Sunday, December 31, 2017

Dr. Amy Casey - Principal - Lover of Her People

I must write a biography as a MAESP Distinguished Principal Honoree. Of course I have writer's block and the biography is due on January 8th. I thought if I blogged about it, it might come easier. So bear with me and thanks for your help! :)

Who is Amy Casey as a leader? What do I want the world to know about me? The following are things I find myself saying to others on a regular basis. Maybe if I explore these sayings with you, I can introduce you to Dr. Amy Casey.  

"Be present. Love your people. Seek first to understand and then to be understood. Be the change you wish to see. Celebrate diversity. Embrace a growth mindset and the power of 'yet.' Have an attitude of gratitude. If we can't live it, it is difficult to teach it. Give 110%."

Be present ~

If you walk into my school, you might find that I am the "gingerbread woman." Catch me if you can. I do my best to be in the trenches. My absolute favorite thing to do as a principal is to be in classrooms observing how what we have been working on in professional development time comes to life with our students. I love conferring with students and asking them, "what did your teacher teach you today?" There is nothing better than hearing the student responses that are a tell-tale sign of the incredible teaching and learning taking place daily. 

I want to be there during difficult times to support my staff. I want them to know that they are not alone and that we are in this together. When my teachers lose faith and feel they can't do something, I want them to know that they can, and I believe in them. I want to support my teachers and grow them as leaders. 

I want my students to know me. From "good morning" greetings, to classroom visits and lunches with students, or crazy dances in the hallways, to lots and lots of hugs, Dr. Casey is here. She is here when you need that hug, she is here when you celebrate your academic growth, she is here when you are so overwhelmed with life and unable to control your emotions. She is here. She is present. 

Love your people ~ 

I love my school and my people. And yes, I tell them that. I tell teachers that I love them. I tell students that I love them. Because I do. And this love is not a fluffy, surface level, "puppies and rainbows" kind of love. This love is the kind that holds people accountable, while lifting them up…not tearing them down. This love is the kind of love that says, "you may not have gotten it today, but I believe you will get it tomorrow." This love is the kind of love that says, "I am not looking for perfection, but I am looking for the best you can do." This is the kind of love that nudges people to fulfill their potential rather than pushing them over the edge. 

Indeed, love is patient and kind. It is not rude or arrogant. It does not insist on its own way. While I have not reached mastery in this endeavor, it is how I strive to lead. I am a human being and on occasion that humanness just comes right on out. However, when I have done my best to lead from this place of love and have a human slip up, I find that my staff and students are much more inclined to forgive me. In love. Because what goes around…comes around.

This love that I have for my learning community is all about connection. I feel connected to my staff, students and family. They are my "village," my "tribe," my "family." 

My top two "rules" as a principal are - 1) Be nice to kids. 2) Be nice to each other. This is how we begin to show our love for our people. 

Seek first to understand and then be understood ~ 

People have different ways of seeing things and that is ok. But if we are constantly trying to make our way known, we aren't really listening. We are exercising a fixed mindset, rather than a growth mindset. If we are constantly trying to defend our point of view as the "correct" way, we have closed ourselves off from others and have closed opportunities to grow together. We put a wedge between us. Some of my best ideas weren't my ideas at all! They came to me from listening and trying to understand others' points of view. 

I have also found that as I am willing to listen to others first, and truly embrace what they are saying, they are more likely to reciprocate. This is the stuff that true Professional Learning Communities are made of. 

Be the change you wish to see ~ 

This is huge. If I don't like the way things are going, as a leader, I must take a look at myself. I am a mirror of those I lead. Are my teachers completely stressed out and overloaded? What have I done to cause that? Am I giving off stressful energy? Am I expecting them to be all zen when I am a mess? Then it is up to me to make that change in myself, first. 

If I want others to be inspired, then I must be that inspiration. If I want others to be innovative, then I must be innovative. If I want others to be committed to our work, they must see my commitment. If I want our students to see adults who look like them at school, then I must be committed to diverse hiring practices. If I want staff to remain calm when students are dealing with trauma in their lives and are acting out, then I must remain calm and understanding. 

This is my greatest responsibility as a leader. I must be the change. 

Celebrate diversity ~

Not embrace. Not tolerate. Celebrate. I see myself as a champion for diversity, social justice and equity. Diversity encompasses race, gender, abilities, religion, sexual orientation, age and thought. How boring would it be if you went to color a picture and every crayon was the same color? It would be very difficult to create a picture of a sunset. How boring would it be if everyone thought exactly like you? There would be nothing to discuss. However, because some people are a certain color, a certain gender, a certain religion, etc., they experience advantages and privileges that others do not. This gets in the way of an equitable education for ALL students. It has been my life's mission to ensure equitable education for ALL of my students. But that begins with the attitudes and beliefs of the adults who work with our diverse students. Want to know more? Here is a link to my dissertation. 

Embrace a growth mindset and the power of 'yet' ~

If you believe you can, you will. If you believe you can't, you won't. This is how powerful our mindset is! Before all the buzz of growth mindset came along, I was pretty sure I learned the most from my biggest mistakes, and there were no wasted life experiences. Now we have research to back this up! We actually learn more from our mistakes than we do from getting a "right" answer. It is not that I am not good at division...I am just not good at division, YET! Perseverance and embracing the "power of yet" are vital skills for us to teach our students if we want them to be successful. And not just for them to be successful academically, but successful in all areas of their lives.  

Have an attitude of gratitude ~

Have you ever been around a person that complains about everything? It just sucks the life out of me. It is very difficult to move forward in a productive manner when people are grumpy and negative about everything. To the best of my ability, I try to find the positive in every circumstance. It doesn't mean that horrible and sad things do not happen, and that you shouldn't feel the emotions of being sad or angry at injustices. But how long do you stay in that place? Can you shift your attitude to think about the things you are grateful for? (This takes me back to being the change you wish to see...) See how much better that feels than being in a perpetual state of complaining?!

If we can't live it, it is difficult to teach it ~

This feels a little bit like "Be the change you wish to see." But it is more than that. When I decided that I was going to pursue becoming a principal, I had been a music teacher for 12 years. The reason I wanted to become a principal was because there were things happening in education that I wanted to change. I was not able to to make those changes as a teacher. I needed to be in a position where I could make those changes possible. 

I had experienced a successful career as a music teacher, but I realized I didn't truly understand what general education classroom teachers faced on a regular basis. How could I lead as a principal if I didn't truly understand the challenges of my staff? I was actually advised that it didn't matter. I was told I had strong leadership skills and that I would make a fine leader. That was not good enough for me. I felt that if I was going to be a good leader, I needed to understand what faced the people I was leading. I needed to walk in their shoes. So I became certified to teach elementary First through Sixth grade. I ended up teaching 5th grade for a year before I became an assistant principal. This was one of the best decisions I made as an educator. It gave me such insight that I never would have had, had I not pursued this! 

This happened again when I was given my first principalship and had to oversee district special education self-contained programs in my building. I did not have a lot of experience with more intense special needs. I reached out to our special education director and asked him to send me to trainings and help me to be a better special education leader. Another great decision I have made as an educator. 

This comes to play in our teaching as well. If we want to teach our students how to be better writers, we need to have a writing life. If we want them to be better readers, we need to share from our reading life. If we want to help them become better mathematicians, are we utilizing the 8 mathematical practices in our own lives? It feels hypocritical if we are not. How can we ask others to do something we are not willing to do?  This is why doing our own assignments before asking students to do them is such a powerful practice. 1) We have walked down the road before them. 2) Our metacognition about our own experience will be helpful as we understand the mental path we took to understand the concept. 3) We can anticipate mistakes and misunderstandings that might occur with our students. This practice of "living it before we teach it" makes for powerful and authentic learning experiences for our students and staff alike.  

Give 110% ~ 

I realize this is mathematically impossible. My point is, always give your very best at everything you do. Show up. Get it done. Persevere. It works better if you are having fun. Love the thing you do, or don't do it. Or if you must do it, at least pretend to love it. (Stop complaining and see "have an attitude of gratitude.")

So there you have it ~ 

This is my essence. I have accomplished several things along the way, such as presenting at numerous conferences, serving on a number district committees, getting my Ph.D., while being a wife and a mother, a bandmate and a Pound instructor. But I don't know that people will remember any of those things. I do know that my people will remember how I made them feel. And I hope you have left your encounters with me feeling valued, loved and cared for. Now please pass it on.  

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Fit As A Fiddle...or a Dedication to Denise Sarver

I had a lot of fun at the gym today. No really. I had FUN. I even got up at 6:30am on a Saturday to experience said fun. But there was a time when gym and fun were not words I ever said in a sentence together.

I used to HATE exercising. I hit my late 20's and thought to myself, "Well, I better start taking care of myself." So I began sporadically getting exercise in. I went through my Tae-Bo phase, maybe-I-can-try-tennis phase, racquetball-was-fun-in-college phase, 20-minute workout phase, Richard Simmons phase (seriously), kick-boxing phase, step aerobics get the picture. But all of these things were CHORES. Not something I would call "fun." 

Finally, in my mid-30's, I decided to work out with a trainer. I went through a few until I found Denise Sarver. She challenged me with a variety of weight training exercises along with other fitness challenges. By the way, this was not really that fun either. I liked TALKING to Denise. She knows way more about my life than most people do. I liked that I was getting stronger. I liked that I was seeing results, but I still only did it because I PAID FOR IT. It was painful for my pocket if I did not show up. I also went to a few of her exercise classes...Body Pump, Cycling, TRX. These were KIND OF fun. I mean, I get claustrophobic and don't like when people are territorial. But seriously, if I didn't show up for those, it didn't hurt my pocket. They came with my membership. 

I barely hung on to working out while working on my PhD. There was only so much time in my day. But I knew my health was important. Then something magical happened. I found an exercise that had me written all over it! Pound! It is kind of like putting on a rock show! The music is fantastic and Denise tricked me! She gave me a taste of Pound on one Saturday morning at a respectful 10am. Then she only taught it at 6 in the morning! What?! I was totally hooked. So for the FIRST time in my life, I got up early and went to exercise. And then I had fun doing it!

The next thing that happened was crazy! Denise convinced me that I should get certified to teach Pound. Now I had all kinds of qualms. I do not have the perfect physique, I didn't feel like a "real" fitness person, I have a muffin top. She would not accept any of my excuses. 

So I did it! Then I began teaching! And love it even more. And by gosh, Denise did it again! She insisted that I start going to her boot camps. They are difficult, but I found myself having fun. I made friends at Boot Camp. We were all miserable together! We shared common goals! We came in all shapes and sizes! We were all at varying fitness levels. This felt real. This felt genuine. 

Why am I telling you this? Because our health is everything. Our bodies need to move. They were designed to do so and we don't do it enough. (P.S. - you should TOTALLY read the book Spark, by John Ratey & Eric is fascinating!) If you are like me, you can ABSOLUTELY talk yourself out of going to the gym (or walking on that treadmill at home). You can find 100 things that you really need to do. But that was then. Now, if I have to miss my workout, I REALLY miss it. My body wants it. My heart and mind want it. And I miss my friends. (The bonus I received from this working out thing.)

So all those articles you read about working out and the tips to make it happen? They are true. Find exercise that you love, and do it. Every day. Find friends to work out with. Better yet, make friends by working out together. Sometimes you have to pay for it. If you do, you will be more likely to go. Give it 21 days to become a habit. Ok, it took me like, 21 years to make it a habit...but don't be a dirty judger! ;)

So finally, I really need to thank Denise. Yeah, sure. I pay her to hang out with me. LOL. But she inspires me. She truly believes in me. She forgives me when I do stupid things health wise, but she also gives me a dose of reality to help me get back on track. Most importantly, she has truly become my friend. Thanks Queen D! :)

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Being An Elementary Principal the Day After

"Hillary is a moron!" "Hillary is a baby killer!" These words rang out through the halls this morning as I was greeting students before the bell rang. Several staff members over heard the pronouncement at the same time and looked at me with a sense of dread written all over their faces as the students filed into their classrooms. Their body language pleaded for me to do something. Anything.

It was time for the morning announcements. I stuck with the regular routine. "Today is wonderful Wednesday...our lunch choices are...Celebrating a birthday today is...tomorrow for United Way we are...Boys and girls, let me remind you of our school expectations. Be nice. Be safe. And work hard. Today in the halls I overheard some remarks that were not very nice about the the election. This is not ok and if you choose to not be nice, you will do a think sheet. Now please stand for the pledge of allegiance."

I continued my morning by conducting some observations as well as helping with a couple of students who were struggling with good behavior in their classrooms. I then went back to my office to try to catch up on some email. I received a message from a parent that was very concerned because their student was told on the bus (the day before) "I hope Trump gets elected because then you will have to go back to Mexico." Really? Really.

When I talked to the child who had experienced this, she was in tears. She related the story back to me through her tears and said, "Dr. Casey, my family is just trying to work. We are here legally. This boy does not always talk to me like this. He goes back and forth. Sometimes he is nice and sometimes he is not." I assured her that she was not going anywhere and that I appreciated her hard work and the work of her family. I told her I loved her and gave her a hug. She looked up at me with tears in her eyes and proclaimed, "you are the best principal."

Not thirty minutes later, as I was getting ready for a post observation conference, I got a call in the office. Could I please come down to 5th grade? Several students were crying and upset about the election. The teacher reported to me that some students were just having a hard time in general, some were afraid they would wake up and be deported, some were saying hateful things...the teacher wondered if they should have a class much could she say? But the look in her eye was pleading with me to conduct a class meeting. I had ten minutes.

I asked the students to come to the gathering area on the floor. I noticed there were several swollen eyes and sad faces. I looked around. Such a beautifully diverse group. Some with families from Mexico, Sudan, South America, South Korea...They had written beautiful poetry together. They had shared intimate facts about their lives together. I bowed my head for a moment and prayed that I would have the right words that these frightened children needed to hear.

"Boys and girls, today on the announcements I reminded us of our school expectations. Be nice. Be safe. Work hard. And safe means more than new sidewalks, so we don't trip and fall and break something. It means more than keeping our hands to ourselves and solving our problems with our words, not our hands. It means our feelings should be safe, too. You have all been friends for a long time. You have shared about the world you hope for and the kind of humans you want to be. You have shared about the world you dream of. Remind me of that again."

Students shared that they wanted to be respectful, compassionate, caring and kind.  I then went on to explain, "One of the greatest things about America is that we can all have our own opinions. Yes, we have freedom of speech. But that freedom of speech does not mean that you can hurt others. As a matter of fact, we practice this all the time. How many times during number talks have you said, 'I respectfully disagree?' You are all so good at this! There is a way for us to disagree with one another, in a respectful manner."

I went on to share, "Some of you are worried that as a result of the election, you won't be able to stay here. Well you are here legally and you have nothing to worry about. As a matter of fact, nothing here at our school is different than it was yesterday. I still expect you to be nice, be safe and work hard. I expect you to treat one another with respect and kindness and I expect us to be compassionate humans."

I saw the corners of mouths begin to turn up and eyes betrayed a sense of relief. I gave them the heart sign from the bottom of my heart and they laughed as they took solace in my words. I then promptly told them to get to work...and I loved them.

Today my heart is broken, but as I look at these children, my heart is full of hope. And even when a few parents came in the office spouting off their politics as if everyone would be in perfect agreement with them, I remain in that hope. "Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them." No, we will not hinder them. We are their champions. And I still believe in a world where kindness, compassion and love win out.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

European Adventure Day 5 (July 5th, 2016)

This was an incredible day! We spent most of the day at the Tower of London right by the River Thames! It was built by William the Conqueror in 1078 and was used as a royal residence as well as a prison. Even though it was besieged several times, controlling the tower has been important to controlling the country. And while it is often known as a place of death and torture, most executions were held on Tower Hill. Perhaps the saddest story was that of the disappearance of the little princes, Edward and Richard. It is said that they were locked away in the Tower of London by Richard III as he took the throne for himself and the boys disappeared. It is assumed that the boys were murdered so he could take the throne.

It is just so hard to explain the feeling of standing in something so incredibly old! I was so grateful that we had our history professor, Diane Boldt! What she could not tell us about the Tower, the Beefeaters were able to. The beefeaters are ceremonial guards who are responsible for ensuring the safety of the Crown Jewels... Which are incredibly amazing and it feels like you have stepped right into a fairy tale when you finally make it through the long wait to see them!

The beefeaters actually live in the Tower of London and they have a curfew! We discussed this with a couple of the beefeaters. In order to assume this post, a person must have at least 22 years of service in the armed forces. They also must have earned the "Long Service and Good Conduct" medal during their time of service in the armed forces.

Many wonder why they are called beefeaters and the story is that they were allowed to eat as much beef as they liked from the King's table. Beefeater is actually a term used to differentiate the Body Guard at the Tower of London and other Royal bodyguards working at various locations.

The Beefeaters have been in service at the Tower of London since 1485 when they were formed by King Henry the VII. The beefeaters are traditionally men, however, Moira Cameron of Argyll, Scotland became the first female Warder in 2007 and remains the only female Beefeater!

Looking at the Tower Bridge from the Tower of London!

We spent the entire day exploring the wonders of this tower! If you go, you must devote the whole day! 

Trying on the armor!

There is a legend that if the Ravens leave the castle, the tower will crumble and the monarchy will fall.

This is the Traitor's Gate entry off the Thames River into the Tower of London complex. Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard, and other famous condemned got their last glimpse of freedom here.
White Tower Port-A-Potty. The hole leads directly outside to a 20-foot drop onto the castle grounds. The grass is always greener…?

The armory is impressive and much belonged to King Henry VIII. It was easy to observe how he gained weight throughout the years as his armor grew with him. 

Dragon Sculpture

Being Silly

Just a few extra photos from the day. The first one is a view of our apartment from the street and the second one is of Shawn, Bill and me in front of the National Gallery at Trafalgar Square.

We completed this beautiful day by sitting in the grass, taking in the sights in the park by Westminster Abbey and then enjoying a spectacular cruise down the River Thames. The only thing that could have made this day better would have been to NOT take the Hop on Hop Off bus. LOL! 

Friday, July 29, 2016

European Adventure Day 4 (July 4th, 2016)

What an interesting way to spend the 4th of July. This day was a scheduled travel day to London, but it ended up being a long and costly day! We thought that the train system was such that we could just buy tickets at any time. WRONG! When we looked at the Sail and Rail prices before leaving for Europe, they were around 40 Euros a piece. When we got on the internet to book our trip once here, they were MUCH more! However, after digging around, we finally found tickets for just a little more than what we were expecting.

COMPLETE SIDEBAR - I forgot to tell you that I had a huge mishap with my blow dryer in Dublin before we left. Shawn bought this really cool electricity converter with all the adapters for each European country. We were set with our electronics! He spent about $60 on the thing. SO I plug my hairdryer in and put it on low, like I am supposed to. I am blowing my hair and then the thing starts sparking and smoke is billowing out! I promptly turn it off, but the converter thing is toast! :( I felt HORRIBLE. Moral of the story is don't do that! Suffice it to say, my hair was pretty crazy for most of the trip. However - my dumb $19.99 hairdryer still works! Below are a couple of pictures of our view from our flat and the beautiful neighborhood we stayed in while enjoying Dublin!

Back to day four…We had a very sociable and delightful taxi driver that took us to the port for the ferry ride to Wales. The ferry was lovely and was like a large cruise ship. We snatched seats with windows and enjoyed the lovely views! I also enjoyed reading the book I brought along, while Bill and Shawn took in the sights from the deck above.

Once we arrived at the train station in Wales, we tried to get on the train only to find out that our tickets were only good for the FERRY! The ladies apologized that the website had messed up, but…oh well…did we need a train ticket or not? And that will be another 125 Euros a piece. Grrr…really? Yes, really. So off we finally went.

I really romanticized about how lovely a train ride would be traveling through the English countryside! I hardly got to see it because most of the time I was looking at a wall or a hedgerow! And where was the dining car?! Oh, we are in the budget seats. Good thing we gathered the tidbits of cheese and fruit we had leftover in our Dublin flat! The landscape did finally open up a a bit and Wales was quite beautiful! I was grateful when we arrived in London, and a sympathetic London taxi driver saw us lugging our bags around. He motioned us in and it was like a clown car as we tumbled in! We were practically sitting on one another's laps! He spoke of Brexit and Trump! He likes Americans! He went on to share with us that he doesn't live in London - he commutes. But then no one really lives in London anymore. It is full of tourists…like us. Ha! :)

After grabbing a few groceries and enjoying an inexpensive dinner in our lively neighborhood, we settled into our new flat that boasts 52 steps to our rooms! I was feeling out of my exercise routine and there was a gym right across the street. So at 8:45 pm, I made my way across the street to enjoy a vigorous workout after my sedentary day of travel. Our flat is wonderful with lots of room and a washer right in the kitchen. Our host has thought of everything! Including a hair dryer! I am exceedingly grateful for my travel companions, the Boldts. Mr. Casey has been a joy! Can't believe we are experiencing this together! :)