Monday, December 2, 2013

I'm Walking on Sunshine

By Michele Corbat

Photo by Kristen Duke

I was SHOCKED today to learn that two people I admire greatly nominated my blog for a Sunshine Award.  Educators, Starr Sackstein and Drew Frank, are two people I follow on Twitter.  Starr is a high school English/journalism teacher from New York.  She is the author of Teaching Mythology Exposed (a must-read).  Drew is  Director of Academic Operations and Lower School Principal at The Davis Academy in Atlanta, Georgia.  These individuals contribute to my learning, inspire and wow me with the ways they are reaching and influencing students every day.  In fact, if you aren't following these Edurockstars, stop reading this blog and go read their blogs right now.

Being honored by your peers is a fantastic feeling. Being honored by these peers is especially amazing because I am in awe of them.

Sunshine Award:

According to the rules of the sunshine award I am required to:

1.  Acknowledge the nominating blogger.
2.  Share 11 random facts about myself.
3.  Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for me.
4.  List 11 bloggers that I believe deserve some recognition and a little blogging love!
5.  Post 11 questions for the bloggers I nominate (cannot nominate the blogger who nominate me).

11 Random Facts About Me:
  1. I LOVE music!  I don't have a favorite genre but know the lyrics to hundreds, if not thousands of songs.  Everything from Pink to Red Hot Chili Peppers to Kid Rock to Hank Williams Jr. to Luther Vandross!  I love it all.
  2. Before my kids were born, I spent my evenings teaching step-aerobics and kickboxing six days/week.  I was a lean, mean, fighting machine (well, not really, but it rhymes).
  3. My early career goal was to become a social worker.  I spent my first couple of years in college on this career path. 
  4. My only sibling, Becky, was killed in a tragic car accident at age 6.  I was in the car.  Our birthdays are 364 days apart (mine is 3-17-69 and hers is 3-16-70).  I miss her.
  5. I spent 5 years working at a group home for developmentally disabled adults before I was hired as a teacher.
  6. I'm scared to death to walk on high school bleachers.
  7. My strange addiction:  Real Housewives of ANYWHERE (O.C., N.J., Atlanta)
  8. My next strange addiction:  HGTV (Love House Hunters, Property Brothers, Love It or List It and so many more).
  9. I could live on eating cereal alone every day for the rest of my life.
  10. I don't untie my shoes when I take them off.
  11. I hope I can be the kind of parent to my kids that my parents were to me.

11 Questions for me (From Starr):
  1. What made you want to go into education? I was inspired by my middle school math teacher, Johanna Brown.  She was creating a culture of learning back in the 80's with me and my peers.  Our paths crossed again my second year of college where she was my math teacher again.  I realized that I wanted to inspire others the way she inspired me.
  2. Which teacher made the greatest impact and why? I answered this in #1.
  3. What is your favorite professional learning?  Edcamps!  My first one was nErDcampbc last summer and I was hooked.
  4. If you could recommend one professional book, what would it be and why?  Only one? Hmmm, I would recommend Choice Words by Peter Johnston because it gives us the language and research to build healthy learning communities.
  5. What’s your favorite chat and why? When does it happen? After #COLchat and #SBGchat (*wink), my favorite chat is #satchat or #satchatwc.  These chats were my firsts as a newbie to Twitter and connected me to so many amazing educators around the world.  Both take place on Saturday mornings. 
  6. What do you like to do on your “free” time? Ha, what's that?
  7. What is your most vivid childhood memory?  My fondest childhood memory is playing Sonny and Cher with my sister.  I was older so I made her be Sonny and we would do concerts for my parents.
  8. What’s one topic you could write about every day?  I could write about my children every day.  They help me to remember what's important in life and I am blessed to be their mom.
  9. What’s your favorite meal?  Spaghetti and meatballs
  10. Did you play any sport as a kid? if yes, which one(s)?  I played softball, volleyball, ringette (hockey for girls), and was on the swim team.
  11. What would you like to share that you haven’t already?  I need to write every day to sharpen my skills and deepen my reflection about teaching/learning.  I wanted to choose this for my nerdlution, but I'm afraid that I won't be able to do it.
11 Questions for me (From Drew):
  1. What is your favorite movie of all time?  The Green Mile
  2. If you could go to have attended any concert anytime in history, what would it have been?  I would have seen Pink's performance at the 2010 Grammy's.  Check out the video here.
  3. What do you do for fun?  Hobby?  I like to spend time with my wolf pack (my 3 best friends that anyone could have).  We enjoy shopping, going to comedy shows, or just hanging at one of our houses for a girls' night in.
  4. What two guests would make the best comedic pair as co-hosts for the Oscars?  I enjoy Tina Fey and Amy Poehler (girl power).
  5. Cat, Dog or Goldfish? Why… Cat!  When I am stressed and my cat, Marley, jumps in my lap, my blood pressure goes down just by petting her. 
  6. How do you caffeinate? I used to drink a fountain diet coke every day for several years.  Last year I gave that up and became addicted to coffee.  Now, I have one or the other only once/week.
  7. Favorite twitter chat?  See #5 from Starr's questions above.
  8. Best place you ever vacationed?  Ft. Lauderdale, FL with my husband and kids.  We went there about 4 years ago and had the most amazing time because of the beautiful weather, upgrades, and awesome people we met.
  9. Best book you’ve read in 2013? I just finished reading The First Phone Call From Heaven by Mitch Albom and am still reflecting on the lessons learned. 
  10. Favorite television shows?  Pretty much any reality TV (I know that most of these shows are not real).
  11. What is one thing you never/rarely share that you are exceptionally proud of?  I can wrap my arms into a weird pretzel shape and then put them over my head.  It's rare that I meet someone else who can do this.  (not sure I'm proud of that)
11 Bloggers that I believe deserve recognition:
  1. Colby Sharp's blog- Love when he writes about his 5 things
  2. Katherine Sokolowski's blog- I am waiting for her book!
  3. Chris Lehman's blog- I want to write with the style and voice that he does.
  4. Ben Gilpin's blog- Inspirational! 
  5. Tony Sinanis' blog- I feel like I have met Tony by reading his blog posts. 
  6. Tom Schimmer's blog- Have shared his posts with colleagues
  7. Charity Stephen's blog- A girl after my own heart
  8. Mark Clement's blog- He is an Edunator, ya!
  9. Shawn Storm's blog- A fellow positive deviant
  10. Rafranz Davis' blog- Find myself saying "Amen" after reading her posts!
  11. Dennis Sparks' blog- So many great entries to share!
11 Questions for my nominees:
  1. Coke or Pepsi?
  2. Are you a morning person or a night owl?
  3. Tell about a student who has influenced you the most and why.
  4. What are your top 3 favorite professional books?
  5. Who have you met in real life that you follow on Twitter?
  6. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would you change and why?
  7. So far, the highlight of my career in education has been...
  8. If I was a fruit I would be a ___________ because_____
  9. My most influential teacher was...
  10. In 10 years, I see myself....
  11. How do you balance family and work?
I share this blog with Adam Hartley and Rod Hetherton.  If it wasn't for these positive deviants, I probably would not have started writing blog posts at all.  Thank you for reading and spreading the sunshine in my life!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

How Do I Give Them All What They Need?-Part 1

By Michele Corbat

This post is the first in a series about my journey with Teacher Labs.  

Last school year, my school district went through a revision process to create new vision, mission and belief statements.  It had been many years since these statements were created and we seemed to lack direction.  Our GPS was not set.  We did not have a common destination.
"If a man knows not what harbor he seeks, any wind is the right wind."  Roman philosopher Seneca
After 10 months of research, discussions, reviewing our data, staff/parent/student/community surveys, and school board presentations, we developed powerful new mission, vision and belief statements.

MISSION: Swartz Creek Community Schools inspires our learners to embrace challenges, set goals, grow their talents, and realize their dreams for success in a global society.

VISION: Swartz Creek Community Schools provides a world class education through innovative experiences while developing the unique talents of our learners.
- We believe in a culture of learning.
- We believe that student learning should be the primary goal for all decisions made affecting the school district.
- We believe the climate and culture of the school is engaging, nurturing, challenging, and inspires students to express their personal ideas.
- We believe curriculum is integrated, differentiated, meaningful, and pertinent to life.
- We believe in culturally relevant education that provides the knowledge and skills to meet the global challenges and opportunities of the 21st Century.
- We believe in continuous improvement informed by critical evaluation and reflection.
- We believe expanding technologies enrich how teachers teach and students learn.
- We believe in building relationships and sharing resources with our community, parents, and staff members.

Why Teacher Labs?

However, merely drafting these statements and putting them in writing was not enough.  To realize our district's mission, we are putting these words into action. One way we are doing this is by implementing job-embedded professional development that we refer to as Teacher Labs.  Teacher Labs connect directly to our mission statement and many of our belief statements. 

Effective professional development and Teacher Labs are:
  • Intensive
  • sustained over time 
  • embedded
  • directly related to work with students
  • structured to regularly engage teachers in local PLCs where problems of practice are solved through collaboration
  • follow-up, reinforcement, apply in new contexts
The bottom line is that professional development is about raising the level of learning for students and must include collaboration and feedback.  Teacher Labs include these key pieces.

How are Teacher Labs organized?

We are fortunate to have support in implementing Teacher Labs.  Lisa Madden was instrumental in getting Teacher Labs going in her previous position and has brought her expertise to us as our County Coordinator for Curriculum and Special Projects.  Not only is she helping us learn about the structure of Teacher Labs, she is also teaching Sandy Cook and me how to be facilitators.  We are using the gradual release of responsibility model to learn how to facilitate labs. 

A lab classroom includes a host teacher, a facilitator and observers.  The host is not an expert and is willing to share his/her practice publicly.  The facilitator organizes and communicates the schedule, prepares paperwork and materials, and leads collaborative discussions before and after observations.  Initially, we are meeting in half day increments.  Our focus is tier 1 reading instruction.  We have a pretty solid MTSS system, however we believe that tier 1 is the foundation. This foundation must be solid for our students and all of our elementary teachers are participating in the lab classroom experience this year.

 The components of the half day include:
  • Pre-Observation Meeting
    • Establish Norms
    • Establish focus for inquiry
    • Observers share successes, challenges and goals
  • Observation
    • Observers visit host's classroom as a 'fly on the wall'
    • Take notes for feedback and reflection
  • Debriefing
    • Observers name and notice
    • Host reflects on noticings and verbalizes intentions
    • Observers ask questions
    • Host answers
    • All reflect-making intentional plans for our practice

What have I learned so far?

The lab experience has been one of the most beneficial experiences for me.  I have been out of the classroom for 8 years working in an instructional coach type role.  Since I work in more than one school, I collaborate with and support nearly 70 teachers.  I want to do my very best to meet their needs.  When I was participating in my first Teacher Lab experience this past week, my colleagues seemed to have one common goal.  That is, they want to be able to give ALL of their students what they need.  This is my goal as well.  I want to be able to give ALL of my colleagues what they need.

Students in our classrooms come from middle- and upper-class income levels, from low-income households, from families living in poverty, or from families who are English language learners.  They come from two-parent households, single parent homes and homes where they are being raised by grandparents.  Some have parents or other family members who have read to them since infancy or who have used the television or video games as 'babysitters'.  Their needs are diverse and the task of giving every single one of them what they need can be daunting. 

Because of these diverse needs of our students, I have learned that a Culture of Learning is more critical than ever.  Teacher Labs are a Culture of Learning.  One of my colleagues said it best in the answer to this question s/he provided on a survey about the lab classroom experience. 

Survey Question:  What was the most beneficial part of the professional learning experience?
Getting the chance to reflect on my practice, both by examining a colleague's practice and by being observed and hearing feedback from colleagues.  This is a profession where it is easy to fall into survival mode, and the opportunity to step back and think with people I respect and admire is really invaluable.
I believe that the lab classroom structure can help me to give ALL my colleagues what they need.  Teaching Labs could be set up for other content areas such as math or science.  They could be organized so teachers observe how their colleagues are providing students the knowledge and skills to meet the global challenges and opportunities of the 21st Century.  The lab classroom experience can occur at any level, elementary, middle or high school.  Through this differentiation, I can help all of my colleagues grow as professionals.

After Thanksgiving, I will begin facilitating Teaching Labs while Lisa observes me.  I look forward to the feedback she will provide me to become more skilled in working with adult learners.  I will continue to reflect in order to create professional learning communities for my colleagues where inquiry and collaboration result in a commitment to continuous improvement.

How about you?  How do you give them all what they need? 

A community of readers.  A culture of learning.
Deb Roda's 3rd grade class

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Start A Chain Reaction: Be A Big Dose of Vitamin C

By Michele Corbat

"I have this theory that if one person can go out of their way to show compassion, then it will start a chain reaction of the same. People will never know how far a little kindness can go."~Rachel Scott
Rachel Scott was the first student killed at Columbine High School in 1999.  She was only seventeen years old, just a child.  Shortly before her death she wrote a paper for one of her classes entitled, "My Ethics, My Codes of Life" which outlined her beliefs about how life should be lived.  Not only did she believe these words, she lived them each and every day with the way she treated people; with kindness, respect, and compassion.

Last year I had the privilege of learning more about Rachel when a colleague of mine brought Rachel's Challenge to our school district.  I attended a community event and learned how Rachel inspired her father and step-mother to share her passion and story with others to make the world a better place.

I believe that Rachel was wise beyond her years.  At only seventeen, she knew what mattered most in life.  She knew the power of simple compliments and how acts of kindness would make a difference in the world. 

Thankfully, I was reminded of Rachel Scott this past week by a dear friend and colleague.  As wonderful as teaching can be, it can also be stressful and demanding, requiring you to put in long hours. Even before the students arrive on the first day, my colleagues work for countless hours meeting with one another, on their own time, to plan and prepare lessons to build community in their classrooms.  They spend days in their classrooms arranging and rearranging the furniture to create an environment that will enable a culture of learning.  Once the students arrive, educators arrive early and stay late to plan lessons, attend staff meetings, and complete paperwork. Educators go into the profession because they care very deeply about the work they do and the results they strive to see in their students. When you care that deeply, you’re going to feel it.

My colleague, Tonya Brownfield, could sense this stress around our school last week and decided to do something about it.  She created a "Wow Notebook".  This notebook is a place to write a note to someone who has 'wowed' you; someone who has made a positive impact on you or others, and leave it in a place the person will find it.  I found this notebook on my desk Friday afternoon.  I opened it to a page with a letter anonymously written from a colleague to me.  This letter touched my heart and reminded me that I matter.  Then I read another letter in the notebook from another colleague to a teacher in my building.  It was a letter that told this person what an amazing educator she is and that her efforts are not going unnoticed.  I had a lump in my throat as I read these letters.

I turned the page and wrote my letter.  As I wrote the letter, I felt the stress leaving my body.  I felt a sense of calmness and a wave of happiness come over me.  I was excited to let another colleague know how much she means to our school community.  I can't wait for her to find the notebook on her desk tomorrow morning!  I hope that it will bring a smile to her face and remind her just how important she is.

Because of Rachel Scott and Tonya Brownfield, I am going to pay it forward.  I work at two schools and I plan to start a "You Matter" notebook at the other school.  I want my colleagues to feel loved, appreciated and noticed.  This notebook is one simple way to feed the positive dog.  I hope this will help my colleagues keep a positive frame of mind and will ease the stress.  I hope it will be a gentle reminder to each and every person who reads it of just how much they matter.

Jon Gordon says, "We have the choice to be negatively contagious or positively contagious.  We can be a germ to others or a big dose of vitamin C."  Which will you choose?  How will you start your own chain reaction?

Monday, September 2, 2013

My Vision For The New School Year

By Michele Corbat

Tomorrow I will begin my 22nd year as an educator.  I am still as excited as I was the first year.  I take that back.  I am still as excited as I was on my first day of kindergarten!  Tonight will surely be a night of sleeplessness.  Tossing and turning.  Thinking about all of the opportunities and challenges that will come my way.  This year is different however.  This year I am influenced by the writings of Jon Gordon and Dave Burgess.  These edunators (thanks for this brilliant word Mark Clements) have inspired me to answer the tests that will surely come this school year with positive energy, optimism, and enthusiasm.  This year I will be a purple cow.  I will drive my energy bus fueled with my One Word:  Joy.

I could continue this blog explaining my vision for this school year through my eyes.  Instead, I have decided to write through the eyes of a fictional new colleague.  Dave Burgess describes this letter-writing exercise through the eyes of a fictional student in his book Teach Like A Pirate .  This letter is what I want all of my colleagues to experience this year because of their relationships with me. 

Dear Corbat (My closest friends refer to me as 'Corbat', so this fictional colleague would too):

I heard about you from some of our colleagues.  They told me that you bring your passion for teaching, leading, and learning with you wherever you go.  They said that you are one of the most approachable educators that they have ever worked with and that you are a 'go to person'. Over and over I was told that you love to share, collaborate, and learn with us.  That you encourage others and will even cheer for anyone who is running through the hall to get somewhere quickly by yelling, "Go, go, go!  I believe in you!  You can do it!" I thought to myself, "Is this chick crazy?"

Then I met you.  They were right.  You model dedication to students, staff and to our school district day in and day out through your actions and words.  You are humble enough to follow and learn from others, yet confident enough to teach and lead others.  You treat everyone as if they are your family. I feel the love coming through from you when you listen to me, encourage me, or problem-solve with me.  I can tell that you are engaged fully in our conversations, just like the quote on your wall says:  "Wherever you are, be all there." 

I know that you understand the value in taking risks, making mistakes and learning from them.  And I love that you encourage me to take risks, all the while being there to support me.  Corbat, there is this "we can do anything" type of attitude that radiates from you.  This attitude is contagious!  You are so fun to work with and have an amazing sense of humor.  You make school an amazing place for all of us, students and staff alike.  I am excited to work with you this year and in years to come.  You have a genuine love for education, children and for a culture of learning!

Your new colleague

This is my vision for this school year.  When I lack motivation or inspiration, I will re-read this post and re-dedicate myself to fulfilling my vision.  My GPS is set and my energy bus is fueled and ready to go!  This is going to be an AMAZING school year. 

Note:  Special thanks to my friends and colleagues Jodie Morgan and Tonya Brownfield for the real letters of recommendation you wrote for me as I have used your words in this fictional letter.  I love you both!

Friday, July 26, 2013

We Are All In This Together

by Michele Corbat

Today is #FF (Follow Friday) on Twitter.  Basically, this is a way to promote an interesting Twitter user and to recommend other Tweeps follow him or her.  #FF is one way I build my PLN (Personal Learning Network). It is how I connect with amazing educators all over the world.  People who are game changers, driving change in challenging circumstances.  People who are creating cultures of learning.

What, exactly, is a PLN? 

If you follow Jerry Blumengarten on Twitter, you know that he is the RESOURCE KING (if you are not following him, stop reading this and start now).  In fact, he has an entire page on his website dedicated to PLNs. Check it out here.  According to Wikipedia, a PLN is:

an informal learning network that consists of the people a learner interacts with and derives knowledge from in a personal learning environment. In a PLN, a person makes a connection with another person with the specific intent that some type of learning will occur because of that connection.

My PLN has changed my life.  I have interacted with and derived knowledge from educators who are leading the way in education.  These 'edunators' (a term invented by teacher Mark Clements) implement genius hour, 20% time or project based learning. They organize and attend Edcamps, flip their classrooms, moderate educational chats, read books every day and share all of this knowledge with me through their tweets and reflections in their blogs.  They have deepened my understanding of standards based grading/learning, visible thinking, and augmented reality. They inspire me to take risks and to set goals that I may not have set before connecting with them.  It was through the support of my PLN that I was encouraged to begin blogging and to co-moderate #COLchat. 

Educator, author and consultant, Angela Maiers, has said, "The smartest person in the room IS the room."  Together we are smarter.  She wrote about it here. I wish that I would have joined Twitter years ago to collaborate and build my PLN.  I wish that I would have had a PLN when I was still a classroom teacher. I can't imagine how amazing that would be--to be able to attend an Edcamp or read a blog post and then implement what I learn with MY students the next day!  The good news is that now I do have a PLN.

My School PLN

I left the classroom eight years ago to accept a new challenge and stretch myself in a leadership role.  My district created support positions for teachers called Literacy Coaches.  I was one of the first coaches in my school district.  In all honesty, there have been many ups and downs with this role and at times it has been very lonely.  I am not an administrator.  I am not a classroom teacher.  Some may feel that I can't possibly understand the stress or struggles a classroom teacher faces today since I am not in their shoes.  They are right.  I can't know exactly what it feels like.  However, the expectations I set for myself are extremely high.  If a teacher is struggling with new curriculum or teaching strategies, I will do whatever it takes to support him or her.  The staff and students that I get to work with on a day-to-day basis matter and I want them to know that I care.  While my responsibilities and title have changed over the years, I am still blessed to be connected with hundreds of educators and students in my school district.  These connections have allowed me to establish a school PLN.

Building trusting relationships was and is my number one priority.  I wish that I could say that I have trusting relationships with every one of my colleagues, but I don't...YET.  The educators who I HAVE connected with are part of my school PLN.  Together we set learning goals, create implementation plans to reach the goals, implement these plans (my favorite part of this is when I get to co-teach) and give each other feedback.  We share resources, ideas and strategies.  We recommend books to each other.  We cry together and laugh together. 

My goal for the 2013-14 school year is to increase my school PLN because 'the smartest person in the room IS the room'.  In order to do that I will continue to work at my number one priority:  building relationships.  I will listen without judging.  I will accept others' points of view even when I don’t accept what the person says. I want the person who is speaking to feel like he or she has been heard. By focusing on the person’s words and determining what the speaker is telling or asking for, then summarizing or asking for clarification, I will become a listener who isn’t judgmental.  I will continue to practice the C.A.R.E. strategies I wrote about here.  Then the true collaboration can begin and I can't wait.  My PLN is going to bring our school district's mission statement to life!
 Mission:  Swartz Creek Community Schools inspires our learners to embrace challenges, set goals, grow their talents, and realize their dreams for success in a global society.

We are all in this together! 

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Powerful Conversations via Twitter

By Rodney Hetherton

I was thinking this morning about the @RafranzDavis blog "Not Easily Offended on Twitter" when I received a challenge on one of my morning tweets.  And guess what?  I wasn't offended, either.

This is the beauty of building a PLN.  There are great minds all over the globe thinking about how to make this world (mine focused mainly around education) a better place.  When I get into a debate or conversation with someone on Twitter,  the fact is I don't know them... unless they are from my local PLN (hey, #swcrkPLN you rock!)  The debate from this morning actually came from someone I had never heard of, wasn't following or being followed.

 You have to assume that these are respectable people you are conversing with, probably tops in their profession trying to  learn and grow, just like you and me.  The conversations seem to become more alive and more real on Twitter.  It has me wondering if it is paradoxical that people we don't really know are, in fact, engaging us more authentically than the people we do know?

I wish our local conversations were more authentic like Twitter.  Too bad our own interactions within our classrooms, buildings, and  districts aren't fashioned in the same sense.  We often let our relationships make tough conversations and debates personal.  Don't get me wrong, relationships are everything!  The are the prefix to all other educational initiatives.  It is the taking the conversation personally that interferes with the authenticity.

That is why I am truly excited to be reading "Fierce Conversations" this summer as part of an admin leadership book study.  I am hoping to find more gems about being upfront, honest, authentic, and engaging in our "live" conversations.  Not taking words personally is a hard one for a great many of us.  I have learned, so far, that being fierce just means being passionate and honest with ourselves and those we interact with (at school and home).

Back to Twitter.  I am just amazed at the dialogue on Twitter.  I would love to see more of my colleagues jump on board.  I encourage you to encourage others to give it a try; show them the spice of life.   I would hope we could get to that point of authentic conversation with all our colleagues in education, especially the ones we stand next to, shoulder to shoulder, for 40 or 50 hours a week.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Are You Too Blessed to Be Stressed?

By Michele Corbat

Jon Gordon recently wrote a blog post entitled: The Power of a Positive Educator and shared seven ways we can choose to be a positive educator.  One of the ways resonated with me as I had read about it earlier this year in his books The Energy Bus and The Positive Dog.  I was putting it into practice during the school year and it was making a difference.  It is described here:

Take a Daily Thank you Walk – It’s simple, it’s powerful, and it’s a great way to feed yourself with positivity. How does it work? You simply take a walk . . . outside, in a mall, at your school, on a treadmill, or anywhere else you can think of, and think about all the things, big and small, that you are grateful for. The research shows you can’t be stressed and thankful at the same time so when you combine gratitude with physical exercise, you give yourself a double boost of positive energy. You flood your brain and body with positive emotions and natural antidepressants that uplift you rather than the stress hormones that drain your energy and slowly kill you. By the time you get to school you are ready for a great day.

This week has been extremely hot in Michigan.  Actual air temperatures have been 90+ degrees with heat indices of 100+.  We don't have a pool, but we have a very good family friend who does.  My boys and I have gone swimming to beat the heat every day this week.  I decided to make the most of this time by getting in some exercise in between games of Donut or judging cannonballs.  This was my 'Daily Thank you Swim'.  As I swam laps, I thought about all of the blessings in my life.  They are countless!

I have a wonderful husband who works hard 6-7 days/week to provide for his family.  He is a good, honest man with a strong character.  He works hard and he plays hard.  I am blessed that he is my life partner for richer or poorer, better or worse, in sickness and in health, til death do us part.

My husband, Jon, playing on the go-kart

 My children are healthy, smart, funny, and kind.  They bring me more joy than I ever dreamed possible.  When I was seven years old, my younger sister died in a tragic accident.  She was my only sibling and was only six years old (we are 364 days apart).  On the day each of my boys were born, I cried tears of joy and told my parents that I already loved them so much.  I can't imagine ever losing them.  I am blessed for every day that I have with them.    

My boys.  My life.
I only live 10 minutes away from my parents.  I wouldn't have it any other way.  They love me selflessly and have gone out of their way to show it my entire life.  My Mom will buy extra groceries when she finds a good sale and give them to my family.  She is an excellent cook is always willing to share meals with us (she cooks for six, even though it's only her and my Dad).  My Dad is retired now and has come to my house every day to take my youngest son to school.  He knows how busy my husband and I are so he takes care of odd jobs around my house.  My parents support me, love me and believe in me no matter what.  I am blessed to have such amazing parents.

Mom and Dad with my youngest on his First Communion
I am a teacher in the school district where I was a student.  I get to work with and learn with people who were my teachers, my peers or my students.  I get to go to work every day and collaborate with them.  They inspire me.  They support me when I'm struggling and celebrate with me when we succeed. We are a family.  I am proud of my school district and excited about the future.  We are building a culture of learning.  I am blessed to be a part of it.

There are so many more people and things that I am grateful for in my life.  I will continue to reflect on them each and every day.  I choose to feed myself with positivity and focus on my blessings.  I will be too blessed to be stressed. How about you?  What are your blessings?   
"Reflect upon your present blessings--of which every man has many--not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some."~Charles Dickens


Friday, July 12, 2013

5 Ways Edcamps are a Culture of Learning

By Michele Corbat

7-11 was a special day for me.  I didn't get a free slurpee, but I did get something else for free that was so much better.  7-11 was the day I experienced my first Edcamp.   Eight of my colleagues and I met at 6 A.M. to make the two hour drive to Battle Creek, MI for nErDcampbc.  Even though it was bright and early, we chattered the entire way there about books we've read,  how Twitter has helped us learn and grow, our families, and our feelings of anticipation as we got closer to our destination.  We had our own little culture of learning in that car and I was blessed to be a part of it. 

Throughout the day, between the outstanding sessions and my tornado of tweets about them, my mind kept wandering to all the ways this experience IS a culture of learning.  There are probably more than five ways, but these are the ones that stick out in my mind.

5.  Edcamps build excitement.

As soon as we arrived, we 'nerded out'.  The car was not even at a complete stop and car doors were flung open.  Maybe a couple of people even ran, or jogged, to the registration table. *wink*
A culture of learning should be like this.  Can you imagine students or educators arriving to school each day like this?

4.  Edcamps provide choice.

A critical element in a culture of learning is choice.  Learners should have the ability to take charge of their learning. Edcamps do just this.  We spent almost 30 minutes in the morning and again after lunch brainstorming topics that we wanted to learn about.  These topics were turned into sessions and added to the session board.  The session board was like the menu at Dairy Queen.  I wanted one of everything!  Our choices continued in the sessions.  If we joined a room and found that the topic wasn't for us, we could move on to another room. Autonomy at it's finest.

3.  Edcamps encourage risk-taking.

My hat is off to everyone who stepped up to lead a session.  There were over 200 people in attendance and educators volunteered to facilitate sessions without any preparation time.  They put themselves out there and were vulnerable.  It's scary to speak in front of a group of smart people. I am especially proud of my colleagues Martie Piechowski (@smartiepies) and Tonya Brownfield (@TonyaBrownfield).  These ladies were encouraged by some other attendees to lead a discussion on how to encourage reluctant readers.  They were nervous about this and took the risk.  They facilitated a great discussion and kept notes here.

2.  Edcamps inspire learners.

At the end of the day, participants were asked to come to the microphone and share what they learned.  I was inspired by the passion of each person who shared and especially touched by Colby Sharp's students.  These girls spoke about how much they enjoyed the book talk session.  I was fortunate to be a part of that session and they were blowing me away with their book recommendations.  One of the girls told me that she read 150 books as a student in Colby's class (where a culture of learning obviously exists).

These girls were on fire!  Colby Sharp's students

1.   Edcamps build relationships.

The best part of nErDcampbc was connecting with people.  I had time to talk with my colleagues about life and learning.  We created memories that I will cherish forever.  I was able to meet the faces of the brains that I have followed and admired on Twitter.  And as a bonus, I met so many new people who I have added to my PLN.

I'm looking forward to nErDcampbc 2014.  If you haven't experienced an Edcamp, then you don't know what you're missing.  Give it a try.  You won't be sorry.  You can find a list of Edcamps near you here.  Who knows, maybe an Edcamp that I help organize will be on this list one day! 

Swartz Creek teachers with nErDcampbc organizers

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Christmas In July

by Michele Corbat 

Remember what it was like when we were kids in the days leading up to Christmas morning?  I kept a paper chain in my room to count down the days and removed a link each morning.  It seemed like it would NEVER get here.  Forget about sleeping through the night on Christmas Eve.  My mind would not shut down because I knew that the next day would be wonderful.

Today was like Christmas morning for me.  It was the day that #COLchat launched.  I didn't keep a paper chain, but I was wide awake last night thinking about it.  Sleeping was just not possible.  Too many questions were running through my mind.  I was afraid of failure.

Will people really join and participate?  
Are the questions going to elicit good 'conversation'?  
What if my technology crashes?

My boys on Christmas morning
 #COLchat has been in the works for about a month.  It started with a Twitter conversation I had  with Rodney Hetherton and Adam Hartley.  Here's a portion:

Shortly after this conversation, the work began.  We created a Google Doc to map out possible topics and questions for each chat.  Revisions to the questions were happening even this morning.   We were worried that only a handful of people would join and we had only planned on five questions.  A question tweeted every 12 minutes, would that be too much time in between questions?  More questions were added. 

As it turned out, the first chat was a great success.  Not only did people join, but #COLchat was trending in the number one spot on Twitter.  My PLN was rocking!  Educators were sharing components of a COL and explaining how to create one.  My twitter feed was on fire.  I was favoriting and retweeting thoughts from smart people.  I felt like I did as child on Christmas morning, busting open gifts and anxiously awaiting the next present.  Because that is exactly what each person did for me.  Gave me a gift.  A gift of knowledge to deepen my understanding of a culture of learning.  And I LOVE learning.  I am addicted to it.

Thank you PLN.  Thank you for sharing with me every day.  Thank you for keeping me enthused and motivated to learn more.  I have so much to learn.  I would like to especially thank Rod and Adam.  Thank you for taking an idea and turning it into a reality.  And thank you for tweeting for me when I ended up in Twitter jail.

I am looking forward to the next #COLchat and the next one after that.  I hope the momentum continues.  There are sure to be glitches and we will work them out.  We will learn from our failures.  For now, I will reflect on a successful chat!  Oh, and if you weren't able to join, then please check out the archive here.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Caring: A Building Block to Relationships

by Michele Corbat

We all need connections. We all need to feel cared about and beautiful things come when these essential foundations are in place. According to
Abraham Maslow, in his 1943 paper "A Theory of Human Motivation": humans need to feel a sense of belonging and acceptance among their social groups, regardless if these groups are large or small. I find this need to belong, this need to feel cared about is especially important in schools.  Students, teachers, support staff, and yes, even administrators want to feel and know that they belong.  That someone cares. In my opinion, developing healthy relationships is the most important part of an educator’s job.
Photo credit Jack McGee

The topic of relationships has been on my mind for many months.  It seems that everywhere I turn, I am seeing or hearing or reading something about the importance of establishing relationships.  These are some tweets that I have favorited in recent months:

I recently read the book Teach Like A Pirate by Dave Burgess.  You can learn more about the book on his website here. In the book, Dave tells the story of buying a new Honda Odyssey minivan.  On the day he buys it, something amazing happens.  He sees thousands and thousands of Odysseys everywhere.  He writes:

The brain learns to attend to stimuli that it believes are important to you and to delete, or filter out, everything else.  Until we needed a minivan, Odysseys weren't important to me.  I never focused on them, or even gave them a second thought, so they just registered to my brain as "car" in the generic.  Once I had an Odyssey and it was part of my life, my brain automatically attended to them and registered them as something special and different from just any car.


The experience Dave described is much like what I have been experiencing most of this school year except my 'minivan' has been 'relationships'.  I was a classroom teacher for 13 years and made it my mission to make sure my students knew that I cared about them.  I have been out of the classroom for 8 years now and while I still care about students, my role is now more adult-centered.   Relationships are still my number one priority.  I want people to know that I care about them. 

Here is an easy acronym to remember to show others that you care.

Communicate:  Ask your colleagues about their family, their hobbies, their weekend or a special event they attended. Your genuine interest causes people to feel valued and cared about. Don't go too long with no communication. Wherever there is a void in communication, negativity will fill it. Jon Gordon wrote about the importance of communication in his weekly newsletter here.  I know communication is important and still struggle with it.  I struggle  because in our busy lives, I tend to use email for communication more often than face to face conversations.  Emails can be misinterpreted.  Whenever I fear that information could be misunderstood with an email, I will strive to have face to face conversations with people.

Act:  It's one thing to tell someone you care about him/her.  It's completely different to show it.  There are so many ways you can show colleagues you care.  Actions speak louder than words. 
  • Praise something your coworker has done well. Identify the specific actions that you found admirable.
  • Say thank you or write a thank you note. Show your appreciation for their hard work and contributions.
  • Ask "What can I do to help you today?"
  • Admit when you are wrong and apologize
  • Know their interests well enough to present a small gift occasionally
  • Create traditions in your school
Remember:  This one is challenging for me the older I get.  I do my best to remember all sorts of information about my co-workers: stories they share about their family, favorite foods/songs/books/movies, and struggles they have shared with me.  When you can bring up a topic in a future conversation that someone has shared with you in the past, it shows that you listen.  Listening is critical in developing relationships.  As for remembering birthdays, thankfully my district has a cool way of helping us remember.  Every morning at 7:00 an uplifting quote is sent by email to all staff.  Staff birthdays for that day are included.  I enjoy sending a birthday greeting to my colleagues.

Engage: A colleague whom I often go to when I am struggling with life gave me some great advice a few months ago.  She said, "Wherever you are, be all there."  Sometimes we are so wrapped up in the minutiae of daily life that we don't give the people around us the full attention they deserve.  Our minds are in the future or the past.  We spend time on our cell phones or iPads when we could be talking to the people in our presence.  Engaging in the moment is critical to developing healthy relationships and showing others that you care.  

Caring is a building block for developing relationships and a healthy school culture. I want my school to be a place where there is a sense of community, a sense of family.  After all, we are all in this together!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Getting Connected – Relationships Matter!

 By: Rodney R. Hetherton

Getting Connected

Have you checked your connections lately? Admit it. We all freak out just a little bit when facing the loss of power on our smart phones, iPods, tablets, and other electronic devices…as if the world is going to end (or something much worse). However, I am not talking about checking Internet connections, but the connections with the people who encompass our school communities.

What exactly is happening with those people who surround our school environments, especially when we are not plugged in to the key relationships? Relationships are the connections that make this whole thing called “school” work. Parents, students, teachers, support staff, and administration are all intricate pieces of a human puzzle that is very fluid and ever changing.

Yes, they Matter!

You might be the really well-researched leader in your district, maybe there is a hand full of degrees hanging on the wall, or you might be the most extremely organized protocol guru to ever run a school. So what? Is that what really matters? What makes the school machine, not such a machine? Relationships…

 Schools need to be a place of creativity, inspiration, and nurturing.  They are the place where we expect talents to mature and children to grow. Relationships are the key ingredient keeping school culture positive and engaging. Relationships are what connect people and build trust. Relationships are the glue that binds us together.

Having authentic connections with your staff and community opens many doors of opportunity for you, the school leader. Take the time to build trust, and people will tend to believe you and, more importantly, to believe in you. Once connected, people will open up and tell all the happenings in the school, the struggles of students, and the craziness of their own lives. As connections with the school leader grow, empowerment blossoms. Transparency, authenticity, and connectivity are vital characteristics of successful relationships and a successful school environment.

Selling the Power of Relationships…

When making the dive, head first and blindfolded, into school leadership ten years ago, my first school leadership mentors sold me on the power of relationships. I had read somewhere that the most important thing I could do was build relationships. There was, however, no relationship handbook to read. Rather, my mentors were authentic and personable in their approach with me. They took the time to reach out to me as a person first, and then as a learner and leader.

I became an assistant principal at the ripe old age of twenty-nine, and I was a bit green. I consider myself extremely lucky that those first two mentors were tuned into relationship building. As a newbie, I was more than eager to test my skill. I met with my principal once a week for building issues and the deputy superintendent once a month for curricular issues. More often than not, we talked about life issues. How is your wife? How are the kids? How is your back? Is the drive bothering you? Knowing that these two individuals cared about me as an individual was all the motivation I needed to make sure I succeeded.

When we weren’t discussing my life (or their lives); both of these talented individuals would lay out situations for me to ponder. We would verbally walk through them; discussing and critiquing. This helped me understand the human element: what was really going on in the child's life, what this teacher was dealing with at home, what the previous school experience of that parent had been. Both were excellent role models in being compassionate with the person, but assertive with the situation.

Build Them!
You can't be superman to everyone, but there is almost certainly   someone who needs your help right now - a librarian, a bus driver, a parent, a child, a teacher. Cancer, death, pregnancy, finances, transient students, job loss, surgeries, and on and on. Life happens! Our buildings are full of life, and we must embrace that life!
If you feel you haven’t been connecting well lately, try the following ways to quickly get reconnected:
  1. Go talk to someone with whom you haven’t interacted with lately and ask them how they are doing.
  2. Commit random (or purposeful) acts of kindness. There is always that one person with whom you can’t help but feel irritated. Make it your mission to win them over.
  3. Teach someone to solve their own problem. Lay out the scenario, and have them walk through the choices. Suggest some different perspectives to analyze.
  4. Be open and honest with the people in your school community. Build a rapport by doing what you say you are going to do and being who you say you are.
  5. Probably the most important thing you can do is listen to others. Be present. Turn away from all technology and give your full attention.
There is no better way to connect with people than by building the bridges of a relationship. Finding common ground and opening yourself up to those around you will build the positive climate you need to succeed. Be the model. Be the builder.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Leaders and Learners Blogging for Leaders and Learners

Welcome to the Learners' Perspective. Leaders and learners blogging for leaders and learners.  We believe that a culture of learning is better than a culture of compliancy any day of the week!

The learners blogging weekly are:
Michele Corbat
Rodney Hetherton
Adam Hartley
and other special bloggers that will write from time to time.

Our posts will focus on building a culture of learning within schools and organizations.  Being compliant has its benefits, but not when it comes to educating our children.  This blog will include perspectives to help model what we call a culture of learning.  You will not see anyone settling for the sake of being compliant.

Positive deviants needed!

Enjoy and come back often.

The Learners' Perspective Team,

Michele, Rod, Adam