wrote my own, because now all I can think about are the powerful the words from two posts I read earlier this week. (Students Stand Up and Reflections & Goals) I’ve been reflecting on these blogs since Sunday night and thought I may just skip out on my own personal #CUE14 reflections all together.  Not so fast.

Karl & Diane's Stop Teaching Session
Favorite sessions:
  • Chrome is the New Black with Mark Hammons (@CAshleyWilliams and I even got a shout out!) 
  • Stop Teaching & Start Learning with Karl LS & Diane Main - what a way to mix it up team! #packedhouse 
  • Using High-Tech Tools to Create a Culture of Literary Nerds with Megan Ellis (Can’t wait to see it again May 10th at the NBCUE Event in Petaluma, CA! Registration info here!)
  • Improve Your Digital Workflow with Google Docs and Drive with Lisa Highfill (I mostly love that Lisa just couldn’t stay on docs and drive. She is beyond measure!)
  • Rock the Blogosphere! with Jennifer Kloczko (Finally we met! I have so many new ideas after her sesh!) 
People I missed the most:
New “ish” friends I can’t wait to see again:

Special Moments:
  • Feeling like I was #16again a million times but certainly when I got to ride in a friend’s mustang in the dessert evening. #sanmiguel
  • Being a part of the #EduWin celebration and honoring Isaac Raya from Petaluma! Keep your eye on www.eduwin.org, it’s going to explode this coming year!
  • #CAEdChat Meet Up on Friday night @ the pool.  So many great educators wanting to connect, to visit, to share.  What a group! Felt so lucky to hang with this crew! 
  • Hanging with Ben and the @ClassDojo crew! I am crossing my fingers they come visit us at Penngrove this spring! @MsONeil7 will go bonkers! #EduCelebrities 
  • Spending time with the NBCUE Crew.  Fireside dinners #imelt, PoolsidePD, staying up LATE night, morning walks, and all with people who I cherish and push me to be a better leader. 
  • Getting a new nickname “FoDayzG” from Diane Main (which feels like I won the lottery just so you know!)
  • Being interviewed by @mhammons and the tweet that followed by @CAshleywilliams 
  • Goodbye hugs from @MsVictoriaOlson #missyoualready

How I Fell Head Over Heels For CUE:
It’s hard to believe that just one year ago, I was a total CUE Newbie.  Last March when I attended CUE Palm Springs for the first time, I had never even heard of CUE.  I was so inspired by the things I learned and the people who were involved in CUE that I quickly found myself plugged into our local affiliate (North Bay CUE). Two months later, I attended the Connect U NBCUE event in Napa with seven teachers from my school where I was able to witness a small group of people supporting local educators to make huge shifts and changes in practice and teaching.  Before I knew it, I was presenting at the September NBCUE Marin event and enjoying life as an NBCUE “Member at Large.”  October brought FallCUE to Napa, November through February was filled with numerous joint collaborative PDParties, Techie Tuesdays, and planning meetings for upcoming events continued.  And now, one year later, I consider it a highlight of my professional career to be a North Bay CUE board member, working with an incredibly talented and generous team to provide exciting PD opportunities to educators across our region. 

Last Wednesday, I took advantage of the fact that CUE was scheduled during my spring break and I caught some 90 degree Palm Springs rays. As I lounged by the pool at the Renaissance (everybody loves a little #PoolsidePD right?), munched on a burger, and chatted casually with CUE's Executive Director, Mike Lawrence, I couldn't help but reflect on the past year and all that had occurred.  Plenty of fun times, some challenging times, tons of exciting times, and the occasional down right difficult time that shook me to my core. Despite all of these moments, what stood out to me the most is that CUE is a group of inclusive, wonderful people who are doing their best to keep up with the fast-paced changes in education. Poolside chats w/ #EduCelebs, elevator rides with @DigitalRoberto, being able to crack jokes, make new friendships, be myself, and enjoy life without worrying about formalities and rank, are all things that I love about CUE.  

If you aren't plugged into your local CUE Affiliate, I encourage you to do so! What are you waiting for? Get on it! 

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Can't Help But To Help, Can't Help But To Be Real.

Educators are some of the most helpful people you will ever meet.  Wouldn’t you agree? I mean, I can think of about 10 educators off the top of my head who have gone above and beyond in the past week just for the sake of being helpful.  It’s one of the things that I love most about working in this profession.  Additionally, I constantly observe educators who are “real.”  Real people, doing every day life in real ways.  

For the past two months, mailing in my paperwork for my admin credential to be "cleared" has been hanging over my head.  One of those things that I just couldn’t cross off my “to do” list.  Despite several reminders from my colleagues, I was still stressing that I wouldn’t get everything in on time since I misplaced my completion certificates.  Thankfully, I did  find my certificates but then, all of the sudden, as if an angel sent me a personal email, I received a shared Google Doc from Sheila Garvey, one of my principal friends.  Sheila, who was going through the same process to clear her admin credential, took the time to create a Google Doc with step by step instructions on how to complete the process, and then she shared it with our team.  This wasn’t just any step-by-step instruction doc, this was legit.  Sheila embedded links, forms, payment information, the whole nine yards all in 16 steps.

Sheila’s effort and time got me thinking about how so many educators with such ease, step into a helper role just because it feels like the right thing to do. And for that, I was so grateful to have Sheila as a friend, colleague, and fellow admin credential holder. 

And then there are the "real" moments in life where I realize I work with a some very real people.  This past weekend, as I enjoyed a pedicure with my girlfriend, Jenny, (yes, the same Jenny that I referenced in my last post) I was given the opportunity to realize just how “real” most educators are.  Here Jenny and I were in a little nail salon on Third Street in San Rafael, feeling super guilty for sneaking in an hour of relaxation during our weekend.  I mean let’s be real, Sunday afternoons are for grading papers, planning for the week, and responding to work emails right?  I had to practically beg Jenny to break away from grading and report cards just to get a pedicure with me.  In fact, I asked her if we could do a little shopping as well but her response was, “I wish I could, friend, but I just have WAY too much to prep for the week.” 

And there we were, two educators, having a “real” moment together.  Jenny sat grading papers and giggling as Tom tried his best not to tickle her feet too much with his pampering. I sat using the Sched App on my phone to plan my sessions for the upcoming CUE Conference in Palm Springs.  I don’t at all want to come across as judgmental because I really try my best not to judge others but during this particular afternoon, I couldn’t help but overhear some of the other conversations in the nail salon. And quite frankly, I was bothered.

“I can’t wait to get botox again tomorrow. I just need it so badly.”

“Oh my gosh, it’s SO great to be here! I haven’t had a pedicure in TWO weeks!”

“Where is your dad this week?” “Oh, he’s on vacation with his girlfriend until April 29th.  I think they are in Morocco this time.”

“Cut that nail shorter, I said I like it short.”

Ehhhhh…..I sunk down in my chair, turned up the massage button, and breathed in the smell of acetone masked by lavender bath salts.  I sat there thinking.  I am so grateful that someone taught me along the way (my parents, teachers, family friends, my husband) what really matters in life.  I’m so glad I don’t feel the world owes me a pedicure every two weeks (although that would be heavenly).  I’m blessed that I view wrinkles as a sign of life, beauty, love, laughter, and sunshine. I’m thrilled that my dad isn’t riding a camel in the dessert for months on end, and I sure as heck am proud of the fact that no matter how important I may one day think I am, or how wealthy I may find myself in the distant future (doubtful, but who knows), I feel certain that I will always speak with kindness, compassion, and heartfelt words to those around me.

It would be naive of me to think that “helpers” and “real people” are only found in education, for we all know many people who fit this mold in a variety of locations, positions, and life stages.  But for me, I love that I get to surround myself daily with those who can’t help but to help, and can’t help but to be real. Sheila and Jenny, keep it real girls.