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! :)