Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Principle of the Path |

The Principle of the Path |

The Principle of the Path

pathI finished Andy Stanley’s most recent book, The Principle of the Path, last week. Andy is one of those guys that seems to have figured out how to get from here to there, so I figured I’d read his book about how to get from where I am to where I want to be.
Here are some of the highlights from my reading:
  • “To get from where we don’t want to be to where we do want to be requires two things: time and a change of direction.”
  • “Direction–not intentions, hopes, dreams, prayers, beliefs, intellect, or education–determines destination.”
  • “We should break the habit of drawing a circle around individual decisions and events and dismissing them as isolated occurrences. These are steps. Steps that lead somewhere.”
  • “Prudent people look as far down the road as possible when making decisions.”
  • “Christians start talking about forgiveness as if somehow forgiveness serves as an escape hatch from the outcome of bad decisions.”
  • “When happiness points in one direction while wisdom, truth, integrity, and common sense point in another, that’s when really smart people start doing really stupid things.”
  • “Your heart can’t be trusted… The truth is, if you let it, your heart will direct you down a path that leads to the very spot you most want to avoid.”
  • “The choices are now. The outcomes are later. The decisions you make todayhave ramifications down the road.”
  • “One never accomplishes the will of God by breaking the law of God, violating the principles of God, or ignoring the wisdom of God.”
  • “I am constantly amazed at how resistant folks are to take their cues from people who are where they want to be.”
  • “We don’t drift in good directions. We discipline and prioritize ourselves there.”
Simple principles in this book, but their implications have an enormous impact on the outcomes of our lives.
I encourage you to pick up the book. I’m leaving lots of great quotes and stories out of this post. Among other things, I cracked up when I read Andy’s version of “The Italian Job”…and it made me want to visit Italy that much more.
Here’s my Amazon link if you’d like to order the book online.

The Power of Empowerment

This comes by way of the John Maxwell Daily Leadership Promises that are sent to my inbox everyday. I always find them encouraging.

The Power of Empowerment
"All authority has been give to Me in heaven and on earth." Matthew 28:18
The ability to empower others is one of the keys to personal and professional success. John Craig said, "No matter how much work you can do, no matter how engaging your personality may be, you will not advance far in business if you cannot work through others."
When you become an empowerer, you certainly work with and through people, but you also do much more. Simply defined, empowering is giving your influence to others for the purpose of personal and organizational growth. It's seeing others' potential, then sharing yourself-your influence, position, power, and opportunities-with others with the purpose of investing in the lives of others so that they can function at their best.
The act of empowering others changes lives, and one of the greatest things about it is that it's a win-win for you and the people you empower. If you empower others by giving them your authority, it has the same effect as sharing information. You haven't lost anything. You've increased the ability of others without decreasing yourself.
Excerpt from Becoming a Person of Influence by John Maxwell.

If you want to sign up for the daily emails, see here

Monday, June 25, 2012

Winston Churchill's Top 5 Fundamentals for a Successful Life

I subscribe to the  emails. This came today. I thought I would share. 

"Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen."

"We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give."


Winston Churchill is probably no stranger to anyone. He was an inspirational British leader during the Second World War.

He was also a writer, historian, poet, artist and the only British Prime Minister to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Here are a few of my favorite fundamentals from Churchill on how to improve your life.

1. Focus on what you are doing right now.

"It is a mistake to look too far ahead. Only one link in the chain of destiny can be handled at a time."

"It is always wise to look ahead, but difficult to look further than you can see."

When you start to look too far into the future then any task or project can seem close to impossible. And so you shut down because you become overwhelmed and start surfing the internet aimlessly instead. That is one of the reasons why it is good to plan for the future but then to shift your focus back to today and the present moment.

Then you just focus on taking the first step today. That is all you need to focus on, nothing else. By taking the first step you change your mental state from resistant to "hey, I'm doing this, cool". You put yourself in state where you become more positive and open, a state where you may not be enthusiastic about taking the next step after this first one but you are at least accepting it. And so you can take the next step. And the next one after that.

The thing is, you can't see the whole path anyway and it will shift and reveal itself along the way. That's why the best of plans tend to fall apart at least a bit as you start to put it into action. You discover that your map of reality doesn't look like reality.

2. Be an optimist.

"The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty."

"Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference."

"I am an optimist. It does not seem too much use being anything else."

Focusing on what helps you sure makes a huge difference compared to if you keep focusing on what is wrong in every situation or what makes you more of a victim. It's like living in two different worlds.

How do you make the shift to a more optimistic attitude? Well, it takes time. But gradually you can change it. Two of my own most favorite for doing this tips are:

  • Positive influences. Fill your mind and emotional system with positive input from people, music and programs/books. Other people's thoughts have a big influence and emotions are contagious. Limit your time with negative people. Reduce TV or magazines that may make you feel worse about what you don't own or your body. Or just create fear and negativity within you (for instance a lot of news shows). Limiting negative influences can make it a lot easier to keep the positive attitude up.
  • Set the context for your day. What you do early in the day often sets the context for your day. We have a tendency to want to be consistent with what we have done before. You can use that your advantage in few ways. You can for example do the hardest thing on your to-do list first. When it is done you'll feel good about yourself and it makes the day feel easier and you'll have less inner resistance to getting the rest of the tasks of the day done.
Just practicing these two things in a consistent way can make a huge difference in your life.

3. Be persistent. Don't give up.

"Continuous effort - not strength or intelligence - is the key to unlocking our potential"

"If you're going through hell, keep going."

Since society often tells us to look for quick fixes it's easy to make the mistake of giving up to soon. After you have failed perhaps 1-5 times. That's the "normal" thing to do. But what could have happened if someone just kept going after that? And for each failure learned more and more about what works?

I think people often make a mistake of giving up too early. Your mind probably has a reasonable time-frame for success. This might not correspond to a realistic time-frame though.

It's useful to take a break from advertised perspectives and let more realistic perspectives seep into your mind. Learn from people who have gone where you want to go. Talk to them. Read what they have to say in books or online. This will not give you a complete plan but a clearer perspective of what is needed to achieve what you want.

Now, that's not to say that you should never quit. But it can be helpful to keep going on your current path for a while longer.

And that's not to say that you should do the same thing over and over in exactly the same manner. It's better to do and get an experience. Take the lessons you can learn from that real life experience. And then adjust how you do things as you try again.

It obviously helps immensely if you find what you really like to do. And what you really, really want. Then you'll find the inner motivation to keep going, to get what you want and to build on inner strengths like persistence.

4. Don't lose the enthusiasm.

"Success is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm."

It's very easy to get down on yourself and your results when things don't go as planned. What was once enthusiasm can quickly become apathy and pessimism.

But how do you do keep up the enthusiasm after things have gone wrong and you just feel like giving up? Well, as I mentioned in the previous fundamental, it certainly helps to have something you really like doing and something you really want.

A good additional tip is simply to ask better questions in "negative" situations. Instead of asking yourself why this or you suck ask yourself questions that empower you.

Questions like:
  • What can I learn from this?
  • What is the hidden opportunity in this situation?
  • What is one positive thing about this situation?
5. Remember, most troubles never happen.

"When I look back on all these worries, I remember the story of the old man who said on his deathbed that he had had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which had never happened."

One final, quick thought. But a very important one. Most things you fear will happen never happen. They are just monsters in your own mind. And if they happen then they will most often not be as painful or bad as you expected. Worrying is most often just a waste of time.

This is of course easy to say. But if you think back and remind yourself of how little of what you feared throughout your life that has actually happened you can start to release more and more worry from your thoughts.

This makes it a lot easier to start doing more of what you really want in life. And to move through your day to day life with a lighter, happier and more optimistic attitude.

I hope you found something helpful in this email,


Friday, June 22, 2012

First Year Reflection

               My one blog stalker, Amy, constantly reminds me about putting up a new post. I usually reply with the standard, “I’m busy.” deal. Which tis’ true, but I have learned that everyone is busy and if you want something done, you must make time for it. So right now, I am making time. I am listening to Spotify at the moment and am settled in to write a little. Even though this is the end-of-year reflection, I’m going to start with beginning of the year and how it went.
                At the beginning of the year, I felt overwhelmed a lot. Mainly with just getting everything done that I needed to in a day. I was struggling with time management. I was taking a lot of things home to grade. I wasn’t getting enough sleep. I wasn’t exercising. I just existed day to day. I enjoyed getting to know all my students and demonstrating how the class was going to be “controlled” this year. I say “controlled” but it’s more of just a calm atmosphere filled with minds that are yearning to learn new things.  It took me a while to create the atmosphere, but in the end it was totally worth it. It was built on trust and not fear. Not demeaning, but uplifting. Not self-centered, but selfless. If there is one thing that I want my students to know, understand, and be able to do when leaving my classroom is how a community can help each other along each other’s path to success, to not put others down, to lift yourself up, and that anything worth achieving takes lots of hard work. That’s what I like to emphasize early on in the year. If all that happens, then the rest of the year will flow smoothly as students accept others for who they are and begin to show love towards one another.
                Around Christmas break, I felt things were going pretty smoothly in the classroom. I was still struggling with some time management, but it was getting better. I continued coaching for the 9th year and picked up the 8th grade assistant basketball position. The “A” team finished 18-1, losing their final game in the semi-finals of the county tourney. I think having their 7th game in 6 days finally took a toll on them as they succumbed to the eventual county champ. The “B” team finished .500 at 4-4. I loved coaching this group of kids. They worked hard and had great attitudes. Basketball proved a little more demanding than in previous years because I was teaching as well. I worked a lot of Saturdays to stay caught up and ahead.
                Towards the end of the year, I really noticed a behavior slip in most of my students. I wasn’t sure if it was summer jitters or what, but it seemed a lot of the kids’ behavior took a nose dive. I was having conversations that I hadn’t had to have all year. I was getting upset more often at the negative choices the students were making. We only had 12 days of school in April and I think those small breaks gave them a taste of summer and it was tough to reel them back in during instructional periods. With all that being said, I loved having this group of kids. I have watched them grow physically, (Man, some of them got tall in 9 months!) intellectually (Oh, the things we covered this year!), emotionally, (they are teenagers now and mood swings can be quite frequent), and in some cases, morally (to see perspectives from other points of view helps to really see the unseen in situations). At the end of the year, I had tons of gift cards, money, notes, emails, and gifts from the parents telling me what a good year their son/daughter had in my classroom. For me, this is what I live for. Just a simple thanks. I don’t need money or gifts or anything like that. I get me fill and my battery recharged with simple thank you notes. I save all of them and they carry me through tough times. Thank you to the students and the parents for a great year.
                My passion this year has intensified as the year has gone by. I really enjoy the standards for 6th grade and I think having something that I enjoy translates into a great experience for the students. I have been doing a lot of thinking over the summer about next year already and how I want to change things. This little story happened about 3-4 years ago. One of the players dove for a loose ball and ended up busting his chin on the floor. He wanted to keep playing, but everyone knows that if you’re bleeding you have to come out and get it all cleaned up before you can reenter the game. This player never took a play off. He played extremely hard and did the “dirty work” for our team at the time. As he came off the court to get a band-aid, I told him that it wasn’t blood that was dripping. I told him it was “Passion Juice” that was squirting out. I have some of that Passion Juice inside of me right now.
                I love my team. Let me repeat this. I LOVE MY TEAM. I couldn’t be any more happier with the people I get to teach with every day. They support me like no other. They help me. I try to help them when I can. That ratio is somewhere around 85% to 15%. The 85% is the help that I get for my measly 15% of giving back. I always feel that all of us are on the same page. Yes, of course, we might not agree whole-heartedly on everything, but we listen to others’ opinion and choose what is the best route for the students. And if it wasn’t the best route, we go back reassess the situation and start again. These coworkers are not just coworkers, but my friends. There are seven of us that teach 6th grade, one special education teacher, and one special education aide. I love them all. They make coming to school (I don’t call it work, because it’s not “work”) so much fun and enjoyable.
Sidenote – When I was filling a maternity leave in 5th grade, I was one of two 5th grade teachers. We taught some of the same subjects and we taught some different subjects as well. For the ones where I was the only one to teach that subject, I was my only resource. There wasn’t anyone who was working on the same standards as I was. I was responsible for everything. Like I said earlier, I have 6 teachers who I can collaborate with on the same thing. At least 4 of them teach the exact same subjects that I do. I think this has really helped a first year teacher. So, if you can be choosy, really you can’t in this economy/marketplace, BUT if you could choose, I would choose some sort of setup like I have currently.

                Two years ago, if someone would have asked me who I was I wouldn’t have really been able to tell them. I would have given them an IDK. I had my education degree. I substitute taught. I was an aide. I filled a maternity leave. I filled 3 small leaves. I coach basketball. On the side, I work as a screen print graphic designer (that sounds more professional than “I design t-shirts”) and a senior portrait and wedding photographer. I earn money at these things. Not a lot, but some. Within the last 6 months, without me really thinking about it I became an educator. If someone asks me who I am or what I do I immediately say, “I teach 6th grade.” I don’t know when this transition happened for me. I think it was more of an internal thing and it outwardly came out. I’m now living as an educator. I love it. I love the feeling of helping others be successful and helping them along the way. Educating is what I want to do, to be, and to still become.  
                Right now, my summer plans are to lay low. Lindsay, my wife, (she is a K-2 literacy aide and all-star cheerleading coach) is still working this summer coaching and running summer care. I’m sitting at home right now writing this. I’m trying to lay low and lose some weight. My goal is to weigh 220 by time school starts back up. That’s a pretty hefty goal for me. (Did you laugh at the use of hefty there? I did.) I’ve always been kind of big. I got some blood work back and I had some bad news. I’ve been running a lot. It’s working. I need to eat better and exercise more. Other than that, laying low is the key this summer. I’m not even photographing any weddings this summer. Lay low. Be slow. That’s how I roll.
                The Common Core Standards go into effect this coming school year. I’m ok with it. I think it’s good. I think it helps to let everyone in the country be on the same standards for each year in school. My school district is going away from the A-F grading scale and will start to implement more of a mastery scale based on the standards. I think it is ok. Change is always tough, but sometimes necessary. We will use professional development to come up with sample tasks for each standard that the students will be mastering. You can check out on what our district is striving for.
                In Indiana, the state is mandating that every school district go to a teacher evaluation model that they developed called the RISE Evaluation and Development System. It will be interesting to see how I do. Our administration has had training all year on what it will be like. The main thing I got from what our admin have told us is that they will be in our classroom a lot more than this past year. They will be doing the evaluating along with some other teachers who have went to the training as well. I now know what I will be “graded” on. I’m not a fan of merit pay when dealing with people. Merit pay with products, say like in a factory I totally get. You can definitely count that. I don’t think that my pay should be tied to students’ performance on one test. This year during the ISTEP+ test, the air conditioning was not working. It was up to 88 degrees in the computer lab. The servers kept timing out after each question for each student. That downtime between questions was up to more than 5 minutes as times. What do 6th graders do when working on a test and it times out? Spinning in their chair comes to mind.  Being a distraction comes to mind as well. How accurate are their tests going to be with all those unfavorable test conditions? Straight from the site - “Measures of student learning make up between 20 to 50 percent of a teacher’s final evaluation rating.” I’m not scared of the evaluation. I am confident in my abilities and my students’ abilities. I just don’t think it’s the right way to do it.

    What I want to accomplish next year -
1.       All my students, which will be around 64, to be reading at grade level or above.
2.       All my students pass the ISTEP in ELA. I would have liked to have more of students pass the test this year.
3.       Assess my student’s knowledge more often. I don’t mean more testing, but more ways of authentic assessment to show growth of the material.

          When you get to the end of the year, you look back and see of all the improvement that students have done. Where they came from. What they did. Where they are going. That is what matters. It’s in these moments where a thought becomes an idea, and idea becomes a goal, and a goal gets accomplished.
It’s in the journey.
Have a good summer. I’m layin’ low.