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Monday, November 16, 2015

Evaluate And Elevate Your Why

I like to say that I grew up in humble beginnings. I was raised in a two parent home until my parents divorced when I was 12 years old. It was at that time of my life when I began to experience situational poverty. I didn't know that the way we were living was considered to be at the poverty level. The government sets those standards and families who are living in those conditions usually don't know that a "standard" has been set to describe what they know to be normal. Whatever the standard, I knew that I wanted a new normal, and that there was a better way to live. At the time when I most needed stability, encouragement, direction and guidance, I found it at school in the teachers and coaches who genuinely cared about me and my well-being. Those individuals didn’t seek me out because they knew my situation. No one at school, even my friends, knew my situation. The beauty in the story is that they didn’t need to know those things to invest in me. What they didn’t know was that I needed opportunities and experiences at school more than ever. Those experiences helped me to escape from my home life, and I viewed them as a means to a better way of living after I graduated from high school. Education saved my life and changed the path of my future generations.

I tell you this brief bio so that you can understand my why. Our life experiences help shape who we are today. I always knew my why, introspectively, but it has taken deep reflection to own it and to be courageous enough to tell my story to others.  People want to know why I chose this profession. They want to know my passions, what motivates me, and what drives me to make the decisions that I make. As an educator, I should be able to state my why to anyone who asks "why do you do what you do?" In order to do this, I had evaluate my why in order to elevate my purpose. Educators who know their influence and the power that they have in the lives of children truly understand and are able to articulate their why to others. My why is hinged on three beliefs.
  • I lead because education is the great equalizer.
    • Where a child lives should not be a determining factor of the type of education a child receives. Each day in our country many students come to school with a privilege gap. It is our responsibility to recognize and minimize this gap. Most students don't get to pick where and if they go to school. Since attendance is compulsory, the experiences that students engage in at school should be worth it. My education opened doors for me. It allowed me to cross the bridge into another world that I would not have known if I had not graduated from high school and college.
  • I understand my impact.
    • Coming to your why means really digging deep and knowing your own story. Growing up we were told to never tell our family business. I learned how to wear a mask and act as if I didn't live in a home where we were struggling to have our basic needs met. It has taken me time and courage to appreciate my why. My why is bigger, bolder and better because of my life experiences. My why has helped me to know and accept my impact as a principal. There are other Sanee's out there who deserve a quality education and who are depending on us to ensure that what we promise to offer students is what is actually being provided. In the lives of some children, the school and the adults who work in it are the only icon of stability that some children know. Some students have obstacles and challenges to overcome that many adults can’t even begin to fathom. A person does not have to have the same background or experiences to relate or see a sense of urgency in a situation. Our influence is greater than we’ll ever know, and our impact on the lives of children can change lives.
  • If not me, then who?
    • I can't expect others to give and be their best for children if I am not modeling the way. If I don't advocate for all students, how can I expect that to be the pervading culture of my building? I know that access to education can be a life or death matter for some students. I recognize the sense of urgency that we must have as educators to prepare children for their future, which is not a world of standardization, but a future where they will be equipped to contribute to our society and greater causes than any individual can accomplish alone.  I know that it doesn't matter where you came from but where you are going in this life that determines future paths. Being an educator is my passion. I find significance in this work that I have been called to do. I heard Angela Maiers describe passion as not doing what you like to do, but doing what you must do. I could not imagine doing anything else than having the privilege and honor to impact the lives of children each day. I must do this work, because someone did it for me.
If we don't evaluate our why by taking self-inventory of our story and what drives us to teach and lead each day, we run the risk of losing sight of our core business. More importantly, if we don’t elevate our why, we may minimize the sense of urgency of our calling. Our business is critical, and as educators, we should be committed to changing the lives of children. I challenge all of us to reflect, recharge, and renew our commitment to our students and our noble profession. Go change the life of a child! Our kids deserve our best and nothing less.  

Monday, October 12, 2015

Will The Real Disruptive Educators Please Stand Up?

As educators, when we hear the word disruptive, our minds usually reflect on students in the past who have misbehaved in school. The word disruptive often has a negative connotation associated with its use. It is synonymous with words like troublemaking, disturbing, distracting, and unruly. 
However, the beauty of the English language is that we have multiple meanings for words. When I searched Google for the meaning of disruptive, the search engine returned two meanings:

1.) causing or tending to cause disruption
“disruptive and delinquent children”

2.) innovative or groundbreaking
“breaking a disruptive technology into the market is never easy”
To frame this post, I want to focus on the second meaning of the word as I define and illustrate the meaning of a disruptive educator.

Disruptors Innovate
Disruptive educators are innovators. They are chasers of the breakthrough, and they are driven by groundbreaking discoveries. They don’t know when the breakthrough may come, but they continue to disrupt the status quo in an effort to innovate. Disruptive educators are committed to radically changing our profession by creating a new way of thinking about how we educate students, and how we grow professionally. They are the early innovators and early adopters who have the courage to explore something new. Simon Sinek references the Law of Diffusion of Innovation in his How Great Leaders Inspire Action TED talk. Disruptive educators fall into the 16% of the profession who are either the innovators, or who are the early adopters of the innovations.

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Disruptive educators have a drive, a different speed that is driven by a purpose, an attitude, and an unrelenting sense of determination to contribute to a greater good. Being a disruptive educator is a way of life. It is a thought-process and a state-of-being. Disruptive educators need push back to challenge their thinking. In fact, disruptive educators welcome the challenge from those who are not quite sold on their innovative ideas. They need the early and late majority who challenge and question their innovations. It is this questioning and challenging that helps them refine and improve their thinking. If the innovation is real, it will eventually reach the tipping point and become a new way of doing business.

Disruptors Find Their People
Disruptive educators are connected. They are not lone rangers. A lone disruptor may be viewed as a nuisance, a troublemaker, or a radical who others may not take seriously; but a connected disruptor is part of a movement others want to join. Disruptive educators are contributors and collaborators. They seek to disrupt, not for notoriety or fame, but because they see a need and want to make a difference. More often than not, disruptive educators are not self-proclaimed. Others have identified them as disruptors because of their openness and willingness to share. Disruptive educators are committed to making great things happen for students. They understand that BIG things don’t happen with small thinking.

Disruptors Move Beyond the Conversation
Disruptive educators choose to be bothered and challenged by what others believe to be impossible. They have bold dreams and the courage to not only pursue their dreams, but to make their dreams a reality. Disruptive educators are writing a story and acting it out simultaneously. They are key players in the story they are writing, and they live in a state of constant revision. They don’t know how the story will end, but they write the story with such purpose and passion that the journey is worth more than the final destination. They try, they fail and they try again. They are persistent, courageous, and so necessary to our profession. Disruptors not only join the conversation, but they turn the conversation into action.

I am Sanée Bell, and I am a disruptive educator. From one disruptive educator to another, I challenge you to disrupt yourself. Our profession and our students deserve it. So I ask again, will the real disruptive educators please stand up?

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Know Thy Impact

I spent 3.5 years, and a lot of money, studying my passion to validate what I already knew to be true-LEADERSHIP MATTERS. School leaders today have been charged with the difficult task of transforming public education to meet the needs of the 21st century, while still being confined to work within a 20th century model, thought-process, and framework. Leaders have to show, prove, and defend why we must do things a different way in order to prepare our students for their future--not our past.

Transformation is hard, especially when you don't know where to begin. Often times when people hear the word transformation, they immediately think about adding or deleting things in order to quickly get to a desired state. It is critical to remember that change is not an event. It is a process. The concept of transformation is huge, but the tenets of the big idea can be chunked into four areas:
  • Influence
  • Inspirational Motivation
  • Individualized Consideration
  • Intellectual Stimulation
When the tenets of transformational leadership are practiced consistently, and with fidelity, the collective efficacy of an organization will be strengthened. Transformational leaders seek to have power with people--not power over people. At the crux of transformation are relationships. People don't care how much you know, or what position you hold, until they know how much you care. They certainly won't follow you if they don't think that you care about them as individuals. The purposeful intent of caring about the welfare of our staff members is our responsibility. Our influence is greater than we will ever know. 

Our teachers look to us for guidance and direction. They respect us for the position we hold, but they trust us and follow us for how we make them feel. As transformational leaders, we must also remember that we are charged with motivating our staff. We are to provide the inspiration to encourage and awaken their aspirations. We are to help them believe in things they never thought to be possible, and pull them in to be engaged in things they never thought they could or would do. It is our job as leaders to spark the fire of intellect, peak curiosity, promote and encourage risk taking, and most importantly, celebrate success, and failure. 

Dr. Martin Luther King never said he had a strategic plan. He had a dream, and because of his passion and purpose, he motivated and inspired people to achieve something greater than any individual could have achieved alone. He was a thinker, a dreamer, an encourager, a motivator, and a risk taker who revolutionized the world. 

This is a video of a mother duckling leading her baby ducklings across a very busy freeway. In the video, you will notice that the mother duckling communicates to the baby ducklings before they start their journey to the other side. I believe she communicated her vision for making it across the busy freeway. This was an extremely dangerous trek that involved huge risks, but this did not dissuade the mother duckling. A lesson can be gleaned from this video. As leaders we should model the way, show care and concern, be courageous, be focused, and be determined to achieve our vision.

We cannot forget the significant impact that we have on the lives of the individuals we serve. Children look up to their parents and teachers. Parents trust the teachers of their children, and all stakeholders look to the principal for guidance. While in the trenches, it is extremely important that we know, accept and understand thy impact.

As we prepare to embark on another school year, I want to charge leaders with three statements to reflect upon:

  • Don't Talk About It-Be About It. Your actions should reflect your values.
  • Go Big or Go Home. Why be satisfied with being good when you can be great!
  • Know Thy Impact. Understand  and  accept the responsibility of leadership. Your influence is greater than you will ever know.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Hardwired and Wireless Relationships: The Necessity and Power of Both Types of Connectedness

As I read my Twitter feeds daily, I come across several messages about being a connected educator. Most people immediately jump to the power of social media and its power of connecting others. While social media tools are powerful, and I certainly have benefited greatly in expanding my personal and professional connections because of the use of social media, I want to explore the power of both hardwired and wireless connections.


What attracts people to the use of social media? Relationships, Relationships, Relationships. People now have relationships and connectedness at their fingertips.  There are people behind the posts that are shared via social media, and it is human nature to want to be connected with others who seem interesting and inspiring. I have used social media tools to connect personally with old friends, and to keep in touch with family. Professionally, I have used Twitter, Voxer, read blogs and followed others via Instagram to find out what great things are going on in my field. These tools have been great professional development resources for me, and they have helped me grow tremendously.


The wired relationships that I am referring to in this post are those face-to-face relationships that extend beyond 140 characters, or pictures with captions that others like, or blog posts that receive tons of positive comments. The wired relationships are those people you can get to rather quickly via phone, text, Vox, Google Hangout, Face Time, or face-to-face. The wired relationships have unlimited characters, and include memories you make together, rather than pictures you view as a spectator. You see, wired relationships are not contingent on if the person happens to being using their social media tools that day, or if they are in a place that has wifi. Wired relationships are real, organic, and go beyond the surface level. It is the wired relationships that we turn to when we are celebrating, hurting, struggling, or just want to talk.


In my opinion, both types of connectedness are important and have served me well. I have many wireless connections that have become wired relationships. I can speak first hand to the power of social media and how it has connected me with wonderful educators and people across the world. In the same respect, most of my treasured relationships are the wonderful teachers and administrators that I work alongside each day. These are my turn to connections when I have a question or need an opinion. They are my support group and my cheerleaders. The know me beyond 140 characters and pictures, and they choose to stick around.

In a world that is instant and focused on the next best thing, it is important to water and care for the interconnected relationships that we have. Think of social media as planting the seed, it is up to us to water and care for the relationships that take root and grow. Being connected means to join together in way that is so tight, it creates a safety net and a synergistic relationship that leads to making one another stronger. Connectedness is a two-way exercise. There are people around you waiting to connect. Move beyond the 140 characters and foster those interconnected relationships. I guarantee that your connections will be so much stronger.