Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Keeping the Light On

 

By Vicki Bechard

It’s February. The weather doesn’t know whether we are still in winter or trying to forge ahead to spring.  Even the groundhog wasn’t definitive.  But in my many years of teaching and coaching, February was always a challenging month.  Basketball was on the home stretch after a long season.  The last set of Parent-Teacher Conferences took place with the hope of righting some student ships so they could sail through to the end of the school year and reach their destination.   There are Valentine’s parties and snow days still to come.  Could spring break be too far away?

So maybe our light is dimming a bit as we await spring and all it portends:  new growth, longer days, outside recess, track, baseball, softball, State Assessments, and so much more.  How can we keep the light on as winter wanes and spring hasn’t yet arrived?  If we equate our light to a metaphoric flashlight, we might find some interesting solutions to our problem of dimming light.  And these solutions just aren’t for faculty and staff, they are also something our students might benefit from too.

Depending on the size and type of our flashlight and the amount of light needed, the possible solutions will vary.  Most of the time we just need new batteries – not a whole new flashlight.  Occasionally our bulb is burned out, but generally, checking the batteries is our first step toward restoring our light. Consider these battery possibilities: 

A Attention - How do we give someone attention?  Stop by their room; sit with them at lunch; call, text, listen, inquire about how they are; ask about life outside school; (did I mention listen?); spend time with them; call them by name; make eye contact; show up; respond promptly.  Find a way to ensure they know they matter so that their light never goes out. 

AAAttention + AffectionAffection means we care and gives depth to the attention.  How can we show appropriate affection at school? Proximity; A pat on the back or high five; a warm smile (be sure to smile with your eyes if you are masked!); A note of encouragement, appreciation or thanks; A hug if appropriate and always with permission (realizing that violates the idea of maintaining proper distancing but is sometimes necessary).  Affirmation might be another way to show affection especially in a school setting. We affirm a person is worthy by giving them our undivided attention and demonstrating that we care. These are important ways to keeping the light burning brightly.          

AAA - Attention + Affection + Acceptance  - Acceptance is something everyone seeks. Take the time to get to know the other person; Agree to disagree; Show respect for them as individuals, for their decisions, for their ideas… Invite them in… to a conversation, to a group, to a learning opportunity, to share a laugh.  When one feels accepted they feel like they matter, and their light burns long into the night.

CCompassion - Compassion is more than sympathy.  It is caring in action. How do we show compassion to or for others?  Be Kind; Encourage or positively reinforce; Show empathy for another’s situation; Notice other’s troubles or frustrations; Offer to help or support; Be emotionally moved by their circumstances and help them seek relief; Judge less; Work for the greater good. When someone is experiencing darkness, share your light and be the one who helps them find their light.

DDirection – Finding our way out of the darkness is challenging without a light.  How do we offer direction without telling them what to do?  Shine your light to navigate the darkness:  Guide, Suggest; Ask questions; Offer options; Help identify or define the goal; Encourage and reinforce; Provide feedback; Allow for/create space and time. Sometimes a person’s light is just hidden and they must rediscover their purpose in order for the light to go from dim to bright again.

 ************* 

The purpose of the flashlight metaphor is to get you to think about how really simple it is to look out for each other if we are intentional.  We must notice those around us (and how we are feeling too) and not be hesitant to act.  When you shine your light for others, it also lights your way; conversely if you shine your own light, it can light the way for others too. 

But there are other ways to keep ourselves energized and our light burning brightly.  If we purposely continue to grow and learn new things, it keeps our mind engaged and focused on new possibilities.  What book or article can you read that gives you new ideas?  What professional learning experience can you attend (virtually or in person)? What podcast inspires you? What colleague can you observe? What conversation can you have?  Some schools are even scheduling mental health days for everyone.  We are living in different times and we must think of new ways of responding to the challenges and feelings that dim our light.  We think we don’t have time, but if our flashlight isn’t working we continue to languish in the darkness.  When we can’t see the light we cannot be productive. I admit I don’t stay at Motel 6, but I do like their commercial slogan, “We’ll leave the light on for you.”  What an inviting way to look at the culture in our buildings.  Are you ensuring that there is a light on for everyone to use?

Seek the light.  Share the light.  Be the light.

 

Pro Tip:  Sometimes even changing the batteries or learning new things doesn’t work

     When that happens, sit with them quietly in their darkness and share your light.

 


Thursday, December 16, 2021

12 Days AFTER Christmas

By Vicki Bechard 


We all know the song, 12 Days of Christmas and have probably sung it many times.  I’m pretty sure I’d love 5 golden rings, but I have no need for a partridge in a pear tree!  I remember teaching PE in my first job and the band director would send his sections to various parts of the school during first hour (my plan time) to practice prior to their competitions.  The drum section always came to the gym.  So while I see the need for drummers in a band (and I did play in the band in high school), that experience reminds me 12 drummers can be far too many!

I also remember a great tradition that we had at my last school where we did the 12 Days of Christmas Feast and brought food to share in the Teacher’s Lounge for 12 days prior to the Winter Break.  Oh my, it really should have been the 12 pounds gained before Christmas! J

But I digress….  What I’d really like to talk about are the 12 Days AFTER Christmas (winter break) and what that might look like.  We all know by the squirrely kids, shortened days, and looming finals that this semester is almost over.  All we want to do is relax a little and look forward to what Santa and the New Year brings us!  We might not want to focus on resolutions because we know they rarely are fulfilled.  So let’s talk about things we’d like to have happen, wishes, if you will. 

There is optimism in focusing on wants or wishes, and hope is instilled when we look forward.  While I won’t submit this list as song lyrics, I think we might be able to agree that many of these are on our wish list every day.  These wishes might be considered aspirations, the honest truth, or reminders that each of you does make a difference every day.  In any event, I present to you:

THE 12 DAYS AFTER CHRISTMAS WISHES

1:      Meaningful Collaboration upon your return

2:      Students back in the classroom eager to learn

3:      Masks worn willingly to keep Covid at bay

4:      Kindness and respect on display every day

5:      Leaders who guide during good and tough times

6:      Teachers who challenge and nurture young minds

7:      Snow falling steadily during the night

8:      A “No school” call before the first light

9:      Seeing the spark in a student’s eye

10:    Colleagues to share a laugh or good cry

11:    All assignments turned in when they are due

12:    A pat on the back for all that you do

 

I think it is important to think about what we want life to look like and along with that, forward thinking.  We get so caught up in how tired or frustrated we are that we forget we are in the greatest profession on earth where we can touch lives and shape the world every single day. What is it that will make your job easier?  More rewarding?  More meaningful?

It is ironic, and somewhat symbolic, that as the semester ends it coincides with the shortest days of the year – where darkness swallows up each day.  With the many challenges and changes educators have faced the last 2 years, it may be hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel.  But I am confident that after a couple of weeks away, you’ll be looking at the New Year with new eyes as the daylight grows longer and the darkness begins to recede.  As you reflect forward into 2022, what does that look like?

What are your wishes?  Your needs?  Is accreditation in your view?  Do you or your staff understand the process of change and how that understanding can contribute to the success (or not) of goal implementation?  Are you (or your staff) continuous learners?  What challenges await you?  How do you tackle all that is on your plate? 

Let us know how we can help you turn those wishes into actions.   Our role at Learning Forward Kansas is to support your school or you as an educator with professional learning so that you can experience excellent teaching, learning, and leading every day.  Isn’t excellence something you would love to have for your building, your classroom, and your students?  Let’s make it happen in the New Year! 

 Happy Holidays from your colleagues at Learning Forward Kansas!

Friday, September 17, 2021

Seeking Covid Relief in Collaboration and Collective Efficacy

 

 By Vicki Bechard, LFKS Special Projects


How are the children?”  My friend, a long time educator, uses that question to gauge the temperature of the culture of a school, the impact of decisions that are made, and the direction a school is headed. Right now every school is consumed by Covid protocols, differences of opinions, and extra work created by gaps in staff coverage due to the inability to hire a full staff or the quarantines that occur weekly (or even daily).  Learning is going on, school improvement through accreditation is continuing, but our focus seems to be interrupted frequently by the next crisis.  We may be wondering if we will ever find any Covid Relief.  As we think about how best to support our educator friends across the state, we still want to ask the question, “How are the children? But it’s important to follow that question closely with “How are the educators, (including the leaders)?”

My youngest grandson became a middle schooler this year.  When I pick him up from school every day, I always ask him how his day went (How are the children?).  After the predictable response of “Fine” then most days, he begins to talk…a lot (he is related to me of course)!  I find out all kinds of interesting things in those 7 minutes it takes for us to get to my house.  In the beginning it was all about his locker and how efficient he was/wasn’t that day.  Back in August, we planned how he would remember when and where his classes were.  He had some good solutions.  Now, I hear him raise concerns and offer opinions about how quarantines of teachers and students affect his classes.  He’s back to required mask wearing (which he has never opposed), and he noted just today that once first hour is over, he hardly remembers he has one on. He has asked what to do when he sees someone breaking the rules or how he can be more involved.  He had elementary figured out pretty well, so in many ways he’s just trying to figure out middle school and all it entails.

Isn’t that what our educators and administrators are feeling too?  They had school figured out pretty well. Then Covid hit and everything changed.  Not only are they making decisions that are fluid and criticized from all sides, they are also trying to figure out the new normal (that is ever changing).  Educators and leaders could really use some Covid Relief.  So are we checking on our colleagues and friends?  Are we asking, “How are the teachers and the principals and the superintendents?”  When I ask my principal friend how things are going, her initial reply is either “Fine” (where have I heard that before?) or “Busy” as she dashes to keep score on the JV volleyball court because someone couldn’t cover – all before she heads off to a BOE meeting.  Our question of “How are the educators and leaders” might be rhetorical, because we know how they are – they are exhausted.  And the smaller the school system, the worse it may be. How can we help?

Mr. Rogers used to ingrain in the kids watching his show that they want to identify: “Who are the helpers?”  When my 6th grade grandson works on homework, I try to help him with organizational skills, how to study, and test taking strategies. I’ve also noticed he is part of a group text where his friends ask questions about homework or talk about how to do the math problem they don’t understand.  The members share resources or possibilities.  They know how to look things up to get help.  They are succeeding together.  He has found helpers outside the school day to help him succeed in school.  What he is experiencing is collaboration and a student version of collective efficacy.  So when we ask, “How are the educators,” maybe we should be asking, “Who is helping our educators, our principals, even our superintendents?”  Who are they working with to brainstorm ideas or find solutions for their situations?”  Who is helping them grow, learn, and implement effective methods?”

How does all of this tie into our concern about today’s educators maneuvering through a pandemic that seems to never end?  Just as my grandson focused at the beginning of his middle school journey on his locker and getting to class on time, teachers and administrators are also, out of necessity, narrowly focused on logistics during these challenging times.  With fewer staff members, more paperwork (i.e. contact tracing) and less time to concentrate on school improvement, they are overwhelmed as they try to keep all the balls in the air. Collaboration and Collective Efficacy may not be on their radar at the moment but it just might be their salvation.

If we look at Collective Efficacy we know it begins as a group of people who come together for a common goal. When one has efficacy they have the skills and confidence as an individual to do what needs to be done to be successful.  When we band together we have collective efficacy in which the group believes they can succeed to achieve the goal.  In a time where we are inundated with non-academic protocols and regulations that distract us from the business of learning, we find many tend to retreat and work in isolation, but there is power (and relief) in numbers.  Collaborative work makes us all more effective when we utilize our knowledge and skills to help each other. Time you say!  I don’t have time!  To find the time, it requires us to stop and reflect on the path we are taking.  The journey is better in teams.  Even the National Park Service doesn’t want you to hike alone!

To all our Educator and Administrator Friends and Colleagues:  Learning Forward Kansas is here to cheer you on, support you, and provide resources to improve your situation.  Check out our website.  In the Inspired to Learn series, there’s a video on Collective Efficacy.  There are Tips and Tools, and other resource guides that can aid in planning professional learning sessions with your staff.  The protocols all promote collaboration and digging deeper.  The only thing we don’t specifically have is a silver bullet called Covid Relief.  But if you adapt some of these strategies, you just might find yourself feeling a little better about your situation going forward. 

Remember to ask “How are the children?” and really listen.  More to the point, directly ask the children how they are.  They will tell you!  Ask how the teachers are; the principals, coaches, and the superintendent.  Their voices need to be heard; their efforts appreciated, and made more efficient and effective.  Find the helpers.  “Hike” in groups.  This journey is hard enough.  Make it better by collaborating with colleagues who are ready and willing to find solutions and achieve the goal(s). This is collective efficacy. Then you will have found some powerful Covid Relief.

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Celebrating Teachers: Challenges, Endings and New Beginnings

 

May 2, 2021

by Vicki Bechard, Secretary LFKS


The first week of May is traditionally dedicated to showing our appreciation for all teachers.  I think we could have two such celebrations – or may be more!  What if we started each school year off celebrating teachers?  Maybe show some love at the end of the first semester to give them an extra burst to keep it up into the second semester? 

Teachers work hard every day, every month, every year.  They care for the students (their kids) with all they have.  Teachers actually call their students “my kids,” even after they have retired (I can attest to that and some of “my kids” are ready for AARP!)  Every teacher works tirelessly regardless of the size of the system in which they work, but the smaller the school the more likely they are to juggle multiple roles to ensure that the school is successful.  By May, regardless of the year or the school, teachers are tired, but still engaged in the work of student learning.  While teachers look forward to summer break, this is hardly a part time job. 

Summers are spent reviving the spirit, learning new content or strategies, and planning for the next school year.  Last year at this time, teachers were navigating new teaching strategies while making the sudden shift to online learning.  The end of school brings plenty of distractions and activities in a “normal” year, much less one blown up by a pandemic like we’ve not experienced in three generations. So last summer felt very different as we wondered what the fall would bring.  Fast forward to 2021. 

This May, we are ending what may have been the most challenging year of anyone’s teaching career.  Some schools were able to be in front of their students all year, some brought kids back some of the time, and others didn’t bring them back to the physical classroom until the spring semester.  Regardless of the situation, the protocols to keep everyone safe cast a large shadow over what was the ‘20-21 school year, and the subsequent teaching and learning.   But much good has come from this adversity and challenge.  Let’s hope that the adults are learning right along with the kids as we reflect on how we (in schools and the rest of society) will move forward, shaping our new normal.

Social Emotional Learning (SEL) became a real focus after talking about its importance for years.  Finding ways to strengthen relationships between the staff, students, and parents was a necessary priority to minimize the isolation people felt and ensure learning would take place.  We are all familiar with the old adage, “kids don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”  This was a year that really underscored this message! 

Appreciation and gratitude became something we all could embrace.  Parents found new appreciation for teachers as they tried to juggle their own work/home lives with that of their student’s learning, often as all of the family was online for work or school.  Teachers and students realized how important the day to day in-person learning was to achieving understanding.  Even sleepy middle school and high school students were ready get up in the morning to go back to school to learn, see their friends and participate in some (albeit restricted) activities and sports. Some semblance of normal seemed like a really great aspiration!

We saw empathy and understanding improve as we addressed each stakeholder group’s challenges, i.e. connectivity issues; shared devices; navigating zoom and other online platforms without prior experience; stay-at-home fatigue; and health concerns.  Schools made many changes in their protocols, bus routes, how they fed students, how they passed in the hallways, and how classes were set up – all to keep our students and teachers safe.  We all adapted and these lessons shouldn’t be lost as the pandemic restrictions begin to lift.

What will our new normal look like?  Can we continue to appreciate each other?  Can we maintain some of the protocols we had in place so there is less illness of any kind in our buildings?  Can we continue to make concerted efforts to strengthen relationships and make all stakeholders feel valued in the educational lives of every school?   Can we carry enduring technology tools and instructional strategies we learned during the pandemic back to our brick and mortar classrooms? (Read more here) Can we STOP focusing on student “learning losses” and START focusing on how we will move forward to target individual student learning needs (gaps, if you will) and not just assume everyone fell behind?  Can we use our data to make teaching and learning more effective as we develop a culture of learning that works for everyone?  Most importantly, can we not go back to the old normal, but create a new one?

Michael Fullan, in his latest paper, “The Right Drivers for Whole System Success,” notes Covid 19 has been (and may continue to be, I might add)

“…a disruption so fundamental that it loosens and discombobulates the system in a way that creates openings for transforming the status quo. 

How can we transform our system given the opening we have been handed?  Our state’s Accreditation Process (KESA) asks us to re-imagine our school in new and better ways.  Lessons from our Covid year might be very useful in this type of future planning. 

Many have written articles (Edutopia, Education Week, Forbes, etc.) that align with Fullan’s advice:

Above all, we recommend avoiding a ‘loss of learning’ mindset that would take us back to traditional learning – to a system that we know was not working for the vast majority of students.

The lessons of SEL are still the foundation for making school (and ultimately learning) meaningful for students.  These are as simple as greeting students at the door each time they enter your school or classroom, or as complex at identifying what losses the student or his/her family experienced over the last year.  If we fall into the trap of starting school in the fall with a battery of assessments to “test them to see where they are” we will not make students excited about learning, and could easily contribute to the mindset and/or inequity that (even the best of intentions) can create by pigeonholing or labeling students in ways that might set them up to fail.  Edutopia has an interesting article that explores this topic more closely. (Read here.)

In this month of endings, let us focus on new beginnings.  Let’s appreciate the teachers (and other administrators and staff) that have gone above and beyond this year to keep our kiddos safe, engage in the important work of relationship building, and provide excellent teaching and learning.  They will continue to do this in our post-pandemic world, and deserve our daily appreciation and support.  They love our kids and care for them as if they were their own.  In my book, they are heroes just as the other many caregivers that have embraced us throughout this last year.  (Coincidentally it is also around this time of year we celebrate nurses too.)  School is a work in progress, just as our students are.  We are continually learning, tweaking, and revising what is best for kids.  There is a rainbow at the end of our Covid storm, setting us up for new beginnings, and inspiring hope for better tomorrows.

Today and every day, let us celebrate all that we are, and all that we aspire to be by saluting the backbone of the educational system, our TEACHERS!   

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

We Need a Little Christmas Right This Very Minute!

 

By Vicki Bechard, Secretary

Christmas music has been playing in my car for the last month or so.  I have several stations selected so I skip around a lot to only listen to songs I want to hear.  Several songs have extra meaning for me this season, but this song by Johnny Mathis may hit the spot for all of us, especially now, no matter your situation:                                                                                               

                “We Need a Little Christmas” 

…For we need a little Christmas
Right this very minute
Candles in the window
Carols at the spinet
Yes, we need a little Christmas
Right this very minute
Hasn't snowed a single flurry, but Santa dear we're in a hurry

Regardless of your religious beliefs or practices, Christmas can be celebrated by anyone.  It’s the time of year when we think of others; dress up our homes and even ourselves (think ugly Christmas sweaters J).  It’s a time to bring family and friends together – even though this year it might be via ZOOM – to reminisce and share the love.  This Christmas season comes at a time when teaching and learning are occurring in ways that may seem so detached from what we do best, and yet we find ways to make it work under extraordinary circumstances.  We are held hostage by a virus that will hopefully be under control by this time next year or before.  We are living in divisive times that grab our attention away from the beauty of the season.  So we do indeed need a little Christmas…now.

…For I've grown a little leaner
Grown a little colder
Grown a little sadder
Grown a little older
And I need a little angel
Sitting on my shoulder
Need a little Christmas now

This verse expresses just how we feel.  Our heroes are tired.  Classroom teachers that are doing their very best to stay healthy, teach their students in whatever format they are presented at any given moment, and adjust to the many regulations that come down the pike.  Administrators are tired too.  No longer just addressing the usual never-ending list of day to day management, instructional leadership, discipline, professional learning leaders, and building climate, they have now become expert contact tracers doing their part to keep those in their charge safe from a sneaky, ever intruding virus.  No decision is popular with everyone.  How do you get ahead of something that is so new to everyone and reacts differently in each person or community? 

If you step back a moment, you realize that our educators are facing personal challenges too.  They may have loved ones who are sick or have succumbed to this dreaded virus or by some other cause. They may be sick themselves. They may be juggling working from home, their own children, spotty internet in rural locations, or checking in on elderly parents and grandparents too.  Some may be bettering themselves with Master’s Degree programs – at a time they are stretched so thin – but they are still learning.  You may be like my grandson who said to me just this morning on our way to school, “Grandma, it doesn’t really feel like Christmas this year.”  He’s dealing with the loss of his mother this past summer.  I can relate.  When we meet or work with others, we don’t always know what they are going through.  One of the things I appreciate about the last 9 months is how the kindness movement has re-emerged.  As the saying goes, “In a world where you can be anything …. Be kind” because we do indeed need a little Christmas right this very minute.

For we need a little music
Need a little laughter
Need a little singing, ringing through the rafter
And we need a little snappy
Happy ever after
Need a little Christmas now

So as your semester comes to an end, and Winter Break begins, take some time to rest, relax, and renew.  Enjoy smaller celebrations this year, whether it’s the lights of Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, or even as we ring in the New Year. Stay safe.  Practice gratitude for the blessings we each have.  We at Learning Forward Kansas appreciate each one of you and the work you do every day.  Never forget that you are a blessing to so many. 

So, find a little music, seek and share laughter, and perhaps just exactly what we need ….get “a little snappy, and be happy ever after!”  Tis the season of hope, especially as the most challenging year of our lives (at least for most of us) comes to an end and a New Year begins. 

We Need a Little Christmas - NOW!

 

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Iconic Leadership Lessons for Challenging Times

 

By Vicki Bechard, LFKS Secretary


It goes without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway.  2020 has been a year of disruption and discomfort; sadness and loss.  Any given year has personal and societal highs and lows but in this particular year, everything seems to be bigger, harder, and more overwhelming than most of us can remember.  With so much out of whack – even the weather – we struggle to stay positive and know what to do.  We have mourned as COVID upset our everyday lives and took lives we weren’t ready to give up.  We miss the familiarity of close contact, time worn traditions, and effective practices now set aside to fight an enemy that does more than make us sick.  Schools – both from teaching and learning perspectives - have seen so many changes in such a short amount of time, leading us to anxiously shift out of our comfort zones.  It has also been a time of opportunity as we have redesigned by necessity and at a record breaking pace. We have many heroes in our state that stepped up and led a coordinated effort to help identify the best ways forward for teaching and learning.  No one got the summer off (not that educators really do…).  As educators, we continued to learn, revise, and redesign. There now may be new ways of doing things that we might just keep doing as we go forward.  Necessity is the mother of invention or so they say…. 

In addition to wrestling with the effects of COVID, key public figures have died in both expected and unexpected ways causing us to stop and consider their impact and influence on us personally and as a society.  Most recently we mourn the passing of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, who was a champion for equal rights for women, voter integrity, and constitutional protections for all people.  There have been so many quotes attributed to her, shared by the thousands, even millions, as they celebrate her legacy and mourn her passing.  We can learn so much from the way she lived her life and the carefully chosen words she shared in court opinions, speeches, and interviews.  My favorite quote to date that Justice Ginsberg cited was about leadership. 

“Fight for what you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”

Isn’t that the purist form of leadership?  Having a passion for what you want to accomplish and engaging/empowering others are what it’s all about.  Regardless of your organization or leadership role, it is no different as we face new and ever-changing challenges in our schools today.  We still are passionate about teaching and learning.  We still want others to join us in this journey of excellence.

LFKS is currently focused on how we can support school leaders of all types during these challenging times.  While conferences get changed to virtual formats  or postponed entirely, we are seeking to find ways to connect and share ideas that are useful and purposeful.  We are currently offering a new 3-part virtual conference on leadership that begins in October, and are creating a collection of useful and timely resources to be shared with educators and leaders.  Both of these projects will support the work of schools throughout the state (and beyond), providing ideas, resources, and tools to facilitate how to address local issues and challenges that school leaders face. 

Our passion in LFKS is professional learning.  We care about leaders.  We care about teachers.  We care about each one of you.  Through it all we want you to join us in our mission to ensure there is excellent teaching and learning every day.

Basketball star Kobe Bryant, who tragically left us too soon, underscored Justice Ginsberg’s idea of leading others to join you with this valuable advice:

“The most important thing is to try to inspire people so they can be great in whatever they want to do.”

Again we ask, isn’t that the purist form of teaching and leadership:  Inspiring and empowering others to ensure excellent teaching and learning every day?

Representative John Lewis, famous for his Civil Rights activism, lived a long and productive life following his passion and inspiring others.  This quote attributed to him really speaks to each of us as we go through these turbulent times,

“If not us, then who? If not now, then when?”

We can wait around for someone else to tell us what to do or we can act.   We want to keep learning and growing as educators and leaders, so we ask ourselves and our teams:

What do we want to accomplish?

What knowledge and skills do we need?  

What resources can help? 

Where can I go for ideas?

How can we use what we have differently? 

And at all times we want to remind ourselves: If not us, then who?  If not now, then when? 

The work we are doing now is hard.  There are critics and Monday morning quarterbacks second-guessing our every move.  The data and information change daily. It is hard work and at the same time, worthwhile work.  It is important that we keep going because our kids are worth it.  And as John Lewis so wisely noted: 

“Never let anyone – any person or any force – dampen, dim or diminish your light.”

For without our inner light, we cannot get through the darkness of our fatigue, sadness, challenges or obstacles. You can do it and in the process, lead others to join you in this most important work.

Please join LFKS for our Fall Virtual Leadership Conference.  (If not us, then who? )

Register today!  (If not now, then when?)

 

 


Monday, May 4, 2020

#BetterTogether


By Vicki Bechard, Secretary LFKS



The lockdown officially ended today here in Kansas as we begin Teacher Appreciation Week.  Educators smile at the irony in this and look to the silver lining that at least we are less restricted.  Soft openings are happening this week; more will be phased in over the next month.  School buildings are still closed.  Most of us are doing our part to maintain safety and sanity.  Through it all, the mail has been delivered and teachers are still teaching their kids just like always.  It’s been a challenging 4th quarter to say the least.   What can we take away from this time of challenge and change?  As we fully and officially appreciate the dedication and hard work of our teachers year round and especially at this time, let’s consider how we can be #BetterTogether.

We could dwell on all that we have missed, but I’d rather not.  Our seniors will have stories to tell at their reunions in the years to come of how COVID 19 cut short their senior year, and they won’t have the traditional graduation ceremony, at least for now.  Maybe that’s not as bad as we think.  These later-in-the-summer celebrations could be viewed as anticlimactic, but I’m hoping they might be better than ever because people will be so glad to get together.  We feel bad for the teachers that are retiring and now won’t be able to hug their students or their colleagues one last time.  Maybe those of us who aren’t retiring could suggest to those students and colleagues that they write a letter of congratulations and appreciation to that retiring teacher so it will serve as a lifetime hug if you will, that can be revisited over and over.  Appreciation and celebrations are always #BetterTogether.

#BetterTogether, or some version of this sentiment, has been included in so many commercials and articles, discussed on news shows, and seen trending online since the pandemic overtook our country.  While we were stuck at home the companies came to us.  Celebrities and sports teams joined the call to connect with all who were struggling to stay positive and stay healthy. They provided information on how to stay safe, encouraged us and reminded us over and over that we are in this together and we will get through this.  In this time of challenge, anxiety, and even fear, we look for ways to survive both physically and emotionally. When faced with personal challenge, those who reach out to others, to help and protect, often find the most peace and satisfaction.  We can’t thank enough our frontline healthcare professionals, first responders, custodial and cleaning staff, mail and delivery people, all those grocery store employees who keep those shelves stocked, and so many other “essential” jobs that we never knew were essential.  And of course we can’t thank our educators enough who are teaching online after a quick crash course, reaching out to students and families, all the while going through the same things at home like the rest of us are doing.  Our group hug for these champions must be done from a distance in our hearts for now, but it is important to thank those whose sacrifices have embodied #BetterTogether.

Learning Forward Kansas has been using the hashtag #BetterTogether for quite a while.   The fourth video in our professional learning series Inspired to Learn:  Kansas Stories focused on all the ways we are better together as educators.  During this two month homeschool-online-learning event, we find many ways where educators are collaborating to create meaningful learning, principals are checking in on staff to ensure they are doing OK, and many are finding ways to spread joy and encouragement.  We can be inspired by the intentional connections that schools and educators are making with families through food distributions, phone calls, zoom check-ins, social media posts, and packets for those who lack the necessary technology.  We can appreciate and enjoy the many videos that have emerged to make us smile as they provide that emotional connection we crave.  As an example, LFKS Board member and principal, Amy Beck’s staff at Nemaha Central Elementary and Middle School made weekly videos to share with the school community that conveyed joy and encouragement.  Click here if you want to check out what it looks like to be #BetterTogether.

As the school year comes to an official close, we wonder what the future will bring.  What can we learn from this time of sudden, mandated change?  How will these lessons of both success and challenge shape our decisions for teaching and learning when school resumes in the fall?  Will we be better prepared?  Are we asking the right questions?  To whom are we asking the questions? Are we including all stakeholders in this journey into the unknown?  LFKS is in the process of developing some tools to help with this collection of important data that will inform our decisions, frame instruction and learning, and ultimately lead to contingency plans when the virus returns (and it will return).  Through it all we can and will emerge stronger if we stay together, work together, and learn together and the result will be that we are indeed #BetterTogether.