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


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.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

March Madness!!

By Vicki Bechard, LFKS Secretary

March Madness is upon us!  We have been playing the “game” of school improvement all year and those spring OVT (accreditation) visits are about to start.  It’s crunch time!  We want our results to lead to April Achievement and May Magic.   Can we feel the excitement in our halls, our classrooms, our meetings?   Is our team focused on the desired outcomes?  Have we accomplished all that we set out to do?  What do our stats (data) say?  Has our preparation put us in a place of strength as we enter these critical “contests” or face the challenges before us?  Does each player know his/her role?  Does our team (staff) believe we can succeed?  As we assess the competition for now and in the future, what will our team and our game plan look like as we take the court?

School leaders can learn from the NCAA version of March Madness.  While local newspapers may want area schools to compete against each other for “best scores, highest seeded schools, etc.,” the real challenge is competing within our own system to improve from year to year.  Just as college coaches and teams do each season, we start long before March to ensure we are prepared.  We create long range plans that include performance goals and actions which are based on the review of data, ongoing needs assessments from the previous year(s), input from people invested in the team’s performance, understanding of best practices, and a vision of where the team wants to go.  The coaches (building leaders) put the plan into action by ensuring the team is built on trust, has the best personnel in the right positions, understands the necessary knowledge and skills, and is provided ample practice time and support so that the selected strategies can be effectively implemented.  When each player believes in his/her own ability to make a difference and step up when the game is on the line; when the team has bonded, is working toward a common goal, and has learned to trust each other, then the efficacy of one becomes the collective efficacy of the team and everyone wins! 

Upper management (central office) and other invested groups (BOE, Stakeholders) have roles in the success of the team through their financial support to ensure the best resources and personnel are in place, to provide the best learning experiences for the players and coaches, and to be willing to work side by side with the team through the learning and implementation processes.  Maybe just as important are their roles as encouragers and supporters.  Cheering in the stands is a great motivator!

As the team huddles for the last time before the big game, we expect that the game plan is understood by all coaches and players, but we also expect that they realize adjustments must be made along the way.  When individual players can see what needs to happen and have the ability and permission to make those adjustments, the team can be even more successful!   When coaches micromanage and have to call every play, or are overly critical of mistakes that are bound to happen, the confidence and efficacy of their team diminishes.  When change is warranted and coaches or players fail to make adjustments, progress stalls, and the win (improvement) may slip away.  All of this requires continuous reflection and study on what works, what didn’t and what we will do about it. 

The culmination of our “season” begins with March Madness and ends with May Magic!  How is your leadership supporting the challenge of goal achievement?  How is your team competing as the action plan unfolds?  Will the kids be the winners as we “play the game” of school improvement?  Ultimately we are looking to do what works best.  As spring turns into summer, what will we do in the off season to make next year even better?  Team members come and go, and leadership turns over, but the quest to field the best team possible and be competitive in March Madness and beyond is always before us.  And because it’s school and not just one game, we can’t be satisfied with “One Shining Moment,” but we can and should celebrate this journey of many shining moments over time!