Posted in Edublogs

Popular Culture

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EduBlogsClub Prompt #9:

Prompt: Write a post about using popular culture in the classroom.

Some questions to jumpstart your thinking:

  • What kind of popular culture do you bring into the classroom? How do you use it?
  • Do you have any comic books or graphic novel favorites that you use for reading and textual analysis? Why do you choose those?
  • What are your favorite television shows or movies in your classes? Why do you find these helpful tools?
  • Do you have any favorite songs that you bring into your classroom? How have students responded to your music? Why do you bring in these pieces?

This December will mark 2 years since I left my elementary classroom to become a teacher on assignment in my district’s central office. There are several things I miss about working at a school site.  Two of the biggest ones are collaborating with other educators and working with students. Sure, I collaborate with a few other educators now and I work with students through periodic workshops, but neither is the same as being at school site with my own class. I am an aspiring administrator and I find myself looking forward to getting back to a school site in that capacity so I can engage with other educators and students in the ways I miss most.

One of the things I enjoyed about having my own class was getting to know my students and learning what they found interesting and cool. I always prided myself on staying up to date on pop culture, but there was always room for my students to educate me and I always enjoyed those conversations. Our day was so driven by standards and pacing guides that at one point I resurrected the concept of “Show & Tell.” I just wanted us to have some time one day a week at the end of the day to share our passions. It was wildly popular and it seemed like we never had time to hear from everyone in the detail they craved. In hindsight, I would make more time for that in my own classroom. It seems like a lot of teachers are making more time for that in their classrooms so that learning is more personalized and engaging. Genius Hour comes to mind. I had only heard of this after I left my classroom and it is something I would totally do if I was in the classroom again.

Now back to the topic at hand: pop culture! I always enjoyed playing music in my classroom. I enjoy a variety of genres, but not all are appropriate for the classroom so I kept that in mind. I am a longtime Pandora subscriber (and I am sure my students would tell me Spotify is where it’s at if I was in the classroom right now) and have always enjoyed the ability to create stations based on a musical genre, a musical artist or a particular song. I was thrilled to find that Pandora has stations specifically for children, and my go to station had always been Kidz Bop. I enjoyed playing music for my students so that I could introduce them to other musical genres and I would often mix up the stations to match the month’s national theme when possible. Over the years some students would make requests and I would always joke with them about how I am not DJ Ruiz and it was Pandora so I could not specifically play any given song (although now I think you can with an upgrade in the subscription). My playing music in the classroom also got a lot of conversations going about my students’ musical preferences. There was a heavy preference for rap (which I found surprising for grades 3-5, but clearly I was out of touch), which I know is one of those genres not fit for the classroom in many instances, but the conversations about what they were listening to was always lively and a great way to get to know my students a bit better.

What ways do you bring pop culture into your classroom? Share with me in the comments below! 🙂

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Posted in Edublogs

Student Privacy

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EduBlogsClub Prompt #8:

Prompt: Write a post about student privacy.

Should student work be public on the web? Why or why not?

How do you evaluate the tools that you use in your classroom when it comes to student privacy?

Do you have a favorite resource or video that discusses this topic?

Do you have tips or rules that you use with your students relating to identifable information?

Do you have any other ideas, rants, or questions about student privacy you wish to discuss?

Student privacy is incredibly important. I remember when Internet tools were coming into the classroom at lightning speed. I always wanted to know about the latest service that I could use with my students to enhance and personalize their education. I never thought about the fact that they needed accounts to log in and what those accounts would require in terms of information and data collection on my students. My school district is VERY concerned with student privacy and have been since the onset. A number of websites and services are blocked because their privacy agreements are not up to par with what is required in California. There have been many teachers in my district (including myself) that have grumbled over the sites or services we cannot use because of the district’s strict student privacy policy. In hindsight however, I recognize that the district was simply trying to protect our students and make the various vendors who wanted to do business with us be accountable to the federal and local regulations regarding student privacy.

I remember that each school year would start with a new list of sites/services that were allowable. If the site or service you wanted to use was not on that list you could not use it. For many years that list always seemed rather short to me (and likely still is) but the list has grown a little each year and sites/services teachers are clamoring for are gradually being added, but it is only once that organization has passed the district’s student privacy test.

I believe students should be on the Internet doing all the wonderful “21st Century” things we want them to be doing in order to prepare them for success in their future careers. However, we as educators are not only here to guide them and support them, we are here to protect them. So while I was one of those teachers years ago who didn’t think about student privacy and only about student enrichment, I know now that student privacy is critically important and companies who are offering the latest amazing tool to enhance and personalize education really do need to meet student privacy requirements.

And just to cap this post off here is a short video from Common Sense Media (I love them) all about some simple ways teachers can protect their student’s privacy online.

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Posted in Edublogs

The Listicle

 

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EduBlogsClub Prompt #7:

Prompt: Write a listicle.

Some helpful notes:

  • Write about any topic at all that interests you
  • A list can be as short as 3 entries
  • Be helpful, make the list a resource your readers may want to bookmark and come back to
  • If you aren’t up for a list, write about lists, list keeping tools, or tools to embed lists
  • Marketing tests prove that putting a number in your title will often increase shares and clicks

Deciding what to make a listicle about was a challenge for me, but in the end I decided on making a short list on podcasts. My husband has been into podcasts for a a number of years and I only just warmed up to them about 2 years ago. I listen to all kinds of podcasts, but I thought the best ones to list for you here on my educator blog would be those I listen to for educational reasons.

  1. The Getting Smart Podcast “Where we unpack what is new and innovative about education” This podcast covers a variety of topics related to K-12 education. It consists of interviews with educators who specialize in different types of innovations in education.
  2. 10 Minute Teacher Podcast I have been a fan of Vicki Davis since I came across her on Twitter years ago. Her newest podcast is the 10-Minute Teacher Podcast and it strives to share innovative educational ideas with teachers in convenient 10 minute or less interviews with various types of educators. Its the perfect format for getting pitched ideas in a very brief amount of time. Perfect for busy teachers looking for new ideas.
  3. TED Radio Hour We all know TED Talks, and if you are anything like me, you just don’t have the time to sit down and watch full videos of them. One of my favorite podcasts is the TED Radio Hour because I get to take in amazing TED talks on a variety of subjects while driving, or working at my desk. While TED Talks are not always aimed at education, a great deal of them are and are incredibly powerful. This podcast is more than just the audio of TED Talks, but have a host who walks you through a topic and highlights a few TED Talks that all address the same issue. What’s cool is if there is a TED Talk on the show you want to hear in its entirety, you can easily access it online.

I have become a real podcast junkie over the last couple of years. I am always looking for podcasts on a variety of subjects. What are your favorite podcasts? Educational or otherwise? Share them with me in the comment section below! 🙂

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Posted in Edublogs

Challenging Situations

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Hello Readers!

I have had this blog post cued up since FEBRUARY, yes February. Obviously I haven’t blogged since then. That is partially because this particular post gave me pause and partially because of life. I am committed to blogging. The fact that I am now over 20 posts behind won’t deter me though! I am stubborn like that.

Now I should say that when I say “cued up” I mean it had a title and image and a greeting. There was no substance to the post what so ever. The subject I want to write about has not changed in all the months that have passed, though I think I kind of wanted it to. Let me first outline the instructions on this topic as given by The Edublogger:

Challenges come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes, the biggest challenge of the day is getting out of bed with a positive attitude. Sometimes, the daily challenge is going to be having to work with a difficult student. Sometimes, the challenge lies in teaching a topic or skill or unit that you really don’t enjoy. Learning strategies to address these challenges is the way in which we overcome them.

Prompt: Write a post about challenging situations.

Here are some ideas or topics you may wish to include:

  • Share your biggest teaching challenge and explain how you overcame it
  • Write a motivational “how-to” for overcoming a common challenging situation.
  • Do a review on a book or website that has helped you overcome a challenging situation. What was the challenge? How did the book/website help you?
  • Discuss any thoughts or experiences you have about challenges in education.
  • Talk about a time when a student was facing a challenge and you provided strategies to help the student. What were they? How did they help?

One of my biggest challenges is working with challenging people. I am someone who avoids confrontation. Over my 17+ years as an educator I have worked with a variety of educators and administrators. I am happy to say that I have gotten along with the majority of the educators, administrators and parents I have worked with over the years. I am sure I am not alone in having a small population of educators, administrators and parents that proved to be rather challenging.

When it comes to challenging parents, my approach is different than when it comes to challenging educators and administrators. The reason being is that I tend to just ignore challenging educators and administrators to the best of my ability, and you can’t do that to a challenging parent. Now I am sure you are reading this and asking yourself “how does she ignore challenging educators and administrators?” Let me address challenging parents first.

When it comes to a challenging parent, I make sure to hear them out, no matter how abrasive (and I have had some bad ones). I always make sure my administrator is aware. I take time to not immediately reply to a challenging parent as I know my immediate response/reaction would likely escalate things. I take the time to read or listen to the message a few times, process it, think about what I am going to say, then choose my words carefully. In a live situation where the parent is in front of me, I take the time to listen to them and let them say their piece. I work very hard to respond in a thoughtful and deliberate way, choosing my words carefully. I try to resolve the issue myself as much as possible, but I am not hesitant to involve my administrator if the situation becomes too much for me to handle on my own or is of a sensitive nature.

On the subject of educators and administrators, my approach has been completely different. I avoid people. I may have a conflict with an educator or administrator, and once that climactic moment has passed I avoid them. I am not saying this is the best tactic, it is just something I do and something I want to change.

I am an aspiring administrator and I recently went to a series of workshops my district hosted for teachers who are thinking about becoming administrators. One of the highlights of this series was being introduced to the notion of emotional intelligence. I had never heard of this before and was immediately intrigued. According to Psychology Today, Emotional Intelligence is defined as:

Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify and manage your own emotions and the emotions of others. It is generally said to include three skills: emotional awareness; the ability to harness emotions and apply them to tasks like thinking and problem solving; and the ability to manage emotions, which includes regulating your own emotions and cheering up or calming down other people.

As a part of the workshop I was in, I was to read the Emotional Intelligence 2.0 book by Travis Bradberry & Jean Greaves. I was also to take the Emotional Intelligence Appraisal. The appraisal was very accurate and pinpointed my known weaknesses when it comes to my own emotional intelligence and how I react to things. I found the appraisal very useful for my own personal development.  I am a work in progress and I believe that so long as I am aware of my emotional intelligence and work toward strengthening it, that will make me a better administrator in the future. It will also make me better able to deal with challenging situations.

Have you assessed your own emotional intelligence? Tell me about it in the comments!

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Posted in Edublogs

Free Web Tools

Hello Readers!

I am a lil behind on my Edublogs challenge posts, but that’s ok. Life happens and skipping posts or posting late is fine. I am actually trying my best to not skip any posts at all. I enjoy a challenge and I want to address each prompt.

Prompt 5 was simply to write a post about free web tools. That seems like a pretty simple post, but there are so many free web tools! Being that I am late to this post, I had the benefit of reading all the posts from other bloggers on this topic before adding my own. I didn’t want to duplicate what any of them said, so if you are in the market for free web tools, be sure to visit the link above and check the comments, there are a lot of helpful posts on free web tools and how to use them.

Now for my suggestions! Many of the tools I am about to reference have both a free and paid version.

  • Skype – Skype is a communication tool I use regularly in many ways. It is a great instant messenger, but is also great for long distance calls (both voice and video). I tend to use Skype most with my gamer friends and when I was running a remote Minecraft Club. As a Microsoft Innovative Educator, I love the promise of Mystery Skypes to broaded the horizons of our students. I was never able to do one while I had a class of my own, but I have been part of a few group Mystery Skypes and they are great fun. Microsoft even has a whole page of classroom ideas.
  • Gyazo – I LOVE this tool for quick and easy screen capture! I learned about it from my gaming friends as a way to show one another things in our game without needing to screen share. Gyazo can make instant screenshots or GIFs and provide you with a shareable link in seconds. So easy!
  • Poll Everywhere – I was introduced to Poll Everywhere at a conference where the keynote speaker engaged the ENTIRE audience in a few questions, with the live results projecting on screen. It was powerful. I have used this tool a few times and really enjoy it, but it is best suited for a secondary classroom and up.
  • Today’s Meet – Another goodie I was introduced to at a conference. Today’s Meet is essentially a back channel, where students or those attending a meeting or conference can talk about pretty much whatever they like with the other students/attendees. I have used it a few times and found it to be not only fun, but very useful.
  • PicMonkey – I mentioned this one last week and I really can’t mention it enough. A free web editing tool that is super easy to use. You get great photo editing results with very little effort and time. LOVE IT!
  • Screencast-o-matic – I forget where exactly I learned about this one but I have a feeling it was from watching a teacher tutorial and I saw the watermark. Screencast-o-matic is great for making tutorials. It is easy to use and very intuiative. I have found I really enjoy making my own videos and I can see students being able to use this tool quite easily too, even upper elementary students.
  • PowToons – I have been aware of this tool for a while but never got around to actually using it. It is a bit time consuming, but I enjoy the creative process of creating an animated video. I am sure secondary students could handle it and likely some very motivated elementary students. (If you visit my YouTube channel you will find some examples of Screencast-o-matic and PowToons in use.)

Do you use any of these tools? Are you thinking you would like to try? I would love to hear from you in the comments! Thanks for stopping by!blog-signature

Posted in Edublogs

For Fiona

Hello Readers,

The latest #edublogsclub challenge was released this past Tuesday. The prompt was simply: “Write a post that includes an image.” That seemed simple enough to me. I put images in my posts all the time, at least just one. There was some guiding text with the prompt as well to help generate ideas of what to write about, and I knew instantly that I would share about my favorite photo editing tool, PicMonkey. I was thinking about how I wanted to frame the post when something rather sad occurred in my life. I then debated on if I should bring that to my blog at all, if it was relevant, or if I should just do as I often do and pretend nothing sad at all has happened. So I will warn you reader, this post is not going to be a cheery one. It is going to be an authentic one, that will serve many purposes, including that of the prompt this week. So if you are not in the mood to read something sad, or you are simply looking for a quick photo tip, then it is best you read the next two paragraphs and skip the rest.

So I will start with the photo tip up front. PicMonkey is a web-based image editing and creation tool. It is free for basic features and has a small cost for extended features, which I highly recommend. I first learned about PicMonkey from Second Life blogger Strawberry Singh. Second Life is the 3-D virtual world I have been involved in since 2007 and that I blog about separately. If you are curious about it, Strawberry has all kinds of useful posts and videos that explain it all, so feel free to explore that if it interests you.

PicMonkey was a blessing for me. I had been attempting to learn and use Adobe PhotoShop and as with most Adobe software, learning it in order to be able to use it effectively can be rather time consuming. PicMonkey did pretty much what I wanted to very simply and I then lost all desire to learn and use PhotoShop. My life had been simplified! I have used PicMonkey to write on photos, to place frames around them, to add filters, to make banners for my website and for my YouTube channel…PicMonkey has been indispensable!

Now onto the photo and story.

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My 13 year old Labrador Fiona passed away Thursday night. Some might react, “Oh? your dog died? I’m sorry” and move on. Those of you who are, or have been, pet owners know it is much more complex than that. I am of the camp where our pets are a part of our family. They are loved and they matter. You do whatever you can for them to keep them comfortable and happy. Dogs are very special creatures who can truly bless our lives with their presence.

Fiona was the last of a very special kind of dog in my family. She entered my life as my second guide dog puppy in training. I had been a volunteer puppy raiser for Guide Dogs of America in Sylmar, CA. I had puppy raised a German Shepherd I got to name Frieda, Fiona was my second, then I had a black and tan Lab named Riva. None of my puppies actually made it to be guide dogs, but they sure did try! Frieda had an aggressive streak so she was not allowed to continue in the program when she was 6 months old and I got to adopt her. Fiona was considered for their breeding program because she was so well tempered and obedient, but she failed the dysplasia test (elbow or hip, I don’t remember which) and I got to adopt her too. Riva made it all the way to being turned in for official training, only to demonstrate mild aggression in harness and be offered to me for adoption as well. They were my guide dog pup trio. I adopted them all. Frieda and Fiona became therapy dogs. The only reason Riva did not is because my son had been born about that time (Riva’s birthday was my my son’s predicted birthday…he arrived 6 weeks early). I had to put Frieda down at 7 years old due to severe spinal cord issues. Riva died suddenly at 10 years old. Fiona outlived them all.

Fiona was an amazing dog from start to finish. She was the one I brought with me to my first school board meeting when myself and another teacher/puppy raiser in my district petitioned them to create a board policy allowing service dogs in training and therapy dogs on our school sites. Which the board ended up doing. Fiona then began to come to school with me as a guide dog pup in training and eventually as a therapy dog. I had her in class with me for years.The kids read to her and wrote to her. I created my own little books of the kids photos with Fiona and their words. It was my “Dogs in the Classroom” series. Kids at my school (DGE of course, see my post on Leadership if you don’t know what I am talking about) knew me as the teacher with the dog and there was no getting anywhere quickly. Everyone always wanted to pet and hug and generally love on Fiona and I never denied anyone that treat. When I retired her so I wouldn’t lose my mind trying to take care of an infant and manage a therapy dog at the same time, the kids were sad and often asked about her. She would come back for visits here and there. She loved school and she loved the kids.

Fiona was a change agent and she showed me how much dogs can do for others first hand. My life has gotten too busy to truly dedicate to the raising of another service dog puppy, but I highly recommend it.

We have the next generation of dogs at home now. When Riva passed I allowed my son to select our next dog. Since I am so techy we had to do that online of course. We used Adopt-a-Pet and my son found Dot, who just so happens to share his exact birthday. That fact gave me the chills as we did not know that beforehand. I only happened to notice it when I was signing the adoption agreement. It was clearly meant to be. Four month old Dot was too much energy for the then 12 year old Fiona, so I used the site again to look for a Lab mix (I am personally partial to Labs thanks to Fiona and Riva). I could not find what I was looking for so I turned to Purebred Breeders (who apparently now is known as PuppySpot) online and found Ryker, who was flown to me from Texas. Ryker is a handsome red lab that I have big plans for. He only just turned one and has a lot of training ahead of him, but I would love to bring him into therapy work once my doctoral studies are done. For now, my son and I attend obedience classes together with Dot and Ryker. Its a mother-son activity I really enjoy.

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If you made it this far, thank you for reading. I welcome your comments about PicMonkey or your own dog/pet story or whatever strikes your fancy!

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Posted in Edublogs

What Leadership Means to Me

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Hello Reader!

First I want to address the new theme for my blog! I had changed it when I left the classroom to something rather neutral while I transitioned into my new position as a Teacher on Assignment in our new Linked Learning department. Since beginning the #edublogsclub blogging challenge I have felt my blog take on a new feel which called for a new look! I hope you like it, because I sure do!

Now onto business. This is the 3rd post of the #edublogsclub challenge. This week’s prompt was: Write a post that discusses leadership, peer coaching, and/or effecting change

I had really wanted to stay on time with my posts, but this one made me pause to think for a while, and then life happened and prevented me from really and truly thinking about it. I have probably written this post over about three times as I wrestled with what I really wanted to say about leadership. What brought it together for me in the end was a quote I was introduced to as a part of my school district’s aspiring leadership program:

Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.
– Jack Welch, former GE Chairman and CEO

We had been presented with several leadership quotes that day and had been asked to move toward the one that spoke to us. There had to have been at least 10 quotes plastered around the meeting room we were in and the one above was the one that stood out the most to me. It gave me cause to reflect on all the great leaders I had worked with at my last school site, Dorothy Grant Elementary (aka DGE). Now I am going to try VERY hard not to go on a long rambly, nostalgic post about how amazing this school is, but this school changed the trajectory of my teaching career. The truth of that fact was something I had never given conscious thought to, but when thinking on leadership and the qualities of a good leader, and the type of leader I want to be, my experience at DGE has everything to do with outstanding leadership.

I arrived at DGE just after my 5th year of teaching…a rather crucial turning point for many teachers. It is widely recognized that a significant number of new teachers do not make it to or past their 5th year of teaching. I needed to be at DGE. I had already suffered through 2 previous schools with significant leadership deficits. I was transferring to escape them, to hopefully arrive at a school that was right for me and equipped with an inspirational leader. I wonder if I would still be here 12 years later and in my 17th year as an educator had it not been for DGE and its leaders.

I was very fortunate to have met and been selected by Dr. Ken Decroo to transfer to the open 4/5 combo position that was available. DGE was a shiny new school then, only one year old. As I had shared in a previous post, I had NEVER gotten to work at or attend a new school, so this was certainly a perk for me. Dr. Decroo was new that year, but he was very well liked and did a lot for the school’s climate. I remember enjoying his handling of the school and interaction with the staff. He was by far the most mellow, friendly and knowledgeable principal I had ever had at that point. While he and I had several interactions over that year, one in particular has always stood out to me. I remember being in his office, talking about something I don’t recall at the moment (and likely never will) when he said to me “You should consider becoming an administrator.” I remember my reaction. Shock. I remember backing away from him as if he was trying to infect me with something and shaking my head and waving my hands “What? Me? Oh no…no I could, never… Was that the bell?” Now I could be paraphrasing just a bit, but that exchange really did occur and it has stuck with me. I don’t know what he may have seen in me, being too caught of guard to really ask and too quick to dismiss it.

Dr. Decroo’s time at DGE was far too short for me when he retired the next school year. Chris Ridge was the next principal assume the office. Mr. Ridge was driven. He had a mind for innovation and staying ahead of the academic curve. He wanted the best for DGE students and it showed. Some teachers didn’t care too much for him because of his drive, but I did. DGE was in at the top of the elementary rankings in our district, we were leaders in trying new techniques out like RTI and data driven decision making. Talk about data! Mr. Ridge was always equipped with a report of some kind. I had never looked at data so much in my whole life, but he took great care in explaining to us why we needed to spend so much time with the data and how doing so could help drive our instruction and in the end help our students achieve. I amuses me now to think back on it. Data driven decision making is so common place now, just as is RTI, but thanks to Mr. Ridge I was exposed to both a lot earlier than others in and out of my school district. Mr. Ridge stayed at DGE several years and then his time came as well, not to retire, but to pursue other opportunities. I was sad to see him go, I had learned a great deal from him.

Sadly, DGE had a year of administrative uncertainty after that which is really not relevant to this post apart from saying that in year where we did not have stability in our leadership, the overall DGE community had already become so strong that we weathered that storm just fine. Thankfully we did receive another solid leader in Anne-Marie Cabrales. I have to say that I wasn’t certain about Mrs. Cabrales when she first arrived. She wasn’t like any leader I had before. It has been hard to put my finger on, but in the end I believe it was that she still felt like one of us. She felt like a teacher. She did not feel like a principal to me, and I don’t say that in a negative way at all. It was just something about the way she carried herself and how she got to know the staff. There was something very personable and humble about it. Mrs. Cabrales became very well liked immediately. She fit right in with the staff and was very passionate about DGE and its students. She works tirelessly to keep DGE at the top of the rankings and has continued the trend of keeping DGE at the front of the pack when it comes to new approaches to education. She did a great deal in supporting me and the various projects I wanted to do with technology and our kids, and it was she who encouraged me to consider a position at the district office level. I remember conversations with her turning toward me branching out and getting known in the district so that I could advance beyond the classroom. Dr. Decroo’s words would echo in my mind at those times. I had tried for district positions before, only to not be selected. My home was DGE, and I took the fact that I was not selected for a position as a Teacher on Assignment for Instructional Technology on more than one occasion to mean that I did not have what the district wanted for that position and that I was best suited to my work in the classroom at DGE.  I had become a teacher leader at DGE – in technology as a site coach and as a part of our leadership team where I spent a several years being a grade level leader. DGE had become my cozy, comfy blanket that I never wanted to be without.

Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.
– Jack Welch, former GE Chairman and CEO

So here is my favorite leadership quote again. It expemplifies the leadership that I experienced at DGE in the 11 years I was there. 11 years that felt nothing like 11 years. I was having so much fun there I had lost track of the time. I felt successful in the way I had grown as an educator and the way DGE had nurtured that growth. Dr. Decroo, Mr. Ridge and Mrs. Cabrales were all amazing leaders in their own right for their own reasons. I have recently realized that they were helping me to grow so that I could be a leader too. I cannot thank them enough for that. This post has likely already passed the point of rambling nostalgia, but it has captured what leadership is to me and that is the kind of leader I want to be – one who creates a space where leaders can grow.

Always a Volunteer,
Mrs. Ruiz

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