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!