Fail Forward and Rejection Rebound: A Very Personal Perspective

Never give up. People will always discount you, and you’ll always get rejected. But set your sights high. Be boldly ambitious. Be relentless and never give up. – Reshma Saujani

This year, so far, has had so many great things happening for me and in my life. I stepped out of my comfort zone professionally through Twitter, leading PD for my district, earning coveted certifications (Google Level 1&2, Google Certified Trainer) my oldest son and his family moving back to GA, my youngest son transferring colleges back to GA, and my husband getting the best dedicated trucking assignment since he began a new career in August 2017. We were all on a roll and life felt perfect!

Then came the disappointments: a job opportunity rejection; professional development proposals denied; not being selected for the Google for Education Certified Innovators Program; and general frustrations of standing still while everyone, and everything, around you are passing by at what appears to be lightning speed. I’ve been rejected from jobs before and I’ve rebounded rather quickly. However, this time it was rapid fire rejection. Three of them came 2 weeks apart. These feelings of failing beyond recovery were rushing in and doubt grew roots. I began to question myself and all the choices I’d made in my life up until this point. I needed a break from my thoughts ASAP!

Fall Break came 2 days after I got the email from Google, so it was perfect timing to go get out of my head, relax, recharge, and spend time with my husband on a get-away vacation we planned a few months earlier. We decided to go hiking, something I’ve never done before, in The Great Smoky Mountains and then drove on up to Gatlinburg, TN for the rest of the weekend. I was desperately in need of a respite from the emotional toll I was experiencing and I thought a walk in the woods, on a clear and cool Autumn day, would be the best medicine. Boy, was I in for a surprise!

As we approached the beginning of the trail, I became excited for the adventure we were about to embark upon and extremely nervous because I thought I wasn’t physically prepared enough to complete the course. Nevertheless, I strapped on my newly purchased survival backpack, grabbed my liter water bottle and my hiking stick, took my obligatory newbie photo and started on my way ahead of my seasoned hiker husband.

After what I thought was 1/2 the distance to the destination, I asked how much longer we had to go, he said “about 1.5 miles”. We hadn’t gone a mile yet! Ugh! I suddenly felt overwhelmed with the realization that I’m nowhere near the end and giving up IS an option because we weren’t that far up the trail- but that would make me a failure…again.

I started crying. I knew this moment wasn’t just associated with how much farther I had to go. These tears were deeply rooted in something else. These tears were about who I was at that moment and all the recent rejections I had received. I was questioning my ability to make sound decisions. My husband unhooked my backpack, hands me my water bottle, and sits me down in a cool shaded area. He asks about my welfare and what I was thinking. I poured my heart out. I felt: like a failure; inadequate; unaccomplished; stagnant; #failforward is a lie; #rejectionrebound another lie!

He wiped my tears away, looked me in the eyes and said “You’re not a failure, inadequate, unaccomplished, nor stagnant. You were rejected. If you give up on this hike you will experience failure. Besides, I’m not going to let you quit. So, rest in the shade, drink your water, rebound from the rejection, and let’s reach our goal!”

I shook my head in agreement, stood up, and started back up the trail. Along the way we came across other hikers coming down and they all said the same thing “you’re almost there; you can make it; the view is worth it-trust us.” Encouragement was coming from strangers…talk about perfect timing! An hour later we made it to the bluffs and the view WAS amazing! We sat down and soaked in the quiet serenity of nature for about 30 minutes.

On the way down the trail I began thinking about this post. Had I given in and turned around I would have failed at my #failforward #rejectionrebound mindset. I would have spent the rest of our vacation mad at myself and miserable thereby making my husband unhappy and he didn’t deserve that version of me.

I’m glad I checked off an item I didn’t even know was on my Bucket List by forging ahead when the going got really tough. We went Zip Lining the next day. Score another point for stepping out of one’s comfort zone and pushing personal limits. It was easier because of the previous day and both events brought clarity to my mind.

Fail Forward and Rejection Rebound are more than hashtags that sound great on Twitter. They are a mindset that should be active in every aspect of your life. My Fall Break vacation gave me new ideas about my next application to the Google for Education Innovators Academy. I received feedback about the other opportunities I didn’t get to be part of so I can make improvements on those applications as well. With each new application/proposal it will be #failforward because I tried, and if I get another “Unfortunately…..”letter/email, I will execute #rejectionrebound because I will try again.

My Google Train Ride Continues

 

The journey is part of the experience – an expression of the seriousness of one’s intent. One doesn’t take the A train to Mecca. –Anthony Bourdain, A Cook’s Tour: Global Adventures in Extreme Cuisines

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3 months ago I wrote about my professional development journey and eventually becoming a Google Certified Education Trainer. I mentioned that the journey has been a ride full of ebbs and flows, oh what a ride it has been, and it is not over! The beginning of a new school year is always filled with new challenges and excitement. I look forward to it every year! Each day highlights opportunities for students and teachers to take risks, #failforward is a celebrated option now, and use the next day as a reset if necessary.  With this in mind, I decided to take a chance and apply for the Google Innovators Academy in Denmark #DEN18.

Why Should I Apply?

The idea of applying to become part of such a prestigious group of educators is undeniably intimidating. Who am I? What do I have to offer? These are the two questions that were constantly going through my mind as I read emails reminding me of the Denmark Cohort application opening and closing dates. Maybe I should wait and get a few more months of working within my school, the district, in my professional portfolio before I venture out globally. What if I don’t get accepted? How will I handle that degree of disappointment?  No matter the outcome, I still will have grown from a year ago, and that, in and of itself, is reason enough to apply.

The Application Process

On September 3, 2018, I downloaded the worksheet associated with the application and I began to answer the questions. I was not prepared for the types of questions asked (they are designed to stretch your thoughts and perspective) and trying to express myself within the expected character limits was an even bigger challenge. Needless to say, I felt overwhelmed and I did not finish the worksheet at that time. Fear and apprehension had taken control and another week passed without me revisiting the worksheet. Next year, I’ll try again next year, when I don’t feel so out of my league.

An email arrived on September 10, 2018, with a webinar invite for all prospective applicants to go over tips and suggestions for a successful application video plus general information. Unfortunately I did not attend the webinar, but that email reminded me that if I don’t at least submit the application, I will spend the rest of the year wondering “what if?”. Another week was quickly coming to a close before I began working again on the worksheet. This also meant the September 21, 2018 deadline was around the corner and I needed to get the video together – yesterday.

As much as I talk about #failforward and transparency, I still find myself not wanting to be equally as transparent with others about certain things. However, I do understand the benefit of getting constructive feedback from others, so I invited friends and family to look over the worksheet and give me their opinions, suggestions, and, of course, their well wishes. After I got the feedback, I made the suggested and necessary adjustments to my short answers, those character limits were unrelenting, I uploaded my video, I completed the online application and hit submit.

Now We Wait

So now I’m back in a familiar, yet happily scary, place, as I, along with other applicants, some of them friends from Twitter, wait for the decision the week of October 1, 2018. I know I will be disappointed if I don’t make this cohort, I won’t give up though, I’ll just use it as an opportunity to grow. But if disappointment has to come I’d rather it be because I tried and not because I didn’t.

 Good Luck Everyone!

The 4th C of Feedback

Ever since I was a child I have had this instinctive urge for expansion and growth. To me, the function and duty of a quality human being is the sincere and honest development of one’s potential.

– Bruce Lee

Being a “sports mom” I got to see my boys, and their classmates, get a lot of feedback over many years. Many of their coaches adopted the 3 C’s of feedback: Compliment, Criticize, Correct. I adopted the same approach in my classroom and part of my leadership style but I modified it over time by adding a fourth C – Challenge.

4th C of Feedback

Compliment

Every school year, get an index card holder and write something positive on each card for all your students. Add to it over time but keep everything positive. This way when you start the feedback conversation off with a compliment it will be sincere. Everyone likes medicine that tastes like cherries!

Criticize

Now that the air is less tense, the criticism will be only about the “thing” that needs to be corrected/improved and less likely to be taken personally. I’ve noticed that sticking to one point of criticism during a conversation works best because it allows both parties to have moments of reflection during the conversation.

Correct

Unlike step 2, this process can be personal because it will need to focus on strengthening an area of weakness. If possible demonstrate the correct method. Allowing students the opportunity to execute the correction is the best way to see if they’re receiving the feedback as the help it was intended.

Challenge

Now that you’re done Complimenting, Criticizing, and Correcting, send the students off with a challenge!

Challenge them to continue doing the things that they were complimented about, especially if it’s attendance! 😉

Challenge them to consider the criticism as the self help it was intended and appreciate the love and context in which it was given.

Challenge them to make the corrections and execute the changes for their personal growth. Doing better = being better.

Challenge them to circle back to the 3 C’s of feedback process when they’re alone with their thoughts about a project or an idea or even about their personal lives as a guide to help them out of the slump.

Challenge them to be better today than they were yesterday and even better tomorrow!

Most importantly, let’s challenge ourselves to remember the power of the 4th C of feedback.

Stick And Stones May Break My Bones But Negative Words Will Not Define Me

I don’t want to be anything other than what I’ve been trying to be lately. All I can do is think of me and I have peace of mind. I’m tired of looking around rooms wondering what I’ve gotta do or who I’m supposed to be. I don’t want to be anything other than me. – I Don’t Want to Be Lyrics by Gavin Degraw

As a child I heard this phrase whenever someone was being bullied: “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me!” And as a child it gave me a sense of control to utter that at another person because I was letting them know that their words had no effect on me. Boy was I delusional.

Those words not only had an effect, but they had a power that unfortunately sometimes determined my choices. More often than not, they made me question my existence, and not in a positive way, because no matter how strong and brave I wanted to be, I was really a scared and vulnerable kid just trying to find her way in life.

Awareness

Etymology, the study of word origins, is more associated with Spelling Bee participants or Historians versus classroom teachers who don’t teach Language Arts. However, I wish those who were in authority over me had considered the meanings of words when I was told I wasn’t smart enough to be in the upper level classes based on my GPA from 8th grade or that I shouldn’t be hired at my first teaching position because I was considered a slacker in high school.

Some words said by those teachers and counselors were easy to shake off but the ones that were also said by people whose opinions I valued most were the hardest to shake because they were believed to be more true. The battle of not letting someone else’s opinion/description affect you is hard enough without hearing similar things from the people we love, trust, and respect the most. If you hear it enough you begin to believe it. And once you believe it you begin to own it. It becomes convenient to exist in that reality rather than prove to them, and yourself, otherwise.

Actions Can Be Like Words Too

Every day the students come in the building is a new day to either plant or water seeds that can impact the fertile ground known as their self esteem. We can start by getting rid of behavior charts that are posted in the classroom or writing names on the board for behavior punishment. Both of these, in my opinion, place labels on kids that are very hard to remove. Because when other students go home to talk about their day and they mention again how Lil’ Rhonda’s name is on the board again, parents jump into protective mode and encourage their kids to stay away from the troublemaker.

Just like that she will forever be labeled as troublemaker to that classmate. And like an aggressive cancer cell the label spreads. No one likes a troublemaker. No one wants to be around a troublemaker. Can’t be friends with one either. A life defining moment for a primary grade student shouldn’t be made for them. Especially by those entrusted to protect and nurture them 8 hours a day during the school year.

I’ll Just Be Me

We don’t know every student’s story. The students that come into our building are the best and brightest their parents/guardians have to send. They’re “as is models prepped for awesome upgrades” and the best way educators like me can help them reach their potential is by carefully choosing the words said to them both publicly and privately.

Some students may not be told that they’re loved before they come to class, so we have to tell them. A warm sincere smile will speak volumes to a student who needs it. All students’ need is for 1 person to “see” them and help them see themselves. Remind students that a brief moment in time is only as defining as they allow it to be. Choose words and actions that constructively correct behavior as well as guide academic growth. Encourage students to be the best version of themselves while teaching others to accept their “differences” will work miracles if given a chance. I know because it worked for me.

6 Months Later And I’m #GoogleET

Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride! – Hunter S. Thompson

Wow! Who knew that when I started this professional journey in January 2018 to challenge myself and grow as an Instructional Technology Coach, I would be here, a Google Certified Educator and Trainer!

Put Yourself Out There

I’ve been a member of Twitter for years, but never have I used it for professional purposes. I attended my first professional tech conference in November 2017 and although I participated in the hashtags, pictures, and networking events, I still felt disconnected from others in my profession. So, I decided to expand my Twitterverse and I created a professional account. The first week I joined as many chats as I could find and as a result, I discovered so many like-minded individuals that I decided to become a co-moderator in my local district monthly chats.

Within a month of my first chat session, my contacts, #PLN, had grown, I was invited to host TECHtalkGA chat, and I was on my way to participating in edcamps and attending my first EdTechTeam Summit where I learned about getting Google for Education Certifications. I felt like a kid in a candy store full of Jelly Bellies and Chocolate and what amazed me the most was the fact that this store had been opened for business long before I wandered down the street!

As I continued to attend edcamps and host and participate in Twitter chats, I realized that I needed more. I had a fire inside that was pushing me to learn as much as I could from as many resources there were available. I consumed knowledge from everyone I encountered and I offered my heartfelt opinion as often as I was given the opportunity to do so.

Buckle up. The ride is about to begin.

Let’s Get Certified

Despite the fire, I had growing inside, I still found myself apprehensive about taking that plunge into the certification process. Not only was I attending edcamps every month, I was now putting my name on the board to hold a session about Google productivity tools. So what was I waiting for? I didn’t want to let my family down, but more than anything, I didn’t want to let myself down. Taking the famous Nike phrase, “Just Do It” to heart, I started the Google Certified Educator Level 1 process during spring break the first week in April.

Between moving homes, spending time with my family, and working on presentations I proposed for a local Digital Learning Conference, I once again found myself putting my certification pursuits on the back burner. Come on Rhonda, you can do it. Imagine what will happen to you once you do. Envision the possibilities. See your future. Go for it!

I scheduled a date on my calendar to take the exam. Once I completed the payment there was no turning back. May 3, 2018, gave me a 7-day window to fish or cut bait. Fingers were crossed and prayers went up.

I took the exam on May 6, 2018, and 3 hours later I got the results. PASSED! Bitmoji Yes

Whew! The apprehension I once had quickly dissipated and was immediately replaced with exhilaration and relief. I can do this after all. I began preparing for the Level 2 exam. Right around 5 days later I completed the training materials, took the exam, and again, 3 hours later I got the results. PASSED! I am on a roll!

Up next: Trainer or Innovator? Whoa, pump the brakes a little there Rhonda. Enjoy these accomplishments before you go reaching for the brass ring! Are you really ready to be a Certified Google Trainer? Have you done enough training yet? At all? Can you say ambitious?

After much consideration and deliberation, I decided to take a chance on the materials I had and I put in the application for Google Trainer. I felt a strong internal push that my timing was just right and that my application would showcase my uniqueness. It was now or never.

Monday, May 28, 2018, was the day a simple button click made me do a quick review of my life and all that I had done in such a short period of time. Everything was happening so fast! Was I really ready for the application to be accepted or was I going to use this as a learning experience and prepare better for a future application? Either way, I win right? Submit, click. Fingers were crossed again and more prayers went up.

The Waiting Is Finally Over

Despite the canned response of a 4-6 weeks processing time, every day for 2 weeks, I checked the status of my application. Anxious can’t begin to effectively describe the feelings I had as I slowly scrolled to read the status change from Submitted to In Review on my phone. I felt like I was free falling.

On Thursday, June 14, 2018, as I sat in preparation for my presentations, I looked one more time. Talk about taking a risk. If it is not favorable news, how will it affect my day full of presentations? If it is the previous status, In Review, at least it will be no worse than it was yesterday. But, maybe, just maybe today is the day. I began my usual slow scroll down the screen. This time In Review has been replaced with ACCEPTED!

I gasped out loud and a huge smile took over my face! My friend, who encouraged me to use the materials I had, was sitting next to me at the time, and all I could do was just show her my phone. She gasped out loud too and then gave me the biggest congratulatory hug you can imagine.

I posted this on Twitter making sure to thank all the people who supported and encouraged me along the way. Without my #PLN, I don’t know if I would have jumped out of the gate the way I did.

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I did it! I set a goal in January to grow professionally and I am official #GoogleET. I cannot wait to see where this adventure takes me and I’m looking forward to working with even more great educators through this opportunity.

This ride is far from over, but what a ride it has been!

 

The Journey Begins

“Be like water making its way through cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way round or through it. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves. Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.” — Bruce Lee

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