Tag Archives: connections

The Importance of Emotional Leadership

In about my sixth year of teaching, I remember sharing a story about my dogs with my grade 9 students.  As I was on my own in a small town where I didn’t know many people, the dogs were a HUGE part of my life and this wasn’t the first or last time I would talk about them.  They were and are like family to me.  When I was really getting into the story, one of my students shouted out in the middle of the class and said, “We don’t want to hear another story about your stupid dog.”

Years prior, I probably would have asked her to leave, got frustrated at the comment, and would have shown anger before anything.  This time I didn’t.  Instead, I said to her, “Those dogs are a huge part of my life and when you say something like that it really hurts me.”  Her facial expression and demeanour changed quickly, as did several of others in the class.  I was no longer simply a “teacher”, but a person, with real feelings and emotions.  After that moment, I felt a real change in how I was treated by students and, in all honesty, how I treated them.  It changed a lot for me.

As a principal, it would have been easy to fake emotions and represent that nothing had bothered or stressed me out, but in reality, I was never like that.  When Kobe (my first dog) had died, I struggled at school.  I spent a lot of time in my office and would often cry to my staff when they shared their condolences.  To many, this would be sign of a weakness, but in reality, I would say the exact opposite.  To be able to show who you are and share emotion is strength. Denying it and pretending I was feeling something else would not be true to myself.  We show our true strength when we accept that that we are vulnerable.

As a speaker, it is not easy to cry in front of people, but sometimes by showing emotion, I feel it is what makes me relatable.  Although I talk a lot about education, it is often the stories of my dad passing away, moments with my family, and my dogs that I often hear resonated most with others.  Every single person you have met has dealt with hardships in their life, and when they see someone being able to talk about similar experiences and share what they have learned from them, that is often what sticks with them.

This is not to say you need to share every part of your life, as I, like many educators, value my privacy as well.  But there are parts of YOUR story that will make an impact, and showing that you are having a rough day is showing that you are a person.  I spoke the following week after my dad died, and the day after I lost Shaq.  I cried profusely in front of people as I shared those stories with them.  The hugs that I received after both of those talks went WAY beyond people learning “stuff”, but went into deeper connections, for the audience and most definitely myself.  Think about it…if you were going to be vulnerable in front of any profession in a world, wouldn’t the best group to do that in front of be a group of educators where being loving and caring is an unwritten part of their job?

Yet I have seen many people walk into new roles and put on a tough demeanour and move away from who they truly are.  They implement the “don’t smile until December” rule and stick with it.  They constantly put people at arm’s length as they act as if showing emotion would be a sign of weakness.  Ironically with many, their emotion, their passion, and their story, which they have shared with me, is the exact reason that I have connected with them in the first place.  I talked to one new principal this week and he said his main focus for the beginning of his time at a new school was not about implementing a bunch of different things, but connecting and learning about his new staff while they learn about him. That focus on “connecting” was perfect and why I know that he is going to be successful.  Life is often a roller coaster ride with many ups and downs that we are all experiencing and asking for help is showing much more strength than simply giving up.

So as many people go into new roles next year, and try different things, my advice would be to show and be true to yourself.  Emotional leadership, showing humility, and being genuine, are not only sharing pieces of who you are, but they also show confidence, which is vital to successful leadership.  You and your colleagues will have ups and downs, as will your students.  Getting back up only happens when we fall down in the first place; they are both important parts to the story..  When we are in a field that is focus on developing people, no matter what your role is, showing your “human side” is vital.

Telling stories is often the best way for people to move forward, but don’t forget to put YOU into that narrative.  That is often the most important part.

As I wrote this on the plane, when I landed I read this post by Nicholas Provenzano, this one from Leah Whitfordand this one by Amber Teamann that are powerful examples of what I tried to articulate in this post.

A Little Piece of Yourself

The best teachers in the world connect with their students on some personal level.  

I have always believed that.  It does not mean that you share every element of your personal life, but it does mean that you do share parts.  The teachers that impacted me, I remember knowingmore about them than simply what they taught, and it is the reason I became a teacher.  I wanted to make that same impact.

So why do we believe something different when it comes to social media?  Many people are worried about revealing too much about themselves and that will somehow be an invasion of privacy, yet it is always up to the individual on “what” and “how much” they share.  My personal belief and guideline on social media is the following:

“Whatever you can say to a classroom of students is what you can say online.”

If you follow that, you should not only be fine but you can make some pretty powerful connections.

Which brings me to why I am writing this in the first place…

After a presentation that I had made for Peel District School Board in Ontario, I had an educator approach me and tell me that she wanted me to share a story.  As she teared up, I worried about how I might have offended her or said something wrong.  Actually the opposite.

In my tweets, I have shared music I like to the hashtag #georgetunes.  I am a huge music fan, and although I share the occasional One Direction or Wham song (as a joke…maybe not), I am a huge fan of a lot of very mellow music such as William Fitzsimmons, Iron and Wine, and Keane, which has led people to sharing music from bands from The Avett Brothers.  This is something that I would have shared with students so it is not something I was reluctant to share online.

So as this “stranger” shared her story with me, she told me about how someone suggested that she follow me on Twitter.  Although she shared that she appreciated my educational tweets, she really enjoyed a lot of the music that I shared, as we had similar tastes.

And then her mother passed away.

She took a risk, reached out to a stranger (my email is listed on my blog), and shared that she connected with me on Twitter, loved the music I shared, and told me about how her mom had passed.  She then asked me a suggestion for a song.  Of course, I responded immediately, and gave her a suggestion to which she told me that played at her mom’s funeral.  She thanked me for not only responding, but for being willing to share in the first place.

I have not stopped thinking about what she told me and her story.

People have made fun of me for sharing some stuff online (like #georgetunes), but I don’t see myself as an “educator first”, but a person with many sides and interests.  Those connections are what I believed in as an educator, and carry over to what I do online.  I also have been reminded once again that every little thing you share can make a big impact, no matter how insignificant it may seem, so try to focus on the positive.  Who knows what it can do for someone else.

Taking Time To Be Human


cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo shared by ePi.Longo

Yesterday morning I woke up feeling great and ready to take on the world.  Lately, things have slowed down  (in a good way)  and you have those times in your life when you seem to hit your stride.  I might be in one of those times.

Then I checked Facebook.

A good friend of mine wasn’t having one of those days.  Unfortunately, a beloved pet of hers had a terrible accident and was in a severe condition.  She was not doing well and I contacted her directly to check in and see how she was doing, not through a comment, but a personal message.

The odd thing to many, is that when I say “good friend”, this is someone I have met in person once, but have connected with several times through Twitter and Facebook and have got to know through social mediums more than the opportunity I have had to meet face-to-face. Friendships that are started and maintained through social media are becoming something  normal to me.  I always prefer face-to-face, but do not limit friendships to that.

Yet many times those connections that we build either online or offline, get pushed aside for the busy times that we have in life.  We spend a lot of time doing what we do, connected in our own world, and we lose touch with some of those valued connections that we have built in our lives because we are lost in ourselves.

As I left this morning, I thought of her and checked her Facebook feed to see how her dog was doing only to find that her beloved pet had passed away.  I stopped everything that I was doing and cried profusely, knowing how tough the loss of a pet is and wondering what I could do to help, knowing that there isn’t much from a far distance.  It also hit me how we often only check in on people we see that something is wrong, yet pay little attention when seems to be going right.

We can stop our lives instantly to help a friend in need, yet you often hear things like “I could care less what someone had for breakfast”, when it comes to social media.  Yet those little “shares” help us to build those strong connections in the first place.  The constant sharing of my own pets may not be something that connects to everyone, nor do the masses find appealing, but it does create a deep connection with few.  I have purposely started to filter those “meaningless” tweets and updates from others as I felt I have been too busy to keep up with it, and wanted only the shares related to my field, but why?  Those little glimpses into someone else’s life were the things that brought me initially close to so many people.

Maybe when we start to care about those little happy moments that others share so openly, it shows the importance of the connections that we have made, and that we are not only there in “bad”, but also to help them “savour” the good.

Maybe we need to pay a little more attention to what someone had for breakfast.

Maybe it just says we care.

Why I try to follow every teacher I can on Twitter


cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by stevegarfield

Tony Baldasaro wrote a blog post yesterday that is getting a lot of attention regarding why he “unfollowed 5000 people on Twitter” and how he is going back to starting over.  There is a lot of powerful thoughts in his post on how we actually connect with each other in this space:

As I pressed unfollow 5,000 times, I realized that I didn’t know most of the folks that I was unfollowing.  Actually, it was more than that, I had no clue who these folks were.  They were complete strangers.  I literally had no connection to them, which, in hindsight, should not have been a surprise.  As I said earlier, I didn’t “pay any attention to them” how the hell would I actually know them.  It did hurt to unfollow folks who brought great value to my life, but I knew if I was going to do it, I had to fully commit.

Now I don’t want to say Tony is wrong, and from my several meetings with him I can tell you he is an awesome guy,  but I do want to offer a different perspective.

Several years ago when I first started Twitter, I thought, like many do, that it was probably the dumbest thing ever.  I used it randomly, followed some educators, but mostly celebrities, because I didn’t understand how it could improve me as an educator.  My brother and others asked people to blindly follow me to help me build a network even though I had nothing to contribute in that space.  It was not that I had nothing to contribute, but that I just didn’t really understand how I could do it on a social network.  So people followed me and I offered nothing other than a wise-crack here and there.  Then after a couple of weeks I decided to take a year sabbatical from the space :)

A year later, I was coaxed into trying it again and people blindly followed me knowing how I easily gave up on it in the first place.  I actually decided to give it a legitimate try and quickly I was hooked.  I was amazed at how much I learned from others and how open people were to connecting.  I remember sending out a google form and having people share and reshare a tweet that showed my staff the power of Twitter for professional learning.  I look back at that post and some people that helped have become good friends and some people I still don’t even know.  Yet they were all willing to help some guy from Canada who was trying to help his staff.

I even watch today as my brother asks people from his network to help him get others connected:

Him asking for this help while only following a select few would be hypocritical in my opinion. (He follows over 13,000 people.)

The network that I have connected with on Twitter have helped me through some tough times.  When my first dog Kobe passed away people supported me from wherever they were in the world to make it through a difficult time.  When I was dealing with some personal issues, again people rallied around me and either tweeted, commented on my post, or emailed me directly to offer stories and support.  Some I knew and some were total strangers, but all were willing to help.

Currently, I follow over 8500 people on Twitter and that count will continue to grow.  I rarely look at my “home” column because, as Tony mentioned, it moves way to fast.  I use hashtags and lists to find information I am interested in.  Every once in awhile though, I take a peek at that home column (interestingly enough, that is how I found Tony’s blog post) and find something amazing, or see someone I follow asking for help.  Either I try to help them myself, or “Retweet” them to help them find a connection.  If I didn’t follow them, I wouldn’t be able to do that.  I do this because so many people have done this for me.  Although it is my “Personal Learning Network” it is not just about what I take from it, but also what I can give, not only in information, but in facilitating connections and offering some help.  I am, as all educators are, extremely busy, but when I can help, I try to do my best.  We are all teachers and we all should focus on what is best for kids.

I look back at when I started and if people look at what I had actually contributed, no one would have followed me.  I think they looked at what I could contribute in the future.  I remember this summer when someone with 15 followers and 26 tweets, helped me out a great deal.  If I used Tony’s way, this would have not happened.

Now some of you may be reading this that I am not following on Twitter and if that is true, I apologize.  I don’t use a “follow back” function because I do limit my network to mostly teachers (yes, I do follow Justin Bieber), and do not really care to connect with companies.  I also don’t check who unfollows me because I don’t really know how that would be helpful to me in any way. I do follow people that don’t follow me because I can still learn from them. The only reason I wouldn’t follow someone is because I find them offensive.  I try to look at who follows me when I have an opportunity, and follow them back if they are an educator because I know that I can probably learn something from them.  But unfortunately, sometimes I miss people and when it is brought to my attention I am often quite embarrassed.  Allie Holland, Jimmy Casas, and Diana Williams are all people that I didn’t realize that I wasn’t following, yet I have learned a ton from them in a short time and actually would consider them friends now.

Although there are some tweeters that I look at daily, Tony could have done what he was talking about by simply creating a list of his favourite tweeters and inserting that column into Tweetdeck.  It really is that easy.

I have learned over and over again, that I have no idea who I can help, who can help me, and who I can be the connector for between two separate parties, so I do my best to follow as many teachers as possible.  You do not have to be a prolific “Tweeter” to help me become a better educator although your sharing does help.  A ton of people trusted that they could learn from something from me a long time ago when I had contributed very little, so I am going to continue to do the same.

Risk Taking Does Not Fit With Perfection

Lesley Cameron is a teacher I am proud to say I work with at Forest Green School.  She has rejoined our staff after a year maternity leave, yet this has been our first year working together.  She has done some amazing things and has shown tremendous growth this year as an educator within her grade 3 classroom.  I have said that the signs of the best teachers are that they are continuous learners; Lesley embodies this as an educator.

It’s the end of August.  Time for a new school year.  My maternity leave is over.  Back to school with lots of ‘new’ things – new administration, new grade, new students.  Change is in the air.  I knew returning to school after a maternity leave was going to be difficult.  As I was gearing up for a new school year and mentally preparing to leave my two babies when returning to work, I have to admit, I was a bit stressed.

I am a huge perfectionist and always have been.  I have high expectations for myself and always have.  Throughout grade school and university, I always needed to strive for top marks and beat myself up over anything less.  Was this a bad thing?  At the time, I didn’t think so.  It led me to work hard for what I wanted to achieve and to achieve the success I had dreamed of.

On the first PD Day, my new principal showed a short video clip entitled “Two Questions” inspired from Dan Pink’s new book, Drive.  One of the two questions focused on in the video was “What’s Your Sentence?” So I got thinking, “What is going to be the one question that drives my year?”  More broad than that, what is going to drive my teaching?  In conversations with my principal, George Couros, about my control and perfectionism, he suggested, “risk taking does not fit with perfection”.  Instantly, I knew it fit.  Something I wanted to work on was being more of a risk taker so that I can model it for my students.  Being a risk taker to me means trying new things and learning from my mistakes.  Knowing that everything will not be perfect is okay.  The process of learning never ends and is even heightened as we make mistakes.  This included learning about using technology, my Smart Board, our classroom blog, e-portfolios, and the list goes on.  To be honest, these new technologies worried a perfectionist like me.

So… how’s it going?  I must say, it has been pretty great!  I decided to jump right in, take on these new challenges, and try to live my life more as a risk taker.  I love using my Smart Board to actively engage my students in their learning, am actively blogging, and have a “Blogger of the Week” program in my classroom.  We have our e-portfolios set up and will begin adding to them in the New Year!  Further to that, I am learning about social media and am so amazed and excited to have connections around the world.  Thanks to a great blog post written by one of my students and the many comments made on it, George connected me with a teacher living in Jakarta, Indonesia, as an expert for a research topic in my Social Studies program.  We Skyped in with him and learned so much about the Muslim culture and celebrations.  We have a great video of our conversation to look back on embedded in another post on our blog!  What an unbelievable experience for my students as well as myself.  I have recently created a Twitter account and am looking forward to the connections possible through there and the wealth of knowledge, information, and ideas through the great networks of educators!

The second question in Dan Pink’s video was “Was I better today than yesterday?”  What a great reflective question to ask oneself as a means to continually strive for improvement.  I am always looking for ways to be a better teacher, communicator, staff member, and leader in our school community.  I think it’s important to reflect on my practice and ensure that I’m meeting the needs of my students the best I can every single day. Being able to show my students that I’m willing to take risks and learn along the way has been an important part of my year.

While it has been a challenging year for me trying to balance everything, I must admit I like a challenge!  It has also been one of the most rewarding years for me (and it’s only 4 months into the school year!) as I feel I have shown growth already and I have committed to bettering myself, becoming a risk taker, and am trying to be more reflective along the way.

If you don’t already have a sentence, now is a great time to ask yourself, “What’s My Sentence?” and reflect on your day with the question, “Was I better today than yesterday?”

Check out the video below:


Humanity; Where is it actually lacking?


cc licensed flickr photo shared by Jesslee Cuizon
I have heard several comments regarding the “fear” of using too much technology in the classroom and how it sometimes dehumanizes us.  I find this rather interesting as I have started to develop some fantastic relationships because of my use of technology in the past year (Twitter, Facebook, my blog), but understand how those who do not take part would have trouble fully realizing the potential of these mediums.  If we have technology in the classroom and do not use it to connect and collaborate with others, I also can understand how people would be concerned.

I think we have bigger things to worry about though.

When schools lock their doors until right before classes begin, this is a concern.

When schools have “anti-hugging” policies, this is a concern. (Story here, here, here, and here.)

When staff do not use supervision as a way to connect with students in the school, that is a concern.

There are always boundaries that we must ensure that we do not cross in schools; it is important that we address these issues as they arise and work with our students. The following quote seems to be more applicable to many schools everyday.

“What happened here seems to be the knee-jerk response to any problem these days: Overkill, just like when schools ban tag because a kid could trip, or cupcakes, because a kid could get fat.” From Banning Hugs at School

Reading these articles and hearing these stories tells me that our kids disconnecting from each other because the use of technology is the least of our concerns.  It is imperative that we teach our kids to not only the curriculum, but how to care for one another.

“People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.” This should be the key element in all of our schools.

Update:

I think that this video is a great addition to this post via Patrick Larkin.