My Weekly “Resume of Failures”

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This weekend I attended the GAFE Summit in Kansas City. I was fortunate enough to hear James Sanders, co-founder of Breakout EDU, speak during the keynote. During his talk, he mentioned his personal “Resume of Failures.” Although most of us have seen the article referring to the Princeton professor publishing his career lows, I was even more moved to see an educator I admire display bravery and vulnerability in such a public setting. Therefore, thank you, James, for inadvertently inspiring me to publish this post:

To begin with, the word “failure” has always been an idea that stirs me to my core.

Here are some questions I often ponder: We fail every single day, so why is it unusual if someone publicly admits their failures? Does admitting that we are not perfect make us “less than” someone who we believe is doing everything right?

No one is perfect and we know this. But, I often believe that our personal perceptions can be our worst enemies. Sometimes failure does not push us down, while other times it can. It is often difficult to admit to ourselves the dark places of our failures. I find this to be especially true when we are tenacious to a fault. We can try to train our brain all day long to think we love failing, but if we are actually struggling sometimes during the process, are we doing an injustice to our learning journey if we cannot be genuine, open, and honest?

Even though I fail every single day (or several times a day, if I want to be REALLY honest), I am going to start giving myself the grace to feel uncomfortable when I do not live up to my perfectionist standards.

I know I will grow during the journey, stay positive, push through, and become better as a result, but in the moment, it is okay if failing does not feel great. What I am finding out, is that what matters is my patience through it all.

So, on that note, let us start getting comfortable with the uncomfortable.

Therefore, to end this post, I am going to leave you with a list of ways I have failed this week:

My Weekly “Resume of Failures”:

  • I did not charge my presentation pointer and clicker, so during my presentation today, I had to click the trackpad the old-fashioned way to get to the next slides (There is a first time for everything!).
  • I ate a ridiculous amount of BBQ over the weekend and blamed it on the fact that I am in Kansas City, even though I live here now.
  • I did not do any laundry over the weekend and am now staring at a huge pile of clothes.
  • I did not work-out this week, not even once.
  • I have had an unusual creative block on an upcoming presentation I will be leading.
  • I skipped my dental exam because I was too focused on work (Don’t worry, I eventually rescheduled it!).
  • I tried an activity with students that I thought would be a blast, did it ended up not living up to my imagined standards.
  • I spent too much time beating myself over the mistakes I made above (and most certainly more that I forgot about) instead of just being me.

Although I tend to think about my mistakes at unhealthy levels, I know that by writing this I can help someone else who feels the same way. I hope that through my openness and discomfort with this, that I can encourage you to own the uncomfortable journey that comes along with failing as well. Let’s start giving ourselves the unwavering love that we give our students- We deserve that grace, too.


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How Do You Define Leadership?

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If you take a step back within the walls of your school, who is making the majority of the decisions?

Through connecting with other educators around the world, I often hear the stories of others in the world of leadership. When many answer the question above, the first answer I hear is usually “administrators and superintendents.” Others sometimes say “teacher leaders.” I rarely hear this response: “students.”

There are many schools around the globe that who are guiding authentic student voice for the decisions they make. But beyond this, I do believe that we have an underlying issue with how we define leadership.

Leadership is NOT:

-The role you have

-An age

-The years of experience you have in your position

-How many people are “below you” in your position

-A fancy name plate

If we look into how our schools are often run, we still have this traditional definition of what leadership is, and it defines everything we do.

In many cases, to become a school leader you need to meet a prerequisite of years even to be considered for a school administration experience. Although experience is important, why don’t we look at people for who they as individuals and what they bring to the table rather than following a set of parameters established before them?

When guidelines set everything we follow, it makes sense why teachers who speak to me from around the nation feel that they need to earn their leadership, even as a teacher.

If we have this mentality for our adults, chances are this can also be reflected in the way we treat students.

Do students walk into your school as leaders, or do they have to earn it? Leadership should not be viewed as a privilege for the few; it should be a right for us all.

As Todd Whitaker says, “The school should be changing more to fit the new teacher, not the other way around.”

We often expect kids, young teachers, and parents to adapt to us, rather than us learning from THEM.

Ralph Nader says, “The function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers.” I would like to challenge this; I believe that everyone is a leader, it is not something that we “produce.” If we do not see our own people as leaders, chances are we do not know their strengths. But, we can change this to create environments that help kids and teachers believe they matter.

How we define leadership is crucial. What does leadership mean to you and your kids?

Kara Welty

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Are We Spoon Feeding or Empowering?

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As educators, we all start our journey because we love kids and want to help them.

What is interesting, though, is that over time, we learn strategies and develop unconscious habits to “help” students, when in reality we are unconsciously enabling students rather than empowering. Sometimes over helping even becomes instinctual. But even with the best intentions, our over “help” can often resemble spoon feeding.

Empowering students has always been a passion of mine. I am always engrossed in finding ways to stretch brains and mindsets, including my own, in new and different directions. This past week, the phenomenal 4th-grade teachers at my school, @clarkesclass @teammontgomery @msrittsclass, and I have been working on approaches to help students in this area and we have been brainstorming ideas to challenge thinking.

Therefore, this week I worked with 4th graders on a Digital Scavenger Hunt I created that closely resembles a Digital Breakout Edu format. Yet in my scavenger hunt; students had to think critically to think outside of the box, troubleshoot, and to create and solve technical problems they have never encountered before. Each step built on the action before it, and it required deep thinking and trial-and-error to reach the destination. Just like many Breakout Boxes do, I gave each student the ability to use two tips to ask for help along the way.

During this Digital Scavenger Hunts with the classes, numerous students were astonishingly focused on the tasks and determined to reach the destination at all costs! But, there were also many who looked at step 1 and immediately said: “This is too hard, I give up,” or “I quit.” This also occurred once students ran out of tips. Even though it was hard for us to not over help at times; When these moments occurred, it was the perfect opportunities to discuss with students the idea of “YET” and growth mindset. In other words, it is okay to be honest about frustrations when challenges arise, but we have to work hard to train our brains to think: “I may not get it YET, but I will if I keep trying and am patient.” We also discussed the idea of progress; We may not reach our desired destination now, but if we make growth, we should be proud of each stride we made.

Although discussing growth mindset and learning how our brains work helps jump start crucial conversations, what we often miss is to truly challenge students and to help them apply what they learned about growth mindset in real-life scenarios.

Some students revealed to us after the Digital Scavenger Hunt that they wanted to give up many times during this challenge because it was too hard, but they started thinking positive and then realized “Hey, I can do this!” When you empower students to lead with a growth mindset, once they do overcome challenges, their reactions are priceless. There is nothing that can replace a student proud of his or her accomplishments from exerting true grit.

The 4th-grade teachers and I are currently planning mini-challenges that we will embed throughout the school year called Mindset ManiaThank you, @clarkesclass for the clever wording! These challenges will include anything from STEM to collaborative projects and they are designed to positively develop growth and innovators mindsets. I am looking forward to watching students grow as we embed thought processes like this into everything we do.

After all, nothing is sweeter than seeing a student proud of his or her accomplishments while endlessly persevering and learning new ideas along the way. If we aim to empower students today, the impact will last a lifetime.

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This picture from today displays the joy that occurs when students reach their goals and realize “I CAN do this!”
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Success is Resourcefulness Over Resources

 

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You may remember Xanga as the blogging service that used to rule the world. I remember Xanga as a website that empowered me as a child. Ever since the days of Xanga, I have been engrossed with learning “how” technology works. To set the scene, during this period I was in 5th grade and my family just received our very first computer. At this point, I only knew how to do two things with a computer:

1. How to use Microsoft Word
2. AIM (AOL Instant Messenger) like a pro

Game Changer

Once my parents purchased dial-up internet, I stumbled across Xanga. Xanga was nothing short of a game-changer for how I saw the world. Before this moment, I never saw a website where kids, and people of many ages, posted their thoughts, pictures, and musical playlists.

My mind raced with endless questions; I immediately wanted to post my views, while reading the ideas of others. I also desired to learn how to change a site’s layout, script, font, color, and more. But, even with the internet, I did not know how to figure this out. Therefore, I determined that if I was going to find the answers my questions, I needed to play around with the website so I could learn myself. Through this determination, I taught myself HTML.

When I was in school, these tech skills were not valuable in the classroom, and I spent much of my alone time at home diving into this. I would have loved to be a kid today where coding, STEAM, and Makerspaces flourish in many schools.

What Will Prevail?

With all of this said, even though the tools are exciting, we cannot lose sight that the people should always take precedence over the “things.”

In some schools, even with the greatest tools, teachers wait to learn these technologies until someone shows them how to use it seamlessly. Then, students are often trained to remain at a standstill before trying a new tool, app, or game until a teacher shows them the way.

But, here is the issue- when we continually lead with this ideology, we are inadvertently teaching that the tool is more important than who we are. Also, without directly saying it, we are communicating learned helplessness when it is time to learn a new tool.

We need to shift our thinking to resourcefulness OVER resources. I love learning and teaching new tools when there is meaning behind it, but the tools will never solely propel us to our goals. What will prevail is the tenacity of the team and the students; Tenacity will always prevail over any opposing force. We cannot forget that technology is an essential asset, but it is not the end-all-be-all.

Lasting Thoughts

We can surround ourselves with:

-The most brilliant network
-The newest and brightest technology
-The highest quality of resources
-The largest sum of money

But, all of these incredible assets will not be as valuable unless we are equipped with the resourcefulness, determination, and self-reliance to navigate these assets. Technology is powerful, but WE are even more important; Let us become our best resource.

Kara Welty

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