Sunday, December 6, 2015

The Christmas Letter

Facebook posts are full of Christmas trees going up and bright lights filling the rooms with joy. 
Our family tree is up as well, and the ornaments full of memories are hanging from the branches.   However, if you see our tree you will notice a slightly different aspect. Our tree is also filling up with letters wrapped in bows.  As my husband and I do not exchange gifts of a traditional sense. Instead, we write a letter to one another about our year together. 


You can see the different seasons of our life in the paper and bows. The letters started out on lined notebook paper, then typing paper, moved to construction paper, and in the past few years we have graduated to "fancy" paper.  The letters even tell a story without reading them. For instance, the "year of the scissors." One set of letters is cut up because that was the year Lilyan decided scissors were "too cool." She cut the blinds, curtains, sheets, her hair (into a mullet), and anything else she could find. 

The letters are a reflection of the year and the wonderful things and heartaches we have experienced as a couple and family. We wrap them in a pretty bow and on Christmas morning they are placed on the tree. 

After our three children open the three gifts they receive (just as Christ was given), we exchange our letters. We cuddle up on the couch and read the loving words that were carefully written on the page. Words, which bring laughter, tears, and a realization that this is the greatest gift we could ever offer one another.  These handwritten notes were a true reflection of what love really means and what matters most in life.  Just as 1 Corinthians states, "these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love." 


These handwritten letters have become a tradition, which marks a special place in our hearts.  These letters are prized possessions that can be seen as part of our Christmas tree decorations.  They are lovingly placed on the tree with the kids' ornaments for the year. Then when the kids leave home and take their ornaments with them, the tree will not be bare. Instead, it will be a tree full of love letters. Letters that are filled with a lifetime of words and dreams shared between a husband and wife.A tree full of faith, hope and love.



May you all find the faith to believe in something greater than yourselves, hope to look forward to a new year, and the love of your best friend to stand by your side for the rest of your life.  Merry Christmas. 

Monday, November 23, 2015

Every Leader Needs a little PRAYER

People
Relationships
Accountability
You
Empowerment
Rejuvenate


People in your organization are your biggest agents of change. They can make or break your district and if you want to see the growth you must value, educate and empower your human capital. The people are important because they are the ones who will be carrying out the plans set forth by leaders and administration to better the school. It is people, not programs that make something happen in a district. We can throw money at different systems, technology and curriculum, but if the people who deliver it are not quality then your changes are doomed to fail.


Relationships are vital to the success of a school. Relationships between parents, community, teachers, and educators, will help you to improve your culture, education and district.  Students must feel they are cared for and loved. The culture must be one of camaraderie and a focused shared vision. The team must have a relationship that allows for honest, constructive criticism, and growth that comes from a positive culture.


Accountability is important because we must all be willing to put forth the positive attitude and effort it is going to take to improve a school. We have to all be in it together, and work as one. Everyone must be held accountable, as we all play a role in the success of the organization. Everyone has room to grow and improve, and this needs to be embraced.


You, as the administrator,  must be willing to make changes for the betterment of the school even if it will bring about some turmoil. You have to be willing to stand up and be strong during the winds of change. You have to try new things, and be prepared to go through the process with others who might struggle and need a lot of support. You have to realize there is room for everyone to improve, and learn to read the team, so you can learn how to best lead.


Empowerment plays a key role in schools getting better. The entire facility must feel empowered and know that they are part of the improvement process. Getting people to buy in on the mission, vision and goals you can set a tone for all to succeed. It is about leading with heart and not micromanaging. You are giving them the authority to do what is needed to make decisions to help meet the goals. This way every person becomes an agent of change.

Rejuvenation is a process that should come when the growth happens. We have to celebrate and feel the power and joy in rejuvenation. Celebrate the wins, the people and take the time to enjoy the process. You have to take the time to honor the hard work of those who are focused on improving the school. Rejuvenate their spirit and their effort, and reap the benefits in a positive school climate.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

A Teacher's Mid-Summer Dream...

School supplies are taking over the stores!!!!!!!!!!!  This is good news for some and a dreaded realization summer is coming to an end for others. If you know me (or a teacher), you know this means I am fighting every urge in my body to go spend an entire paycheck or two on school supplies. After all, a bouquet of freshly sharpened pencils, the smell of an empty notebook, and a pack of brand new sharpies are a few of my favorite things.  However, I am not alone, for the aisles are filling with eager teachers trying to find a steal and get a deal.   Most educators are already working on lessons (guilty) and/or setting up their classroom. If I have just outed any of my fellow nerds post your name, share this blog, and attach a picture of your organized or chaotic classroom as evidence.

If you are anything like me, the summer is filled with summer school, lesson planning, curriculum and unit planning for the upcoming year and another degree conferred and finalized. It has been a whirlwind summer in my household as usual. I spend time enjoying my own kiddos and try to find ways to balance work and home. This can be a challenge when you have the heart of a teacher. After all, a true educator really does not have a full summer break. We are continually learning, growing and thinking about how to get better so our students will learn, grow, and can become who God created them to be.


So, this time of year when I start to feel the pull of the classroom, I savor the joy and anticipation the first day is building and rumbling inside my soul.  I feel torn between summer break when I can sleep in a little later, and wanting to meet the new challenges and experience this new year will bring. The beginning of the school year is really a teacher's "New Year," and we feel devoted, refreshed and ready to attack the world.  As the last few weeks of "freedom," are upon me I begin to reflect on my future students I will be blessed to teach this year. I wonder what will they love, dislike or need? Will I have students who need school supplies, shoes, or a hug? What will make them excited to share, discuss and create? However, I also think about the students I have had in the past. Where are they now? Did they enjoy the summer? Were they well fed and cared for? Are they excited for the next chapter in their lives? Either way I pray for those I have loved and those I am sure to embrace in my heart very soon. I just hope I am able to teach them as much as I will surely learn from them.

I am ecstatic and nervous about starting a new position in a new district this year. However, I do not have my classroom yet, so I am really beginning to wonder what it will look like and feel like when my kids walk in the door. While I wait for my own classroom I am going to live vicariously through all of you. If you are teacher share something you MUST HAVE in your classroom to make you feel "ready." If you are not a teacher share a memory about your favorite teacher or his/her classroom. Warning as educators most of us are living paycheck to paycheck and beg, borrow and steal a lot.  So, we just might steal your ideas, so be creative, descriptive, candid and share!

Allie's Must Have's
1. My dingers (http://www.musicwands.com/) are used to get attention by tapping on a hard surface. The chime is a musical wand that rings softly. They come in a variety of shapes, but they are pretty popular so you have to order them as they become available.

2. My reading apron. This apron is one I picked up at a yard sale for 50 cents. It has books on it and three big pockets. The pockets hold my proprioceptive pieces for students (stress balls, twist ties, twine etc), pencils and stickies, and one is for my dinger for the day.

3. No teacher desk... If I have a teacher desk in my room I feel unorganized. It sounds strange, but it really becomes a place for me to be disorganized. I tend to just throw things on it to sort through later, and takes up much of my time after school.  For me, I feel like a messy desk is a sign of a messy brain (sorry if you are reading this at your messy desk). As an educator, I am constantly busy and running around the room anyway so I do not sit there anyway. Most of the time you will find me on the floor with pillows and a throw rug, sitting at a student's desk or working with students in a variety of locations around the room. So, the desk is a big waste of space and energy.  I took it out of my room a few years ago and have never looked back. Try it...I bet you will love it.
A picture of my hs English classroom
My reading Corner 

My 4th Grade  Classroom : I like to have alternative seating in my room
 (yoga balls, rocking chairs, ottomans, carpets, couches, chairs, pillows)
My hs English classroom

Sunday, July 12, 2015

What Kind of Leader Are You?

    In a few weeks I will have completed my Master's degree in Educational Leadership in a year. This degree is from Dordt College, an amazing Christian college. This is my second Master's degree, so I am not new to taking courses, but this has been the best education I feel I have ever received. It challenged me, pushed me and made me see things from a different perspective. I have one final paper to write about my thoughts on leadership. This took me a long time to process, but I believe I am ready to share what type of leader I aspire to become. 

I have known since the first grade that I wanted to be an educator. I am one of the rare individuals who can share the moment in my life when that decision was made. (Read Moment Blog for More Information) However, I do not have a defining moment when I made the decision to get involved in school leadership. In fact, I never saw myself wanting to be in a leadership role outside of the classroom. I love educating and facilitating learning in the classroom. I absolutely love my students and become attached to them very quickly. I want to help them to succeed and become who God created them to be. 

 However, I was gradually taking on more and more roles as a leader and then an opportunity for an administrative position became available, in a district where I was employed. When I read the job description I felt a twinge of excitement because I believed I could do the job well. I began to think about what it would be like to share the knowledge I have gained in my personal, professional and educational experiences to impact more than just one classroom.  Therefore, I took on a leadership role the following year while completing my second Master's degree in Educational Leadership. 

 My faith in Jesus Christ, love, compassion for others, and resourceful ambition have shaped me into a passionate educator and aspiring leader. I am innovative and creative, and believe firmly in the power of prayer. I know that these principles or characteristics give me the direction for all my actions and decisions. It is important to hold to your beliefs as a leader because there will be times you will face situations where those ideals and beliefs are all you have to make difficult decisions.  Leadership is not always easy, and that is why leading with your heart and your head are so important.                

Leadership is vital because a great leader can help people to flourish, and become who God created them to be.  The term servant leadership is thrown around in the world of education and business today. However, I have seen leaders who speak these ideals, but truly do not live by the servant mindset. It is not called servant leadership when your people are fearful of losing their jobs, and their livelihood.  When your team is not able to be honest, and forthcoming in concerns and questions for fear of looking like a toxic cloud or being deemed inept. Sometimes leaders must realize their team members need more training, need resources or just want a chance to be heard. They need an opportunity to share information without being destroyed by the wrath of anger hidden beneath paperwork. This type of leadership is called tyranny. Tyrannical leadership is where fear mongering, and control are the reigning principles of the leader.  The tyrant leader is about ownership, accountability for others but not for self, and thrives on control. Tyrannical leadership is not about empowering and growing your people. A tyrannical leader loves the spotlight to be on him or herself, and wants the positive attention to be on "his or her success." 

 Christ was a servant to his people, and did not command they follow but loved them with fervor, and forgave their indiscretions. He did not outshine others, and in fact was born poor for a reason. He was able to show how to humbly serve His people well.  He showed what a true leader does to reach his people and to lead with love and mercy.  Therefore, I believe a leader is someone who follows the principles of Christ. I believe a leader is someone who truly loves and cares for his or her people.  This type of leader gets to know the individuals not just acquaint themselves with the workforce.  This means getting to know the personal side of those he or she leads, and supporting the whole person.  


 A powerful leader models expectations, holds himself or herself accountable,  and is willing to push through the darkest moments in the trenches with the team. A true leader knows it is okay to say, " I do not know, " but is resourceful enough to seek advice and work together with the team to find a solution. A leader does not sit behind a desk and order individuals to do their jobs. Instead a leader is present, visible, makes connections to the staff, and is available to help problem solve and work through adversity.         
I believe a leader needs to be a great listener,  loving, compassionate, resourceful, passionate about your industry and is excited to see his or her people grow. You also have to be willing to stand up for your ideals and beliefs, and not allow your morals to be compromised during challenging situations. A leader guides, teaches, and reteaches when necessary.     

 I am a leader who understands the difference in servant leadership and tyrannical reign. I believe my love, compassion, and willingness to have tough conversations will help to empower others. I know that my desire to continue to grow, learn and develop relationships with my team will help impact  students, educators and the community.  I know my passion for education, creative spirit, and resourceful ambition will empower others to become who God created them to be. I believe the love and compassion I exude will help the team know I truly care, and we will be able to build relationships and connections. This will allow for us to do great work together as we are all aware of how much we love, respect and honor our students and each other.           

 I also believe my "for kids" attitude will assist me in having tough conversations and holding individuals, including myself, accountable. My greatest impact will be derived from my understanding that God created me to be an educator and leader, and I will stay humble through my faith in Jesus Christ. I will serve others with a heart guided by Christ-like love and compassion. I will lead, know when to step aside and follow and help others to shine. As a leader,  I will be bold enough to take risks, courageous enough to admit my mistakes, gracious enough to forgive myself and others, and loving enough to pray for my team daily.  

Thursday, May 7, 2015

We Plan and God Laughs.

There is an old Yiddish Proverb, which says "We Plan- God Laughs."  Proverbs 16:33 from the Bible puts it this way: "We may throw the dice, but the Lord determines how they fall."  These proverbs have been the truth this week as I look to the future.  
When Gavin and I moved back to Iowa we decided on settling in Ottumwa, with the intent that Gavin would finish his teaching degree and find a job locally. He was perfectly fine driving over three hours a day for a year while he completed his intern license. My plan was to stay at Cardinal and teach at least until our kids were out of school.  (Insert God's little chuckle and a head shake here.)

Two years down the road, Gavin is still driving from Des Moines each day. He has been promoted in his role as Director of Medical Simulation and loves his specialized career field. He enjoys Des Moines University very much, and he is amazing at what he does. On the other hand, I am completing my second masters degree in leadership this summer, and have found leadership to be a calling I never thought would find me. I have been serving as an Instructional Coach, Lead Mentor, Special Education Lead for the past year. It has been the most amazing ride because I am blessed with a fantastic staff to work alongside. I have also never worked for a better set of principals, as they are the epitome of leadership. Plus, I have a partner who is supportive, loving and challenges me every day. What more could I want?  

Well, I would love for my children to have their dad at their school events. I would love to have him home for dinner time. I would love for him to be able to come home and not be so tired from driving he does not feel well.  We all want to give our kids what we didn't have, so, I want my kids to have time with their dad while they still can. 

God created me to be a teacher, and it is what I love to do each day. God also asked me to respect and honor my husband, and to raise our children in the light of His ways. Therefore, this week I have taken a new position in a school district closer to my husband's job. This way we can be a family on more than just the weekends he does not have military duty. This decision has been one of the most difficult in my life. It has been painful because of the team of teachers I get to work with each day, whom I will miss greatly. I truly love and respect all of you and know you will continue to grow and learn alongside one another next year. I am sorry that I will miss out on seeing the great things you will accomplish. 

So, as I leave my friends and the position I have come to love, I hope you understand that my priorities in life have to be God and family first.  However,  I will always cherish my time at Cardinal because of all of you.  I am also dedicated to my staff, families and students until the end of my contract, and will support you in any way I can for a lifetime; all you have to do is ask.
Thank you for allowing me into your classrooms and for trusting me with your fears, frustrations and celebrations. I am honored that I have had the chance to teach with each of you. 

Thank you my friends, and may God Bless you all.  

Romans 12:1-2 So here's what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. 

Peace and Prayers,
Allie 

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Attendance Center Rankings

The Iowa Department of Education has developed a plan to hold schools accountable for test scores by publishing how they rank against other schools in the state.  Schools in Iowa will now be placed on a scale of achievement, to help educate families about the ranking of their child's school. Another school in our area gathered the details from the Iowa DOE website and posted it to the local newspaper. Therefore, the past few weeks Cardinal has faced some challenges based on those published achievement scores.  Many people in our surrounding community have been balking about the low scores our little district has received in the past. There are nasty responses posted on social media sites and negative comments being traded back and forth because of these test scores.  Some have even criticized our district for the positive press we have received. They feel we should not be highlighted in the local media as an amazing, and innovative district because our scores are too low. As an educator, who has seen education across the country and knows how wonderful it is to work in a district who prizes individuality and creativity, I can only respond to these complaints with, "We are Cardinal." 


This is our motto, as we do not marginalize or stifle the unique individuals who walk through our doors. Every child is loved, accepted, challenged and cherished no matter where they come from. We know that our test scores are low, and we are not running from this fact. We also know we have the highest free and reduced lunch rate in Wapello County as well, but we do not dwell on the challenges we face. Instead, we collaborate on ways we can tackle the problem and focus on the positives, which are the children. 

We have added supports to help our staff improve their practice, and to provide growth opportunities for all of our students. This school year alone we have made some big changes we hope will have an even greater impact on learning. We have hired two full time Instructional Coaches provided through a grant from the Ottumwa Legacy Foundation, along with a beautiful 21st Century Classroom. We have also hired a full time curriculum director.  Our district has created Professional Learning Communities, where teachers are given time to meet and make data driven decisions to help support our students. These PLC's are given time to meet during professional development days and take additional time outside of the normal duty day to work and collaborate. PLC teams plan units and lessons, focus on the Iowa Core, and use the data from assessments to implement meaningful interventions in the classroom. The middle school also has Student Learning Communities, which focus on literacy. All students in grades 6-8 receive specific instruction in reading strategies during their SLC course. We also have Genius Hour , which allows students to pursue a passion and to learn in a way that makes sense to them.  
I am not a test score, I am a doctor in training.
At Cardinal we educate the whole child, and do not look at individuals as test scores. We meet their needs, challenge them to reach their highest potential and provide them with more than just academic test preparation. Our goal as educators is to give our students connections to the world, provide opportunities for them to be who they were created to be and to rise above challenges they face in their lives. 

One hurdle we are working on as a district is the standardized test scores, which are used to measure the intellectual capacity of our children. However, at Cardinal, we believe our kids are greater than attendance center rankings, and their intelligence and potential are not purely quantifiable data.  We embrace the fact that we have work to do to improve our test scores. However, our kids are more than just statistics on a norm referenced exam. Therefore, we will continue to publicly celebrate the amazing things this district does because of the wonderful community, families, students and staff who make our positive culture possible. After all, we are Cardinal!