How Do You Refuel?

We’re in it, now… It’s “that time of year.” I like to call this time of year, particularly, the month of October, “Shocktober.” Shocktober is followed by “Blovember.” I’m sure you can figure out why that is.

At this point in the school year, we’re all coming to the realization that the school year has indeed started, and we’re working our way into the second quarter. For many, that beginning-of-the-year excitement, the buzz that circulates the school as we get our classrooms/offices ready is starting to wane. Also, not sure if you’ve noticed, but the days are getting shorter. It’s PITCH BLACK out in the mornings. Soon enough, we’ll be driving to work in the dark, and driving home from work in the dark. All of which is pretty depressing. Welcome to Shocktober!

Then, after Halloween passes, we enter Blovember. Maybe you’ve noticed this phenomenon as well. November flies by. With all the school events, parent/teacher conference preparations, and fall break/Thanksgiving Break, November just BLOWS by!

All that being said, I’m trying to think about all the ways I stay motivated during these particularly difficult/trying/crazy months of the school year. For me, in order to maintain balance and motivation, I MUST spend time with family and friends (and my dog!), exercise, eat healthy, make/play music, read (for fun and for work), see movies, and make/enjoy art. All these strategies help me stay fueled up and keep going for my students, teachers, and parents.

I just I realized another strategy that helps me stay fueled up, and it may be one of the most beneficial strategies: connecting with the people who inspire me. While at an educational conference today, I got to see so many familiar faces and meet so many new ones. Yet, the biggest impact came when I ran into my high school Spanish teacher, Mr. Rockaitis! At first, I couldn’t believe it was him! He teaches way up north. What would he be doing at this conference “down south?” But, he reminded me that he lives in the city, which wasn’t too far away. We chatted for a bit. He introduced me to some of his colleagues. I found myself giving him advice on a doctoral program. DEFINITELY never thought I’d be giving Mr. Rockaitis advice! Overall, running into Mr. Rockaitis reminded me of my “why.” I mean, this educator hit me at my core. Besides my Mom, he was the biggest influence on me deciding to become a teacher. His passion for learning and for teaching was contagious. He spread that passion to many, including myself. Though our reconnection was brief, it reminded me of my purpose. It reenergized me. It brought clarity.

As we get to this point in the school year, I think it’s important to remember, this is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. Stay fueled up. We still got a ways to go.

How do you refuel? Like/comment/share!

October House Day Success!

If you don’t know, we’re in the process of implementing a House System at my elementary school (read for more info). We plan to host a House Activity Day once a month. Last Wednesday, we hosted our October House Day.

During the time allotted for our House Activity Day, students and staff in each House created a banner that displayed their House animal and House color. Students and staff personalized the banners by putting their painted hand prints on them. The banners look incredible! Even our superintendent came by and made his mark on each House Banner!

Yet, the thing I noticed most about this exciting day = how palpable the energy was in the gym as I began to introduce the day and lay out our expectations for the activity. It was incredible! Seeing all students sitting together with their Houses, wearing their House colors, doing their House chants… it was riveting! As soon as I walked into the gym, I got goosebumps! They were pumped to be with their Houses, and excited about creating their House Banners! The pride and excitement on their faces was contagious. I loved it!

Since Wednesday, I’ve been reflecting on this experience, and can only imagine how it’s been for our students. I’ve had parents calling me about how they and their children love this new initiative! During arrival/dismissal, I’ve had parents and/or guardians running up to me gushing about the Houses, the animals, and the colors! Teachers and staff have talked to me about how they’re so excited to come to work on House Days because of the reaction they see in their students! At the end of the year, I plan to interview and film students regarding their experiences with the House System, and collect any suggestions they may have for improvements.

So far, it’s been an incredible experience, especially for our kids! I can’t wait to continue with this endeavor!

When’s the Last Time You Experienced “Flow”?

I talk a lot about the importance of engaging in professional learning opportunities outside the classroom/workplace, such as reading a professional book, joining a Twitter chat regarding your profession, engaging in a book club/book study, writing about your learning (blogging, journaling, etc.), and attending conferences. For educators, summer is the perfect time to engage in these types of activities. This summer, I read a professional book, attended a conference, and engaged in a plethora of conversations concerning the field of education.

Looking back, I definitely could have done more. Instead, I composed new music (which I haven’t done in 6 years because of the demands of my doctoral coursework), I wrote lyrics to multiple songs, I recorded and produced my own songs, I built home décor items such as a framed chalkboard and a sign, I traveled to a few places, and I enjoyed time with family and friends.

To be honest, these activities were exactly what I needed. I was experiencing “flow.” Csikszentmihalyi’s concept of flow refers to an optimal psychological state that people experience when they feel they are guided by purpose and are fully immersed in the experience itself. During a flow experience, we are so concentrated on the activity that we often lose track of time. In addition, we lose track of other problems and stressors from our daily lives. Some benefits of flow include alleviating stress, learning more about yourself, helping you gain more control over aspects of your life, and assisting in diminishing self-consciousness.

While reading about this concept in Daniel Pink’s Drive, I couldn’t help but relate it to the way a painter, sculptor, or music composer (like myself) gets “in the zone.” For me, flow is when I unleash my creativity while composing new music or building/creating new home décor. During these experiences, I’m hyper focused on making a new beat/coming up with a new guitar riff/writing new lyrics/sketching and developing new home décor ideas/etc. These “in the zone” moments where I’m enveloped in creativity really help me detach from other issues and stay focused on creating something meaningful. It’s an amazing feeling.

Though, these weren’t necessarily “professional” learning opportunities, they were certainly “personal” learning opportunities for me.

How do you experience “flow”? What types of activities do you engage in that put you in a state of “flow”?

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Turns Out, Happiness is the Key (or, at Least One of Them)

Did you know the following benefits of happiness (Achor, HBR, 2012):

  • 56% greater sales
  • 3 times more creative
  • 31% more productive
  • 40% more likely to receive a promotion
  • 23% fewer fatigue symptoms
  • Up to 6 times more engaged
  • 39% more likely to live to age 94
  • People who are happy and positive are more productive, which results in a better ROI for companies and school districts.

I attended a 2-day Happiness Advantage workshop in Schaumburg this week.  At first, I was skeptical.  I mean,  I already knew happiness was important.  I knew being happy was a big part of success and creativity.  I knew that happiness helped fuel relationship building.  However, I didn’t know the aforementioned specific benefits of being happy.

Also, happiness is a mindset.  We must make a choice to be happy.  As obvious as that may seem, I never truly thought about happiness that way.  I thought that if I worked hard and became successful, I would be happy (almost automatically).  However, that thinking is backwards.  I must first choose to be happy, which will help my brain work better, and then potentially help me become more successful.  As the presenter mentioned, negative emotions narrow our focus towards fight-flight, whereas positive emotions broaden the amount of possibilities we process, thus, making us more creative, thoughtful, and open to new ideas (Fredrickson, 2004).

In addition, I learned that we have to be careful.  Apparently, it’s fairly simple to fall into the “darkness” or be negative (which shouldn’t be hard to believe.  Just turn on the news).  What is more, I also learned that there are specific habits that people engage in order to remain consistently happy.  During the training, I made a commitment to try at least one of these habits for 21 days.  I’m hoping this commitment will become a habit so that I can begin working on developing another one of the happiness habits.

To clarify, it’s not that I’m not a happy person.  I am happy.  There are many things that make me happy.  However, as the presenter also said (or asked), we’re not always happy at work.  He asked a poignant question: why do we always wait until retirement to be happy?  We should be focusing on ways to make work happy, so that happiness is part of our regular routine and so happiness is also shared with all the people with whom we come into contact.

I definitely plan to live by what I learned.  I was about to say, “implement what I learned.”  Yet, what we learned can’t really be implemented (in the most literal sense).  The Happiness Advantage focused on a paradigm shift/mind shift/seeing the world through different lenses (emotional lenses).  The presenter wasn’t selling a program or some type of scripted curriculum.  Being happy is within us all.  We must choose to be happy.

Let’s bring this post back to the classroom and apply it to my context as an educational leader.  I believe the rubber will truly meet the road when I’m faced with the plethora of issues that plague educational leaders (or, educators in general) on a daily basis: student misbehavior, problematic parent, having difficult conversations with teachers, etc.  When I’m faced with those challenges, I hope I can remember what I learned from the Happiness Advantage training.  I hope that I can remember my commitment to being happy, and spreading that happiness to others.

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