Building Resiliency: June

In January I began a deep dive in Elena Aguilar’s Onward: Cultivating Emotional Resilience in Educators and the accompanying workbook. I hope to share some of my reflections as I build daily habits to strength my own resilience and support that growth in others. Aguilar outlines a habit and a disposition for each month of the year. Follow along as I reflect on each month’s key ideas.

June’s habit is Know Yourself and the disposition is Purposefulness.

Aguilar was very purposefulness in starting Onward with June, as that is the end of the  school year and a time to reflect on the past and set goals for the future. I love that she begins with the premise that you need to know yourself first. While this is my second reading of this book, this is an important reminder for me and how I’ve grown as an educator and a leader throughout my career. We often say we feel bad for the students in our first year of teaching, and I am no exception. I did the best I could for them at that time, but I would be a much different teacher for them today if I had the opportunity to relive that year. Not only am I a stronger educator, more confident in my content and pedagogical knowledge, but I am also more confident in myself. I know my own strengths and areas I’m actively trying to improve.

I wish my teaching program had dedicated more time to the work that Aguilar does throughout Onward – a focus on learning about ourselves to improve our resilience. As soon as I could articulate my own core values, I was a stronger educator and leader. Don’t we want our newest teachers to come into the profession ready to be as strong as possible?

Aguilar references a free Myers-Briggs personality test in this chapter. When I took it during my first reading, on 5/14/18, I was an ITFJ. This month, in June of 2019, I was an ISFJ. It’s interesting that I went from more Feeling to more Sensing, but that the rest stayed the same. My introversion will never change, but the others are a little more flexible, based on where I am in my life. I love to compare these results with people on my work teams, as it tells a lot about who you are and how you prefer to work.

A large part of knowing yourself is not only knowing your strengths, but your biases and how your experiences manifest themselves in how you lead. I love how Aguilar always connects her books to a focus on equity (and I can’t wait for her equity book to be published!) and culture proficiency. In this chapter, she also connects this to the work on vulnerability that Brene Brown is known for.

When you know yourself, you can define your purpose, your why. The disposition of purposefulness resonates with me so much. When you don’t know your purpose, or when your work is not aligned to your purpose, you often feel lost. The older I get, the clearer my purpose becomes, and I know that I’m doing the work I was meant to do. I hope you have that purposefulness as well.

Posts in the Building Resilience series:

Building Resilience

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Shining Through 2019

Each year I pick a focus word and see how it shows up in my life and how it guides me forward. This year my word is SHINE and I wrote my first update back in February. Now that we are halfway through this year, I wanted to check back in how SHINE has appeared.

In January, when I introduced my word, I reflected on the following:

  • I would like to SHINE in my work.
  • I would like to SHINE a light on the good work done by and for others.
  • I would like to SHINE as a happy, grounded person.
  • I would like to SHINE as a healthy human.

For the last few years, I’ve had a professional goal – my next career aspiration is to become an Assistant Superintendent in the Curriculum area. When I was thinking of where I wanted to SHINE this year, I knew that I wanted to highlight my strengths in preparation for this next professional step. I’m happy to share that last week I was appointed as the Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services for a new-to-me school district. I’m excited about this new opportunity and ready to SHINE in a new role.

One of the best parts of my current job (that I’m about to transition out of) has been the leadership development work I’ve done with our many school and district leaders. I make time to appreciate the work of others and to shine a light on the great work going on around me on behalf of our students. Whenever I visit a classroom, I email the teacher a note of appreciation to honor the work that they do. I’m always looking for ways to highlight the good work being done by colleagues and friends.

This winter and spring has been very busy for me. I don’t know if was grounded and balanced and healthy all of the time, but I was busy with a lot of fun activities that made me happy!  As of the writing of this post, I have taken 8 plane trips in 2019 already, and I spent most of my weekends out and about. While all of these trips were fun, I did stop and reflect on the need for me to build in rest time as well.  After 7 weekends away in the row, I was desperate to have some quiet, alone time in my house on a weekend. Part of what makes me SHINE, is a balance between the fun parts of life and the quiet reflection time. As this year progresses, I’m going to continue to find that balance for myself.

Do you have a word for this year? How has it supported you?

SHINE 2019


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May Reading Update [2019]

I feel like I barely read anything this month, but I do have a small list here to share. I think I needed to catch up on some TV and podcasts after vacation, and then I began taking Pilates classes, so my reading time was shortened. This month I read…

  • Naked Greed by Stuart Woods- Normally I dislike reading books in a series out of order, but since this book is around 30 of 50 with my favorite character Stone Barrington, reading it out of order wasn’t confusing for me. Each novel in this series stands alone as a fun mystery and the plot of Stone’s life moves slowly forward throughout the series. When I realized I had missed this one, I wanted to go back and read it, knowing a few life plot points might be out of order! This story ended up being very “pulpy” and full of more mob-like killings that a usual Stone mystery, but I still enjoyed it.
  • Nuance: Why Some Leaders Succeed and Others Fail by Michael Fullan – I always enjoy Fullan’s professional books, because they are full of research and his interactions in the field, mostly in Canada but also across the globe. I appreciated his ideas around joint determination, adaptability, and culture-based accountability. I wish the examples provided had been more practice and actionable, rather than big picture theory-based.
  • In Pieces by Sally Field [audiobook]- This was my first celebrity-read autobiography in awhile and I enjoyed it. I had no idea that Sally had such a complex and difficult childhood, nor how anxious she was throughout her career. I have enjoyed her as an actress in a variety of movies and shows, and I wish she had talked more about some of that work. The book focused a lot on her childhood, her complicated relationship with her mother, some of her relationships and her children, and a few key roles she’s played. The story focused more on her mental anguish as an actress and the relationships that hurt and shaped her.
  • Time for Change: 4 Essential Skills for Transformational School and District Leaders by Anthony Muhammad and Luis F. Cruz – I’ve enjoyed other professional books by Muhammad and I appreciated the way they took big ideas (how to create change in schools) and broke them down into 4 skills – the why, who, how, and the do of the work. I appreciated the scenarios they shared at the end of each chapter, and I believe these would be great conversation starters for a book study.
  • P3H: Pilots, Passengers, Prisoners, & Hijackers: An Educator’s Guide to Handling Difficult People While Moving Forward by Trish Hatch, PhD – A colleague who is a school counselors gave me this book. She knows and respects the author, who is well-known in the school counseling world. I appreciated the perspective she offered on the different types of people we encounter in school, and how to deal effectively with them. Looking back on my time as a principal, I can picture who the hijacker on my campus was, and I wish I had worked with that person differently. This is a quick and easy read, good for teacher/counselor leaders, those aspiring to become administrators, and new administrators learning the ropes.
  • Professional Learning Redefined: An Evidence-Based Guide by Isabel Sawyer and Marisa Ramirez Stukey – This professional book comes from Learning Forward, an organization I respect for their professional development materials and resources. The main ideas in this book are about how we redefine professional learning to take place where student learning takes place – in classrooms with teachers.  The authors go through learning structures such as PLCs, lesson study, learning walks, and 1:1 coaching, all of which I believe in and have participated in as a teacher, a coach, and an administrator. There was also a strong focus on protocols, which I also appreciate as a way to provide structure and support for adult learning. My only complaint was that most of the examples were elementary, with only 1-2 being relatable for secondary educators.
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Busy or Engaged?

I have recently hit a wall. It’s the beginning of May and I’m realizing how busy I have been for the last 4 months. Since January 1, 2019 I have taken 7 plane trips, attended at least four musicals or concerts, finished a year of weekend classes, signed my book contract, and worked my full-time job!

Being “busy” doesn’t necessarily mean that what I was doing was good or bad, it was just time-consuming. Obviously there is a lot on my abbreviated list above that was fun for me (see some pictures above from my trip to Grenada!). But returning from an international trip on a Monday, unpacking, doing laundry, worked 45 hours in four days, and repacking for a trip on Friday was exhausting to say the least.

This made me think about the difference between our students being busy versus being engaged. I visit hundreds of classrooms each year (412 so far this year!) and see students in many stages of learning. Some days students spend a large portion of their day listening to teachers, other days students spend their time talking to and collaborating with peers, and still on other days students are completing written tasks silently. Each of these can contribute to students’ learning.

My wondering today is whether we plan lessons to keep students busy or to engage them in their own learning. I know that as a teacher myself, I have been guilty of “busy work” as well as thoughtfully-planned engaging tasks that pushed students’ thinking. When I am coaching leaders after classrooms visits these days, I hear leaders step out of a classroom and comment on how “the students were engaged”. I also push back, asking the leader what exactly the students were doing. I think we use the word “engaged” a lot in education, but I don’t believe we all have a common definition of what it means.

To me, when a student is engaged, he or she is doing the thinking work, taking on the cognitive load by writing or talking about their thinking.

What does engagement look like in a classroom to you? 

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Building Resiliency: May

In January of 2019 I began a deep dive in Elena Aguilar’s Onward: Cultivating Emotional Resilience in Educators and the accompanying workbook. I hope to share some of my reflections as I build daily habits to strength my own resilience and support that growth in others. Aguilar outlines a habit and a disposition for each month of the year. Follow along as I reflect on each month’s key ideas.

May’s habit is celebrate and appreciate and the disposition is trust.

As we near the end of the school year, it’s a natural time to celebrate. Appreciation, or expressing gratitude, is a way to make connections, enjoy our life, and focus on the positive. I appreciate Aguilar’s message to celebrate the small things, and find ways to be grateful in our daily lives.

“How you tell the story of your life matters.” Onward, p. 290

I go through phases where I am focused on expressing gratitude, whether through a journal practice or by telling others what I appreciate about them and their work. Until I was rereading this chapter, however, I didn’t realize how long it had been since I slowed down and reflected on gratitude. Pausing and thinking about what I am grateful for, in big and small ways, always puts a positive spin on my day and my outlook.

I have been working on making public and private appreciations as well. I recently just wrote a number of hand-written notes to be delivered to colleagues who work in other locations across our district, expressing that I appreciate them and their work. I know that I always love receiving messages like that, so I build in time to give them as well. I like all of Aguilar’s suggestions for appreciating yourself and others.

There are many examples of how to cultivate a habit of gratitude in the Onward workbook. This reminds me of making positive phone calls home early in the school year as a teacher. I’ve also taken this idea and written notes to the families of my employees. It’s so nice to be able to tell someone you appreciate their child (or their parent/spouse!). Aguilar mentions something that reminded me of an activity I recently saw one of our schools do at an assembly. I did this activity at a staff meeting early on as a principal. I called it, “Talk Positive Behind My Back.” Each staff member was given a piece of construction paper. They wrote their name at the top and then they hung the paper on their back (with a safety pin or a string necklace). The staff then got up and began walking around the room, writing positive notes about each other on the papers. When we finished the activity, everyone had a chance to read the nice notes their colleagues had written behind their back. You could literally feel the energy shift in the room, as people smiled, and some even cried. If you’ve never experience this, I encourage you to try it at a meeting soon!

Trust is such a critical part of leadership, of building relationships, and school culture.

“Resilient people trust themselves, and they trust a process.” ~ Onward, p. 309

I love Aguilar’s message that when you need support, trust in the process, trust in yourself. I’ve been thinking about why she chose to make this month’s disposition trust, and what the link might be between trust and celebration. I believe that we are more comfortable to celebrate our big and small moments when we are working or living in a trusting relationship. Trust allows us to feel more comfortable recognizing the work of others without competition or animosity.

I recently read The Power of Moments. The authors share specific ways we can create impactful moments in our lives, for ourselves and more importantly for others. This reminds me of this month’s habit, to celebrate and appreciate. I want to intentionally create more moments that matter.

And for those of you who read last month’s update, I DID get to see the Underwater Sculptures that Elena Aguilar writes about in Onward! Below are two of my favorite pictures from my snorkeling adventure. These sculptures end up being a place where coral can grow and develop, supporting the oceanlife. It was such a fun experience and I wouldn’t have known these existed if I hadn’t read this book. For that, I AM GRATEFUL!

Posts in the Building Resilience series:

Building Resilience

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April Reading Update [2019]

This month I didn’t read as much as I have been, at least not in the beginning of the month. As I think back on the month, I realize that I’ve been very busy every weekend, and I got into a few good podcasts recently, which took up some of my reading time. I also binge-watched a few new docu-series! However, the last weekend of the month was a beach vacation for me, during which I did a total social media detox, which gave me plenty of time for reading!

So this is what I did read this month:

  • Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens – I put a hold on this e-book through my library app months ago, after a number of people I knew raved about it. I happened to read it over a long vacation weekend and I loved it! While there were some major sad points in the story of Kya’s interesting life on the marsh, there was so much independence, resilience, and nature to enjoy along the way. What a beautiful first novel by this author!
  • The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact by Chip Heath and Dan Heath – I loved this book! I loved reading about how we have the power to make small moments that can have great impact on ourselves and those around us. The authors break down the four elements to moments: elevation, insight, pride and connection.  Not all moments have all four elements, but all moments have at least one of these. When I came to an example about the Sharp Experience, I was reminded of reading an entire book about that during my doctoral studies. Then, and now, I was fascinated by the scope of the company’s work to transform their employee and patient experiences across all of their hospitals, which I now use! I love this advice at the end, “Stay alert to the promise that moments hold”.
  • Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen M. McManus – I read the first book by this author last month. While this wasn’t a series, it followed the same format. A YA mystery where each chapter is narrated by different characters, as a mystery is unveiled. This story involved missing girls from three different times, unknown parents, suspicious people, and lots of intrigue and Ellery, one of the main characters and a spy-buff, tries to figure out who is guilty of what in this bizarre small town.
  • Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty – I love this author and knew I would enjoy this book, especially after a few friends recommended it. Nine people show up to a 10-day wellness retreat, looking for mind, body, and spirit transformations. They get more than they bargained for in this funny, twisty, weird, story. I loved the snippets at the end!
  • Run Away by Harlan Coben – Heading out for a beach vacation I stocked on e-books, paperbacks, and e-library books, including this one by one of my favorite authors. I loved that this was an independent story, not part of a series, but that some Coben secondary characters appeared (like the lawyer who helped the family!). This was a sad tale of addiction and lies as people hid parts of themselves from their families. Great story to follow, as it kept twisting and turning!
  • Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate – Once Shelley recommended this to me, I knew I would enjoy it! What a beautiful, sad, story of adoption (and kidnapping and deception and abuse) and family love. This was based on true events from the 1950’s, when some adoptions were full of corruption. I loved following the flashbacks and forwards as we learned about unknown family connections along with the characters, especially modern-day Avery.
  • It’s Always the Husband by Michele Campbell – This was an impulse buy in an airport bookstore. It was a mystery, which I usually love, but it was full of dispicable characters. I liked each person less than the next, from the selfish, entitled Kate, to her adoring love Griff, to her roommates Jenny and Aubrey, with their own issues. These women met in college and claimed to be lifelong friends, but they were actually awful to one another. This was such a poor representation of female friendship and I was disappointed throughout the book. I did keep reading to find out how it ended, and I appreciated how the author chose to end the story.
  • Quick and Dirty by Stuart Woods – I love my Stone Barrington novels, and this was one especially fun. Stone was roped into helping solve the mystery of a missing painting. I loved the information about how forgeries of famous works of art are often mistaken for the real things, and why people have fakes made.

*This month I abandoned The Favorite Sister by Jessica Knoll.  I’ve read at least one other book by this author, but I just couldn’t get into this one. The writing was not enjoyable and I figured it wasn’t worth my time to fight through it!

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A Vacation from Social Media

There are lots of books, articles, and blogs popping up about people taking a digital detox – stepping away from so much screen time. I just returned from a 4-day trip to Grenada, in the Caribbean, for a quick girls’ weekend. I decided this was the perfect time for a vacation from social media.

Before my trip, I was feeling overly stressed out. The stress was coming from a number of sources, and I was finding myself mindlessly scrolling through social media any time I had a free moment or just needed a break. Unfortunately, my social media feeds do not always help alleviate my stress.  I don’t tend to suffer from FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) when looking at others’ pictures, but I do judge myself when I see things I want to do or know I should be doing. Those feelings often lead to additional stress, which fuels the never-ending cycle.

In order to avoid temptation, I moved all of my social media apps (for me, it’s mostly Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter) on my phone and my iPad to a separate folder, on a secondary screen that I wouldn’t even see. I already had notifications turned off for these apps, so I was hoping that out-of-sight, out-of-mind would apply. Once I was on vacation, I was able to use my devices solely for taking pictures of the gorgeous island (see below!) and for reading various e-books. I didn’t look at my social media at all, and after the first few hours, I didn’t even want to check them. I was happy to live in the moment, soak in the sea air, enjoy every sunset, and time with my friend.

Thinking about my word of the year, SHINE, reminds me that sunlight shining on water always makes me smile – it’s my happy place! My vacation from social media was a good thing for me because I was reminded that I don’t need social media to entertain me 24:7 and I don’t need to be constantly connected. The face-to-face connections with friends and family (and nature!) are more important to me. This is not to say that I’m going to quit the socials permanently. But I am going to make a more conscious effort when and how I use social media. I prefer reading a good book or relaxing in front of a sunset over mindless scrolling through stranger’s posts anytime. Don’t you?


Grand Anse Beach, Grenada



Grenada sunset



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