#2015BestNine: 9 Ways I Grew as a Leader in 2015

Reflecting back on 2015, brings so many moments, experiences, and relationships to mind. The year has been an amazing one, full of challenges and growth. It has been a year of learning and pushing myself. Simply put, this year has been great and infused with remarkable moments. Moments of aprehension about new apps and new technology and how they can be used with students.  Moments of excitement and invigoration at state and national conferences. Moments of affirmation and collegiality with educators in my school, my state, and throughout the country through twitter and great hashtags like #oklaed, #vpsindians and #principalsinaction. Moments of stress in scheduling and ensuring every classroom has an effective teacher. Moments of worry about students not having enough food to eat or water or electricity. Moments of fun creating a bond with students on recess, in their classrooms, or as they enter and leave my school. These are all moments that are burned in my heart and my memory. They are what compiles MY 2015.

I’ve seen many of my Instagram friends posting their #2015bestnine: 9 photos from 2015 that are significant or sum up the that person’s year. I thought this would be an hip way to reflect on my growth as a leader in 2015. 🙂 So here it goes:

image1. This was the year of my first presentation at a conference. My presentation, “Leader Today, Tweeter Tomorrow!” was a Twitter 101 for Elementary Principals attending the OAESP Mid-Winter Conference. I think it went well, and now that the first-time jitters are out of the way, I’m more willing to present again.  Maybe in 2016?

2. This memorable moment from 2015 involves several of my teachers, myself, and SLIME. Our students met their attendance challenge, and in turn, got to slime their teachers and myself. How did I grow as a leader through this experience? Weeellll, 1. I added slime making dos and don’ts to my bag of Principal tricks. (And ALL principals need to know how to make slime, right?) 2. Being slimed with your collegues only tightens those relationships, and since the slime was flour-based, we’re now stuck like glue to each other. 🙂 3. Our students efforts were reaffirmed – YES! 4. Students, teachers, and myself reaped the benefits of working hard and being dedicated with a reward that was SO FUN!

3. One word: #Edcamps. I attended my first Edcamp this year, EdcampOKC, and ultimately attended 3 in person (EdCampEOC and Edcampstilly), and 1 through the advances of technology (Thanks to Anthony Purcell (@MrP_tchr), I Periscoped in to #EdcampOKSDE). I met so many inspiring #oklaed collegues from across the state at the Edcamps I attended. From bloggers who I am still in awe of like Rob Miller (@edgeblogger) and Rick Cobb (@okeducation), to our State Superintendent, Joy Hofmeister (@joy4ok), to #totesbrilly educators like Scott Haselwood (@teachfromhere), who, through our discussions on Twitter and at Edcamps, has been a huge resource for me and has been able to provide PD for my staff in Vici. And Donuts.  I’m just going to leave that there.

4.  Involvment in professional organizations.  I am so proud to be a member of the Oklahoma Association of Elementary School Principals (OAESP), and it’s umbrella association, the Cooporative Council for Oklahoma School Administrators (CCOSA).  Although I have been a member since beginning the principalship in 2008, this organiziation, it’s leadership (Gracie Branch (@branch7) is an AWESOME State Director!) and the members, my collegues, continue to provide great learning opportunites and enrich my role as a leader.  Through my involvement in OAESP, I am honored to be serving as NAESP State Representative and Federal Relations Coordinator, and to be able to represent Oklahoma elementary principals at the NAESP Better Schools National Conference in Long Beach, California.  It is here that I met principals from across the country, and some key relationships with California principals Adam Welcome (@awelcome) and Amy Fadeji (@mrsfadeji) were formed.  These are “key” because they introduced me to Number 5.

5.  Voxer.  Wow. The app is amazing. But the people on it, the leaders in the groups I participate in, make it AWESOME!  I owe so much of my growth to the members of #PrincipalsInAction.  This group has challenged me to get OUT of my office and IN to classrooms and other areas of the school.  Even though I’ve always tried to make decisions that are best for kids and to be active at school, this group has my thinking, and has challenged me to put kids front-and-center every day, through building relationships with them and with teachers,  continually pushing myself to learn and grow, and making school a place where students WANT to be to learn and grow themselves.  I now use Voxer with my staff for quick communication and feedback.  Voxer is definitely a resource that this leader will continue to use to communicate and learn from others for a very long time.

6.  Segueing from #PrincipalsInAction on Voxer to the hastag on Twitter.   Riding the slide was the first PIA challenge at the start of the school year.  The leader in me was not sure about riding the slide that first day. What would kids say?  The adult part of me questioned, What would the TEACHERS say or think?  Guess what.  The kids said things like, “Mrs. Nelson, come hang on the monkey bars with me next.” and “Will you swing with us?” and “Can you climb the rock wall with us?”.  They love it when I “play” with them.  They ask me to come to recess or to PE.  They engulf me in hugs when I’m with them.  They enjoy having fun with their principal; and I’ve grown as a leader in realizing that no matter how silly or crazy I look or feel, it’s all about the kids.

7.  So, I started this blog this year.  I started it for one reason: reflection of my actions as a leader.  I enjoy writing, and knew that putting my thoughts into words would ultimately help me think about the “whys” and “what ifs” of programs, of my actions or of situations I faced at school. However, even though I enjoy writing, I have found blogging to be a bit challenging.  I don’t schedule a regualar time to do it, and I haven’t made it a priority.  I seem to fill any sparse, free-ish time, with my own children’s activities; however, I am glad I have begun to blog, and a goal for 2016 is to increase my number of posts and put my reflections in to writing more.  🙂

8.  I was honored to be asked to be part of the State Superintendent’s Principals Advisory Council this fall.  In aspiring to be an effective leader, I try to surround myself with great leaders and learn from them as much as possible.  The members of this council are truly great leaders, doing great work for kids in their buildings and schools across Oklahoma. We have had one meeting so far, but I’ve been fortunate to connect with many of them on Twitter and continue learning from them daily.  I also must express my admiration for our State Superintendent, Joy Hofmeister, and the job she is doing as the education leader in our state.  She has set a terrific example of what great leaders do by involving educators from all over the state. She is visible, personable, listens, and seeks feedback.  I hope to do all of these things as well as she does in 2016.

9. Reading to kids has helped me grow as a leader.  What better way to share a love of reading, than to share a book with a student or groups of students?  It also reminds me to SLOW DOWN,  QUIT STRESSING ABOUT MANAGEMENT ISSUES, and enjoy my job.  I recently devoted an entire day to reading to classes for the BookIt! Principals Challenge; this picture was taken on that day in the relaxing, beachy reading area I created in our lobby.  I have realized that when I take time to read to kids, everyone wins.  For 2016, I plan to do even more reading to and with kids…so stay tuned.

So, that’s my #2015bestnine.  Certainly, that’s not all of the memories and highlights of the year. It really doesn’t even scratch the surface of my growth as a leader.  When I say 2015 has been a great year, I really mean it.  So. much. risk-taking. And so. much. satisfaction. And self-fullfilment.  And joy in my job.  And positivity.  And FUN!

As I think about the past year, I am reminded of Drew Dudley’s TEDtalk: Everyday Leadership.  You can watch it or re-watch it here.  Even if you’ve seen it, go watch it again.  You’ll be glad you did.

We need to redefine leadership as being about lollipop moments – how many of them we create, how many of them we acknowledge, how many of them we pay forward and how many of them we say thank you for. ~Drew Dudley

See, we all have memories and highlights of the past year.  BUT, we ALL also have “lollipop moments”.  Moments that we don’t even remember, that were minute or insignificant to us, but were life-changing for those whom we interacted with.  My challenge for myself for 2016 is to be more aware of my actions. I’m going to look for ways to create “lollipop moments” every day for my students, staff, and family.  All of us can be leaders, all of us can be purposeful, all of us can make a difference, one action at a time.  Join me in making 2016 lollipop-licious and show others how much you care about them!

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