Building Resiliency: August

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.

August’s habit is Tell Empowering Stories and the disposition is Optimism.

I’ve come to an interesting point in my year of diving deeper in Onward and emotional resiliency. In July I started a new job, where one of our focus areas for the year is Social Emotional Learning.  In early August we had a management retreat focused on love and mindfulness and self care for leaders. Our district-wide theme for the year is “Know My Story, Know Our Story”. All of these led me to August’s habit of telling empowering stories and the disposition of optimism.  I’m in such an optimistic place that this all feels right.

However, I know myself well. I know that when I get stressed out, or I have a bad day, I forget to use my mindfulness and resiliency habits. I often let the stress take over and I don’t even realize it until my jaw hurts from all the clenching I’ve done and my shoulder ache with tensed up muscles.  As I revisited August’s ideas, I’ve tried to find ways to build habits that I can tap into as I feel the stress beginning, before it’s too late.

Aguilar’s message about storytelling is that we are each the author of our own story.  When something happens, my interpretation can write a positive or a negative story. When someone gets upset and yells in a meeting at work, I can write an internal story about something I must have done to upset my colleague or I can write a story about how my colleague is having a rough day. When I choose to focus on optimism, the story empowers me in a positive way. It uplifts me, and allows me to have empathy for my colleague, rather than bringing me down into a negative spiral of self doubt.

This is where I need the practice! In the heat of the moment, when a situation begins to get stressful, I need to follow Aguilar’s recommended steps (these are the first four of six):

  • Be aware of thoughts
  • Recognize and shift distorted thoughts
  • Uproot problematic core benefits
  • Craft new stories

“You can manage your emotional responses by managing your mental frames.” ~Aguilar, p. 72

Aguilar offers three ways to help you tell empowering stories: visualizations, affirmations, and intentions. I think each of these strategies can be helpful during stressful moments.

As I reread the section on storytelling, I saw that I had made lots of notes about using Twitter to tell our story during my first read. I still feel strongly that we have the opportunity to use social media to tell a positive, empowering story about ourselves, our work, and our profession. I love August’s chapter and the positive way it sets the tone for a new school year. I want to make a note to reread this chapter mid-year, when I need to be reminded of this optimism.

  • How do you remain optimistic during trying times?
  • In what ways do you tell the stories of your school/ community

Posts in the Building Resilience series:

Building Resilience

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July Reading Update [2019]

Technically, I finished the first book on this list on the last day of June, but I didn’t have time to add it to my June post before it was published. July was another fun reading month.

  • A Double Life by Flynn Berry – I discovered this mystery by simply scrolling through my library app and looking for a good mystery! I loved the fact that the author told us pieces of the story from the past interspersed with the current storyline of “where are they now”. This was a sad story about a young woman needing closure on a horrific incident from her childhood, when her father was accused of murdering one woman and attempting to murder another, the girl’s mother. My biggest complaint about the book was that it wouldn’t load properly in my app, making it impossible to save a page or know were I was in the book at any given point in time.
  • Layover by Amy Adelson & Emily Meyer – I enjoyed this fun YA told in 3 different perspectives. The three main characters, Amos, Poppy and Flynn, are stepsiblings who decide to run away when they realize their parents are about to announce another divorce. They have an adventure throughout LA as they try to figure out what their relationships will be in the future. What I loved is that the story continued even as each chapter changed narrators. It had a great flow!
  • The Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean – My stepmom recommended this book to me and I loved it (Thanks Holly!). A young women who worked in The Hermitage museum during WWII memorizes every piece of art in the museum as she and others pack them all away and live in the basement of the museum for months on end to survive the war. As this part of the story is going on, a current storyline also tells us that this same woman ends up with Alzheimer’s later in her life and she doesn’t share her history with her own children. This was a sweet but sad story, touching, moving, and full of art history.
  • One Day in December by Josie Silver [audiobook]- I loved the beginning and the end of this book, but the middle felt like a never-ending saga of unnecessary drama. When Laurie sees Jack from her seat on a bus, she feels an instant connection. After a year of trying to find her “bus boy” he turns up as the new boyfriend of her best friend. Hence, the drama that goes on for a decade before the expected happy ending occurs. I’m glad I listened to this on audiobook, because it was an easy story to follow along to while fighting my new longer afternoon commute, and I would have been frustrated if I was reading it in print.
  • Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton – What a beautiful story! The chapters alternate between Elisa’s life in Havana, Cuba in the late 1950’s, when Fidel Castro fights for power, and Elisa’s granddaughter Marisol as she travels to Cuba in 2017. I loved learning more about their lives and Cuban history throughout this wonderfully written story. It was sad to see the lives of Cubans who were exiled during tough political times as well as the lives of Cubans who stayed behind and had to fight for every morsel of food they could find. Then men in their lives, Pablo and Luis, were strong, passionate, political figures who brought added depth to this bittersweet story.
  • The World Becomes What We Teacher: Educating a Generation of Solutionaries by Zoe Weil – I love this book and highly recommend this to all educators! My new boss gifted me this book as a welcome present and it was a great introduction to the culture of my new district. If every school in the world took the advice from this book to heart, our educational system would be significantly different for our learners. I believe we need to rethink about how we educate students and what their role can be in their own learning. “Solutionaries” think critically about the world’s current problems and come up with actual solutions!
  • Desperate Measures by Stuart Woods – Another mystery in my favorite series- Stone didn’t buy any new houses, but he did have at least one girlfriend die in the process of their relationship.
  • The Ethical Line: 10 Leadership Strategies for Effective Decision Making by Toni Faddis – I was happy to read this book by my friend and colleague. Toni shares specific tips and real-world scenarios to help leaders explore ethical issues in a purposeful way.
  • Tumble and Blue by Cassie Beasley [audiobook] – One of my good friends recommended this YA book to me, knowing I would enjoy it! Tumble and Blue are two young adolescents who meet and become friends during the summer when Blue’s entire family is searching to change their bad fates. Blue’s fate is to lose at everything and Tumble is a superhero in training with trouble following her everywhere. They team up to solve their problems together through a series of fun and silly adventures.
  • The Coach ADVenture: Building Powerful Instructional Leadership Skills that Impact Learning by ME! – Technically, my book is not out yet (coming at the end of August), but as part of my final editing, I did reread my entire book a few times this month.
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Building Resiliency: July

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.

July’s habit is Understand Emotions and the disposition is Acceptance.

Early on in this chapter Aguilar discusses how she has learned more about Social Emotional Learning (SEL) as an adult than she ever did as a child. I think this is true for many of us. I never learned much about emotions – what they are, when they occur, or even how to label them. I loved reading about the cycle of an emotion and realizing we each have the power to stop the cycle by recognizing where we are before we act out unconsciously.

When I read this section last year, I wrote a note in the margin that was a quote from a former colleague, also named Amy. Amy said to a group of teacher leaders we were working with, “Your emotions are a status report.” This quote has resonated me for a year and it’s so true! When your emotions come to light, they are trying to tell you something. Often we feel the physical signs of hunger or stress before we realize how hungry or upset we are. If we ignore those status reports, things can go wrong. If we learn to read our own status reports and those of others around us, we can address emotions before they create a crisis.

This entire section is making me want to watch “Inside Out” again, which is actually one of the suggestions! The more we talk about and explore our emotions, the more we can understand them and become more resilient. As I read this month’s chapter, I also transitioned into a new job. One of the main focus areas for our district this coming year is Social Emotional Learning. My rereading of Onward was a perfect support into this work!

The disposition of acceptance helps us see and acknowledge each of our emotions as they are happening. It also helps when we can distinguish the difference between anger and sadness, or other emotions and moods that get twisted in their attack on us. July is a great time to get more rest, take care of yourself emotionally and physically, in preparation for another great school year.

If you’ve been reading this series, I would love to hear from you.

  • Have you read or reread Aguilar’s Onward book?
  • How does your school/district address Social Emotional Learning?
  • What habits have you developed to support your own emotional resiliency?
  • Which habit and disposition from Onward has resonated with you the most?

Posts in the Building Resilience series:

Building Resilience

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June Reading Update [2019]

Last year I read 59 books total, so my this time of the year I am competing with myself and want to be past the halfway point to 60. After May, I had read 41 books. This month I read 9 bringing my 2019 total to 50! I think I’ve beaten my halfway point goal and am on track to have a record-setting year of reading!

  • Losing Quin: A journey of injustice and healing by Brian M. Murphy with contributions from Maria Galleher – This sad and emotional and powerful book was written by a colleague of mine after losing his son due to medical misdiagnosis and complications. Instead of living in anger, Brian turned his grief into a lesson on the medical world of HMOs and health care in America. I was so saddened to read of each problem, each time a doctor didn’t listen, each time his son was in pain and no one helped. But I was so uplifted reading about Brian’s determination to heal, to turn Quin’s life into a lesson for other families, and to keep Quin’s memory alive. This is a beautiful family story surrounded by the sad details of a life cut too short.
  • The Banker’s Wife by Cristina Alger – I saw this book recommended on a blogger’s list and since I’ve liked other recommendations by her, I knew I would enjoy this fast-paced mystery. I loved the stories alternately told from the two female protagonists, each trying to solve this mystery on different continents and from different perspectives. As we learned about the deep deceptions within foreign banking, and the lies that bankers, politicians, and even journalists will tell, the story took chase across the world. I appreciate the ending for each woman’s story.
  • Nantucket Nights by Elin Hilderbrand – This is a great summer read! As Kayla’s life unravels around her, she is forced to question herself as a wife, a mother, and a friend. Her two closest friends, Val and Antoinette, betray her, and she in turns betrays others. This is a story about complicated relationships. While the ending was satisfying, I’m not sure if I liked it or not. I love a book that makes you think even after the last page!
  • The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan – This was a random add-on purchase when I wanted to make sure I had enough e-books available during a vacation. It ended up being surprisingly good, if you love books and reading! The main character, Nina, is a book lover whose dream is to be able to find the right book for each reader. After she loses her job at a library, she ends up moving to Scotland and opening a book shop out of a large van. As she puts books into people’s hands, she gets to know them and herself. It was fun to go on her journey and to read the gorgeous scenery of Scotland.
  • Coach It Further: Using the Art of Coaching to Improve School Leadership by Peter M. DeWitt – I try to get my hands on any professional book that relates to instructional coaching, as that is my passion, my work, and the content of my upcoming book (The Coach Adventure comes out at the end of August!). I enjoyed DeWitt’s book, which allowed us to follow a first year principal’s journey as he is coached by a mentor and as he learns to build the capacity of his assistant principals and his site leadership team. The themes that were repeated throughout the story include: take time to build relationships, coaching takes time and trust, and keeping a focus on the most important work.
  • The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker – I discovered this book by browsing my library’s e-reader app and I’m so glad I found it! This is a fascinating story about love, loss, and chaos in times of uncertainty. As the earth’s rotation begins to slow, the length of daylight and darkness grow, and people have to adjust to a new and scary normal. I loved the story being narrated from Julia’s 11-year old point of view. That made it as much about adolescence as about the possible end of the world. I highly recommend this book to everyone!
  • Unbound by Stuart Woods – I’m trying to get myself back in the correct order of my favorite series, the Stone Barrington books by Woods; I believe this was the last book I missed out of order in my recent haste. I loved this particular story because it includes a subplot all about Billy Barnett, formerly Teddy of the CIA, as he and Stone crossed paths between LA and Santa Fe. Billy had to use his old CIA skills to avoid trouble that he brought on himself after his wife was killed. It was a fun, fast-paced journey!
  • A Bollywood Affair by Sonali Dev – In my efforts to continue to expand my reading repertoire, I discovered this book through my library e-reader and I loved it! I enjoy Bollywood movies and this was like reading about one come to life! There were underage arranged marriages, real love, mystery, and what felt like a never-ending wait for the happily ever after moment!
  • Turbulence by Stuart Woods – I love my Stone Barrington novels, but I’m sad that I’m almost all caught up to the author’s present writing schedule. It will be hard to have to wait months for a new book to be available. In this story, Stone had both a boat and a car blown in an explosion meant to kill him. His insurance policy might not be renewed after these escapades!


This month I abandoned Creativity, Inc by Ed Catmull.  Ed is a founder of Pixar and it was interesting to read about the begininings of the company and how they made their first movies. However, the storytelling was slow and laborious and I found myself not wanting to open the book up. So I stopped a little more than halfway through.

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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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