On the weekends, I often enjoy hiking. Sometimes I go with a friend, sometimes I drag my daughter (above) with me. If I'm lucky, I get both kids to go. Sometimes I go alone. What I have realized when I go on these hikes...it's not always about the destination, the ending. It is often just about the journey. Many times, I don't even know where I will end up (as I have found myself lost on many occasions). As I get lost, I often make new discoveries. Beautiful discoveries. I see and do things that I may never have done, otherwise.
In our lives, personally and professionally...we are all on a journey...actually, many journeys. Sometimes these journeys do have a destination, sometimes they don't. Many times, as we are traveling, our destination, our goal, changes...because we are changing.
Here is the thing that I have learned. It doesn't matter where you are on the path, as long as you are on a journey. Just keep moving forward. If you hit a setback, don't hit reverse. Don't go backwards. Instead, turn around and look backwards. Remind yourself how far you have come. Recognize the changes within yourself. Celebrate those and move forward...just keep moving forward.
In my position, I have had the opportunity to witness many educators traveling on their journeys. Journeys of learning, discovery, growth. I have been inspired by what I have seen in these teachers and administrators. The changes they have made, the risks they are willing to take. But, I have also observed many who have felt paralyzed by fear, by feeling overwhelmed, by feelings of inadequacy. I try my best to encourage them to take that leap, because I have been there. We have all been there.
Here are my thoughts when you are ready to embark on your journey:
1) Assess where you are, imagine where you want to be.
2) Decide on your journey and take that first step. One step, just one. That is usually the toughest, but It will propel you in the right direction.
3) Remember it is YOUR path, not anyone else's. It is important to remember that many different paths can lead to the same destination. And everyone is traveling on their own journeys. Do not compare yourself to anyone else.
4) BUT...It is important to include others on your journey. People to support you, to encourage you, to nudge you when needed, to help steer you back on path. You need the right people. Positive people...you do not need extra baggage on your journey that will weigh you down.
5) Find a cheerleader, a coach. Someone that is there for you, to go to when you are struggling. Someone that can lift you up when you can't do it for yourself. Someone that can celebrate with you.
6) Celebrate your small victories. Every once in awhile, reassess. Look back and recognize your accomplishments. Be proud, use those to keep pushing forward.
7) Reach out. If you need support, help...ask for it. There is no shame. We are all better together. Don't struggle alone, when you can move forward together.
The learning and growth happens when you are on that journey, whatever that looks like. Just put one foot in front of the other and keep moving forward.
What is that "thing" you want to do next? What journey is on the horizon? Start on that path today...take that first step.
As a mom of two, I am incredibly proud of both my children. Not only for what they have accomplished, but for who they have become. I was at the beach with my 12 year old daughter, Leslie, yesterday and I witnessed something amazing! This made me so proud, that I am still thinking about the impact it has had on me.
There was an incident at the beach, at the beginning of the summer, where Leslie was pulled away from her friends and under the water. She had to be brought to shore by a quick responding lifeguard. Since that incident, she has refused to go to the beach. I was finally able to get her to go, but she was adamant that she would NOT be going near the water.
She had a friend with her and somehow or another, they made it to the very edge of the water...they decided to play "chicken". Here is where it gets good. I will break this down and connect it to the leadership lessons I learned from her...
Leadership Lessons From Leslie:
1) Take Risks: Even though she was scared, she moved past that anxiety and literally jumped right in, for the greater good. She knew that her friend wanted to enjoy the water and she didn't want to limit that.
2) Join In The Journey: Leslie decided to join her friend, go alongside her and take the "plunge" together. Later, as others joined the group; she would take the hands of the younger ones, walk with them, stay with them and keep them steady.
3) Invite Others In: Leslie noticed a girl on the beach, who was an acquaintance from school. She went over and invited her to join in the game. I happened to be sitting near enough to hear the conversation between her and her mom after Leslie left. The girl was so excited to be included (I got goosebumps). As they began playing, I watched as the group of two, grew to three, then all of a sudden it was 6 kids, wide. Kids that didn't even know each other, that Leslie invited in.
4) Be Empathetic: The group moved to building a sand castle. A little toddler wandered over to the group. He had a toy tractor truck that he kept driving all over the sand castle. The kids were getting really irritated. The little boy was just about to completely take down one of the structures that had been built and I watched as Leslie gently took his hand "Come over here, why don't you build with me?". She redirected and avoided disaster.
Her classmate really seemed to be struggling with what this little boy was doing. Later on Leslie said "I'm so proud of "Grace", she has anger problems and she handled it all really well." I asked how she knew about the problems and she told me that she has somethings on her binder at school to help her and is allowed to take "breaks" when she needs to. She told me very mater of fact and with out any judgement.
5) Lift Up Others: Throughout the day, I witnessed Leslie figuratively and physically, lift others up. She praised the others on their effort and sand castle building skills. She made sure to include everyone and say something positive to each. When they were playing "chicken", and a wave knocked one of them down, she was right there to pick them up and help them get steady.
6) Involve Others: We are all better together and I saw that Leslie believes this, as well. She made sure to include everyone in conversations, helping them to collaborate.
7) Check In: During the game of "Chicken", I watched Leslie continue to count the kids after a big wave had knocked some down. She wanted to make sure they were all still with her. If someone did get knocked down, she made sure to go over and check in, see how they are doing.
8) Have Fun: When we packed up that day, she said "That was a great day, thank you for taking me, I had a lot of fun!". In the car, her and her friend talked about their adventures and the new people they had met. Life is so much easier, when you are enjoying it. Why would you not?
I'm sure there were many more lessons I learned from my girl, yesterday. But beyond the lessons learned, I am incredibly proud that this girl, who used to be just "bossy" has evolved into a leader that I would be proud to emulate.
Not all leaders have titles, many do not. A leader is someone that people WANT to follow. Who do you lead? Family, students, team, other leaders??
I have found myself saying this quite a bit lately. When I work with students in the classroom, I always have them "think before they speak". I give them time to think about what they are going to say, before it comes out. I talk to them about the fact that this is an important skill to learn, especially for adults. They chuckle at that one, but it is true. Our words can either lift someone up or tear someone down, regardless of intent.
The thing with words...they stay with us...long after they have been said, long after the speaker has left...they stick. If those words provoke positive feelings, then that is a good thing, a great thing. If they lead to negative feelings (perceived or intended), not so much.
Now, we really have no control over how our words are perceived; as we do not ever know what another person is dealing with, going through, where their mind is, where it has been. The only thing we have control over is ourselves. So I, personally, try to approach every situation, every interaction, with an empathetic heart and mind.
Until very recently, I was not aware that this was not natural to all. It was brought to my attention, a few weeks ago, that someone who is my own flesh and blood, an adult, said they CAN NOT be empathetic. That one knocked me down. What? How could I be so completely opposite? I struggle with the fact that I feel/care too much. I was also hit with the notion that this is a flaw, on my part. Because of my "Pollyanna" ways, I get taken advantage of, used. This may be true, unfortunate, but it is what makes me, me and I wouldn't want to be the opposite.
So, how does this relate to education, to leadership? Well I think it is a big part of both. Most of us got into this profession because we wanted to help people. Ours is a profession of service. Whether we are dealing with students, parents, colleagues, staff, administrators... people...I caution that we choose our words wisely. They have power. The choice is in how we use them. They can open up a door, they can build a bridge or they can lock someone out. What is your intent? Think about this post through the lens of who you can effect on a daily basis.
How does one become a more empathetic communicator? I am no expert, but these are some thoughts that come to mind.
1) Think before you speak: Will what I say help or hurt? I believe in being honest, if it will help propel someone forward. But being honest, just for the sake of being honest can prove to be hurtful. If you need to share your thoughts honestly, think about how you craft those words. It's all in how you frame it.
2) Put yourself in the other person's shoes: It is impossible to know exactly what someone is thinking, going through. But what we can do is assess the situation as we know it. Did this person put in a lot of blood, sweat and tears, and will your simple words "knock the wind out of their sails"? Is that person dealing with something else? Will your words do more harm than good? Is now the right time to share your thoughts?
3) Think about your purpose: Why are you sharing your words with someone else? Is it to help, to encourage, to hurt, to knock someone down, to get your point across? Why are you saying what you are saying? Is that the message you want to portray to that person?
4) Check your tone: Often times, it is not necessarily your words, so much as how it is said. Here is an example: If someone brings up an idea that you may not agree with it. Do you simply say a stern: NO and cause that person to shut down? Or do you say: "No, I don't agree with that, maybe we can look at it a different way." I know many teachers use sentence frames with their students to help them in discussions, why should those rules of respect go out the window when you are an adult?
I see this in classrooms all the time...Why would we expect this of students and not ourselves?
I heard something on the radio this morning, they said that through their research: the one thing that is missing from many people's lives is simple acknowledgment. We all are doing the best we can, with what we can, when we can, how we can.
How much time or money does it cost to acknowledge someone? And I'm talking about authentic acknowledgement. People know when it is fake. "Thank you for being here", "Looks like you have put in a lot of work", "I appreciate the effort you are making". "Keep it up." "You got this". Simple...powerful.
What if your words, are the only positive words that someone hears that day, that week, that month? Everyone is fighting a battle that we don't know about...because of this, I always try to choose kind. Choose my words thoughtfully, wholeheartedly, genuinely.
Words matter, let's use them for good. Why wouldn't we?
*Natalie Goldberg: Writing Down the Bones
Me...a writer? Hahaha. Am I a writer? Well, I write...does anyone read it? Does that matter? I write, therefore I am? How the heck did I get here?
About this time last year, a friend of mine suggested that I start blogging about my educational ideas. I laughed. I laughed for two reasons. 1) I have educational ideas?? 2) No one would read anything I wrote.
Fast forward about 6 months and two of our wonderful teachers began blogging: @teachermsjamie: Daring Greatly and @MViTDiTeach: Forever A Learner. They definitly inspired me...but I had a lot on my plate...couldn't add to it. I was going to wait until the summer. Well, a few months later...life happened...I was no longer able to share my "big" things with a trusted confidant and things were happening in my life that I needed to process...somehow. I needed to get my thoughts out of my own head. So, I decided to write, for me. I didn't know what I would write about, I didn't know if I could even write well, I didn't care. No one would read it anyway, right? This was MY process. And so, this blog site was born.
I always say that one should start with a purpose. What was my purpose? What did I want this blog to focus on? Surely, no one wants to hear about my life, so what should the theme be? Well in my professional life, I was/am in this weird paradox between leader and teacher. A teacher leader. I can see what is on both sides of this fence. People tell me things, from both sides of this fence. I know many things, from both sides of this fence. From on top of that fence, I have a very unique perspective on organizational structure and change, education, leadership, teaching and learning. I am in constant limbo...there it is. I will write about those things, from my perspective. Now for the title...well that was easy. Leading in Limbo. There. Now, what to write?
Shockingly...things just come to me. In all of my posts, I am entirely vulnerable and authentic. Some of them are more personal than professional, just based on what is happening at the time. Again, I was writing this for me. No one will read it, right?
Well...low and behold...I have been averaging 1,000+ views a week. This is in part due to my main "hype man": @jcorippo! I have no clue if that is a lot...I have no clue if people are reading, or just clicking to open and then bouncing out. Honestly, it doesn't matter, to me.
One of my colleagues, finally, read one of my posts and said "Wow, you really laid it all out there. You know, I could buy you a journal, so everyone doesn't have to know what's going on with you." It was pretty hilarious, but really got me thinking. Do people really give a shi* about what I'm writing? Maybe I should stop. Maybe I'm being too open, too vulnerable. Maybe I should just shut it down. After thinking about it...NO. I am writing this for ME. But if anyone else is reading and getting any benefit, then that is a tremendous gift to me as my purpose is to always help propel others forward.
As I have continued writing, I have worked my way out of a few rabbit holes and am now focusing more on the educational/leadership ideas; that I didn't even know I had. But I never know what might spark my writing. It can happen from anything and anytime. This one happened while trying to relax in the pool. So much for relaxing!
Our district now has 17 bloggers...and I am so proud and excited for them! People are using their voices to share, to reflect and to collaborate. It is an amazing thing to watch and be a part of. We all have a story to share, our story may spark something in others. *"Let's use our megaphone for good" (thanks @jcorippo for that quote) and keep the fire burning.
*This is already becoming my next "over used" phrase...but it's a good one!
In education, we talk about those "aha" moments, when the light bulb goes on for students. But we, as educators have those moments as well. Oftentimes, they just happen and we don't even realize it...but something has changed, we have changed. A switch has been flipped.
I was in a discussion with @jcorippo about one of my last blog posts regrading "asking permission" and "taking risks". Just doing whatever it takes to do what's best for kids. As we were discussing I said "I wonder when I made the switch. I don't even know if I can pinpoint it." His response: "Sometimes it sneaks up on you."
So, this of course, caused me to reflect on my teaching career. I have only taught at one school. It was a high performing Title 1 school. Both my kids went to school in a different district. Their elementary school was a middle class, suburban school. The teaching and learning going on at these two different schools was perplexing to me.
Both schools had the same curriculum for Math and ELA. But my son's school was whipping through those textbooks. It felt like a race, that myself, nor my students could even enter. If I even tried, the only gain would be, we finished...not much learning would be happening. My students needed more time, more scaffolding, different techniques. I wanted them to learn, not just get through.
What was wrong with me, that I couldn't keep up with that pace at my son's school? We also used to have grade level meetings in our district. These meetings would be filled with people talking about what chapter they were on, like whoever was the furthest would earn a prize. I remember myself and my colleagues leaving feeling defeated and shamed because we weren't as far. This caused great angst within me.
Then, my school began looking at teaching reading differently. We used read alouds to teach skills (this leveled the playing field in the classroom), students had reading journals (not worksheets) and choice and conferring during independent reading time. I will admit, I did not buy into this at first. It was so different. How can we not be using the anthology? I was so nervous that I did both! Just in case, this new way didn't work. Poor kids.
Then many of us began using Daily 5/CAFE. It still looked very different than my son's school, but now I started getting frustrated with the things HE was bringing home. So many worksheets about NOTHING! Story tests that tested the story...not the skills. It didn't seem like learning, but he got straight As, so I let it be.
In math, we started using Marilyn Burns Investigations and ditched the textbook (before #ditchbook was cool). I didn't really get that at first either. My son was learning math from the textbook and appeared to be mastering it. He was so far ahead of where my students were, we must be doing something wrong. But I stuck it out...and oh my...the gains for my students was incredible! That may just need to be it's own separate post on math.
But I was still having this inner struggle: I was trying to "keep up with the Jonses" in my son's school, in our district; but I was seeing the benefits of "our way".
My principal ALWAYS said "We do what's best for kids. We need to meet them where they are." Now I find myself saying the exact same thing...a lot!
Fast forward a few years and my daughter was in 3rd grade. She has always had a problem with her memory and struggled in reading. She lost confidence in herself and thought she was "dumb". You NEVER want to hear that from your child.
I remember this incident, as clear as crystal. She had to "memorize" the water cycle and she just couldn't do it. I tried to help her and it just ended with both of us being frustrated and we went to our separate corners. She was mad because she felt I wasn't helping her, and I was upset because she couldn't get it. I was also beating myself up for not being able to help her and getting upset with her.
And then I heard those words in my head "Meet them where they are...". I knew she struggled with memorization, and why would she need to memorize the water cycle...she doesn't even understand the concept! How would I make this work for MY students? Well, I had a lot of tricks in my bag, by then. I could write a song, draw a pictorial, have them act it out, sketch...Hmmm.
So after apologizing for my lack of patience, I decided to try a different approach. We drew a pictorial together as we discussed each part of the cycle. She seemed to be understanding, but would she remember? She then re-drew it from scratch as she explained each part. Then I took a chance and asked her to come up with hand movements for each part. She thought I was crazy, but I convinced her. I believe: What your hands do, your brain remembers. Oh my goodness...game changer! First off, she was soooo excited and thought it was incredibly fun. Second, she realized that she HAD learned the water cycle. Not only memorized it, but understood it. I heard her practicing it in the shower and she wanted to practice it on the car ride to school. Since then, whenever she struggled with a concept, she always went back to those two strategies...sometimes with me, sometimes without me.
I realized then, I had made the switch some time ago...it was just a natural evolution based on the need to meet my students. I started thinking about how I taught and how I met each learner. I provided multiple avenues and strategies for them to receive information, synthesize it and show their learning. I was very lucky to have administrators that believed in it and provided us with professional development and supports. I no longer cared what others were doing, how fast they were moving because I knew our students had understanding...deep understanding. Especially in math.
Just goes to show...what works for one, may not work for another...so it is important to know your learner, first and foremost. Then provide multiple strategies, tricks, tools...whatever is needed to propel their learning forward.
Our students do not all line up at the same starting line. They do not all move at the same pace. They do not all take the same path. They do not all have to jump the same hurdles. And although they all reach the same destination, the journey doesn't always look the same.
It is our job as teachers to be the coaches that provide the supports they need on their learning journey. Do whatever it takes to get them to cross that finish line.
Always, always, always...do what's best for kids...no one can argue that!
When did the switch flip for you? If it hasn't, what is holding you back?
I remember this game, well. A group of children stood on one end of an area, and the "mother" stood at the other. The children in the group needed to ask permission: "Mother may I...?" to move forward. The "mother" had the authority to accept or deny the request.
Fast forward...a whole lot of years, and this game, this phrase has reared it's head. I was co-moderator in a Twitter Chat about innovation, tonight. One of the questions posed was: What barriers stand in the way of creating an innovative culture? One person replied that it was fear, needing permission. At that second, I was brought back to that game; where your moving forward, your future, was dependent on getting permission.
Apparently, this is not something new, in education. Many teachers and administrators have been so used to having to be "compliant" that it is scary to think of deviating. I did not realize this was happening, until I left the classroom. I am currently a TOSA (teacher on special assignment). I AM a teacher, that happens to work in the District Office. This position has led to some interesting interactions.
Earlier this year, a teacher was talking to me about how she was struggling because she was using the textbook for Social Studies and how invalid it and the assessments were.
I simply asked "Then why are you using them?".
She looked at me, eyes wide and said "Because I have to.".
Hmmm...My next question was "What are you and your students gaining from them?".
Her answer "Nothing.".
So I asked again "Why are you using them?".
She stared at me and then said "Are you giving me permission to not use the textbook and assessments?"
Then I stared at her wide eyed. What? Permission? From ME? My response "You don't need my permission to do anything. What would be best for kids?".
She replied "Projects."
My answer: "Then do projects."
This went back and forth. There were questions about assessing, grades, standards, cross curricular activities...at the end, with a huge smile on her face she said: "So, you are telling me, that I am allowed to do fun things with my students?"
"I am not telling you anything...I am encouraging you, you know what is best for your students...why not enjoy the process?" (Mind you, I have NO authority...none...this could've bitten me in the behind).
I left that conversation, perplexed...but throughout the year, I started noticing; how often people were looking for permission to do things that they knew were right. I have since had MANY conversations like this. I have also had such conversations with my supervisors and they get it...this does make it easier.
Maybe I was just lucky that my former principals were not "traditionalists" and encouraged and supported outside of the box teaching and learning. They instilled in me the importance of "meeting people where they are". It was like "triage", we did what ever it took to meet those students and move them forward.
I don't know how to break this idea of having to get permission. I know there are rules, I know that there is a "chain of command", but as teachers, we also have academic freedom. I know this goes WAY beyond me.
So, I just try to encourage people to take risks. By that, I don't mean, jumping in blindly. Have a purpose, a goal in mind. Have the standards in mind, the soft skills in mind. Above all else...have YOUR students, in mind. Research, think through and then go for it. If it fails, don't give it up...reflect, correct and try again. One of the best things I learned from my former principals was "It's easier to ask for forgiveness, than permission." and I now add "Who can argue with: " It's what's best for kids?"
I know it is scary. I know it is hard. But the best part is, none of them are in it alone. No more isolation, no hiding the secret sauce. I feel that people are realizing that we are better together. And together, there is power to make change. So please don't hold yourself back because you are waiting for permission...it may never come and the innovation may be lost. I am ending with a Tweet I sent out earlier today, the picture is a quote from the book: Kids Deserve It . Let's wiggle...
getting external reinforcement for all of the great things they were doing within their classrooms. I was never jealous, as I am not a jealous person. I was proud of them as they were my friends. Instead, I wondered...beat myself up, trying to figure out what I was doing wrong. It must be an issue with me? What is wrong with me? It wasn't until a recent "aha" moment, that I realized something. I realized that my teaching, didn't have anything to do with me. Teaching is not about the teacher. How is that possible? When I reflected over those 14 years, it became crystal clear.
Here is how and when, my eyes were opened. In one of our high schools, seniors have the option of nominating someone to be in the "honor guard". This was a special honor reserved for students; to invite an educator that has made a difference in their life, to participate in graduation. I had heard of this honor. Mostly from teachers who had been invited so many times, that it seemed like a "duty" rather than an honor.
Considering that I was an early elementary teacher, I had come to the realization that this was not something that I would ever get invited to. I had taught so many different grades, that I honestly couldn't remember if any of my students had even reached the age.
Well, low and behold, a few months ago, I get THE LETTER!! I opened it up and when I saw the name, I just cried. The name on that letter was a student that I held very close to my heart. I love all of my students, and will always regard them as MY students. But I have a handful, that have a special place. It is usually those students that had been labeled as "difficult" or "troubled". I always made a special connection with them.
I had this particular student in Kindergarten. When this child was in my class, he was almost non verbal and struggled socially. He took a lot of my attention and emotion. It was only my second year of teaching and I was pregnant at the time. I would be physically and emotionally exhausted at the end of each day. BUT, this kid had a place in my heart. I took a year off on maternity leave and when I returned, I was placed in second/third grade combo. This child's first grade teacher, requested that he be put in my class. He had flourished and made huge strides since Kindergarten and it was a pleasure to guide and encourage him throughout his second grade year. His family asked if he could "loop" with me and stay in my class as a third grader. I was lucky to witness this transformation over the years. I continued to check on him and he on me through out his time at my school site. When he left, he and his mom would come back EVERY year on the last day of school to visit his preschool teacher and myself. Two years ago, I left the classroom for a District job and on the last day of school, I thought about him. Wondered if they went to the site, looking for me. Well, this year...he found me!
His preschool teacher and I ended up going to his Spring Chorus Concert and this little boy, that grew up with us was a man. A very polished and accomplished man. He had received two letters in athletics and numerous awards for chorus. He came running off the stage during practice when he saw us. I got a big hug and he said "Did you know I nominated you for Honor Guard?". I said yes and explained how special it was to me. He asked "Do you want to know why I nominated you?" My answer "Only if you want me to cry." He said "I have to tell you! When I was in your class, you encouraged me in your class musicals by giving me leads. You helped me come out of my shell and gain confidence. You are the reason that I am up on that stage!" Well, his dad got a fantastic picture of me hugging him doing an ugly cry.
*The special gift I received that night was not only knowing I actually made a difference for someone, but that my 12 year old daughter was there to witness it. I turned around and she had tears in her eyes and hugged me all the way back to our seats. She kept commenting on it and when he sang a solo, she turned to me with tears in her eyes and said "Mom, he's up there because of you."
That's it! That is what it's about. It's about the students! It is about the connections, the bonds, the encouragement, the growth, the difference. The things that extend beyond those four walls. No award needed, no public acknowledgement. That was it...that filled me up like nothing else. I had actually made a difference in this kid's life and it had nothing to do with content, standards, assessments. It was about the relationship and connection.
I always knew it was important to have those connections with students and their families. Now looking back, I can remember many similar moments where students or families would thank me for being welcoming, caring, patient, understanding, encouraging. I heard those things, but it didn't register how important that was. Parents leave their most prized possession with us. They trust us to take care of them. And that is what I did. I cared and still do care for each and every student that has crossed my path. I did my best to find that "special something" in each of them and highlight it. I encouraged and supported in their struggles. I knew that when students felt cared for and valued, that everything else would fall into place. I guess I innately knew these things, because I never really thought about it, until very recently.
To me, knowing that I made a difference in just one student, is better than any plaque or gift that I never received.
What this also does, is remind me how much I miss being with students. In my current position, I am quite removed from the classroom. I try to get into rooms as much as I can, but it is not the same. So, now, I try to be that same person, with the adults that I work with. My hope is that I am there to find that "thing", encourage, support, be that person for them. No reward will be given and no reward will be needed. I know my purpose is to help others, whomever, however that may be.
Lesson learned: It's never about me...it's about others. Relationships matter!
Mother, Teacher, Administrator, Presenter, GCE Level 1 & 2, Encourager of others.
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