February 2023 Reading Update

February was a busy month, with travel for work and for fun, which meant good plane reading, but no weekend reading for quite a while. This month felt a little random, but I enjoyed my reading. This month I read…

  • The Light We Carry: Overcoming in Uncertain Times by Michelle Obama [audiobook]- Michelle Obama’s first book, Becoming, was so incredible and a deep and meaningful read! This one didn’t hit me in the same way, but I enjoyed it. This was a short, sweet memoir with some personal stories mixed into a few big life lessons. In this book, Michelle shares her thoughts on the importance of friendship and the challenges she has faced as a woman and a Black woman in professional spaces. We get a glimpse into her relationship with Barack in the chapter about partnerships. We hear more about how devastated she was by the election of 2016, and the fear and joy she felt during the inauguration of 2020. Hearing how she experienced Amanda Gorman’s poem/performance live was amazing! Michelle also has a chapter on fear and how she has overcome it throughout her life. OVerall, it was so postive, including details on how “We go high” has become something she is known for.
  • Violeta by Isabel Allende – This book is the life story of Violeta, from 1920-2020. Violeta was born in Chile during the flu pandemic and the book ends in the corona virus pandemic. In between we follow the stories of her family, from riches to rags, the friends who help them along the way, the people who are not helpful, the friends who become family, and the next generations. This is a beautifully written story, steeped in a lot of history about a century in Chile, with governmental coups and protests and fights for the rights of all. Violeta was a flawed and wonderful character, well ahead of her time in many ways! [Side note, I haven’t read an Allende book in decades, but I read The House of the Spirits by her in Spanish in college!]
  • A Scatter of Light by Malinda Lo – This was a cute YA story about complex topics such as relationships, aging, death, artistic freedom, and a “coming of age queer story”, according to the book cover description. Aria is forced to live with her grandmother in the Bay Area for the summer, just as the Supreme Court has legalized gay marriage. Aria befriends a group of young women who happen to all be lesbians as she gets settled into her summer life. We follow her adventures and self discoveries along the way. Despite the teen drama of a YA story, I enjoyed the characters and the representation in this book.
  • Girl, Forgotten by Karin Slaughter – I picked this as a Book of the Month choice months ago because I always like their thrillers. While, I liked it, there were some very hard parts that made me dislike the mysogony and horrible treatment of women throughout the entire book. The story flashes back to the 80’s, where we follow Emily a teenager who finds herself pregnant with no memory of what happened, to present day when Andrea, a new US Marshall, is on a security case but really looking into Emily’s murder. We slowly learn more about each woman as we move through their timeline, with everyone they interact with being more despicable than the last. I hated almost all of the men in this book, except for Andrea’s new partner Bible. Andrea being a strong, fierce, independent woman was the saving grace!
  • Breathe and Count Back from Ten by Natalia Slyvester [audiobook] – I enjoyed listening to this YA on audio. Veronica is a teenager from Peru who is trying to figure herself out, as she seeks more independence from her controlling parents, struggles to make peace with her hip dysplasia, and dreams of working as a mermaid at a local waterpark. While the teen drama was a little angsty, I appreciated all of the representation in this book and the messages that all people can be whatever they want to be!
  • In Cold Blood by Truman Capote – This true crime story was picked as my book club selection this month. However, as I got to know the players, I enjoyed the story. We meet the Clutters, a hard- working farming family in Kansas, beloved by all who know them. We also meet Dick and Perry, the two criminals who morder the family. Along the way, we learn a lot about everyone, and about the crime.

Favorite book(s) of the month

Fiction: Violeta by Isabel Allende

Nonfiction: The Light We Carry: Overcoming in Uncertain Times by Michelle Obama

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Countdowns to look ahead

Last year I learned of the Countdowns app and it has quickly become one of my favorite things! In this app you can add events that are coming up in the future by naming them, picking a quick image to represent the event, and typing in the date. The app then keeps a running list of all of your countdowns, as you can see in my list below.

It has been so much fun to not only have fun things to look forward to, but to be able to see at a glance how many days away each event is. Before I traveled to Namibia last year, my travel friend and I would text each other the numbers of days we had left before our trip every few weeks. If I got a text from her that just said, “57!!!!!” I knew exactly what it meant. And now I know I will be traveling with her again in 158 more days!

This year is shaping up to be full of concerts and travel adventures all over America, with different friends and family members. I think the Countdown app has made me not only excited about my trips, but it has motivated me to keep planning the next adventure. In fact, I had a unique experience with a friend just last week, that was two months in the making, and I regret that I never even added it to my Countdowns. Darn!

What are you looking forward to this year?

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How gentle was January?

My word of 2023 is gentle. I have told everyone in my life that this is my word, because I knew I was going to need help and reminders coming from lots of people! Gentle is not my natural state. By that, I mean that I know I am often too fast, sometimes too loud, and way to quick to judge [in my head]. I also know that I can be calm and professional and a good listener who can slow down and tap into empathy. So, how gentle was January?

Let’s just say I am grateful to my friends who helped remind me about gentle when I was having a rough day. For instance, I texted a good friend something about a frustration with another person in my life and her response was, “Remember to be gentle”. I wanted to throw my phone across the room and simultaneously hug her for this necessary reminder! Recently I received a hand written note at work and my friend and boss thanked me for my gentle leadership in a challenging meeting. I appreciated that she knows I am working on gentle and she helped me remember this by pointing it out in a positive way.

One month in and I am also reminding myself. I, like most of us, will vent to friends and family about my day-to-day annoyances. Lately I have heard myself say, after a venting session, “But I’m reminding myself to be gentle. I’m venting to you so that I can be more gentle with this person in our next interaction”. This post is a reminder to myself to keep working on it all and a huge thank you to my family, friends, and colleagues who are helping remind me what gentle can look and sound like for me in 2023.

How is your word of the year going so far?

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January 2023 Reading Update

The start of a new month, especially the first of a new year, always excites me. I’m so pleased that the very first book I finished this year was a 5 star read for me. I’m also glad that I’ve already read books with authors from Canada, El Salvador, Nigeria, Denmark and Uganda, as well as the Navajo Nation, since reading outside of my regular few countries was a goal this year! This month I read:

  • The Light Pirate by Lily Brooks-Dalton – I loved this book – what a great way to start a new year of reading! This story was told in very distinct parts, all ruled by impending storms. In the first part, a huge hurricane called Wanda tears apart a young family. While Kirby searches for his boys, his new wife gives birth to their daughter alone at home during the storm, naming her Wanda. In the next part, we are with Wanda and Kirby and their post-storm life. With each new era, life as we know it disappears a little more and people have to change or adapt. This climate-change, sci-fi storytelling always makes me question humanity and wonder what I would do. I’m not a natural survavlist, so I’m in trouble!
  • Reading Above the Fray: Reliable, Research-Based Routines for Developing Decoding Skills by Julia B. Lindsey – I read this based on a recommendation from a Kindergarten teacher, as part of my diving deeper into the science of reading. What I appreciated about this book is that the author did not attack any other forms of reading instruction/ programs, but rather she shared the current research in easy to understand ways. She outlined the elements of decoding, one chapter at a time, with specific information, examples, and routines that could be immediately implemented in a classroom to help students learn to read more effectively.
  • Platonic: How the Science of Attachment Can Help you Make-and Keep-Friends by Marisa G. Franco – This was a book club book I was supposed to read back in the fall. I started it, but once I couldn’t make the meeting it got bumped in favor of faster-paced fiction. However, every time I jumped back into reading this I enjyoed it. This was a fascinating look at the value and importance of platonic friendhips- why we need them, how to foster them, how to show affect and care for friends, and why we should prioritize good meaningful connections in our lives. This made me think about past and current friendhips I’ve had and what I love about my friends.
  • Kingdom of the Blind by Louise Penny [Gamache #14] – I love the village of Three Pines and all of the characters Louise Penny has created! I love Gamache and Jean Guy and their relationship. I appreciate that we never know all of the details of the mystery, and that there will always be lies, secrets, and hidden details to discover along the way. I’m so glad that Gamache’s necessary mistakes from the last book were corrected in this book, though I don’t know what will happen now that he and Jean Guy won’t be working for the police anymore.
  • Lightseekers by Femi Kayode – Wow! I loved this book! Kaytee from Currently Reading recommended this and I’m so happy I checked it out of the library. Phillip Taiwo is a Nigerian man who trained as a criminal psychologist in America before returning to Nigeria. He is hired to investigate the murder of three boys by an angry mob in a small town. As he gets to know the history of these university students and the town, he reveals Nigerian culture to us, which was fascinating to me. The more fiction I read from African countries, the more I want to learn about the real history of each unique country. This was hard content, but a fascinating story that I absolutely loved.
  • The Keeper of Lost Causes by Jussi Adler-Olsen [Department Q #1] -I love finding a new mystery series! This was part of a new-to-me genre, Nordic Noir, that was recommended by Currently Reading and I enjoyed reading the translation from the Danish original. Carl is a curmudgeon of a dectective, struggling after a bust gone wrong where his partners were killed and/or hurt badly while he survived. When he is made head of a new department, Q, and asked to investigate unsolved cold cases, he thinks he can sit in the basement and avoid work. We soon get sucked into one of the cold cases, as we get to know him, the victim from the case, and his new assistant Assad. I loved the way all the stories wrapped up by the end and I will read more in this series!
  • Orange is for the Sunsets by Tina Athaide – I loved this middle grades historical fiction! The story takes place in 1972 Uganda, after Idi Amin has taken over the country and decided to evict all Indians living there. We follow alternating chapters narrated by Asha and Yesofu, two best friends living different lives. Asha is from a wealthy Indian family and Yesofu is from a poor Uganda family whose mother works for Asha’s family. Asha doesn’t know her privildege or the differences in their lifestyle until the 90 day countdown begins for all Indians to leave the country. This is a beautiful story of friendship and reslience and a hard story about bias and racism.
  • Solito by Javier Zamora – This was a beautiful, bittersweet memoir about a nine year old boy’s harrowing journey from El Salvador, through Guatemala and Mexico, to reach his parents in the United States. Javier was living with his aunt and grandparents in El Salvador ever since his father and then his mother immigrated to the US. The plan was for him to follow them. They saved up money, bought the support of a coyote to help him, and his grandfather brought him to the first stop on the long journey. Throughout the rest of the story, this young boy is on his own, with strangers who become friends and enemies and family. We experience each step of the dangerous hikes in the desert, boat trips, lack of water, limited sleep, yelling coyotes, and ICE treatment that follows. I know immigration is a complex problem in the US, but this story demonstrates the unimaginable steps a family will take to reunite, and to create a better life for themselves and their child. Javier is now a talented poet and this memoir shows his writing talent as well as his resilience.
  • Unlikely Animals by Annie Hartnett – This book felt like a warm hug, or a day spent with the people you love! Emma returns home after being away at college for years, knowing that her father is dying and she has secrets to share. Little does she know that everyone in her family has secrets, her childhood best friend is missing, and her family needs her more than ever. As Emma grapples with everything, we get to know her parents and her brother, and the unique characters that make up their odd town, both living and dead, animal and human.
  • Beloved by Toni Morrison – I read this book for a book club. I had never read anything by Toni Morrison, and though I know she is a well loved author, I know that I am not a fan of classics. The writing style usually bothers me too much to appreciate anything, and that was true with this. The is a long, convoluted story about a former enslaved woman, Sethe, and the trauma she endured. The story jumps timelines and narrators without warning, and there are no clear chapters or breaks to help a reader out. The characters, from Denver to Baby Suggs to Paul D, are all interesting and burdened in their own way. I wasn’t going to finish this, as I was at about the 70% mark when I attended my book club meeting. However, the discussion moved me enough to finish it, so I could complete it and see the Denver character’s redemption. As always, I’m glad I read a classic, but didn’t enjoy the process.
  • Shutter by Ramona Emerson – I really enjoyed this mystery! We follow Rita as the timeline jumps from her childhood to teen years to college to adult, though not in order. Rita spends a lot of her childhood living with her grandmother on the Navajo Reservation, exploring her love of photography. As an adult, we meet Rita as a photographer for crime scenes for the police, and able to see and hear ghosts. As she struggles with the ghosts whose murdered are unresolved, she tries to help the police find the culprits and gets herself into quite a mess. This was so propulsive at the end I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough!
  • Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel – I loved Station Eleven by this author, so I figured I would enjoy this as well, even though I didn’t know what it was about. This is a wild around through time (way past to way into the future), with time travel and glitches and a little suspension of disbelief, to create an adventurous ride. We meet different characters at different timelines, and only later in the book do you know why we travel with the narrators across these times and places. I love how the story wrapped up. This was a fun read, with beautiful story telling!

Favorite book(s) of the month

Fiction: The Light Pirate and Lightseekers

Nonfiction: Solito

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Explorations in Instructional Leadership: Scope and Sequence

A scope and sequence document in education outlines the content to be taught and an approximate timeline for learning. A document like this typically includes the standards to be addressed and key outcomes. Throughout my educational career I have worked in places where we were expected to use and follow a scope and sequence with no deviation, with everyone on the same page on the same day. I have also worked in places where we had to develop our own scope and sequence with no guidance or expectations or resources provided. In fact, for the majority of my teaching career I had no access to teachers’ edition textbooks and had nothing but the state standards and my professional learning to guide my planning. I have been a leader in systems across this continuum as well.

There are pros and cons to all of these systems. When there is no scope and sequence in place teachers have autonomy to do what they feel is right for their students. You often see great enthusiasm, passion, and creativity come out. You may also see widely different results in terms of student learning. You may see less professional collaboration. You could walk into three classrooms of the same grade level in the same school and see significantly different examples of student learning. Teams in these situations often struggle to have a true Professional Learning Community (PLC) as they are not working towards common outcomes.

When there is a scope and sequence and everyone is following it, a system can measure student learning by shared outcomes. A child’s success is less likely to depend on the interests of the teacher and more likely to align to the grade level expectations. A well designed scope and sequence can lead to common assessments, a targeted approach to instruction, and quick support for students who might struggle. All of these structures can build a stronger Tier 1 system of instruction, lessening the need for interventions and services at higher levels.

I entered a system with no scope and sequences in any content area and wide variations in teaching and learning, with teachers proud of their autonomy and freedom. Incredible things are happening in some classrooms, but a system made up of pockets of excellence is not cohesive and not equitable. We are not serving all students. Over the last year and half we have implemented a robust Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) which has led to teachers recognizing that more coherence would help serve all students better. We have hit a tipping point in our system where teachers are identifying the challenges of not having a scope and sequence and are now seeking out resources and structures that will provide greater support for all students and more opportunities for collaboration. It is so powerful to have a grass-roots movement building because the end product will be designed by and for teachers, with ownership and understanding built in the development process. I can’t wait to see where this work takes us!

This post is part of a series called Explorations in Instructional Leadership. I plan to use this series to dive into some of the topics that are rising to the surface in my work, topics that I am researching for future study, and topics that impact student learning and pedagogy.

Introduction to Explorations in Instructional Leadership

The Science of Reading

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Notes of Gratitude and Appreciation

I was raised to write handwritten thank you notes after every Christmas and birthday. I exchanged snail mail letters with my grandparents all throughout my childhood, and with friends who moved away. While most of my snail mail has been replaced by email and texting, there is still nothing quite like receiving a handwritten note.

One of the best things I’ve ever seen implemented by a leader is the idea of writing notes of gratitude and appreciation. In our monthly management meetings, my amazing boss brings a stack of district notecards and envelopes. These notecards change annually along with our theme for the year. The last 5 minutes of each meeting is dedicated to writing notes. Imagine an entire room of leaders quietly writing handwritten notes that will be delivered through district mail, or dropped off in front of someone’s spot at the end of the meeting. I get just as much joy out of writing these messages as I do when I receive one. It is so nice to take an intentional moment to pause, think of someone you work with, and consider how you might thank them.

I make it a point to keep a list of the people I have written notes to during the year, so that I reach as many as possible, and so I don’t forget! Sometimes the occasion comes up naturally, for instance after one of my staff members completes a project or does a presentation. Other times I am seeking a way to connect with an individual and I go out of my way to find something to notice and appreciate. Similar to the gratitude circle activity, these notes can be a bridge to deepen a relationship. As we move into the second half of the school year, and a new calendar year, I am committed to writing more notes of gratitude and appreciation.

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Explorations in Instructional Leadership: The science of reading

Throughout my career I have worked in Kindergarten through post secondary school. I have always tried to keep up with educational research and instructional trends, for my own knowledge and information, and when working with others to determine site or district focus areas. Before I started my current job, I spent about 4 years working in a secondary district. When I moved into this role, I transitioned back to elementary and had to get my head back into the world of K-6th grade. I started with math instruction, because that was a focus that had already been started in my district. Just as I was beginning to dive into some reading research, COVID-19 hit, and my instructional leadership took a backseat to all of the pandemic management that became necessary. This is all a long way of saying that I haven’t been following “the reading wars” very closely over the last 6 years or so, but I’ve recently jumped in to the mess.

A few months ago I read The Knowledge Gap: The Hidden Cause of America’s Broken Education System- And How to Fix it by Natalie Wexler. While I appreciated her overall message (we need to do better with reading instruction in America), I didn’t appreciate how the author attacked what we have been doing. She specifically called out Lucy Calkins and Fountas and Pinnell, three educational leaders I learned from in my early teaching career. Since the author is a journalist and not an educator, I read the entire book with a lens of mistrust. Too often non educators want to tell us what we are doing right and wrong without any lived experience in the jobs we do every day with students. However, she did share some compelling research, enough that I knew I wanted to learn more. 

A very passionate Kindergarten teacher met with me recently to discuss “the science of reading” and what she hopes to see our district do more and less of in the coming years. She recommended the podcast Sold a Story and the book Reading Above the Fray: Reliable Research-Based Routines for Developing Decoding Skills by Julia B. Lindsey. Because I respect this teacher and was looking for other sources, I happily dove into both. The podcast shook me like the Wexler book, because again there was a serious bashing of Fountas & Pinnell and Lucy Calkins, as well as their publisher. There were also some seriously wild examples shared in the podcast of teaching reading that sounded like nothing I have ever seen in a classroom. However, there was also a lot of research cited, including why the 3 cueing system (using context to figure out words) is not the appropriate way to teach reading and why explicit instruction in decoding matters. 

As a district leader I want to make sure that I am well-versed in the latest scientific information, and the most current resources that would support student learning. I want our teachers to have the best resources and professional learning possible. In order to make decisions about professional development and curricular resources, I am currently working with our Educational Services team to dive even deeper into this research, looking at it through multiple lens and with the perspectives of our experience, knowledge, and current context. It’s an interesting place to be, feeling like what I know and how I taught may no longer be the best way or even the correct way, especially in the area of reading. We are so used to quick and frequent changes in the field of technology, but reading has been around forever. It’s important to recognize that as our science and technology have improved, so has our ability to study how good readers operate and what matters in the teaching of reading. I look forward to expanding my knowledge, challenging past paradigms, and learning to recognize my own bias when it comes to new research.

This post is part of a series called Explorations in Instructional Leadership. I plan to use this series to dive into some of the topics that are rising to the surface in my work, topics that I am researching for future study, and topics that impact student learning and pedagogy.

Introduction to Explorations in Instructional Leadership

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Explorations in Instructional Leadership

In 2023 I am adding a new series to my blog entitled Explorations in Instructional Leadership. I plan to use this series to dive into some of the topics that are rising to the surface in my work, topics that I am researching for future study, and topics that impact student learning and pedagogy.

I use writing as a way to reflect and yet I haven’t used this blog to support my own instructional leadership work in the last few years. One of the reasons for that is that it’s hard to write about a current challenge – sometimes details cannot be made public, sometimes information is tied to a person and I never want to write about other people without their permission, and sometimes when you are in the thick of something it’s hard to know which way is up. However, that is often a good time to write about an issue.

Some of the issues I hope to explore this year include:

  • Scope and sequences and pacing guides
  • Teacher autonomy
  • Cognitively Guided Instruction (CGI) in math
  • The science of reading
  • Coaching

I’d love to hear what topics have risen to the top in your instructional leadership.

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A Year of Reading: 2022

Anyone who reads this blog knows that I am an avid reader! 2021 was my best reading year in decades, and I had so much fun getting into new reading podcasts and building out my never-ending TBR list. This year I added an amazing reading tracker in the form of a spreadsheet created by Katie, one of the hosts of the Currently Reading podcast, in addition to my monthly blog summaries. I appreciate that the spreadsheet tracked so many parts of my reading this year including, but not limited to:

  • number of pages read
  • genres
  • publishers
  • how long it took to read each book
  • ratings
  • own voices stats

While I don’t read just to see a number at the end of the year, it is interesting to see how my reading changes across years.

  • 2021:146
  • 2020: 71
  • 2019: 89
  • 2018: 55
  • 2017: 59
  • 2016: 69
  • 2015: 44

Last year I read an INSANE amount of books (thanks to a 6 week medical leave!) and I didn’t think I would ever come close to that number again. In my mind, I set a goal to try to reach 100 books this year, but thought it might be a stretch. It turns out that wasn’t a stretch because in 2022 I read 127 books, which was over 40,000 pages read in 365 days! The amazing spreadsheet I used tracked some incredible statistics that I want to share for my own record keeping. So if you are a data nerd, enjoy! If not, skip ahead!

My 2022 STATS

  • 75% fiction and 25% nonfiction
  • 48% in print, 29% digital, 24% audiobook
  • 30% published in 2022 and 70% were backlist
  • 38% Own Voices (as authors and/or protagonists)
  • My Ratings:
  • 2.5 stars: 2.4%
  • 3 stars: 12.4%
  • 3.5 stars: 6.5%
  • 4 stars: 52.8%
  • 4.5 stars: 11.4%
  • 5 stars: 24.4%
  • My genres:

One of the stats that I tracked this year for the first time ever was the country of origin of the authors I read- it’s not very diverse so this is a 2023 goal for. I would also like to read more essay and/or short story collections.

Overall, I had a phenomenal 2022 reading year! I know what I like and I’m good at picking books that I will enjoy, based on my mood. My book club has brought in titles I wouldn’t have read otherwise, which expands my horizons. Tracking with this detail has also allowed me to see the trends I lean towards, so I can branch out as well. I would like to read the growing stack of books I own in my own, thanks to the Book of the Month club and the Indie Press List purchases I have been persuaded to buy because of the Currently Reading podcast. I am looking forward to another great year of cozy books in 2023!

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My Word of 2023

For the last eight years I have spent every December reflecting on the year that was and looking ahead to the year to come. Instead of setting resolutions I choose a focus word, a word that I want to drive my personal and professional life. Sometimes the word finds me, like in 2020 when I knew GRACE would be my word long before the pandemic even hit. Other times I have to do a lot of journaling and searching to find what feels right. Even after I choose, some years I tend to have laser-like focus on my word all year and other times I forget what it is or don’t feel connected to it.

In 2022, my word was CONNECTION. I was seeking more personal connections with family and friends, and lots of connecting flights to expand my travel. It was so nice to be connected to people and places I love throughout the year!

In 2021, my word was DARING. This word felt like a challenge to my introverted self, but also like something I needed after a year of grace and masks and isolation. I was ready to be daring in some big and small ways in my life.

In 2020, my word was GRACE. This word found me long before we knew what 2020 would bring to the world. I needed to leave space for grace for myself and for others as we lived through a global pandemic.

In 2019, my word was SHINE. My goal was to shine personally and professionally, and I did that through a new job, a published book, and a sunflower tattoo 26 years in the making!

In 2018, my word was POSSIBILITY with a supporting phrase of Adventures that Stretch. This idea helped me looked differently at what was possible if I shifted my viewpoint. I also enjoyed some incredible adventures that did help me stretch in new ways.

In 2017, my word was CHALLENGE, and it served me personally, professionally, and on a global scale. I love new challenges and appreciated the permission I gave myself to rise to some new challenges and to say, “I’m not going to take this on,” to other challenges.

In 2016, my word was REJUVENATE, with a more internal, physical focus that I needed.

The first time I chose a focus word was 2015, and my word was MINDFULNESS. This proved to be a fulfilling year of learning to be more present, learning to mediate, and to enjoy each individual moment.

Back in November someone used the word impact at work and it struck a chord with me. I want to do work that impacts student and adult learners, and the community at large. That is my leadership vision, but I already work with that in mind. I decided that I didn’t need that as my word because it is already a core part of who I am. Instead, I am leaning in a different direction.

As someone who walks, talks, reads, and works exceptionally fast, I found a word that might help me slow down once a while. A word that might remind me to be kind, to show more empathy, to be more delicate in challenging situations… a word that I want to be with others and also with myself. My word of 2023 is GENTLE.

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