I've been thinking about fearless leadership in education. In recent months, I've observed problems that would take a great amount of courage to solve. Is fearlessness a prerequisite to leadership?
I am a fearful person. I'm afraid that I am not a good leader. I'm afraid that the things I am doing will not be enough to make change. I'm afraid that the problems we are trying to solve are just too huge, too intractable. I'm afraid that I left my hair straightener on. This fear motivates me to be better, but it is also my enemy.
In my investigation of fearless leadership I was surprised that the most common result of the search is the character Fearless Leader from Rocky & Bullwinkle, one of my mom's favorite shows. I loved it too- I went down memory lane on Youtube to learn more about Fearless Leader! The villain has the traits of what I would consider to be a fearful leader, one who relies only on power of position for authority. Fearless Leader is watching Rocky and Bullwinkle from a satellite from a "sinister room" in Pottsylvania. He rules by yelling and scaring his subordinates, like Boris Badenov. A show famous for "Fractured Fairy Tales", and witty dry humor, the Fearless Leader character is an ironic portrayal of poor leadership.
I've studied leadership, I read about it frequently and listen to audiobooks. This is my disclaimer that basically- I know nothing. But here are some of the patterns I've found.
1) Leaders who rule by creating fear are not fearless.
I've observed people who are in leadership positions that they are not prepared for, and where they are not supported. The strategy for these leaders becomes a "my way or the highway" attitude, or "because I said so" when questioned. Or they try to create an environment in which employees do not have a voice, where they are fearful to question. These leaders are full of fear, and are not leaders, because their followers are only followers because of the position they hold and not because they believe in the person they are following.
2) Fearless leaders admit when they are wrong.
Fearless leaders have a strong understanding of what they know and what they don't know. Leaders who pretend to know everything are dangerous. In most organizations, it would be extremely challenging to be an expert in all subjects. Education is highly specialized and many teachers and administrators have a narrow span of expertise. None of us know everything there is to know- the best way to learn more is to change your setting and challenge yourself. Even then, there will be so much to learn. If a fearless leader makes a mistake, they admit it and they apologize. And they move on.
3) Fearless leaders don't make excuses.
They understand that excuse making is a big waste of time. They don't do it, and they don't tolerate it from their employees. We're in education. Our work is dependent on societal factors such as parenting, socio-economics, state and local policies, local school boards, the State Department, etc. etc. For everything you could be doing to help kids, there's some excuse out there why you can't. At the same time, almost always you could find someone who is doing the work, despite those factors, and doing it well. No more excuses.
4) Fearless education leaders do what's best for the student. Always.
Fearless leaders in education do what's best for the student, not what's best for the adults. What's best for the adults is almost always easiest. What's best for adults is met with the least opposition and will get adults the time/money/resources what they need. But is it really what's best for the students? The best education leaders put the students first, 100% of the time. If this means that an adult or a group of adults is getting in the way of that mission- it means fearlessly standing up to them and not tolerating that behavior. Far too often, education leaders choose the path of least resistance.
We need more fearless leaders in education, and we need to be developing teachers and leaders to be bold and unafraid. Fear keeps teachers from trying new things. Fear makes teachers feel that they don't have a voice, or that their students and parents don't have a voice. Fear creates stress, anxiety, and depression. Fear removes the joy from teaching. Fear has no business in our schools. The fearless leader can create a culture of love instead of fear. This is who we need leading our schools and school systems.
During the great Southern Snowpocalypse of 2014 I was holed up in my little garage apartment with my books and my thoughts. I had recently learned about the Minimalists and downloaded their book Everything that Remains: A Memoir which reminded me that our things are not what's most important in life. With this reminder and a little time on my hands I managed to fill several trashbags full of possessions I didn't need any more. Once the snow and ice melted, my items went to consignment, to good will, and into the trash. I had more space, more clarity, and more peace of mind.
The minimalist movement hasn't gone away, and years later The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo can be found on bedside tables everywhere of those individuals who have gone through the exercise of discovering which of their possessions spark joy in their life. I have put the KonMari method to the test in my own home with incredible results. Between the Minimalists, Marie Kondo, an countless other messages that we should be simplifying our lives, could some of this apply to our work in education?
Schools and districts have a way of adding on without ever taking away. In our houses, if we did this we would end up on Hoarders. I've worked in several school settings and this one seems to be a constant, and happens at every level of the institution. I'd love to hear from readers if they've also witnessed this phenomenon.
At the level of the classroom, a teacher may learn something new each year and continually layer that on top of the curriculum, without getting rid of older content and activities. This is how we get accused of curriculum that is a "mile wide and an inch deep". It is important as educators to continually evolve with students. If something isn't working, ditch it and find something new. Some of this is not the choice of the teacher, and they are required to add on to their existing practice through school or district policies. As professionals, educators have to sift through it all and decide what is best for the students sitting in class each day.
If you are a good employee who is ready and willing to take on any challenge-watch out. You may be asked to take on many activities that go above and beyond your call of duty. On the one hand, this can provide teachers with leadership opportunities and experiences, but on the other hand, it can lead to burnout. The best way to deal with this as an administrator is to make sure that as you are adding on to a teacher's plate, there may be something you can take away. Or at the very least you can provide assistance or support. We should constantly be scanning our schools to say, "Is this really the best use of students' and teachers' time?". If the answer is no, get rid of it.
School districts are in the unfortunate position of deciding what's best for ALL of their schools, employees, students, and families. The larger the district, the harder this becomes. Each school has its own unique personality, demographics, and likely different needs, but for financial and organizational reasons districts tend to apply the same interventions across the board. If we add on leadership and teacher turnover into the equation it can become a constant churn of layering where new initiatives are being introduced all the time. The layers continue to pile up on teachers and students.
Sometimes, the district decides on its own to try a new sweeping reform, but sometimes the state or legislature decides for all schools what is best. Districts then have to follow these policies and communicate them to all stakeholders, often with little time for explanation or buy-in.
And sometimes even the state has no control of a national policy. No Child Left Behind is the most appropriate example from my career; a national policy that shaped what we taught, how we taught it, and how it was assessed for nearly a decade.
So as we look at all of these different entities and how they apply pressure down the system for new and improved curriculum, assessment, and school reform it is no wonder that so many feel helpless to change the system. We are layering and layering new ideas, strategies, policies, experiments, assessments, curriculum, technology, textbooks, frameworks, programs, all without stopping to figure out if there are some things in our closet that we might be able to get rid of. If at every level we pause every now and then to think of what these things are, bag them up, and put them out on the curb, I think we would find ourselves working in healthier systems with a little more breathing room. When we do this, the most important, most effective, and most joyful elements of education could rise to the highest priority. Perhaps instead of looking at what we should add, we should begin looking at what we could take away.
In January, I quit my membership to the gym after 7 years. It was a tough decision, because just having that membership made me feel fit, even if I only went once a week. Over the past 7 years I've gone through Yoga phases, Pilates phases, a Zumba phase, Pure Barre, Spinning, or whatever the latest craze might be. Some of those stuck with me, others have been fleeting. But they almost all have one thing in common, which is amazing differentiated instruction.
I'll take Yoga as an example of an exercise that does a great job differentiating instruction for all levels. In one class, there could be students from 18 to 80. Some may have injuries that prevent them from certain moves. Some students are more flexible than others, and some are stronger than others. Some students may have been practicing for one year and others may have been practicing for ten. An instructor has to make sure that every single one of these people is both challenging themselves, but not pushing themselves so far that they could hurt themselves. In education we call this scaffolding. All students, all the time, deserve to be appropriately challenged.
So how do they do it? First, they have tools that help people to reach their goals. In yoga, it is sometimes a block or a strap. Someone that can't touch the floor with their fingertips may have the support they need with a block and be able to practice the same pose as the rest of the class. I am not very flexible, so I often use a strap to help me stretch by wrapping it around my foot, if my hands can't reach. It's just the little bit of help I need to be successful. In addition to providing supports, the teachers are often frequently providing extensions. These extensions might mean releasing your hands from the floor or the block and using your core for support. Another extension used often in yoga are balance poses such as the crow pose that are very challenging. The instructor will say, if you are comfortable and it is part of your practice, please continue into (Balance Pose). Everyone else stays where they are and they are still challenged.
I mentioned that I quit the gym recently, and that was to try an online fitness service called The Daily Burn. Now the workouts are completely on my own time and at my own pace. In each workout program, there is a modifier, who is modeling a beginner version of the workout. There is also someone who is extending the workout and making it more challenging. Through the whole workout you can choose which one works for you, right that moment.
So how does all this translate to education? In the classroom it might look like flexible small groups based on mastery. The groups are not homogenous or heterogenous, but rather group the students at their ability on different skills and give students the supports or extensions that they need to be challenged and experience success. Students are all different, all the time. While I might need a block for one pose, I can do the extension on another. During a workout video, I might follow the modifier sometimes and then challenge myself during the times when I feel like it's too easy. Wouldn't it be amazing if students could learn like this? Unfortunately in education we have a tendency to sort students out into permanent groups with labels and programs, but we should approach education with the idea that every student has strengths, and every student has areas of growth. Our job is to make the most of the strengths and to support the weaknesses.
This carries up to the level of the teacher as well. Like the students, not all teachers need the same level of support. But we insist on sitting teachers down and feeding them information. Training and professional development are rarely differentiated for teachers, but we expect teachers to differentiate for their students without modeling it for them.
The next time you're in a workout class or watching a video of one, check out what the instructors are doing to make sure that all students are successful. Provide choices. See all students as needing both advancement and support at different times. Use tools that help students reach their goals. Make sure all students are challenged enough to love learning no matter where they are.
Building a fire is one of the best metaphors for an education career. Each stage of building a fire, and the life of a fire has parallels in the education career. I haven't written for the past months because I've been exhausted. There was one week where every day I got home from work I put on my pajamas immediately. Has that ever happened to you?
I think it's because my fire was down to glowing embers, without enough fuel to keep going. I'm just now emerging from this time and I have a feeling I may not be alone so I thought it would be important to share, and think through how I can keep the fire burning steadily, without dying out or creating an explosion. If you have stories you can share, please share in the comments or blog about it and share with me. As we consider the fire of a teaching career, the following fire-building tips may help us, courtesy of Smokey Bear.
How to Build a Fire:
1) Gather three types of wood (Tinder, Kindling, and Fuel)
I consider these our tools. This is the knowledge and experience needed to be a good teacher. Maybe it's the pre-service teaching, or the higher ed institution that prepared you for teaching. Not only do we need these before we start teaching, we need them desperately in the first couple years of teaching. Mentorship is one of the most important components of a teachers' development and support systems. Unfortunately many schools do not have strong mentoring programs due to budgetary constraints. One of the most often cited reasons for teachers leaving the profession is lack of support. The structures underneath the fire are critical for it to start.
2) Add Kindling in One of these Methods: Tipi, Cross, Lean-To, Log Cabin
Related to the gathering of wood, our materials and resources can't be haphazard. They have to be strategic and planned. Too often schools throw materials at teachers. A new form to fill out, a new lesson plan template, a new education technology, the latest education buzzword. As an early adopter who is overly enthusiastic about new and shiny things--I may be guilty of this. As education administrators we have a responsibility to think carefully and plan the structures under which we are going to build programs and new instructional models. It is our job to create clarity among the noise.
3) Ignite the tinder with a match or lighter.
Over the course of your career there are many times where the fire slowly starts to die out. Or, maybe you haven't gotten started yet. Someone or something has got to ignite the fire to get it going. It's got to start somewhere. Over my career, my ignition has not always come from inside my school system. Thinking back, the ignition often came from other educators, an inspirational book or speaker, or professional programs that connected me to other teachers like me. It might have been a letter from a parent or a student telling me that I meant something. There are so many little points along the way that can ignite the spark. Seek these opportunities out and don't take for granted the ones that find you. They will help you keep your fire going strong.
4) Add more tinder as the fire grows.
You can't walk away from the fire. Even though we need supports in the first couple of years does not mean that support should ever go away. Every professional at every level of education deserves quality professional development. Teachers and leaders need the resources to do the job to the best of their ability. This is not always material resources (trust me, we have gotten used to working off of limited resources). But it can be emotional resources, or social resources that keep our fire from slowly dying. It could be as simple as saying "Thank You".
5) Keep the fire small and under control.
Of course, Smokey doesn't want to see the fire spread across the whole forest. A large fire can get out of our control. Sometimes it feels like we might be in the middle of a fire that is out of our control. As lawmakers that have not been in classrooms pass laws that affect them, administrators often have no choice but to respond. When these laws are not thought out well, it creates chaos in the system where educators are constantly reacting, rather than being proactive. I am so proud of fellow Alabama educators who are inviting lawmakers to classrooms. The only way this is going to get under control is through communication and understanding. Check out the NPR piece: In Alabama, Teachers School Lawmakers. Sometimes even when we've built a manageable fire and have things under our control, there are external fires that may consume the little one we have going.
I admit that my fire burned out for a little while there. There were some little glowing embers that could be used to get the fire picking up again. I found some sources of inspiration and ignition, and sought out the sources of support that I needed to keep going. Because I need to keep going. And you do too. Think of the faces of the students who need you. It could be your class of 25, it could be the hundreds of students in your school, it could be the thousands in your school district. Whoever they are, they need you. They need you at your strongest, most on-fire self.
Just got called out on Twitter by Eric Johnson @yourkidsteacher, blogger and educator extraordinaire! The challenge is a series of questions originated by Anthony Purcell at Random Teacher Thoughts. I love the collaborative feel of this challenge and am honored that Eric has selected me to complete the questions. I encourage you to go through the exercise and share it because reflection is a huge part of the work we do, and these questions frame that quite nicely for teacher or administrator.
1) What has been your ONE biggest struggle this school year?
I work in a large, urban school district that comes with many challenges of scale. I am a perpetual optimist and idealist so one thing I have really struggled with is differentiating between things I can control and things I can't control. When I can get into the mental space where I am focused on my own sphere of influence, I am much more successful and at peace. But it is a struggle and something I am always having to remind myself.
2) Share TWO accomplishments you are proud of this school year.
a. I am proud that on our gifted program blog we have been able to feature some student bloggers, who reflect on their class experiences. I love adding student voice to the blog and enjoy seeing more entries throughout the year.
b. I am proud of the many things my teachers have been able to accomplish. They have started new academic programs and competitions, seized opportunities to connect with the community, and set up high school academy tours so that middle school students can make important decisions about their academic career. I am proud to be able to support the teachers and equip them with what they need to do their work well.
3) What THREE things do you wish to accomplish by the end of the school year?
a. I hope to accomplish my Innovation Project, which is to create a community of TED-Ed Educators in Birmingham who are able to run TED-Ed Clubs and TEDxYouth events in their schools through the TEDxBirmingham Educator Fellow Program.
b. I hope to become more familiar with Google Apps for Education and equip my staff with the tools available. I would also like to help my team communicate and collaborate using Google tools.
c. We were able to acquire teacher laptops and some Google Nexus devices for our program for the 2015-16 school year. I would like to acquire more technology for the upcoming school year so that the gifted ed classrooms move closer to 1:1 access during class.
4) Give FOUR reasons you remain in education in today's rough culture.
a. I believe you can make the most impact when you are right in the mix of things, so for the time being I feel I am where I am supposed to be. Teachers have the most impact, so I think if I can help good teachers stick in the profession then I am helping.
b. If not us, then who???
c. There are a lot of kids out there whose talents are not identified or nourished. This is the loss of a great resource. We need to keep finding what students love, and using that to engage them in learning.
d. Even on the worst days I would rather do this than a corporate desk job.
5) Which FIVE people do you hope will take the challenge of answering these questions?
a. Jimmy Juliano- amazing teacher and TED-Ed Club facilitator (our clubs got to connect years ago and then I got to meet him in New York!).
b. Amanda Dykes- I had to hear about her from Midwesterners but she lives right here in my town! She is also one of the TEDxBirmingham Educator Fellows and I can't wait to get to know her!
c. Beth Sanders- Heard about her from Canadian Will Gourley. Not sure if she has a blog- but she should! Also a neighboring educator.
d. Della Palacios- I am co-blogging with her for our TED-Ed projects. Even if not a fit for her blog I would love to hear her answers to these questions.
e. Al Elliot- Also do not know if he has a blog but love his ideas and stories. He is a TEDxBirmingham Educator Fellow and speaker! I always love hearing his thoughts on Ed.
It’s month 2 of my yearlong experiment of month-long focus areas rather than a New Year’s resolution. In January, I consumed all things finance and had a major focus on savings to recover from the holiday spending spree. It worked and I am back on steady footing with my accounts. My fellow educators will understand, we get paid on the last working day of the month (Mid-December), and not again until the end of January. Each year I forget about it until those last weeks of January when I’m eating Kraft Mac & Cheese.
For February I will be focused on organization. I had other plans, but then my boyfriend proposed, decided to move in all his stuff, and now there’s a wedding to plan! Hurrah! So I have got to get some systems in place so I don't go completely mad.
There’s a saying “When the student is ready the teacher will appear”. No clue who to credit that to but it fits right now because as I was seeking podcasts and blogs I ran across Note to Self, and just this week they are doing a challenge called Infomagical! And it is magical. Each day there is a new interactive that allows you to clear some of the chaos from your brain by controlling technology and information consumption. Yesterday the challenge taught us how to apply the KonMari method to the phone screen. A little activity that makes a world of difference. I also turned off notifications, sounds, and badges. Today, I’ve diagnosed myself with the plight of the 21st century: infomania.
The term infomania is used to describe a sometimes debilitating feeling of "information overload", caused by the combination of a backlog of information to process (usually in e-mail), and continuous interruptions from technologies like phones, instant messaging, and e-mail.
According to the podcast, this is the curse of curious people! There is so much information in a constant waterfall, like Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory begging us to try everything, to click and click and click. So I am thankful to have a tool to begin organizing my brain. As for organizing stuff, I was an early adopter of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and spent days vertical folding and deciding whether or not things brought me joy. Some systems I set up were great, some a total flop. I am also influenced by The Minimalists, who, like Marie Kondo know that less is more. This month I will work on getting rid of the things I don’t need.
In February, I’ll be working on the organization of my things, my time, my projects, and my thoughts in order to have more space in my brain for the things that do bring me joy.
You didn’t get into this for the money. I know that. But I also know that money matters. It’s how you fund your aspirations and how you gain independence. Nobody wants to talk about money. It’s awkward—like talking about politics. But if you are a public school educator I could quickly find your salary based on where you teach . Are you Nationally Board Certified? Do you have a Masters? Doctorate? From these facts your salary is public knowledge. According to Payscale.com the average salary for all K-12 teachers is $44,439. We receive incremental raises, based on aging and the occasional higher degree (you can only get so many of those). If you stay in your job, you will plateau at your final salary level after 25-27 years.
In my quest to learn more about finances I’m fascinated by this idea of negotiating for a raise. It’s something that as long as I’m in education, I may not learn how to do. But I do think that as educators, we are worth so much more than we are paid. The value we provide to families and to society is immeasurable but you wouldn’t know it based on teacher compensation practices. This blog post won’t teach you how to negotiate your salary. Unfortunately that’s just not an option for most of us, and I couldn’t give you any good advice on salary negotiation in the first place. But the advice I can give you is how I wish I had managed my finances over the last 10 years in education in the hopes that you can avoid my mistakes, or join me in the late bloomer's club.
1) Plan for Retirement
As soon as you start teaching part of your paycheck goes into your Teacher’s Retirement System. You make decisions early on about how much you want to go in and then you never have to look at it again. This automation is nice, but it is problematic in that you don’t have to actively engage in your finances. You should know what you are contributing to your TRS and monitor it just as you would any other accounts. You should also look in to additional retirement savings you can contribute to. In Alabama, it’s the RSA-1 (a 457 deferred compensation plan) which allows you to make tax-free contributions to buffer your retirement savings. In addition, you should try to understand the vesting system in order to maximize the amount of money you put into your retirement.
2) Actively Monitor Your Finances
In Mint.com you can create accounts for your retirement, other investments, your paycheck, credit cards, and any other income or spending. This will help you manage all of your assets. It is also a helpful tool for budgeting and financial goal-setting. Nicole Lapin’s book Rich Bitch has some helpful tools for creating budgets and spending on the things that are important to you without guilt.
3) Manage your subscriptions
I learned this trick from Ramit Sethi’s book I Will Teach You to Be Rich. I cringe at the thought of how many subscriptions I let go unnoticed. Tiny things like that 3.99 subscription to streaming music or the one time annual fees can add up. In an audit of subscriptions I actually found a dating site subscription that was still on, 7 months in to a new relationship! The horror. Go through your credit card and debit card statement and make sure you are actually using those subscriptions, and determine whether there are any you can do without.
4) Find a side income
This advice comes from James Altucher's podcast: You can only save so much money. If I set out to save 1,000$ the most I can save is $1,000. But if I set out to make $1,000 that might just be the beginning. One of the best ways to set yourself up for financial success is to discover other sources of income. Passive income is the best kind, because once you have an available product and people are buying it from you it does not have to take up your time. The best tool I have found for educators to build passive income is Teachers Pay Teachers. You can create products that you can actually use in your classroom and that other teachers will buy! TPT is a remarkable innovation for our field, and I suggest that you set up shop and share your talent with the world, all the while being paid for it. You can also get paid for your expertise. I have many teacher friends that tutor, do adjunct work at local universities, or babysit. Do you like to write? Some education publications pay educators for their expertise, like Noodle.com, who has “Noodle Experts” that are compensated for their work. It’s time we step up and are paid what we are worth.
Finance intimidates me, but I believe that with the right teaching and learning, anyone can learn anything. So I’m playing catchup right now for 10 years of financial neglect. I am very fortunate to be brought up in a financially responsible family with parents who taught me to manage money, but I still have a lot of learning to do. One thing I’ve learned from reading about getting rich, is that being rich isn’t always monetary. It’s buying yourself the time and having the resources to make your dreams come true. Two of my favorite retired teachers are living the richest lives of anyone I know. One is a retired 3rd grade teacher who is a travel photographer in Paris. The other, a retired gifted education teacher goes on an annual archaeological dig in Bulgaria. A rich life is not beyond our reach as educators if we plan early, work hard, and dream big.
Each New Years it is so tempting to make ambitious plans for the year. Lofty New Years resolutions haven’t worked well for me in the past. I can’t tell you what last year’s resolution was because I likely stopped doing it in February or March. There is so much noise about how to improve yourself and our newsfeeds are filled with life hacks and productivity tips. We are bombarded with resources on how to live better and at this time of year there is pressure to make big goals and to stick to them.
This year I propose a new kind of resolution. For each month of 2016 I’m selecting a focus area. In this focus area I will set goals and actions around learning and improving myself in that area. For January I’m going to focus on finance. I spent a good deal of time in 2016 improving my financial literacy, creating budgets and long term planning. In looking over my post-holiday Mint.com trends I can tell that I still have some work to do. this month I will be learning more about managing my finances and sharing what I learn with you. Other potential focus areas could be: home improvement, organization, fitness, career, family. You will know what you need to prioritize.
Here are some ideas for getting focused on a specific area, and some action steps you can take to make the most of each month.
1) Learning: Reading books, listening to podcasts, taking a Udemy, Skillshare, or Coursera course
2) Measuring: Is there a number you can reach to create goals for yourself? For finance, that might be: Save x amount of money or make x amount of side income.
3) Habits: Is there something you could do each day or week that would help you improve in your focus area?
4) Accountability: Is there a friend or family member that you know is working on the same thing? Check in with one another along the way.
5) Journal: Keep track of what you are working on by journaling about it or keeping up with data (If you are working on time management, track your time for two weeks. For finance, see where your $ is going)
At the end of the month you will have learned something new and potentially created a new habit that will last throughout the year. You will stick to your resolutions without giving up on them because they will be manageable. 31 days is much easier than 365 days. I look forward to what we can learn together in 2016.
What if we had just one more day? We will in 2016, on Monday February 29. But what if you could get extra days every year?
In 2015 I discovered something that has saved me time: 1.8 days, to be exact. How do I know? Because my virtual assistant keeps track of that for me. Virtual assistants are most commonly used among small businesses and start-ups but they are increasingly available for just anyone—educators included!
What is a virtual assistant and what can they do for you?
Definition: A virtual assistant (typically abbreviated to VA) is generally self-employed and provides professional administrative assistance remotely.
What kinds of projects can they help you with?
1) Phone Calls
This is my number one favorite way to use the VA. It can be so hard to make phone calls during the day, especially if you’re teaching. For those calls you need to make to the cable company, to set up a hair appointment, car repair, to make a dinner reservation—they can do it for you! You can set it up the night before and your VA will call during business hours.
If you’re putting together a lesson plan, a professional development presentation, or writing a blog post your VA can research for you and save you some minutes that would be spent googling. I’ve also had them create handouts asked on Powerpoint presentations, or create Google Docs and forms for me.
Some Virtual Assistants can do shopping for you. If you’re in education you are probably invited to lots of weddings and baby showers! Your VA can order your gifts for you. They can also help you with your holiday lists or upcoming birthdays. I've even had them pull outfits from my favorite stores helping minimize my decision time.
You get the book club calendar, the board meeting calendar, or you’re told that you will meet on the 1st Monday of the month for faculty meeting. Your VA can put these events in the calendar for the rest of the year. Your VA can also communicate with others to find a mutually agreed upon time.
Spring break will be here before you know it! Start researching vacation rentals, flights, rent-a-cars for your trip. With your VA you have your own personal travel agent.
There are quite a few virtual assistants out there ranging from US-based or foreign-based, and ranging from personal to business use. The one that I use, FancyHands, is perfect for my needs, but you may find others that fit with your lifestyle, especially if you are an educator with a side business! You’ll find good reviews of the sites, and referral links at Virtual Assistant Assistant.
FancyHands works well for me because it is affordable (49.99 a month for 15 requests). You can also purchase more or less. With FancyHands you don’t have one dedicated assistant, but many assistants. The task will go to the first available assistant. They keep track of how much time they’ve saved for you, including how many calls they’ve made, events scheduled, emails, etc. If you are interested in FancyHands, tell them I sent you with this Link.
We all need help every now and then. Our work is challenging, sometimes unforgiving and your time feels like it is slipping away. Start taking control of your time by delegating- if not to a VA find other ways to free up your time for yourself. You deserve it. The time that you can save by delegating is time that could be spent curled on the couch watching Netflix, hiking, coloring, blogging, or whatever you fancy!
I am bad at saying no. Just look at my calendar and you can tell that when people ask me to do things, I say yes. Saying no is extremely important for maintaining work-life-balance. It is something I am working on and am by no means expert on it. When I've made some greater milestones in the area of saying no, I'll write a blog post about it. But for now, I'd like to explore the benefits of saying yes.
Several weeks ago I was talking about TED-Ed with an educator friend of mine who is working with Teach for America in the Mississippi Delta. She mentioned that she would love for me to share what I've learned through the TED-ED Innovative Educator program with her teachers. It so happens that my project is to share TED-Ed, TED-Ed Clubs, and TEDxYouth with 500 educators. When she mentioned an Opportunity Fair for teachers on a weekend that I was free, I gladly accepted.
In the Thanksgiving-Christmas holiday rush I did not pay much attention to the upcoming trip, and several days before I looked on the map to plan my trip. I was heading to Delta State University-Home of the Fighting Okra. My iPhone map placed it at 4 hours, 20 minutes away. And I was supposed to be there at 10 AM to set up. At that point I wanted to throw in the towel, call up my friend and tell her that an 8 hour trip was going to be too much and could I be excused from the program. But, because of my problems saying no and my even bigger problems with backing out of commitments, I decided to go, and I decided to make the most of it.
I convinced my boyfriend that he should join me, and that we should make a mini vacation out of it. At 5:30 AM on Saturday morning I wasn't sure he was going to make it, but he managed to get into the car. We arrived right on time and set up. During our time at the opportunity fair teachers who had never heard of the TED-Ed lessons lit up at the possibilities of using these lessons in their classrooms. We spoke with about 25 teachers, but each of those teachers is likely in a classroom with 25 students. So two hours with 25 teachers could potentially reach 625 students!
We had lunch in Cleveland, Mississippi at the Mosquito Burrito and were impressed with the small town, which seemed to have plenty to do thanks to the Keep Cleveland Boring campaign. After lunch we traveled north to Clarksdale where we checked in to our place. Due to an error on our part (booking the wrong day-oops!) the owner put us up in another, unlisted place that was set up like a Bed & Breakfast. It had all the charm of the Mississippi Delta, with juke boxes, artwork, and enough New Orleans Jazz Fest posters to make me feel at home. Although I'm fairly certain it was haunted.
We headed out to the sports bar, The Stone Pony to watch the Alabama v. Florida football game. Before we left for our trip our parents requested that we return with tamales. We had several recommendations for the same place (Larry's Hot Tamales) so we headed there for dinner and to collect the tamales to bring home. They were as good as everyone said they were. At this point we were sleepy but really wanted to check out Ground Zero Blues Club so we stopped by there on the way back to the house. We struck up a conversation with a couple who visits there every few years from Texas. The wife leaned over to me and said that she had just taken her picture with Morgan Freeman. I turned around and sure enough, Morgan Freeman was having dinner at his restaurant. The friendly couple next to us tried to get him in the back of this picture but to no avail- you'll just have to trust me.
This morning we headed in to town for Our Grandma's House Pancakes, some of the best I've ever had. Then we left the tiny town of Clarksdale and headed back home. If I hadn't said yes, and followed through on my commitment we wouldn't have seen this little corner of the world that is so fascinating, we wouldn't have had a celebrity siting, we wouldn't have had the opportunity to share great programs and resources with teachers.
While saying yes too much can be a problem, it can also create opportunities. You never know who you will meet or what doors your yes will open for you. This is a small example that only affected 24 hours of my life, but the yes phenomenon extends to larger life decisions, like when you are asked to consider a new project at work or in your city. These projects could create your next career move or introduce you to someone you will work with in the future. Whether you say yes or no, move forward without regret, and enjoy the surprises that come with your decision.
Education careers are tough. These entries are dedicated to making the lives of educators easier and empowering those who have chosen this path to reach their potential in work and life.