Call me stubborn, but I refuse to quit! T.R.U.E. G.R.I.T. is the foundation to success in learning and life! Exploring the dynamics of a successful classroom and how grit is a vital characteristic for student achievement
Take yourself back to the moment you felt that rawness and vulnerability that chose you in place of you choosing it. The moment that got away from you and left you wondering how you got there. When your perception of the moment was a bit skewed and possibly left you feeling unrelatable to others, your emotions started to waver, and you wondered, how did I get here?
It is the moment you realize you have left yourself open in a way that takes its toll. You know that feeling when your neck grows tense, and you feel your arms stiffen. You can feel the strain straight through your body. You take a deep breath. But when you exhale, in place of relief, you feel the weight stacking up even higher, the kind of weight that has no measure. You think that you are holding it together, but the reality is that you are shoving your feelings down, way down. Then the day comes, and the most insignificant thing breaks you. You feel like you were set up for failure because you had been keeping it together for so long. Why now? Why the break? But maybe the bigger question is, what led you to this point?
Recently, I was engaged in a conversation with colleagues across the country, and we were discussing various needs within education. We even took the risk in talking about practices we need to question or possibly leave behind. When thinking about what we need most, and that of our children, students, and community alike, I referenced boundaries and buffers, something that I learned from an incredible person and resource in my life, Rogna Jurecko.
I refer to Rogna as my life coach, not because I fear calling her my therapist, but because she has coached me through life.
Rogna and I share a passion for the Highmark Caring Place, a place for grieving children and their families. It wasn’t until the incredible loss of my beautiful mother-in-law that I found myself reaching out looking for support for my family and me in the same space I had given comfort to students and their families for decades. Grief was breaking me. Her impact was endless. But if I am truthful with myself, I don’t know that I created a strong enough foundation to see me through such devastation. Rogna recognized my needs, she saw me, and she knew I needed boundaries and buffers.
What do they look like?
How do we create them?
Why are they necessary?
Boundaries and buffers weren’t a suggestion. It was an area that I lacked and needed to gain control of in my life. They were within my reach, but I had to recognize them for myself. At one point, Rogna started the conversation. She told me I needed boundaries and buffers. With a brief explanation and a focus on the problematic areas, I found myself in a moment of realness.
What had I done?
How did I get there?
What was I going to do to move forward?
Creating boundaries and buffers opened up doors, helped me to see possibility, and restored my hope, and yes, faith, which led to an incredible amount of learning. Here are my takeaways:
My interpretation of boundaries: Giving yourself a space that has rules and limits that you can thrive within. Being able to say no, without apology, yet being open to yes, when the moment is right for you.
Three reasons why we need boundaries:
They keep us safe: physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
They keep us focused on what is important to us. We must remember that there are only 24 hours in a day. Yes, we do need to sleep!
They are critical to our needs.
To me, buffers are what keep me healthy in all spaces. They help me to reduce my chance of hurt and pain. Here are my personal top 5
The right to my time
The ability to leave negative energy
The ability to know where my limits exist
Releasing myself from judgment
What boundaries do you need to thrive? Make a list of the problem areas in your own life. What can you do to keep yourself safe in all capacities and all spaces? What buffers can you create to give yourself permission to maintain your boundaries? Self-awareness is vital. I challenge you to make a list of areas problematic for you. Clarity brings comfort. Hold yourself accountable… you matter!
Remember, if you need a lifeline, there are experts that are waiting in the wings to help. Reach out. I did.
The beauty behind social media is that it is a built-in handshake ready to be embraced. It creates a connection far beyond the boundaries of city limits. With every handshake comes an opportunity. It creates a space for introduction, conversation, and the potential for growth. Social Media is constant, and yet forever changing. It has superseded all expectations and continues to spotlight its original intent to connect people. It is used in a professional capacity, creating a space for learning, and reaching a network that spans the globe. It is right there in front of you… now, what will you do?
Extend Your Hand
Go ahead, just do it! From the moment you create your first account, you begin the journey of building your very own Professional (Personalized) Learning Network (PLN). Twitter is a great jumpstart in Social Media, an energetic experience that intensifies with each connection. Each click to “follow” is a connection to someone that is willing to share. It is remarkable to have this unique opportunity to build a space that you can grow in on your own time with the amount of positive energy needed and bandwidth that you possess. You will be introduced to a group of people to learn and share ideas with… a space to feel nurtured in, inspired, respected, and ultimately gain unlimited knowledge.
Unlike years ago when we could walk into a district office and shake hands with a possible future employer, we must now extend ourselves through a digital world with little to no personal contact. With every click of a follow, an impactful handshake is given. It is an introduction to an administrator or future colleague. It is a new resume created with each post, a pre-interview with every chat that helps you to reflect on current practices, a digital footprint that shows your bravery and respect, a glimpse into your classroom, and your WHY all rolled into one! It is your handshake! It is a space to connect with experts in a wide range of fields beyond a personal knowledge base. This is where to be in today’s educational field, shaking hands with the world!
The impact of being a connected educator is truly limitless!
Benefits of a PLN
Connections to people/groups/expertise both in and out of education. Simply start by following just one person. You can then see who they follow. Or type in a grade level or subject that may connect you to a specific space. Let me be that one person for you, I’d love to connect!
Specialized resources tailored for you and your students
Professional Development that is personalized to your needs. Many educators offer free workshops. Once you find something that fits your need, you may then want to invest and dive deeper into a course. It is truly a limitless space!
Jump over to Facebook where Bitmoji Craze Educators rallied together to provide a free space for all educators. Many of these educators have their own website where they offer free downloads to get you started.
Connect to authors and a wealth of innovative practices. Go one step further and join a book study with them! Get started on your journey with #Read2LEAD
Share your wealth… never underestimate your worth… your ideas… someone needs them! Impact as many students as possible by sharing your own best practices!
Inspiration at your fingertips: blogs, podcasts, websites, videos, articles, interviews, and much more… an a la carte experience!
Endless support… just post what you need and tag a couple of educators. If they don’t have the answer, they will connect you with someone who does!
Break down the walls for yourself and your students! Give your students an authentic audience beyond your grade level, create a global hallway!
Remember, it isn’t about having all the answers, rather extending your practice to gain access to them!
I was walking past a storefront the other day when I saw a sign that read, “The Sun is Shining Just For You!” I felt a smile stretch across my face. For one second, I thought to myself how amazing is that… just for me!
As I continued on, I felt myself a little lighter on my feet and truth be told, in my heart. I went from looking around to looking straight forward and into the eyes of others, just trying to capture what was around me. With each shop, I started noticing the lighter moments. The small talk. The giggles. The laughter. It was like the sun was truly shining everywhere!
people helping others
doors being held
pleases being said
And thank yous being offered in return.
kindness in voices
care in words be spoken
love being shared.
where had I been
what else had I been missing, when I wasn’t looking forward.
That quote had shifted my mindset in one small moment. I had been filling my head with so much noise… like a storm that keeps you up at night, I had forgotten about the sun and how it does shine! I decided that I was going to head back and buy that quote. I planned to set in a place so that I would have to pass and read each day. When I entered the store, I looked everywhere. I asked a young lady working if there were any more copies of the quote in the window. As luck would have it, that was the last one and it was not for sale. With one last glance, I looked back to grab another glimpse as I left the store. It was then that I realized there was more. I had missed the bottom half, tucked behind a figurine. It read,
“what will you do with it?”
Oh, Wow! What would I do with it? I was convinced that it wasn’t for sale for a reason. It wasn’t mine to buy and keep for myself, it was meant to be given away. As I walked away, I knew that was there for me to read that day. So I leave you with this,
The Sun is Shining Just For You! What will you do with it?
My eyes have seen so much in my lifetime and my heart has felt each and every single moment. This is my story, one of circumstances, courage, love, and faith. I have seen the purest of love, felt laughter that has come from my toes, and have also had to refocus my faith at times when life didn’t feel as easy as I had hoped. My start in this world has always guided my journey… It has been my foundation, my compass, and my saving grace. I must never forget where I came from as it was there that my faith saved my soul.
To have complete trust
have full confidence
commit without reservation
My faith didn’t start as other Christians may share. For me, my journey in my faith was an escape from my own reality, one that fear dominated all of my senses. With fear, came a smaller world to live in and that was not what my heart was looking for… but someone once told me that fear and faith cannot live in the same home and it was from that point that trust had to be built for the grand living I had planned in my head!
I was committed to finding a better me.
The day came… I was but a child, and my neighbors offered to pick me up each Sunday and take me to church. They had noticed my family had gone on occasion to another local church, but not consistently and they wanted to offer this opportunity to me. All I had to do was be ready and waiting at the bottom of the driveway each Sunday. All I could think of was if they see potential in me, I need to open my eyes and see it too! I built up the courage and jumped on the chance. I made sure I was ready and waiting. Not because I was a good Christian girl, but because it gave me an opportunity to see beyond myself… to be around a place of calm when most often my own life was feeling nothing short of chaos. This experience was leading to a better me and I could feel it inside, filling me up. I would sit down in the pew and soak in every word being said. I would open up the hymnal and sing every song as if my heart had written each one. I believed if I looked for better in the world, I would see it. I didn’t know what shape it took or if I would know when it was right in front of me, but what I did learn quickly was how it made me feel and that was something I always recognized… it was a sense of trust, belief, confidence, and commitment. My FAITH was starting to grow inside me and I was no longer seeing the world through a lens of fear. I was but a child, age 7-8 , and I was certain that I wanted to be a part of something so much bigger than me.
Love steers so much of what I do. As the years have passed, my faith has been lifted, beautified, rattled, and at times felt like it had been crushed. I am most certain the biggest reason my faith has waivered has been because of how deeply I love. From the chaotic world we live in to the loss of dear loved ones, not to mention the ups and downs of raising children (which in itself is the scariest experience ever as we try to be the best parents possible to each of them individually), all while trying our best to live a life of goodness, balance, one of faith… one that serves.
As I age, I can now see that it is not a dark cloud that life hangs over me at times or that I was dealt a hand worse off than another… this. is. life. It is my life and in order to see the good around me, I must be the good around me. I must look for it, create it, and hold on to my faith to strengthen it.
This is my path. This is my journey. This is my heart. This is my faith.
Can you even imagine how every child could feel if we were to take what they are facing and turn it into an opportunity? When in life can you be handed the perfect storm of uncertainty to build such grit and resilience, blended with hope? This CAN happen AND through it, we have the ability to be a positive influence. What our children need is stability and we can be their stabilizer! The way that we become a stabilizer is by recognizing, owning, planning, and in the end, taking action for the betterment of every child!
First, we need to recognize that it is our adult responsibility to do everything within our power to keep our children stable or steady. This is the moment that we as adults should feel empowered by our knowledge, experience, and wherewithal to create impact. In addition, we need to execute and take hold of our opportunity to have a positive impact through our own words and actions.
Next, we need to recognize that we do have options and a larger sense of control than we always accept and project. This is the space that we take ownership of… not a space of blame.
Then, we need to plan. In order to start being a stabilizer, we must stop a few very basic things from happening that we actually are in full control of within our space. These are not limited to the 3 Step approach I lay out below in “Take Action”, but it is a starting point. I am simply pointing out that they belong to adults and not to our children! There is no doubt that I may get pushback on this by some that say they do not feel we should hide information from our children. However, the research suggests otherwise and children need us to protect the developmental process that they are naturally going through. Keep in mind I am talking about keeping the focus on our children so in turn, we must be the adults that they deserve.
Finally, adults must take steps to stop the negative impact, in order to make room to start the positive. Here are three simple steps that every adult can put into action to become a stabilizer for children:
Stop blaming others… If we want to raise our children to be accountable for their own actions, we must stop planting the seed that so much of their lives is to blame on others. This only steals their own power and sense of control that we should be nurturing.
Stop and think… is this conversation going to lead to betterment for my child? Should I ask them to leave or maybe wait until they are in bed? They do not need to know everything and yes, it can have a negative impact on them to know too much at an inappropriate age.
Stop talking about their “new normal” and embrace the change that is in front of you. No one ever said that we had to agree with it, but we must find our way through it. Simply put, we are not going to be given a pass to go around it. Change is the one constant that we can depend on in life and we must help our children learn how to navigate it while we are still able to do so alongside them. Not only does this help them understand that life will always evolve, but that our own resilience will grow stronger with each encounter.
Reframing our focus and taking on the responsibility to play a pivotal role is imperative. Let me share with you a time that my husband and I had to create an opportunity out of what felt like a complete nightmare that was out of our control.
As many of my readers know, my son Trent has Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). I remember when he was 8 and his worst fear was a pandemic. I remember thinking to myself, how does he even know what a pandemic is at the age of eight? And why did the world teach my sweet boy this huge fear? I also remember the reassurance we gave him reminding him that it was so unlikely he would ever have to live through one. It was almost like the reassurance we gave him was the open conversation we should have kept to ourselves, along with the quick reaction I had to blame the world for this fear. That reassurance came from a space of love wrapped around what we felt was our reality. For Trent, reassurance did not build resilience but brought about the need for more. It fed his OCD and in turn gave him less control and again built more resentment.
This open and ongoing conversation never built up his character so we knew we had to move on to a better plan. One that would empower him. One that created an opportunity for us to be his stabilizer, keeping him steady while he navigated life’s constant change. And so we did.
The unlikeliness of a pandemic kept us from facing some fears head-on, until now. That unlikeliness turned into certainty all these years later and what once would have broken him, became the ultimate test of his growth and strength. He is now 18 and has reframed OCD in his life. What was once a debilitating illness has now been refocused into strength and has even become his own positive stabilizer. He no longer looks at life’s struggles as an unfairness to a situation, and he holds himself accountable in the moment without letting it define his future. In place, he has stretched his mindset, developed grit and resilience, and has hope for a better tomorrow.
What will you do with this perfect storm of uncertainty? Can you even imagine how every child could feel if we were to take what they are facing and turn it into an opportunity?
I was in another conversation yesterday about what school will look like for our children this fall. That conversation wove its way in and around many topics before it led to the always-asked question, “ So, what grade do you teach?” My answer gave way to pause and laughter as I answered it incorrectly! Ha! You heard me… I answered that very question the same way I have answered it for over 20 years with, “3rd-grade!” And just like that, I took pause and said, “Well, I have been in that grade for a very long time, but not right now actually!” Yep,just like that, I went on to explain that my career path had changed to being a cyber teacher for the upcoming school year. The beautiful part was being able to share the WHY behind it… because that is what our children need right now.
It really is that simple. This is what our children need right now. Our children need an opportunity to choose where and how they will learn this fall and my district chose to create a program that would meet those needs. That is called change, not the “new normal,” but quite simply… change! In my humble opinion, this is the kind of change a community should rally behind!
My family lives in this very community.
I work in this community.
I believe in this community!
I want my sons to be grateful for the options they have been afforded and enter their senior and freshman year with an ambitious attitude, along with the mindset that their year will be a success for each of them. Our own children will be embracing another option that our district is providing, which is the hybrid program, where they will actually go to brick-and-mortar on scheduled days with the offset being remote learning. Why? Because it is what meets their needs at this time, just as the cyber program will meet the needs of many other students.
What I know now, but didn’t at the time was that my internal goal-setting ways helped me to hit the jackpot and obtain what I needed to be able to embrace the new journey ahead of me. It wasn’t quick and overnight-like, but with hard work, an open mindset, and determination, I was able to prepare for what is needed for our children today. I earned my Apple certification last year, my Google certification this summer, in addition to the Special Education certification that I worked on 25+years ago, along with many other countless professional development milestones! What I didn’t know then, that is staring me in the face now, is that it was a ripple effect of growth for myself and those around me! Knowing that I am capable of embracing this change definitely has an impact on my own confidence and drive to step forward. It wasn’t just about knowing that our children need this program, but it was about knowing that I am equipped to step forward and make an impact where it is needed. A need for disruption! New opportunity!
I think exnovation is very relevant and necessary when creative destruction or the need to disrupt is required – seriously challenging the existing practices to spot new opportunities.
Something that leaves me in awe is how I have thrived in an innovative space, what I would consider as an “exnovation” or a “best-standardized practice of learning” for our children. I have embraced technology, personalized learning, along with a mindset that sees many more approaches such as Community-Based Learning (CBL) and Project-Based Learning (PBL). As much as I would create the opportunity for each colleague, student, and parent to see value in these practices and embrace these innovative ways of learning, it wasn’t until the Covid19 Pandemic when it became an actual “need”, a true must-have for learning, that this mindset was embraced. Just like that, the pursuit of innovation became our stabilizer!
Wow, I restate that last sentence over and over again in my head as I type. Just like that, the pursuit of innovation became our stabilizer! This leaves me with one thought… the kind that I ask myself and now I ask you: What can you do today to prepare for the change that tomorrow will bring? Just like that, it will be here!
“If I took my connectivity out of the equation of who I am, I would probably understand how much more I really can do as a human and be what I need to be for people in my life. I feel that I have been so incredibly blessed to be a connected educator and appreciate how it has helped me both professionally and personally with the friendships that I have acquired. In turn, I now know that other parts of my life have taken a hit because of it.”
This was something that I shared with my friend, Rachelle Dean-Poth, as we voxed back and forth one-day last week. I was flying solo on my 3rd walk of the day while camping. Rachelle and I weren’t engrossed in a conversation of learning, this was simply a moment of missing a friend. One that I have been blessed to have in my world for the past several years. We were talking about all that we love about everything we do. We spoke about how we miss many conversations that we used to find ourselves in on a daily basis, but that the reality is that there simply are not enough hours in a day. It came down to one point… if we use too many of our hours being connected we will miss out on what is right in front of us. In the midst of our conversation, I literally stopped and said, “You know, I should blog about this!” Ha! Well, here I am!
REVISIT and REFLECT
As I continue to revisit and reflect on bets (chapters) that Jacie and I wrote in our book, “All In: Taking a Gamble in Education,” I turn my attention to Bet 20: “Double Down on Your PLN.” In this bet, we reminded our readers how social media can transform relationships and connect you with a network of educators to provide support and inspiration. We asked our readers to share what inspiration they found outside of their personal school district that has helped them to move forward. Our Double Down at the end of the bet prompted each reader to ask themselves… what is one way you can contribute, in place of consuming? It is my time to revisit, reflect, and re-frame this Bet, and I challenge each of you to do the same.
CALL TO ACTION: As a connected educator, OWN your part as a leader for every child and contribute what you have learned through your PLN without giving up your own identity and balanced existence
One of the biggest gifts I have been given is my incredible PLN. No buts about it. The one thing that I have learned is that by surrounding myself with those that are incredibly passionate about the same things in life as myself, I have grown beyond anything I have ever imagined! With that has come something else that I have learned… when I am contributing all that I have gained, at times I knock myself off balance from the world that I share with my family. This is where I re-framemy accountability in how and when I use my social media, not to mention how and when I connect with the most incredible friends and passionate educators that have truly blessed my world. I don’t believe there is a one size fits all approach, but for me, I have learned to navigate this in a different way over time.
Did you ever have someone say they love how your friendship can pick up where you left off? Whether it is a week or even a month, we don’t look back thinking of “what we missed”, but in turn, we live in the moment and look forward to “what can be!” No apologies, just welcoming arms. These are the people within my PLN/PLF that I find to get the most out of what I can humanly offer. We learn great amounts from one another. We take that information to create a better tomorrow for every child, but we do not hold the other to an obligation of connecting continuously. Let’s face it, now that we are truly connected educators we have blended “colleague status”/acquaintances with friendships that we are wired to give more attention to… so where do we go from here? Let’s get back to the roots of why being a connected educator is so important to you, your students, colleagues, and community.
For me, a connected educator means (not in order of importance, simply a list of impact):
-A constant support system (that is a give and take)
-Embraced risk-taking and disruption
-The constructive push-back that propels me forward
-Learning with a diverse PLN (Professional Learning Network)
-Leading beyond the four walls of my own existence
-Kindness connections that nurture my soul
-Joyful Leaders that remind me that my heart can impact the same as my brain
-The laughter that comes with endless conversations
To Be Better Than My Yesterday!
(graphic created and posted in 2018)
Being better than my yesterday has been my mantra since I was a child. Keeping my focus on a “me vs me” mentality and limiting my comparison to others has helped me to grow. What I am humanly capable of looks different from week to week, but for me, I must prioritize and keep focus… I challenge you to do the same!
Family First Always
Self Care/Well-Being (#1-2 are the same level of importance… the analogy of putting your mask on before trying to save others always stops me in my tracks)
Learning and Growing/Social Media
Contributing in all ways possible!/Social Media
If I truly want to Re-frame this Bet and take this CALL TO ACTION and live it, I must first keep numbers one and two on my list in balance. From there, anything is possible!
As I close up my remote learning experience and turn my sights towards the fall, I am reminded of an important bet that Jacie and I wrote in our book, “All In: Taking a Gamble in Education.” In Bet 11, “It’s All About the View”, we pushed our readers to reflect on their school culture. We questioned whether districts were fostering a culture of yes or no. Our Double Down at the end of the bet prompted each reader to ask themselves… Is there something that you can remove to make room for betterment? It is my time to revisit, reflect, and re-frame this Bet, and I challenge each of you to do the same.
CALL TO ACTION: OWN your part as a leader for every child and create new opportunities for betterment
REVISIT and REFLECT
The million-dollar question being asked right now is, “What will learning look like in the fall?” There is no doubt in my mind that I will not agree, nor will I want to teach and learn within all of the constraints and restraints that will be what I call side-effects of #COVID19. That leaves me with more out of my control than within… if that is my view.
I could spend my summer planning what I hope to be. But I won’t.
I could reface the curriculum based on remote learning. But I won’t.
I could fill up with resentment that flexible seating has been removed from my students’ learning space. But I won’t.
I could have negative conversations about the “What ifs” that surround the unknown. But I won’t.
I could fill my community up with my disappointment on how my philosophy for learning and teaching may no longer mirror the execution of what needs to be or will come. But I won’t.
I could keep revisiting what once was and reflect on what I once did. But I won’t. It is now time for me to re-frame my thinking.
In place of that, I will make room for betterment. I will look towards the fall with hope. I will move beyond a dream and plan for what I can do to make a difference in the lives that I am blessed to impact. Let’s not forget, THEY ARE WATCHING… what view are we creating for them?! Our children are relying on us to lead them through this time. We don’t get to step down from that leadership role as adults, especially now. This is not about school boards, administration, and teachers in isolation as educators, this is about our community as role models. WE, as adults, are leaders with our actions and words, so I ask you… how will you lead? How will you open up opportunity for betterment? They are watching.
I will give my children (both biological and community-blessed) the summer to be the resilient humans that they are in order to replenish and recharge themselves (never underestimate the resilience in a child).
I will remind them that their mindset is a powerful investment and they themselves must give, in order to gain a return.
I will embrace moments to fill others up and remind them that education is a privilege that each of us is blessed and responsible in supporting.
I will take hold of the unknown and settle my fears by staying focused on the known fact that one way or another I will be able to help children learn, grow, and find purpose in their efforts.
I will refocus, rephrase, and redirect conversations within the community to re-frame our efforts on positivity for our children. WE OWE THIS TO THEM!
I will nurture my own self-care and refrain from apology when I am in need of disconnecting. This cannot be just when I am burnout on life, this must be a way of life!
Increase time with those that care about me
Make time to play
Rebuild problem-solving skills
I will own my part in my role as a member of this community. I will own my views and the impact of them on others. I will own my role as a leader to which goodness, faith, hope, and love are being sought by the children who have just lived through something that no adult can possibly ever understand. I owe this to them.
Children are truly amazing! It is said that when children are resilient, they are more curious, braver, more courageous, more adaptable, and more able to extend their role into the world. The one thing that a child needs in order to regain and build resiliency is a strong relationship with a loving and caring adult. Stop and ask yourself, “What am I projecting?” What legacy am I leaving for our children? How am I owning my part in raising our future leaders? Are you owning your part? Will you be the loving and caring adult building a strong and positive relationship for a child? Let’s remember,
During this historic time, each of us have been tested. We have been pushed, pulled, poked, and prodded in ways that I do not think any of us could have ever imagined. Those who know me, know that I truly believe that everything happens for a reason. As I referenced in a recent post, there are always good things that come out of hard times. For me, this has been a time of tremendous reflection, questioning, and pursuit of deeper understanding. I am grateful for my #PLN and especially #BlogginThruIt. They have given me the space to express my thoughts, analyze my thinking, and dig deep.
As I navigate through this time, I have been grappling with my role as a leader and what relationships should and could look like. Vulnerability requires trust. Trust requires vulnerability. Healthy relationships require trust AND vulnerability! -Sari
As soon as I heard Sari say she was “grappling with her role as a leader,” I knew our friendship would be lifelong. It is the grapple that we feel inside that leads us to a better way. Through self-reflection we question and when we question we face honest answers that may be tough to hear at times. It is the grapple that makes me thrive, not only within, but with others! -Kristen
The Beginning of a Powerful and Healthy Relationship
Kristen and I connected through Twitter over a few tweets about George Couros’ inspiring book Innovate Inside the Box. Little did I know that when we connected, Kristen was wrapping up her own powerful book with Jacie Maslyk, All In: Taking a Gamble in Education A few short months later I was honored to join the first #AllInEDU book study, facilitated by #2MenAndABook. Chapter 2 of All In, or as Kristen and Jacie call it, Bet 2, is titled Poker Face. This chapter dives into the misguided belief that many of us have heard over the years: Don’t smile until Christmas; don’t let your guard down or you will lose control. As I started this chapter, I thought, I don’t have a poker face! I am open and transparent. I pride myself on the value of relationships. I continued to read in agreement. This is not a time to put up walls and create barriers; it’s time to break them down and make connections. Exactly.
Jacie and Kristen’s words spoke to me in a very dynamic, meaningful way. Integrating both perspectives, teacher and administer, resonated with me on so many levels. Understanding perspectives is key to developing empathy. As I reflect on who I am as a leader and consider the type of leader I strive to be, Kristen shared a courageous statement that profoundly impacted her district, and now me. -Sari
Through Sari’s reflection, I just felt this in my core all over again… this was such a bold and vulnerable statement I made that turned my entire life upside down in the blink of an eye! To know it resonated with Sari, and brought us to this blog together, speaks to me in the most profound way possible! -Kristen
Simultaneously, at work, we were having some very serious conversations that I needed to process. The discussions were truly weighing on me. I bottled up my emotions on the inside, placed a smile on the outside, and considered what I was feeling. Then it hit me…I was NOT being open. I was NOT being transparent. I was NOT being vulnerable. I was wearing a poker face. -Sari
This right here is such an awesome moment! This new perspective on something that I wrote with such conviction resonates with me. The idea that something could be perceived so differently. It is “push back” or questioning that gains perspective, and it is that space of vulnerability that affords for this to happen! Although my questioning has been viewed differently by others throughout my career, I believe that push back to one’s view should never equate disrespect (and that is how the admin felt that day with my bold statement). There are times that I feel when someone is invested in their own perspective they cannot stop and feel, or see someone else’s view. What then? How do we possibly serve and move forward if we cannot see what is right in front of us? -Kristen
Was I pushing back? Do I have walls? And even worse, do I have walls that I don’t see? Am I living a belief that mirrors “not smiling until Christmas?” Am I missing what is right in front of me? I struggled with this…I began to consider that perhaps I don’t lead by example. I felt a flash of discomfort.
I pushed my thoughts and questions into our Voxer book study and an incredible discussion ensued. Is it ever okay to have a poker face? Can a poker face protect others? Be vulnerable, but be strong….what does that really look like? Does a poker face mean dishonesty? How do you support others when you are still struggling yourself?
For our students, it is important that they receive information in a developmentally appropriate way. Or perhaps there is information that our little people should not hear at all. Does that mean that I am lying by omission?
“You don’t seem concerned, so I’m not concerned.” That phrase was said to me just last year by a staff member. It served as a reminder that our emotions can be contagious, both positive and negative emotions. If I choose to process my emotions before sharing with my staff is that dishonesty? -Sari
OM to the G! This right here is full gains! Another perspective… Maybe this perspective states that it is beyond appropriateness for just children… is it possible that there is information that adults should not hear/share just yet or at all… it all takes on a different view when restated with different intent. -Kristen
INTENTION! When I read Kristen’s words I realized that our WHY behind the poker face is most important. It is not about power or losing control of our classroom, building, or district. It is about putting others first. As educators, we have a responsibility to ensure we discuss important topics with students in a way that is developmentally appropriate but also provides opportunities to hear all stories, practice empathy, and build understanding.
We are navigating a precarious time. There are so many unknowns. School districts are facing significant state budget cuts. School districts are making decisions that no one ever wants to have to make; their impacts will be felt far and deep. Many districts will come out of this looking very different. What is the best way to handle this? There is already so much tension in the system. -Sari
How will it look? At first glance, it may appear that it is possibly not for the better… for now! Is it possible that these moments, when we have fewer options, will help us to appreciate the ones that are given? Think about the budget cuts and the shifting in one’s practice… will we still find opportunity in this change or will we snub it because it does not mirror the vision we once had. MakerSpaces… gone, but why? Is this a blame game? Do we trust those that have these very difficult decisions to make? Options to learn a foreign language… will they exist? Will they be plentiful? What about flexible seating… something that students love and are now embracing with ownership over their choices and actions? Will it be gone? Will it come back? Will we find voice and choice in this most radical time of change OR will we do what has already been done before and REVOLT? Is it the emotional attachment to what could have been? Is it the reality that our dreams are no longer our own to shape? Is it the vulnerability that we feel to be within a space of less control? What is it that scares you the most? Is it trust? What is it about education that children fear will change? Will we ask them? And if we do, how will we receive their answers. Will we cut them off and hand them the reason or excuse? Will we steer them to be more empathetic in their response so that it hurts us a little less? Will we even ask? And what will we do? Is it possible that the solution or vision of change lies with them and not us at all? Are we willing to let children reshape what we have created for hundreds of years… all while doing it within the constraints that our reality lies in.
Reality check… can we afford it? Have we given enough voice to our students to open their eyes and minds to an opportunity that does not look like their initial vision? Do we trust? Can they innovate inside the box, as George Couros has pushed us to question and rethink our philosophy and our practice? This right here will be very telling of what was before and what will be! -Kristen
One lesson I have learned during this time is the power of “I don’t know.” Kristen poses so many thoughtful questions. My answer to some of those questions has been…”I don’t know.” As a person, let alone as a central office administrator, it goes against the fabric of my being to just hang within a space of…”I don’t know.” I am not implying that I believe that I have all of the answers. However, I know how to seek out the answers. David Weinberger said it best, “The smartest person in the room is the room.” In order to get the best answers, we have to bring all perspectives into a room and hash it out. During this historic time, even that strategy has not worked. Throughout this pandemic, we have only been able to answer questions that focused on the here and now. All along we have been missing critical data to answer questions about our future…When will schools open their doors again? What will graduation look like? What is the best way to support students when we return to brick and mortar? How do we create a warm, welcoming learning environment while following CDC guidelines? How much more funding will the state cut? Will there be another wave of the virus? If so, when?
My experiences these past few months have reinforced that responding “I don’t know” is not bad. Saying nothing at all, avoiding the conversation, wearing a poker face, or faking it, breaks down the relationships and shows a lack of respect. Being vulnerable, discussing the facts of the situation, rather than silence, avoiding the question, or guessing, has proven to be invaluable. -Sari
The one thing known right now is the unknown. I have the utmost respect for the response “I don’t know.” Would I like to have a more detailed answer… of course! But in the end, the upfront honesty is what I need the most as an educator and parent. My friend, Tara Martin, shared with me that if I don’t tell my story someone else will, and in many ways, I feel that the same idea applies to this situation as well. If I am led to believe that administration has all of the answers, but are not divulging them, I may assume that they are withholding valuable information when in all actually they simply do not know. Assumptions can lead to inaccurate thoughts and unwarranted worry. That assumption is driven by a similar fear that holds leaders of all roles back in simply answering, “I don’t know.” Assumptions can be the detriment to most everything, with one being relationships. It is our relationships that will see us through… with them, we have trust and with trust we have hope. – Kristen
Each of us has a choice. In the absence of the answers, I am present and intentional. I choose transparency. I choose vulnerability. I choose to trust. I choose relationships. I choose HOPE! What do you choose? -Sari
Sari Goldberg McKeown has served as an educator in an array of K-12 roles for over fifteen years, including classroom teacher, literacy specialist, supervisor, and coordinator. Currently, she serves as a central office administrator on Long Island, New York. Sari is a lifelong learner. She is pursuing her doctoral degree at St. John’s University and is honored to be a part of the #EdCampLI planning team. Sari believes education is about who we teach, not just about what we teach. She is passionate about culture, relationships, and learning from each other. Sari believes in the power of being a connected educator. As educators, we are all in this together!
Why did it take a virus to bring the people back together?
– Tom Foolery
This very question, asked by the boy in the video, brings upon a self-reflection, leading to a chain reaction that leaves a lasting impression. Skies were full of smog and cars zipped by, we did not give a second thought as people died. As we stayed inside and the earth began to heal, we all were brought together united as steel. – Rob
There it is…that moment when everything seems so clear. When you think the dust is settling and you are about to open your eyes to what feels like the aftermath of a terrible storm. The world suddenly stops spinning for just a moment and you begin to take another look.
It was a world of waste and wonder… of poverty and plenty. Back before we understood why hindsight’s 2020.
– Tom Foolery
The emotions overcome you and you realize that this is no longer your vision. The vision you planned, nurtured, and were about to execute… the one that your heart got swept up in. Now, your mind is exploding in a full-blown sprint, and you find yourself chasing it down hoping to catch up to what seems out of reach… the reassurance that everything will be okay. And then the moment begins to fade and a new feeling sweeps over you. After a long pause, something begins to grow within. It is like you have to pinch yourself as a reminder that you are there and that you can take control. This is a moment. The moment of realization. One that you open your eyes to when life changes overnight! -Kristen
It is staring you right in the face. A new idea or possibly a better way. Something that you never saw coming until it fell straight into your lap or better said, has you in a complete choke-hold. Yes, that is the moment. The one that tells you every bit of your being is about to change. Life as you knew it is taking on a new vision, a new version. A better version… one of yourself and how you will create an impact. This is the moment that you “dust off your instincts” and begin to live once again! -Kristen
When we found the cure and were allowed to go outside… We all preferred the world we found to the one we left behind.
– Tom Foolery
“The Great Realization” is now when the 2020 vision was all of a sudden turned upside down, people were quarantined, schools were closed, businesses slowed, and people began to connect with one another. As relationships strengthened and flourished, we took the time to take walks, breathe the fresh air, and notice that the sky was no longer filled with planes. At night, stars could be seen, animals were safer, and less cars buzzed past as we sat on our porches enjoying the quiet.
Many people approached the scenario with anxiety and apprehension, but soon an Ahh ha moment occurred as we slowed our pace to appreciate one another and our beautiful earth with all of its natural beauty. When we began to take notice, children began expressing that they missed school and their teachers. Teachers learned new technologies because they missed their students and classrooms. The need to connect became apparent, and our focus shifted to what was important… the simplicity of human connection. – Rob
There are moments when “human connection” feels out of reach as we attempt to navigate these uncharted, murky waters. A new journey with a new path, one that doesn’t have a map, let alone understanding. It is going to take a village to lift us to higher ground, Life-lines are within reach. Those lifelines come in the form of colleagues, administrators, students, parents, family, friends, and even strangers. “Needs” would override “wants” and soon relevance begins taking shape within a learning space that once had to persuade others that technology could find purpose in their learning. It is here. Relevance is speaking and with it, purpose is driving out room for doubt. In turn, interpretation and perception have moved to the forefront of communication begging empathy and understanding to take hold. How will we merge these two worlds? – Kristen
Could this result in closing the gap between “poverty and plenty” or between those youngsters who are plugged in and those who would much rather have a conversation? Perhaps, this unwanted pandemic will yield a positive change… even more connections to one another… cultivated relationships… new technologies learned… a more efficient and empathetic… perhaps a kind perspective with grit and perseverance to maintain human connection. – Rob
Rob Wottawa is currently the Director of Art, ENL, Music, and World Languages in the East Islip School District on Long Island, NY. As a leader, he works to approach all situations with a kind empathetic lens to support the grit that is needed to accomplish the goals of his teams. Since completion of his doctorate in 2015 he has presented his research in New Mexico, Salt Lake City, and Long Island on Advice to First-Year Teachers. He recently completed a study with a Math professor from Stony Brook University on Parents’ Perceptions of Math and Math Education. Personally, Rob shares his time with his wife and two girls on Long Island. Where they love to cook, bake, and read together. In his spare time he enjoys mountain biking, road biking, running, and performing on various instruments. He hopes he can make his family proud!