Friday, March 3, 2017

Raise Your Hand Texas: The Gift of Learning That Keeps on Giving

February was an absolutely magical month for me as a professional.  I had a pretty fantastic February in my personal life as well, so it stands to reason that when our lives are in balance, great things happen to us as leaders and human beings.  I have written before about the experience that has impacted me as a professional more than any other professional learning, my Harvard experience with Raise Your Hand Texas (click here for that blog post).  Raise Your Hand Texas is the gift that keeps on giving; each year they gather the alumni of the program and bring them together for a symposium of learning.  They bring Harvard professors and other guest lectures to keep our Harvard journey moving and growing. It is an incredible investment and one that as soon as I have the date is blocked from my school calendar.  It has become a sacred time for me, and after this year's experience, I daresay will never be missed again.  The Symposium is how I started the magical month of February and it is the reason that February was so powerful for me:  I was ignited by both learning and the strengthening of relationships with peers met on my Harvard trip. This year's symposium was in Austin, Texas home of the capital and the legislators that work for us.  There was no coincidence, this was purposeful planning for RYHT to host us in Austin.  Part of the RYHT program is the expectation that we will engage with our legislators on matters relevant to public education in Texas.  

This year's symposium carved out considerable time for us to hone a message to our hometown legislature and develop a relationship with them by taking us to the Capital to meet with them.  Raise Your Hand Texas did an exceptional job of preparing us for the visit and debriefing with us after our visit.  The picture below is what I like to (tongue in cheek) refer to as the "March on Austin" --it captures four confident (plus one behind the camera) principals in the halls of the state capital.  I captured this on our way to meet with Senator Van Taylor. Mr. Taylor serves the Plano community and is also on the Senate Education Committee:  he is an important ally to us.  We were determined to make the most of our visit with him.  We had our plan and purpose.  The commonality among us (Michele Loper, Kristin Bishop, Toni Strickland, and Kristopher Vernon) is that we all serve Title 1 campuses.  Our communities need our voice to speak for them as they often are not able to use their own for a litany of reasons.  We were excited and nervous.  We were hopeful.  Mr. Taylor was a great listener and took notes.  He asked us questions.  He saw our commitment to our kids and our community.  I would say that our meeting was productive, but not as deep as we hoped it might be.  

I have made a promise to myself that I will not only uphold what Raise Your Hand Texas has asked of me:  by developing and foster a relationship with Mr. Taylor.  I plan to take their expectation higher by also getting myself better versed in local elections. I feel that our impact can be the greatest with those that are closest to us.  That is my viewpoint only and I do not wish to fan the flame of politics here, but I have a responsibility to 575 children to ensure that we have the biggest fans of public education in office for their benefit.  I will continue to work on my relationship with Mr. Taylor by communicating with him via email and phone while he is in Austin and then inviting him to my campus in the fall when the session is over.  There are many issues which can impact my campus and I want to ensure that I respectfully convey their potential impact on my community.  Admittedly, this part of the Raise Your Hand Texas expectation is way out of my comfort zone, but after that first step, I am confident and determined to make this a reality.  I have also let our superintendent know that I am also ready to be an ally for our district.  Again, politics is not my thing, but our politicians need to be armed with information straight from the source and not from many other sources they rely on to frame their opinion and shape the policy that drives our work.

So, breaking out of my comfort zone was a professional hurdle, but doing that with the comfort of friends who cheer you on is AMAZING.  That brings me to the BEST part of Austin:  my camp friends!  Remember when you went to summer camp and you had a group of friends that was special for that one week every summer?  Well, those are my RYHT camp friends!  I am not sure what the perfect storm was for us all to meet two years ago at the Art of Leadership at Harvard but meet we did and form fast friendships.  Over the course of the last two years, we have just become closer and closer.  My camp friends are made up of principals from all over the state and representing all the levels of public education: high school, middle school, and the outlier elementary principal (ME!). They are all at the top of their game and I learn something each time we gather. The common bond we have is a passion for all things school and, mostly, the children that we serve.  I have learned about how different districts do things and their thoughts about leadership among a million other lessons.  We have bonded by sharing stories of our campuses, our personal families, and hopes and dreams as professionals.  They are a passionate bunch and we love each other so hard. The role of the principal can be a lonely spot, but I know that I have five people that I can text and get a response quickly.  We have burned up our group text this month and our continuing conversation is what I think has given me the best post-symposium glow of happiness.  Raise Your Hand Texas gave me a gift that I never expected on my learning journey: friendships.  I figured I would go and have a great learning experience in Boston two years ago, but what I got is far more than I can ever express thanks for.  I look forward to our continuing conversations and cheering them each onto whatever heights they might want to reach.  My biggest dream would be to get in a situation where we could all work together as a team.  If you dream it, you can do it!  Please follow my fabulous friends on Twitter:  LeeViMoses, Lance Groppel, Lindsay Harris, Todd Bloomer and Crystal Mueller.  I can't wait to pencil in next year's Symposium on my calendar.

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