Nine days ago...eleven colleagues and myself embarked on a unique and interesting journey. We were given 18 days to make a difference. I'm not going to lie, I went in with some skepticism, but tried not to let it show as one of the "teacher leaders" of the group. I wrote about our upcoming adventure here: "In A Moment".
The first week was a whirlwind...for many reasons. *These are only my thoughts based on my experiences and do not reflect my colleagues' sentiments*:
1) I have not been in charge of a class in four years.
2) We had almost complete autonomy in "curriculum" - which is a good thing!
3) We were a bit confused as to the focus in math.
4) Our students came with differing reasons to join us: many were forced, some chose, a few had no idea and most of them just looked scared.
5) Our students were a mix of incoming 5th and 6th graders from all 18 elementary schools as well as outside of the district. Some students were brought to us to fill gaps, some were with us to receive enrichment, some joined us to get a jump start for next year and some still don't know.
6) There were huge discrepancies in students' experiences in and with math - all coming from different school and classroom environments.
I had high hopes of things we could do in these 2 - two hour periods. Mindsets shifted, switch flip moments, smiles, laughing, learning, risk taking and amazing growth and confidence....
AND THEN REALITY HIT.
Day 1, Minute 1... sitting before me were 27 (mostly strangers to me and each other) looking worried and unsure. I took a deep breath and smiled (Yes...we smile on the first day - all the way through to the last day). When asked, a majority said that there parents made them come. To which I smiled again and let them know that I promised to make their time in Room 24 worth it and that we were going to have fun (with math). They weren't buying it. I don't blame them - for many those two things have often been mutually exclusive. These may be some tough nuts to crack!
I wanted to get to know my new kiddos as learners and as people. I assumed that they would be pretty shy the first day, so I wanted an activity where they could share, without much risk. We jumped right into a "four corners" activity in which they responded to four questions (anonymously in writing). The various responses were interesting, yet surprisingly well balanced. For almost every student that shared that they did not like math or that it was stressful, there was another that said math was boring or it was easy. For every response to "Something I struggle with" there was the same answer on "Something I am good at". After they gallery walked and sorted answers, we attempted a discussion. I knew this was a risk, because we hadn't spent time developing rapport, trust or culture. But all I could think about was "I have 17 1/2 days left..." so we went full speed ahead!
I am not going to bore you with scripting how it went, but I will let you know that it was not one of my proudest moments. Not because of the students, but because of me. I knew better, but I didn't do better (excuse me while I choke on my own words). Not many students spoke because, well... they had no reason to feel safe with myself or their unknown peers. They acted exactly how I would have acted if I walked into a party full of people I didn't know (except they did not have a chip bowl to cling to).
The students that spoke though were amazing...they were honest and vulnerable. They helped me to gather important information that would not show up on any assessment they would be taking for us.
The big ideas from both classes were these (and I am generalizing):
- They felt pressure in math
- Tests make them anxious
- Math time usually consists of the teacher talking and them doing workbook pages
- They are not used to collaborating
- Talking about math (or each other) was a new concept
And there we were... staring at each other. My mind was racing as to how I could remedy the above, give three assessments (the first week) AND actually explore the math - In 17 and 1/4 days (time was ticking). I knew I was rusty, but oh boy! This seemed like a mountain that I just couldn't even find my footing on.
But then something clicked and I went right into full teacher mode. I KNEW that we needed to build culture first (#cultureovercurriculum) and we needed to build it fast. Out came some #eduprotocols (Thank you to my pals Jon Corippo and Marlena Heburn).
I'm not going to lie and say that at the end of day 1 we were all besties, holding hands in a Kumbya Circle - but I did start to see some kids opening up, talking, excitement and smiling. Did we do any math that first day? Besides one of the assessments we had to give (groans from the kids) - NO - there was no math. It was all about building the classroom culture. I wanted to create a safe place for them to #riskforward and #failforward. We talked about making mistakes and struggling - and how these are needed in order to grow. *Luckily- I have made at least one mistake per day, per period as a "model" for them- without of course meaning to.* The best part? They feel comfortable enough to respectfully correct my mistakes - to which I thank them. We can't make this stuff up nor find it in a teacher's manual.
Over the next 8 days...there have been ebbs and flows - but the students have been so positive and willing to stretch their thinking - looking at math differently and enjoying (for the most part) new experiences with math. BUT - one thing for certain - this has absolutely solidified the idea of #cultureovercurriculum for me. I knew this to be true, I practiced it my whole career but as I stated before - I was rusty. I would typically spend the first two weeks of school, building this and I tried to squish it into two hours - and it showed.
Finally, today - as we are literally halfway through the whole Math Camp - I saw students seamlessly working together, sharing ideas and having fun WITH MATH! And they were TALKING...about MATH! 8 days ago, that was a completely foreign concept to many. They actually groaned today (like with the assessment on Day 1) when I asked them to clean up their project, for break. WHAT? Imagine the difference we could make, if we had the time to really lay that foundation of culture. This is great practice and a huge refresher course for me.
Yesterday, we had a discussion in period 2 based on some Memes they saw about teachers and students. They shared with me the images and sarcastic sayings about things that we deal with as teachers, such as: repeating directions more than once, putting names on papers and getting work done. I know these are struggles that we, as teachers face on a day to day basis, but I didn't feel right with the students' discussion - they thought they were funny, but couldn't tell me what was funny about them.
So, we turned into a discussion about respect - mutual. My respect for them, their respect for each other and for myself. And then I asked them this question "Do you guys remember us coming up with class rules? Did I ever tell you about any rules?" They looked at me quizzically and then responded with "No". My next question was "Do you think we need to?" To which they also responded "No". It wasn't until that moment that I realized we had, in fact, built our classroom culture. Maybe I am naive and/or just blessed with two periods of the most amazing kiddos or we were on to something here. Maybe respect goes a long way?
I'm not going to lie, three days ago - I was questioning my effectiveness as a classroom leader. Maybe I had lost it in those four years? I think I used to be good at this...but maybe I wasn't.
All I can say is that I am failing, reflecting, learning, growing and having fun! I believe that these kids are having fun as well. I am listening and talking with them as they are working on their tasks and they are excitedly participating in different experiences than their norm - and THAT, my friends, is my goal with these #18daysSV.
There is SOOO much more I could write about on this experience, but I am going to hold that, for now, and just see what these last 9 days hold for us!
Thank you to the #MathMavericks in Room 24 and my amazing colleagues that are sharing this journey with me!
Ok all...I have a confession to make. Actually, I don't know if it's a confession if it is something I share ALL THE TIME. But here goes... I am NOT a techie person. There.
I did that for a few reasons. One being that in his book "The Eduprotocol Field Guide" - after each time I'm mentioned or wrote a piece, he gave me a different job title - but all included the word "tech". It just makes me giggle because...I was never that - but most people that don't yet know me or have yet to meet me, believe that to be true.
I of course, always correct them, because I am nothing if I am not honest. I WAS an ELA TOSA who somehow got wrapped up into this EdTech World. (Thank you to my former colleague Dustin Ellis, for bringing me into and supporting me in navigating that world!). And if anyone has read or talked to me, you know my opinions on "Titles"- you know that I believe we all are so much more than who our email signatures or business cards say we are.
I share this and many other truths... a lot. What I have found, when I share these, there is a sigh of relief. People connect through experiences and stories. When people realize that I am just like them - a teacher, just trying to figure out how to do what's best for kids - they feel relieved and instantly connected. I share with them that I love doing "lesson remixes" and that usually involves some kind of tech for the students to use. And since I am NOT a techie - I just click on things and see what happens. I assure them that they won't break, "The Google" won't break, they won't scar the children and they most likely won't break their devices.
I believe, as many of us do, in #pedegogyovertech. I start with the children first, then the learning. If there is a tech tool that could fit in and enhance, we give it a whirl. I do not use tech, just to say I did. That doesn't help anyone. It is the "how" over the "what". HOW are we going to...? But so many people still get lost in the "new shiny thing". The #FOMO takes over and often times, the learning gets lost. I hope that the pendulum begins to swing and the tech can move to the background.
I believe that this pedagogy piece is what I am able to bring to the table. I was blessed to have two amazing administrators who were incredibly strong instructional leaders. (Oh, and by the way- NEITHER were big tech fans- that was not even a piece in this). They fostered this foundation for me that guides all that I do in terms of education. They armed our staff with multiple resources, ideas, tools AND time to dig in. They allowed our staff the autonomy and trust to use our skills, knowledge and passion to create experiences for our students that would lead to deep learning, creation and understanding.
We often hear that tech and devices are the great divide. They can make good teachers better or they can make not so good teachers - worse. The deciding factor in it is US - the teachers. No inanimate object (device, tech, teachers' edition, program, curriculum) can move kids forward on it's own. It is the teacher,, the leader in the classroom who decides, guides, activates and supports how those are used. In this way...it's the HOW... HOW is this tool being used to grow students forward? My pal, Jon Eick said it best...
It is up to us to decide what we do with all the tools we are given. Do we use them as license to "do school to kids" by just turning (or clicking through) pages, giving worksheets (digital or otherwise), busy work or things to keep kids quiet? Or do we look at the whole toolkit we are given and craft lessons and experiences where our students are having to think, having to create, having to communicate and collaborate?
This week, I read that Google Classroom will be adding a feature to lock students from being able to search outside of an assignment. To this, many are rejoicing! "YES- now my students can't cheat!" WHOA... HOLD THE PHONE. If that is the driving force, it may be time to step back and reflect. "What is the purpose, what is the learning?" If we are giving tasks that have completely "Googleable" answers, (and by the way, does there always have to be an answer?) - are we creating learning within our students? And with that... I will need to create a whole other blog post...
"Good morning, Cori...how are you?"
"I'm good, and yourself?"
"Great! Have a good day."
30 seconds and the moment is gone. That is a familiar "outward conversation", but what is the "real conversation" that is hiding behind the niceties?
"Good morning, Cori...how are you?"
"To be honest, I'm struggling."
"I understand, how can I help?"...
30 seconds and the moment is changed, impact is made.
I have been thinking quite a bit about time, lately. It is something that we seem to never have enough of, it is something we are trying to conquer, it is something that we are "up against"...BUT it is something we ALL have and it is free. So how are we spending our time?
On Monday, a small group of teachers, including myself, will be embarking on a new adventure and WE ARE EXCITED!! Our district is "piloting" a new summer school program for 5/6 graders. Each student will be taking part in a two hour "Math Academy" (which I am teaching) and a two hour "STEAM Camp". Here is what is unique: ANY child that will be entering 5th or 6th grade is welcome, they don't even need to be from our district. Students are not placed in classes for remediation nor are they placed for extension. Their placement in our classes are totally random. To me, this is an amazing gift! But it is also an amazing responsibility. Because these students are from all walks of life, come with varying skills, confidence, understanding and experiences with math- culture matters more than ever. I often say #cultureovercurriculum - spend the time to build culture up front or it will be very difficult to get students to understand the curriculum. But we have a hiccup... time.
The goals for the Math Academy are this:
- Change Mathematical Mindsets
- Foster Mathematical Discourse
- Build number sense
- Make math fun
-Make math sticky
Well- here is the kicker- we ONLY have 18 days! 18!
Part of my role, which I was sooo excited about, was to help facilitate the PD for the teachers to get them ready... but how can I act pumped up about it, when I couldn't wrap my mind around that short little time frame? And then I had a "switch flip moment" which I shared with the group.
I thought to myself, we only have 18 days. And then it clicked. Oh my gosh, we HAVE 18 days...to make a difference. We can make a difference in just one moment...how many moments will we have in 18 days? We can do this... Let's make a difference!
And so with that, I have been walking around with a new lens. I have tried to tune in to life more. I have been focusing more on the small moments, because those are the ones that often produce huge gains, but if we don't slow down, they go unnoticed.
Here are some small moments that have made a difference to me personally, over this last week:
- someone sharing a quote that reminds them of me
- someone reaching out to me to share something they are struggling with and asking me for help
- someone checking in on me on a regular basis
- someone allowing me to do what I love to do, on a whim
- someone telling me they believe in me
- someone sharing appreciation for something I didn't even realize
- someone taking a chance on me and providing an opportunity
- someone listening to my stream of consciuoness
- someone sharing a risk they have taken
- someone letting me know that they read what I write
All of these things took only moments on the other person's part, but their impact is ever lasting.
I love this TED talk by Drew Dudley- Everyday Leadership . In this he describes what he calls "Lollipop Moments". Well, when this was shared with me a few years ago, the person shared it with this message "Made me think of you." - right there- that person gave me a "Lollipop Moment" herself.
Here is my call to action: First, reflect and find those small moments, those "Lollipop Moments" that have impacted you. Now, keep those in mind as you move through your day today. How do you want to use the moments your are given? Whether it is with students, staff, adults, children, friends, colleagues, strangers. How can you make an impact on others?
Here is where I am stuck. I had somehow found my voice in speaking about leadership and organizational change. I have seen a lot from my position, standing on that fence - wavering between two worlds. Which by the way, I whole heartedly believe, they should all just be in one world- "For the Children" (shout out to CUE Tang Clan). I have seen, experienced and learned a lot. I believed I had a unique perspective based on this "Limbo Factor". I believed that sharing through that lens could be helpful and impactful.
BUT...Now that I am heading back to the classroom, do I have the "right" to continue sharing that voice from "Leading In Limbo"? I know I have the "Limbo" part down, but I'm not going to lie... my confidence has been completely shot on the "Leading" part.
One of the most interesting things in all this, was the timing. I found out about this change in role, the day before flying out to a leadership conference (Lead 3) to speak in front of many leaders, in all different roles of education; over three days. To be honest, my soul and confidence were crushed and I felt like a fraud. I don't know how I was able to compartmentalize and stand up there and spout my stuff - or at least I hope I was.
As I stood up there and presented...this tape kept playing in my mind "Who are you, to be talking to these administrators about leadership? You are not a leader."
As much as I tried to cut that tape, it just continued to play over the next two months. I was ready to shut this blog down. Stop presenting on such things. Crawl into my new classroom, shut the door and do my best to serve my new students. Simple.
But it just didn't settle right inside of me.
Then this amazing opportunity was presented to me by my friend and often "partner in crime" Jay Sorensen. He asked if I would be one of three speakers for his district's (OUHSD) CUE Rockstar Admin PD day. I of course, believed he was just "throwing me a bone" because he knew where my head and my heart were at. But I of course, couldn't say no.
So... get this line up: Jon Corippo, John Eick and... me. That didn't cut that tape in my head... it just made it replay more frequently and louder.
Now, luckily, those two gentleman are friends of mine and I love them both to death, so I didn't have a complex about presenting with them, personally. To me, I was worried about perception from the participants- because those two are edu-leader giants, and I was just.. well ...you know how that ends.
A big "One of these things is not like the other....", deal.
I have written before about how blessed I am with amazing people in my corner. One is the incredible Joe Sanfelippo. I was chatting with him to bounce some ideas around about this session I was doing on "Culture". We went back and forth for awhile. Finally he said "Culture is also built on the language that you use. But after almost every single idea you had, you ended with "Who the **** am I?". Stop saying that! You can’t stand up there and lead, if you don’t believe in yourself. So stop it.”
Well- who can argue with that? OK, Joe... point taken.
So I pushed all of those things aside and went for it. I will share the results of that day, in another post- because that is not what this one is about. This one is about believing. It is about "Walking Your Why" and believing that we ALL have something to contribute. It is about not letting fear, anxiety, the past, chatter... deter you from your path...from your journey, if you are walking that why.
So- I am still not completely settled in what to do with this blog space. For now... I will just keep on writing and keep on leading, in whatever capacity I can.
My call to action is this: Learn from my "cautionary tale" - this is why I write so vulnerabily. We ARE all leaders in our own right... whether we are leaders in our classroom, on our site, in the district, of our family, in our church. Look around and see who is WITH you. Not necessarily behind you. I believe our best leaders, lead from the middle. Those who are in the mix, who encourage and inspire others to lead forward. That can be all of us. And in the words of my friend Brent Coley...
Thank you to these amazing people for helping me continue to "Walk My Why"- no matter what it says under my name, in my email signature: Jon Corippo, John Eick, Brent Coley, Tony Sinanis, Joe Sanfelippo, Michael Niehoff, Steve Woods, Jay Sorensen, Pam Hernandez, Terri Leon, Eddie Campos, Jr, and Jeremiah Ruesch (to name a few). You are appreciated more than you will ever know. I have learned so much from each and every one of you and continue to do so with every interaction.
This morning, I woke up at 0' dark 30 with so many thoughts in my head...so many emotions in my heart. I sit here on my ** birthday and realize- what better time for a soul check, than now? Now this could go one of two ways. This could get way personal or it could get way professional. Well, if you know me at all- we know how this is going to go...
Next week, I will be closing up shop as a TOSA (Teacher On Special Assignment) in my district, to go back into the classroom. Although this was not the path I had planned, I have to believe it is the path that was planned for me- somewhere, somehow, by someone. So there has been a ridiculous amount of reflection over the past two months- much I have shared here.
This blog has been my go-to for a whole lot, a majority of these four years. As I am sitting here, I am in limbo on what to do with this space, moving forward. This has been such a huge of a piece of my recent life, that I can't even ponder it right now. I am going to leave that piece still unwritten...for now.
Over the past two months, I have been incredibly humbled by the kind words and sharing that I have received from many of the people that I have served in these past four years. Yesterday, I heard even more and last night, I read some in writing. It is really difficult for me to take that all in, but I am trying. Some were personal, and don't need to be shared beyond them and me.
I have written and talked about the idea of "Walking Your Why", sticking to your purpose and doing so with passion. This check- is a check on that. Did I, in fact do what I intended to do? Did my message come through? Did the right message come through? Honestly- this sounds personal, and on a level it is- but I am focusing more on that message. There are so many quotes (and you know I love quotes) I could throw in here, but the one I want to share is from my friend John Eick. This is something that he said in a Voxer conversation with myself and our friend Brent Coley. It was an amazing nugget that he didn't even realize he said, but I caught it and asked if I could use it...
So I am going to go through a list of what other people have shared that they remember from me- not ABOUT me...not the purpose here:
*These are not all exact words, but the themes that seemed to re-occur*
- Relationships matter
-Take risks and fail forward
-Students first- always- show with actions, not just words
-Choice is important for both students and teachers
-Get comfy with the uncomfy...for kids
-Collaboration is key
-Share freely and share widely
-Meet kids (and adults) where they are- this can only be done if we know them (reach them to teach them)
-Culture over curriculum
-We must support both teachers and students with the information, time and resources to create any sort of substantial change
Well- if I could put a check on even just one of those, I can walk into my next adventure with my head held high. And if you ever read anything on here- those in fact ARE the themes that re-occur in my blog posts. So what matters even more is this- did my actions match my words? Did I in fact model, encourage and support in those 10 things? Man, I sure hope so.
Will I take that list and add on as I move forward- Heck Yeah! *And please note that I am not naive to the fact that I also have many places to fix, learn and grow. I am aware of my weaknesses and will work on those as well- just not today.
Yesterday, someone said this to myself and my colleague Dustin Ellis (who is off on a new journey as well) - "The role may have changed, but you haven't." And those words are the ones that I am putting in my pocket, and walking on with. We shall see what the future holds...
My call to action is this: When time allows, take a few minutes to do a check. What is your purpose? What is your why? Has that in fact been your anchor, your compass and your spring board? What do you want to take with you? And what do you want to abandon? It is always important to check yo' self.
Have a fantastic end of the school year! Talk soon!
Last night my friend Alice Keeler asked me "If you started your own business, what would it be?". WHAT? Well, I didn't answer, I couldn't answer. How could I? But what it did was...it got me to think. It got me to think hard. I started thinking inside education, I started thinking outside education...the concept was just way to large for me to comprehend at such a late hour.
I do know that whatever it was, it would have to be a business of service- that is a non-negotiable. Did I want to help students and adults to understand their worth, to walk with them through their struggles and help them come out brighter on the other end? Did I want to help create new and improved learning experiences for students? Did I want to create a way to change learning and school for kids by changing learning and school for teachers? Do I...Do I...Do I...
And then I remembered- this was not real. I do not have the ability nor the capacity to even do this. I have worked hard for many years, to try and make changes...I believe I have failed. And now I am letting my mind wander to trying to do this on an even bigger scale? No...nope...not. And this was only at the "concept" stage, not to mention any sort of start up, PR, finances, clients, buy in... just so overwhelming.
Wait...I need to stop there. We had 30+ (classroom teachers (elementary and secondary), Intervention/Rti teachers, district and site administrators, a School Board Trustee AND student teachers) people, on a Saturday (the day of the Royal Wedding), with only three weeks of school left- learning about how to teach math differently. And it was AMAZING. Oh wait... did I mention, that they didn't receive compensation for their time other than some delicious hot dogs?
That in and of itself is mind blowing and incredible and I will share some "testimonial videos" from them in a few. I want to keep that fire going and fan it to include more...
But what I ended up telling Keeler last night was this... I want that tweet to be the norm, not the exception. I want teachers new and seasoned to learn HOW to teach different because our students NEED different. And if we want different, we need to show different, we need to provide professional learning on different and we need to be with these teachers and students to support different. There in lies my inner struggle- this is where I am being pulled to, but this is also what I am being pulled farther and farther away from because of situation and circumstance.
So, what next? Still unwritten. A lot of reflection will be needed. A lot of work on self, is needed. And we shall see what this next chapter looks like.
All I know is that I want more of this....
How can we create more of that?
How would you answer this question... "What is the one thing that we can do to increase student achievement?" And go...
Well, this was recently a question that I was lucky enough to have been posed...and the flood gates opened. I don't know if what I and others said was heard, but at least we stayed true to our "why" in sharing our voices.
**Before reading- I want to let you know that I am going to mention teachers a lot- please understand that I am not judging or laying ANY blame on teachers- I am one of you! I am in fact doing the opposite. I am doing what I have been fighting for-for four years- I know the importance of our role and it is unfair to put so much pressure on teacher's shoulders without providing the resources, support, man power, money and time that is needed. This is my fight for you and for our students. And it will continue in whatever capacity I can. This is my promise to you...to us!**
Here I will share my answer(s) - because we know there isn't just ONE:
-Change the conversation: Whenever anyone wants to talk about student achievement, I try to change the wording to discuss student learning. To me, this is an important distinction. Achievement to me is a number, a letter, a color on a chart and I don't want to reduce children to that. I would rather discuss how we can help students to learn differently. When we can have students learning and thinking differently- it will show up as an increase in students achievement- but the shift takes some time. Changing that one word, changes the conversation. Context matters.
-Learning and teaching go hand and hand:
"If we want to change the way students learn, we need to change the way that students are taught. There is no other way."
The teacher in the classroom IS the decisive factor. But how can we expect teaching to look different, if teachers are not given the resources to make it happen? If one has not been shown different ways, how are they expected to use different ways? When we know better, we do better. We owe it to our teachers, students and families to provide professional learning opportunities to arm our teachers with this mindset along with multiple strategies and tools to reach all kids. We need to provide them with time to dig in to it, with their colleagues and plan forward. They then need ongoing supports in the way of job embedded PD, observations of others, team planning and team teaching.
"Our students require different school experiences to make learning sticky. Teachers require different learning experiences to help make that learning sticky. Let's start our support with them. Support matters."
-Culture: This concept is not new, it is talked about often, but talking about it is different than acting on it. If we want student learning to change and we want teaching to change, then culture, too must change. From the top all the way down to the classroom and vice versa. Is there a shared "why" to what we do, every day? Does the organizational vision line up with the site vision, the teacher vision and the classroom vision? Is there a culture of collaboration and risk taking? Is there a sense that we can try, fail- get up and try again? I believe that for this culture to be true- it needs to be aligned throughout the whole organization and it needs to show. Show with actions over words. Encourage, celebrate and support those that are forward thinkers, willing to jump outside of the box and innovate- whether that is our administrators, our teachers and especially our students. It is often said, but is it done? With change comes fear- it is natural- so how can we help ease that fear? By modeling- at all levels. I often say #cultureovercurriculum but, it really goes above that-
The overall culture, beliefs and vision set the stage for the morale for all else. Culture matters.
-Tech: Oh tech..I both love it and hate it. I love it because when used properly, it can open up so many doors, create so many experiences and enhance learning for all. I hate it because it is also the great divide. Just putting devices in teacher's and student's hands is not the answer. We need to think about what is being done with those devices. Tech can make the "not so strong" teachers less strong, it can make the "strong teachers" go backwards OR (the hope) it can help move everyone forward. The incredibly important, yet often over looked factor is the training and the ongoing support that comes with those devices.
If data shows that devices are being used X% of the day by X% of students, my question is- where is the data that shows what is actually happening behind those screens? What experiences are our learners involved in? Were they used as "babysitters" where students play games or simply watch videos? Are they being used for students to now type the notes off the teacher's slides onto a doc rather-than hand write them into a note book? Are they only consuming information or are they being used for students to critically think, communicate, collaborate and create? If our students are still only consumers, we are doing them a disservice by not leveraging what is in front of them to become creative critical problem solvers. To do this, WE need to learn and WE need support. Experiences matter.
-Data: Data is big in education. And I agree- data is important. We need a measurement to understand where we started and where we are- and to plan where we want to go. Here is where I get tripped up- I believe we need multiple data points to make informed decisions that involve kids- they deserve better than decisions being made based on one snap shot.
But here is the other thing, what data is being collected AND more importantly, what is being done with it? We can give students assessments and surveys until they are completely exhausted- but why are we doing it? Where does that information go? Is it being analyzed? Or do we have so much that we are at "analysis paralysis" and don't even know where to begin?
What is done with that information? Is it used to find strengths and gaps in the organization as a whole, the sites, grade levels, classrooms? If so, great!! And then what? Is that information being used to create change? Do we find what is working well and build that capacity and spread it? Do we find the gaps and make a plan to help fill them? If so, how do we do that? Do we purchase more "programs" that promise this? How can a program help humans? How can a program know students as people and as learners? I don't believe it can - it can be one tool that can be used properly or not- it all depends-The important factor is always the teacher. So do we use that data to create space and opportunities for teachers to look at the data and provide professional development and supports on how to do different? Action matters.
-Differentiation: I think by now, we all can agree that different students learn differently. That we need to create different learning experiences based on knowing our kids. But what does that look like? Do we have a handle on what differentiation looks like? Have we been trained in such or just asked to make it happen? I will go back to #knowbetteredobetter- Before I knew, I thought it meant different leveled worksheets at different tables that the students rotated through. Well... now I know- that ain't it. Differentiation can be in the form of how students receive content, it can be how they interact with content and it can be what they do with the content to show their learning. With that, the opportunities are endless- and THAT is exciting. But again- where is the professional development to give teachers these tools, ideas, strategies and activities. Many of my "switch flip" moments only happened because my administrators provided us with these experiences. I was blessed to have been able to have my eyes opened to "do better" - to learn to meet kids where they are and not the other way around- but beyond that, the how. Opportunity matters.
So to answer the question above: No, there is not "one" thing, we are in the kid business and that is ever changing, unpredictable and incredibly important. BUT if I look at the umbrella theme in all that I just wrote, it does come down to one thing- Teacher support. What is the message to teachers? How are they supported to be continuous learners? How are they involved in the processes that affect them and their students?
It is unfair to put it on others to create change, without providing them with what is needed to do so.
My call to action is this: No matter your level of leadership (and WE are ALL leaders)- take some time to really look at those in which you serve. Think about what they need to be successful and create a plan to get it to them. The plan should be both long range and actionable. There also needs to be built in smaller reachable milestones - not only to have "checks and balances" but to also allow for enhancements or course correction as needed. There must be supports in place along the way and opportunities for success for the sake of overall morale that trickles down to the kids.
It's a huge job- but it is a huge responsibility as well. We need to always anchor back to our "why"- it is the kids...always the kids.
Keep fighting the good fight and I will be right along side you!
*This post is being re-posted with some revisions marked by blue text.*
Today is an interesting day. We are about to join the rest of our team for a breakfast in honor of "Teacher Appreciation Week" for us TOSAs while some other awesome teachers prepare to interview for my current job this afternoon. Talk about a limbo. Talk about emotions. Actually, I just don't want to talk. I don't even want to go in. Not because I am not appreciative of the effort. Not because I don't care for everyone in that room. It is for selfish reasons, because I can't seem to keep my emotions in check lately. And I don't like that. They are raw and they are showing loudly and clearly displayed on my sleeve, no matter how hard I try to cover them up.
So how do I deal? Well, as usual, I process through writing. My last few posts have been a bit dark and down and that is not who or where I want to be. So today I am flipping the switch. I am doing what I encourage others to do and look for and celebrate those bright spots. So today, on the last day of "Teacher Appreciation Week”. I am going to share my appreciation for my four year journey.
*A little background: Prior to this TOSA position at the district office, I worked at the same school for 14 years. I did not know the world outside of my site. I didn't even realize that there were two elementary schools within walking distance from my own. I did not know anyone outside of my staff. It is incredible for me to reflect back and see how many amazing people I have been blessed to get to know and walk along side with. Grateful, is the word.
Showing gratitude is one of the best ways to change your attitude.
1. I want to start by thanking those individuals who allowed me to embark on this incredible journey of learning and growth. To those who took a chance, and hired me for this position. I can picture you all, sitting at the large dining room style table as I answered question after question about many things that were unknown at the time. Every single one of you have played a part to get me to where I am today, most, I have seen on a daily basis. I wanted to thank you for taking a risk on an unknown. I was a wild card- I didn't know that was going to be me and I can bet neither did you. I know that I am not the same quiet and wide eyed person that sat in front of you four years ago, and I really hope that is a good thing. My hope is that you have felt confident in your choice and understand the passion and care that has gone behind my every word and action.
2. I have incredible love, respect and gratitude for all of the wonderful educators that I can call my partners. You have come in the form of team mates, mentors, friends and supports. Many have come and gone off to bigger and better things, but I know that I am better for our time together. It hasn't always been easy, in fact, there have been times that were quite painful. But through the pain, I believe that there is growth and I have grown because of every interaction with you. One of THE most important lessons I have learned, was how to really be a part of a team. I learned that people can have differing opinions and ideas. In fact, I have learned how much they are needed. I didn't know or understand this before. Now I preach it. You were there when I needed to be challenged, when I needed a wake up call, when I needed to learn and when I needed support...and for all of the above, I am truly grateful.
3. In this role, I have had the pleasure of getting to know and work with an incredible group of support staff. And they truly are that. They are the ones that work so hard behind the scenes to help us all be successful in our positions. Beyond that, these unsung heroes have been an incredible personal support to me as well. With this shift in my role and leaving this office, these women have shown up in such amazing ways. Their kindness, care, concern and hugs have warmed my heart-in what could have been a really cold time. For them, I am grateful!
4. Along this journey, I have been incredibly blessed to have had exposure to and work with a group of incredible administrators. When I started, the site administrators had no clue who I was and vice versa. But from my first day in front of you, I felt respect. This was new to me. I was unsure of who I was, what I was doing and why the heck I was allowed to work with you all. But you made me feel at ease and were so accommodating as you played along with my instructional strategies in your meetings. I had you singing, dancing and I remember a VERY fun "soul train" type line as we did "lines of communication." As we got to know each other, many of you shared how much you disliked those types of activities (and guess what, as a participant, so do I)- but that you did them out of respect for me- and that meant the world. Many of you have allowed me to work with your staffs, sometimes quite closely, and for that as well as your continued support, I am thankful.
5. This next one is an interesting, but incredible by product of my job. Somehow, I will never understand, I have been blessed with an incredible network beyond the district. I have somehow collected this amazing group of people who I lean on constantly, who I seek advice from regularly and who I love to death. One interesting thing is, those in this group are from all over. Many don't even know each other or they don't know that each other belong in this "support group" of mine. This group both collectively and many individually have not only helped me to stretch and see way beyond what I could see, but they have helped to keep me a float over the past year, in particular. Many call this group of people their "PLN"- Personal Learning Network, but I love the term my friend Tara Martin coined "PLF"- Personal Learning Family, because family is what it feels like. And for them, I am truly blessed.
6. To those that have been there for me, "behind the scenes". I don't know if I have been able to express the amount of appreciation that I have for you. You are the ones that have seen me for my best and waded with me at my worst. You were there to turn to when I needed re-adjustment, re-alignment or re-enlightenment. Your methods weren't always met with ease, but your intent and care always showed through- and in the end, were understood and appreciated.
My number one, original goal in this position was about you. My "six word memoir" was in plain sight, in my area, every day until yesterday as I packed up. My hope is that I stayed true to it and true to you. My hope is that at some point on this journey, I was able to connect and or support you.I have had a blast getting to know you, to learn from you and grow with you. That was pretty tough given the sheer number of you all and all of us being pulled in so many different directions. I believe that I did that best I physically could to connect to as many of you as I could. I just hope that I served you well and will continue to do so, even though roles have changed. I am big on relationships and I am big on them not having walls. I hope that our journey of collaboration and learning does not end with the change on my business card (do I even need a business card, do I even get those, now?).
I have been inspired by so many of you. When you shared a risk you took for kids, it brought a smile to my face. When you shared your #failforward moments, it brought me chills. When you brought me into your journeys, it grew me forward. I have been so incredibly proud of what I have seen in you, in the past four years and am excited to continue to watch future en devours.
I believe that you all know how to get a hold of me and I hope you know that I will continue to be there. It has been a pleasure serving you and l hope you have gained even a small fraction from me, compared to all I have gained from you. *A special thank you to those who allowed me to come in and be "edu-auntie" and work with your students. They were in fact the best part of my job (no offense), and as I move into the unknown, I have to remember that.
With that- I wanted to express my gratitude, one more time and am anxious, yet excited to see what the future has in store for all!
So...here I am, literally 2 years after crafting my first blog post. It is quite interesting that on this "anniversary"- I am at the end of this particular journey. I have found myself using the word "limbo" many, many times over the last month. I would say that almost in every aspect of my life right now, I am in limbo. Coincidentally enough, someone asked me this weekend, about the title of this blog site. What did I have in mind when I created "Leading In Limbo"?
At the time, I felt that I was in a very unique situation in that I was straddling between two worlds in my TOSA role. I was not an admin, but played in the admin world and although I was a teacher, I was not fully immersed in that world either. I was able to see what was on both sides of the fence and I had no idea back then, all that I would learn. I wanted to lead...I thought I could lead...I am now unsure of it all. What I am sure of is that I have learned...in limbo. I have grown...in limbo. I am better, for being...in limbo. But it isn't comfy.
"Being in limbo is not comfortable- but being in comfort is not where we grow."
One thing that I am walking away with is the idea that no matter what you believe to be true, if others do not, there will be struggle. Struggle causes limbo. I believe that we are all leaders in our own right and it took me a really long time to get there, and a very short time to lose it. My goal is to find my way back. When one is told with words and shown by actions that this is untrue - you believe it. You try hard to not. You try hard to "walk your why". You try hard to keep pushing and fighting and speaking up for what you believe is right...but at some point, you have a switch flip and you just retreat.
So here I am, questioning if any of what I have written or done in the last four years, has made any impact. I am questioning if I have in fact been able to lead at all or if I have just been flaying here in limbo.
I often talk about taking risks, just leaping, being comfy with the uncomfy, failing forward, plot twists and the adventure of the journey. Well - I also talk a lot about "walking the talk" and I'm not going to lie, right now that all seems very difficult. Recently, an unexpected rock has been thrown in my spokes and it has left me on uneasy ground. I don't think I can even say that I have reached a fork in the road or even that I am at a crossroads. The only thing I can compare it to is an unforeseen bend in the road with no idea where it is taking me, and I must proceed with caution. BUT, I will proceed.
On a recent hike, my friend and I came to a fork in the path. I asked him which way we should go - to which he replied "You always need to know what is coming next, and where you are going, don't you?" This actually did stop me in my tracks, because that didn't sound like me, but that was what he observed from knowing me. He must be right. Hmm... After I thought for a minute, I responded with "I don't know if that is as true as the fact that I just need to know I am going "somewhere". The how nor the what, doesn't matter as much, I just need to know there is a destination."
Here's the thing. What I know to be true, is that I WILL be ok. I WILL land on my feet. But it's the whole, "walking on a tight rope", living in limbo that has me spinning. I don't need to feel sure, I just need to feel safe. Right now, the future is blurry and walking into the blur feels unsafe.
So for now, I just try to take one step at a time, and learn and grow from each step. I am trying to find the bright spots through the blur. I am trying to learn to lean on others and am very blessed that I have those others to lean on. This is really hard for me. I thank all of those who have been wonderful enough to support me, walk alongside me and stay with me through this time. I appreciate your patience and apologize for not being my normal me, but I will get back there. I will.
Ok. Here goes. This post has nothing to do with education, it has nothing to do with leadership. But it has to be written. This post is about me and a journey.
As of late, I feel as if I have been living in a snow globe. One that has been picked up a few times, turned upside down, shaken and then left on the shelf. My mind and my heart have been spinning and swirling from the shake ups. But it has to stop. It has to.
Yesterday, I realized something as I was walking around campuses...I seem to have lost something, actually a couple of things. I seem to have lost my smile and I seem to have lost my shine...and that is unacceptable. Because if I don't have those two things, I am just not me. One of my good friends calls me her "carbonated friend" because I am typically bubbly, positive and light. And I have lost that. But now I am taking it all back!
Author Glennon Doyle compares the rough spots in life to a sand sifter. When in struggle, we are forced to sift though everything and what is left at the top, is what is actually real. So I am in the process of sifting...and here is what I am left with. Here is what I have found to be true:
We can't control our circumstances and we can't control others. There is very little that we have control over. But what we can control is the most important: US. WE have the power to choose how we react and act. We have the ability to control our attitude and our gratitude. We choose what lens to live life through. When our snow globe gets shaken, it is only up to us, to decide how to pick up those pieces, once they land. I have chosen to try every day to find my way back to me...to find my smile, my shine and my carbonation. To continue to live my "why": To inspire and support others. To make school better for kids. To do this, I need to regroup, reassess and redo. To do this, I needed to sift, and here is what is left...
People show up. I have been amazed and humbled by the kindness and support of others. I'm not going to lie, it is difficult for me to lean on others, and I believe this is the first time that I actually have allowed myself, fully. When I sift through it all, what I have found is an amazing group of supports. Incredible people who have lifted me up, when I am down. Many are not even aware of their impact on me. I have received many texts, calls, messages and face to face conversations filled with amazing, humbling and path altering words. I have learned that sometimes we need others as much as we believe they need us, and for that, I am grateful.
We make an impact: This one is still hard for me to wrap my head around. We go through our lives, day to day, often just trying to survive. But what we often don't realize is that what we say and do has an effect on others, whether it is intentional or not. THAT is huge! What do you want your impact to be? A friend of mine and I used to talk about this concept of "Eulogy Virtues"...although a bit morbid, it often grounds me. What do you want to be remembered for when you are gone? What spot do you want to leave? For me, this is where I think about "Walking Your Why". As we go through our day to day, rarely do we actually find out what mark we are leaving...until we do. I have been blessed with many people sharing this with me, as of late. Sharing things that I never even realized were impactful, and I have been truly humbled. Thank goodness, they have been positive, but I'm sure there are some that aren't. But, what I am thankful for is the reminder to check myself...alot.
Find the learning. I have often said, that I try to take the learning from every situation and every interaction...and this is true. This is often what keeps me moving forward rather than down the rabbit hole. The last week or so, I found myself doing something and I didn't know why. At the end of every day, I created a quote and a graphic of my learning...and I shared it out. I doubt if anyone saw or read them, but I now realize why I did it. I did it for this very reason. I needed to record my learnings so that I could go back and reflect. What it has done, is it has caused me to pause, regroup and refocus. When I go back and look, they are pretty random, yet to me they are all intertwined. When we try to find the learning, at least for me, it puts a lot of things in perspective and it grows me. Here is what I have learned...
My call to action is this: We all have had our lives shaken and we will continue to. When this happens, take a moment to breathe and reflect. Allow yourself to see the good in others and in yourself. Look for the bright spots, reflect on your impact, find the learning and allow others in.
Mother, teacher, TOSA, GCE Level 1 & 2, Encourager of others.
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