After day 1 of the TIES conference here in Minnesota entitled “What’s your story”, I cameTIES17_presenter_badge to the realization T.I.E.S really stands for “This Is Evan’s Story”. What better time for me to sit down and get it out there.  In education that hot button phrase right now is “The Why”.  Why has my story changed so much within the past 12 months? Why am I finally so excited to see what the next 12 months will bring into my life?

Communicating with people face to face and making them feel incredibly special is truly a talent.  I have been told by many people that I connect with people instantly and that people love talking to me. Family members will say that the world loves Evan and I wouldn’t know it unless it smacked me in the face.  After long reflection, I decided that I was going to ask many people whom I have come in contact with over the past 12 months why they felt this connection with me.  I was hoping for an open, honest dialogue and boy did I get that feedback.  If I were building a “wordle” about these conversations, one word would jump off the screen.  GENUINE…..more than 85% of people who responded to my question used that word.  I was told that I am genuine when asking a question such as “How are you?”, “Is everything ok?”, or “ Is there anything that I can do to help you.”  The explanation would also allude to the fact that I listen intently to the answer and engage in the conversation that follows.

This is my story and I am continuously writing it every day.  If I were to describe myself in two words, I would use the phrase, “I care.”  I care about how people are doing.  When asking a question, I never want someone to feel as if my head is somewhere else or I am using them to get something out of them.  While in a presentation today, the speaker, Mandy Froehlich, detailed an example of a leader that she knew who only asked questions of staff members when they truly need something.  I sat and listened to that story and began to feel ill that there were people in leadership positions that never took the time to stop, listen and make a meaningful connection with their employees.  Some of my closest friends today are colleagues that I have worked with over the years.  Upon leaving my school district for an amazing opportunity this summer, I was paid the ultimate compliment and one that I have not truly grasped until recently.  Two of my employees hugged me on my way out, and whispered in my ear, “ Thank you for changing our lives. We will go wherever you go.” Looking back on it now, I wish I would have responded with, “ No, thank you for changing my life and making me a better man.”  

Being a leader, it is my job to set the tone of my department. I love my employees like family.  That mindset allows me to have a real ongoing and open dialogue to better understand them as people.  When an employee calls out sick, I acknowledge it with a simple feel better message.  I then follow up with a phone call later in the day to check in on them just to let them know that I am thinking about their well being.  This simple two minute phone call has a much deeper impact on our relationship than anything I could ever tell them.  When something positive happens in the lives of my employees, we stop what we are working on and celebrate them.   Regardless of how much work we all have on our plates, my job is remind everyone that family comes first.  Numerous times, I will stay late to get the remainder of the work done so that they do not have to.  This had always been my methods until my employees started to get wind of what I was doing at night. In the past, all employees would leave the district at 4 p.m.  In a complete culture shift, a group of employees decided that they were not leaving the office until I left with them and we would do everything as a team. My employees are an extension of my personal family and I will always continue to treat them as such.

I have grown on so many levels this year that it is hard to look back and wonder about where I was prior to meeting my PLN.  As of the summer of 2016, I had no idea what PLN stood for.  I had no interest in expanding my horizons and seeing what else was out there.  In my world, everyone comes to me for support. It was not until ISTE 2017 where I realized the power of the PLN.  I was walking around downtown San Antonio with a group of people, some who I had been friends with for a while, and some others that I began to follow on Twitter and began cultivating Twitter “friendships.” At the end of the night, one of my closest friends from the group looked at me and said, “ Do you realize how amazing all of these people think you are?” I had absolutely no idea what she was talking about then and certainly fished for additional information.  She stated that these were some of the “ Twitter Rockstars” and they were so happy talking to me and were genuinely interested in getting to know me.  These behaviors evidently were not normal for this group of people.  Although insanely stunned by that comment, I followed up by asking if anyone ever took the time to get to know them and asked them how they were actually doing and cared enough to listen to their answers  The work that these individuals produce speaks for itself.  Each are incredibly talented in their own ways and are people who I aspire to emulate as my career moves forward.  To me, they are just people and everyone wants someone to genuinely care about how they are doing.  I just happen to be the one to ask the question.  It could and probably should be everyone asking that same question.  

I continue to reflect on educational practices and the hottest trends in education.  Angela Maiers has become engrained in everyone’s mind with the phrase “ You Matter.” If I could just build on that slightly, I would add, “because I care.” Actions will always speak louder than any words ever could.  I want all of my friends and family to know that “Evan’s Story” is written every day by them.  There are no words that I could ever say to any of them that would justify the impact that they have on my life. Each of them are special to me in their own way.  I now wake up each day excited to write the next chapter of my story as a tribute to the amazing people that I love.  As each of them read this during the holiday season, they can each close their eyes and think of a few interactions that we have had where we have made each other feel as if we were both the most special people in the world.  This is Evan’s story about caring, positivity, love, and a renewed sense of hope.