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.
Mother, Teacher, Presenter, GCE Level 1 & 2, Encourager of others.
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