Home » personal
Category Archives: personal
When I started teaching, our evaluations had three categories: Excellent, Satisfactory, and Needs Improvement. Then, there was a list of characteristics and behaviors with check boxes next to it. I’m pretty sure I never received a mark less than Excellent. And that is what I wanted. That yearly evaluation was something to just get over with. The follow-up conversation with the principal was a formality to hear her say I was doing a great job, and then move on. A few years ago, Indiana adopted a more stringent plan for teacher evaluation and accountability. There was an extensive rubric with various categories and four evaluative terms for your work: Highly Effective, Effective, Improvement Necessary, and Ineffective. This occurred right as I moved from the classroom into district administration. I remember the superintendent telling principals that teachers that only had a year or two of experience couldn’t receive any Highly Effective ratings as that implied that they didn’t have any areas that needed growth. I was tapped to work with teachers who fell into the Improvement Necessary and Ineffective ranges. In my three years as the curriculum director, I was never asked to work with any of the teachers in that capacity. This new evaluation tool was more effective than the old, however, I still didn’t use it to better my own work performance. Instead, I looked to feedback from my peers, my boss, and the teachers I worked with. I knew that I wasn’t Highly Effective in every area of my job, and I also knew that there was always new learning to be found. I am a work in progress. And whenever someone gets to the place where they think they have no more improving to do, there is a major problem. Here are some ways I’ve learned to keep moving forward and making progress in my professional life:
- Have an open mind.
- Connect with others.
- Find the ways I best learn and then seek out those opportunities.
These practices have done far more for my professional growth than any observation/evaluation ever did. How do you continue to progress?
I used to play school with my big sister. Of course, being the younger sister, I was always the student. She showed me what it meant to be a learner. For some reason, my younger brother never wanted to play school with me when I got older. 🙂 Luckily, my younger neighbors allowed me to discover what it meant to be a teacher. And being a teacher was always a career aspiration of mine as far back as I can remember. I dabbled with thinking about other possibilities along the way, but when I dug deeper, they never matched up with my visions for my future.
Fast forward 18 years into my life as a career woman. I left the classroom five and a half years ago, but have never stopped teaching.
I was having a Google Hangout chat with a friend this morning and he asked if I was going to continue consulting. My immediate response was, “Absolutely. I love the work.” His reply, “or maybe it’s time you took a cabinet position in the department of education….” I jokingly told him to call Trump and recommend my name for Secretary of Education, but then I went on to say if I could do my work without dealing with the politics of it all, I’d be more interested in something like that (at the state-level, pretty sure I’m not ready for D.C. – haha). Unfortunately, politics gets in the way of education even at the local level. I just want student-centered instruction, teachers who care about kids, and administrators who give them the training and support they need. On top of that, I want state testing that’s actually beneficial for student learning and not as a yardstick to measure teacher effectiveness (as there are much more thorough and accurate ways to measure this). And wouldn’t it be amazing if our elected officials (including school board members) had backgrounds in education if they are going to be making decisions about educating our children? I say that a bit tongue-in-cheek, but it’s a valid point.
After we went back and forth a bit about the issues facing students and teachers in the United States today, he said, “YOU NEED TO FIX THIS.” And while I appreciate his confidence in my abilities to fix the entire national problem, I am trying to fix it in the ways that I can in this moment. I’m starting with having conversations with school leaders. I’m working with teachers to change the way they think about instruction. I’m working alongside them, in their current environment with their current resources, to reframe teaching and learning.
So, while it’s never too late to be what you’re meant to be, I’m right where I have always supposed to be. Teaching, learning and leading others to do the same.
What are you meant to be?
If you have read any of my previous posts you know I often find professional/personal development nuggets in my everyday life. The same thing happened as I was watching my nine-year-old son play in his first game of the baseball tournament Monday night. Last year, in the younger league, his team won the tourney and were also season champs for his age group. This year, he moved up to the 9-12-year-old division and the wins were not as plentiful. They actually only had one win all season. My son often had a good attitude about that, but it was a very difficult transition to go from one of the strongest teams to one of the weakest. So, Monday night his team played the #1 seed. Imagine our delight when after eighty minutes of play time (in a ninety-minute game limit) we were up 11-4! It was so fun to see these boys playing together, having confidence, and enjoying themselves like they haven’t for the whole season. Well, then the wheels fell off. I couldn’t even tell you what happened first, but our defense started making errors, boys struck out, and their confidence waned. We finished the third inning 11-10, with a minute and twenty-two seconds left before the time limit would be reached. Since there was time left, the next inning began. We didn’t score, but the home team came in, scored two runs and the game (and the season) was over.
After the game, I complimented my son at playing his hardest (which he did). He was fighting back tears, as he angrily muttered, “I’m so mad at my team.” Whoa. Enter a teachable moment. It was easy for Evan to pick out the two “most-challenged” players to blame for the loss. The reality was, however, that they had little to nothing to do with the turnaround. We had a talk then, about what it means to play on a team. Every member has a role. Every position is important to the overall organization. Teams are dynamic. Leaders move on, members come and go. Adjusting and building a new team is a major part of all organizations. When this happens, or when things aren’t going as smoothly as they should, and when changes aren’t being implemented effectively, good leaders look at the team as a whole first. What needs to happen to make the team stronger? More time together to build unity? Strategizing and visioning sessions? Taking a step back from the issue/challenge to see it more objectively? How can we get the team functioning as a whole? After those questions are answered, then the leader can look at individuals to see where strengthening needs to occur – beginning with herself.
I’m a passionate person, in general. I use the word “love” a lot (read a post about that here). I fully enjoy good movies, books, wine, and chocolate (the list could go on and on, but you would get bored). Ten years ago, however, if you would have told me that I’d be super passionate about education today, I may not have believed you. I was definitely supposed to be a teacher. I loved my students and was excited to teach new lessons, try new projects, and learn new ways of teaching. But somewhere along the way, my fire started to die out. Teaching became more routine. More of a job. I became less patient with my students, and more exhausted when I got home each evening. I knew something needed to change. About five and a half years ago, I had the opportunity to apply for a position as our district’s curriculum director. To be honest, I wasn’t completely sure I wanted the job. It sounded like something I would enjoy and would be good at, but I was hesitant to leave the classroom. Wouldn’t I miss the kids? So, my husband and I discussed it and pretty much said, “If I’m supposed to have that position then I will get it.” And I did. Here’s the amazing part…my passion for education was completely reignited. I was enthusiastic to go to work each day again. I was forging a new chapter in my life, and a new position for the district. It was challenging and exciting and I loved it. I was working with teachers, and administrators, and constantly learning new things. It was a fantastic fit for me. It turns out that I missed the students I had already taught, not the new ones that I never got the chance to know. So leaving the classroom wasn’t as difficult as I thought it might be. Plus, since I stayed in the district, I still had the chance to see former students from time to time.
Fast forward a few years and in the summer of 2015, I had another new exciting career opportunity. I was given the chance to be a full-time consultant. Leading professional development, guiding and encouraging professional learning were my favorite parts of being a curriculum director and now I get to do it for my job! Can you believe it? And that passion, whose flames were being fanned as a curriculum director, just had lighter fluid sprayed on them as an educational consultant. I cannot imagine myself in any other realm but education. I fully believe in the power of innovative teaching and learning, and making our current education systems even better. I am beyond blessed to be a part of that work on a daily basis. Which brings me to ask, What’s your passion and are you living it? Please share. I love hearing (and learning from) other people’s stories. Let’s connect.
My daughter is thirteen. She’s is tall, blonde, and beautiful. More importantly, she is very intelligent, hilarious, kind, thoughtful, and so much fun to be around. She has made the transition to teenager pretty smoothly. She struggles, however, as most of us do with self-confidence. Yesterday at church, an older lady told me how gorgeous my daughter was. I went home and shared that with Sydney and her immediate response was, “Does she need glasses?” While I am proud that my daughter is modest and humble, I also want her to be strong and confident. My husband and I are the ones chiefly responsible for speaking life into her heart and truth into her mind. I want her to hear our voices when those seeds of doubt try to invade.
When I was an elementary teacher I often tried to speak into the lives of my students. I was fortunate to have my students all day long. It gave me ample time to learn about them and their home lives. Many of them didn’t have enough caring adults encouraging them each day. It was my job to discover the great things about them and to sing their praises to them and to others within their earshot.
As someone who now “teaches adults” through providing professional development, I find myself doing the same thing with them. I often hear, “I’m bad at technology,” or “I’m the slow learner in the group,” or “I’m not as good at this as they are.” When I hear these self-deprecating statements, I immediately go to cheerleader mode. I find a strength and convey it back to the learner. Everyone has strengths to build on. And everyone needs to hear them from someone else at times.
Who do you speak into? And who speaks into you?
If you are under the age of 40, I know what you are thinking about my title…that’s only something that old people say. If you are around 40 or older, though, I bet you are nodding and agreeing with me. I never thought I’d be one of those people who was bothered by the number, but as 40 crept closer and closer over the past couple of years, I’d find myself cringing at the thought. Even as of last week I wasn’t really looking forward to it. But I can honestly say today, that 40 is better than 20.
When I was twenty, I was in the middle of college. I thought I knew what I was doing with my life. I studied hard, had a job, and joined a couple of extracurricular clubs so I could get a good teaching position when I graduated. I had always pretty much been a rule-follower, and I continued that into my university years. I was sure that I was going to marry my high school sweetheart, move back to North Manchester, have a family and retire from teaching when I was older.
When I was twenty, I compared myself to others and found myself wanting. I frowned about my Freshman 15, and worked hard to get rid of it. I was still testing out my independence. I was somewhat introverted at the time, and not great at the whole friend thing.
Fast forward twenty years (yikes, ok, so that makes me feel old), and so much has changed. Over those years I have lived out many of my twenty-year-old plans. I did marry my high school sweetheart, but life wasn’t always marital bliss. We are stronger for the struggles. We have two amazing children who are bigger blessings than I could have ever imagined. We did move back to our home town, and I’m incredibly thankful to be so close to family.
I did become an elementary teacher and followed that calling for fourteen years. But, I took a risk and left the classroom to become a curriculum director. That move was scary, but it reignited a passion in me for education that had been flickering at best. I took another risk a few years later and started my own educational consulting company, and found a niche that I wouldn’t have dreamed of in college.
I have found incredible friends who make my life richer every single day. I rediscovered my inner extrovert (that may be an oxymoron, but it’s true), and thrive on deep and/or fun conversations with others.
And, I no longer compare my physical qualities with others. I love myself the way I am. I wish I could go back and tell my twenty-year-old self to love that body, to stand tall, and smile often. I’d also tell her to take more risks….live a little more loudly. But the beauty of it is, that I can do all of that now. And I am.
Forty brings freedom. It brings empowerment. It brings wisdom and experience. I can’t wait to see what is to come.
I’ve often heard people remark to good teachers when they hear something kind, fun, or engaging they’ve done for students, “And those kids will remember that the rest of their lives.” I completely agree with that. I remember many moments with many teachers from my school days. But, as a teacher, I remember some students better than they probably remember me.
I’ve been in education for 17 years…I remember Kenny from my first year of teaching. He was a multiply-disabled first grader with a huge smile and tight hug. I remember other teachers warning me that his hugs can sometimes be “inappropriate.” I hugged him anyway. I remember getting almost no support from the sped department, I modified his work myself. I remember how bad he spelled most days, but loved him in spite of it.
I remember Erin from my second year of teaching. She was the epitome of “precious six-year-old girl”. I remember how her parents (not educators, as a side note) took time to write me very encouraging and complimentary notes throughout the year. That impacted me more than they know. As a parent, I’ve tried to do the same for my children’s teachers.
Fast forward a few years and I remember Thomas. He came from a very dysfunctional home. I remember asking him if he wanted me to bring in treats for his birthday, knowing no one from home would do it. I remember baking him a birthday cake for his 9th birthday after finding out he’d never had one. I remember wishing I could bring him home with me.
I remember having his sister, Greta, the next year in class. Her personality was the opposite of his withdrawn one. Academics came easier for her than they did for Thomas. And I loved them equally, and as much as I could knowing they didn’t get much love anywhere else.
I remember having Juan twice – once as a kindergartner and once as a second grader. He was a handful. He required extra patience. He would miss school because he couldn’t wake up his mom. But he had the biggest smile and a need for affirmation. He’s way bigger than I am now, as an 8th grader. He still wants to give me hugs when I see him. They are modified to what I call “half-hugs”, but I still give them.
I remember Trevor. This adorable, tiny second-grader had such thick walls built around him for being so young. He had been through so much, at such a young age. I determined to break through those walls so that he knew there was someone who believed in him. Six years later, his life is no easier, and probably more difficult. I love that kid still. I’m tearing up as I write this thinking about him and how much he needs people/teachers to see past his rebellious disrespect and just invest in him….Speak truth into his heart that he does matter…that his life is important.
There are so many more students who still hold special places in my heart. Each taught me something different. Each grew me as a teacher. I will remember them long after they have grown and forgotten about an elementary teacher they once had. And that’s okay. As a teacher, you can’t choose who is in your class, or who remains in your memory. But you can choose who you will invest in (and I hope it’s every single student in the class!). Sometimes you can even choose who you let into your heart. I’m grateful for each one.