My current job title is: TOSA (Teacher On Special Assignment). It is an interesting title, if you think about it. What is a "special assignment"? My full title is ELA (English Language Arts) TOSA. So what does that mean? That is the question. People joke that it sounds like a "spy" or "top secret mission". I hate to break their hearts and tell them that it is not that glamorous.
I had to write up my job description earlier this year. I guess I could look back and see what it says. But that is not the purpose of this post. The purpose of this post is to talk about what I feel is my "special assignment". It is not found in my official job description as it does not relate to ELA content. I have found that much of what I do, falls under the line: Other duties as assigned and I am good with that. I try to do whatever is needed to help move people, our team or our organization forward. But this one thing...that I consider "special", I feel is THE single most important part of my job, yet it is not listed...
For me, everything comes down to one word: RELATIONSHIPS! Everything. This is actually quite funny to me as I am quite the introvert.
When I was a classroom teacher, the number one thing I did with my students was connect and encourage them. After that, everything else would fall in to place. When a student knows you care, that you believe in them, they will go through great lengths for you and themselves. I use this same idea of, relationships first, with all of my encounters in my position and in life.
If my job is to support staff in our district, I need to have relationships, connections with them. How does one do such a thing? These have seemed to be what has worked:
1) Be authentic: I am completely authentic in my interactions with people. I hope that when we talk, they understand that I truly do care about them and what they are doing. That I only want what is best for them in moving forward.
2) Don't just listen, HEAR: There is a difference between listening and hearing and people know it. Many people don't often feel heard. I make this a priority when people are talking to me. I take it all in, try my best not to interrupt (one of my many flaws), and then decide the next steps. Does this person need help? Advice? A shoulder to cry on? An empathetic ear to listen? All or none of the above. I try very hard to be what that person needs at that time.
3) Create trust: Trust is something that has to be earned but is easily lost. I have to say, the most common phrase I have heard in the past two years has been "This is just between you and me...". And I always respond with "Of course, I am a vault" And I am true to my word. The other interesting phenomena is when people try to get information out of me. This is always met with "Not my story to tell. If I tell you about______then how would you be able to trust me with what you tell me?"
4) Value people: I understand that many people just want to feel valued. It is a simple thing, but often gets lost in the hustle and bustle of life. By doing the above three, it shows people that you value them. Time is free, and makes all the difference. Give people your time, your undivided attention (another one I am working on). I also believe in letting people know their worth. Often times, people are second guessing and questioning themselves. It is nice to let them know that they are worthy and valued.
5) Encourage: This is a big one for me. This is what made all the difference for me, personally. When someone finally took the time to encourage me, that was all I needed to take off and fly. So, I try to find the bright spot in everything and everyone. Once I find it, I like to help that person see it and shine. Many times, they are not aware of this "thing" in them, but with a little acknowledgment and encouragement, it flourishes.
6) Check in: I always like to touch base with people, as our lives are all so crazy busy. A quick little text, note, email is a great way to keep that important connection going. Whenever I am on a school site, I always like to "cushion" some time to go visit people and check in. This drives my colleagues crazy, because we are all so busy. They know that if they go with me to a school site for a "quick" stop, that it is never quick. But I feel this is an important piece.
7) Connect people: In the past, as educators, we often felt alone...in silos. I am so happy that this is changing and people are collaborating and sharing ideas. I like to connect people who I think will benefit from such connection. It makes me happy when I see people working together who may have never found each other because of different grade levels, sites, subjects, proximity.
8) Celebrate people: One of my favorite things to do is celebrate great things. I am lucky that I have had the chance to work with so many amazing people and have seen so many amazing things. I like to show them off, because others aren't so lucky to step out and have these encounters. I hope by celebrating, others will get inspired. The spark will ignite.
9) Follow through: Do what you say and say what you do. The easiest way to lose someone's trust is to not follow through on your word. This one is KEY for me. I try my hardest (no one is perfect) to get back to someone, find information, get a resource, make a connection, show up...if that is what I have said. My word, my integrity is everything to me, I hope that is shown by my actions. If you need to put a reminder in your calendar, so you don't forget, so be it. It is that important.
10) Promote and support risk taking: I get the biggest kick when I see someone taking a risk! Whether it is trying out a new lesson, a new tool, writing a blog, joining Twitter, jumping in a Twitter chat. This makes me so happy! It has absolutely nothing to do with me, but I just grin from ear to ear when it occurs. There are times that I know someone is "on the bubble" and just needs a wee bit of encouragement...when they take that leap...to me, it's magic. And if I can support them in any way (they usually don't need me), I am there.
My hopes are, that I do these things on a consistent basis. It is the people that make our classrooms, schools, districts; great. Education is a "people business". Our people need to know their importance. It is a collective "we" that will move us forward.
I have said before, that we are all leaders in our own right, relationship building is the foundation on which everything else should be built. So what ever your role (professionally or personally) make relationships the cornerstone of everything else.
So what does this have to do with my "job" as ELA TOSA? Well, if my main job is to support the staff of our district, I need to create a relationship with them first and fore most. So, if I look like I am in the corner of a PD, talking to someone...that is what I am doing. It may not have anything to do with the PD, with the job, it could be personal and that's alright. I happily take that on as part of my "Special Assignment".
Mother, teacher, TOSA, GCE Level 1 & 2, Encourager of others.
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